Bird that Sings

October 14, 2010

Every Season tells a story#5/A tale of two cities revisited

And then there were two.

Just as it’s finally cooling down in the East, it’s heating up on the West Coast after one of the coldest summers in memory. However the contrast between the baseball atmosphere around the San Francisco Giants versus that of the Philadelphia Phillies is less than the similarity.

While even contenders like Atlanta, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay struggled for attendance this year, in Philadelphia and San Francisco, sellouts and full houses were the rule.

Both Citizens Bank Park in Philly and AT&T Park in SF were more alive and vital than anywhere  west of the Last-Days-of-the-Raj grandeur of New Yankee Stadium with its six thousand dollar a game seats in the Legends-of- Investment Banking mezzanine and whispers of lap dancing and cocaine rimmed flutes of champagne in the VIP lounge.

The Yankees are an empire unto themselves, but more on that next week.

For now we’re looking at what promises to be a seriously competitive National League Championship Series.

Much has been made of the “year of the pitcher” in baseball, and while some of that may be due to the decline in the use of steroids and Human Growth hormone in the game, this series does feature the two best starting pitching staffs in the National League, and probably baseball.

Going into the Series, the Phillies have to be considered the favorite since they not only have the 3 Aces — Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels — going for them, they also have, when healthy, the best one through eight hitting line-up in the league.

The problem with being the favorite of course, especially in a tight Series with good pitching, is that the pressure is on the Phillies, while the underdog Giants are playing with house money.

The Giants start with their pitching and sometimes end there, but the result is that they’ve played a lot of very close games. In fairness, they’ve lost a lot of them too, but it hasn’t been the fault of their young starting rotation anchored by 26 year old, two time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, 26 year old righthander, Matt Cain, and the sometimes erratic, 27 year old Lefthander, Jonathan Sanchez.

In fact the Giants, with their young front line pitching, along with their patchwork line-up and eccentric closer, Brian Wilson, remind me a little of the 1969 New York Mets.

1969 was the year the Mets shocked the world, winning the World Series behind 24-year-old future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, 26 year old left hander Jerry Koosman, 22-year-old Gary Gentry and 24-year-old closer, Tug McGraw of blessed memory.

Like these Giants, those overlooked, lightly regarded Mets also featured a patchwork line-up built around two good players, left right fielder Cleon Jones (La note: thanks Dave Margolis) and center fielder Tommy Agee along with a cast of part timers; Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool, Donn Clendenon, Wayne Garrett, Ed Charles, a young Amos Otis, et al.

It must also be added that the 60’s were an era when Great Players roamed the earth, and like these 2010 SF Giants, the Mets didn’t have any.

These Giants do, however, have a lot of pieces. Aubrey Huff has always been a pretty good player and now is in the first post season of his career. Pat Burrell is as dangerous a power hitter as he was in Philadelphia, without the pressure of being a franchise player. Freddie Sanchez is not quite the player he was when he won a batting title with Pittsburgh in 2006 but is still an excellent contact hitter.

And rookie catcher Buster Posey is the real thing. If he doesn’t win Rookie of the Year, he got rooked.

The Giants can’t match the power of Philadelphia up and down the line-up. They don’t have a Chase Utley or for that matter a Ryan Howard, or a Jason Werth, but they have enough to win, especially if the Pitching match-ups work out in their favor.

We already got a glimpse of this with Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Pitching coach Dave Righetti flipping their starting rotation so that Jonathan Sanchez will pitch the second game of the series in Philadelphia, where he previously 2-hit the Phillies on August 19th.

It is entirely possible that Tim Lincecum could outpitch Roy Halladay in the first game of the Series and then Sanchez once more shut down the Phillies left handed loaded lineup. If so, the Giants would go back to San Francisco up by two.

For Phillies fans like myself, this is a scary prospect, but that’s why they play the games.

I say, the Phillies in six… or seven.

October 6, 2010

Every Season Tells a Story, Don’t it #4: The 3 Aces

Filed under: Sports,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 6:01 pm

A good rule of thumb might be that anyone who says they know what’s going to happen in the National League playoffs doesn’t, but here are some things we do know.

The Phillies are the best team in the National League, and on those grounds you would think, the favorite to win the Pennant. However, the Phillies are also a team that can go mysteriously dead at any given time for no particular reason: a great team but a flawed team.

So, factoring in the Phillies’ unpredictability, there are two reasons to pick them to win.

The first is the humility factor.

The Phillies came out of Spring Training knowing they were the team to beat in the National League only to have the wheels come off in May.  After an unbelievable series of injuries and  slumps left the team adrift in the doldrums of mid season, local sportswriters and fans pretty much wrote off the team for this year.

On July 21, the Phillies, who finished 97-64, were only two games over .500, at 48-46 and in third place behind the Braves and the Mets. And not only were they in third place but the injuries in particular at that point seemed endemic; Chase Utley, out for seven weeks, Jimmy Rollins missing half the season with three different injuries, Placido Polanco on the disabled list, then coming back and actually playing through a broken elbow. On and on it went.

The reason for the Phillies’ humility then is that they pretty much had the arrogance knocked out of them this season. At this point they are happy just to be in the playoffs, and for a team with as much sheer ability as the Phillies, that kind of hunger and focus is going to make them hard to beat.

The other reason to pick the Phillies over the Cincinnati Reds in the first round has to be The Three Aces.

Philly will open the series with probable National League Cy Young award winner, Big Roy Halladay facing Edinson Volquez, back with the Reds after losing a year and a half to Tommy John surgery.

Game 2 is scheduled to feature little Roy, Roy Oswalt, pitching for the Phillies against one-time Boston Red Sox 4th starter, Bronson Arroyo.

The first game in Cincinnati will feature 2008 World Series hero Young Cole Hamels vs. Johnny Cueto for Reds.

Nothing against any of the three Reds starters: They are all good pitchers, but the Three Aces of the Phillies have the pitching match-up advantage over the Reds in each game of these playoffs.  Especially since, if the Series goes to games 4 and 5, the Phillies are going to come back with Halladay in game 4 and Oswalt — the team’s best pitcher down the stretch — in game 5.

The Reds’ strength is their offense led by potential National League MVP Joey Votto, and they certainly have a hitter’s chance. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if this Series goes the full five games, but as a Phillies fan, I’m hoping for the Phils in four.

In the other National League first-round series, the Braves vs. the Giants, the Giants should win on their superior offense, especially as it’s been bulked up by mid and late season acquisitions such as Pat Burrell, Jose Guillen, Cody Ross, and the very recent return to form by last year’s Rookie sensation, third baseman Pablo “the Panda” Sandoval.

In a short series, the Braves’ starting pitching is at least as strong as the Giants and their bullpen probably better, but on the strength of the Giants’ offense as well as home field advantage, gotta take the Giants, in five.

But like the man said, I don’t know nothing.

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