Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Good news for Tech

Luke Burnett picked up his first honor of the 2008 season earlier this week courtesy of Baseball America.

Burnett ranked 14th on the magazine's list of the 30 top college draft prospects and finally gives Louisiana some recognition as far as that goes. Baseball America listed only one state player among its Top 100 high school prospects for the 2008 draft.

Burnett is a 6-foot-8, 260-ponund right-hander whose numbers were less than expected a year ago. Given his size and his hard-throwing ability, there is a good chance scouts will look past them if he puts up another less-than-stellar year statistically.

Either way it's good recognition for Tech, which is heading in the right direction under coach Wade Simoneaux.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Rangers are the big winner

Remember that classic scene in "Swingers" where Vince Vaughn asks Jon Favreau, "Who's the big winner at the casino tonight?"

Well, if Alex Rodriguez were a casino, the answer to the above question would be, for now, the Texas Rangers.

No, the Rangers aren't going to sign Rodriguez again. They've been down that road before and seen how it ends.

So why should the Rangers be happy about Rodriguez opting out of his contract with the New York Yankees? It's easy -- Texas is no longer on the hook for more than $21 million in the next three seasons.

That's right. People tend to forget the Rangers have paid a nice-sized portion of A-Rod's salary since trading him to the Yankees prior to the 2004 season.

Now, general manager Jon Daniels has an extra $7 million or so in spending money to upgrade the Rangers. So, until Rodriguez breaks the bank with his next contract, no one involved in the Rodriguez-Yankees breakup profits more than Texas.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Musings on A-Fraud

So Alex Rodriguez couldn't let the baseball season end without trying to take center stage.

Does this man have some kind of personality quirk or what?

But before everyone gets excited about a possible free-agent acquisition for their team, my man Jason Pugh and I came up with the antidote for anything Scott Boras can trot out about his man A-Fraud.

Alex Rodriguez -- Postseason with the Yankees
24 Games
.253 batting average
4 home runs
9 RBIs

Manny Ramirez -- Postseason with the Red Sox
38 Games
.321 batting average
11 home runs
38 RBIs

Those two players signed massive contracts following the 2000 season -- Rodriguez signed his $252 million deal with the Rangers; Ramirez picked up his $20 million a year deal with the Red Sox.

Oh, and there is one other advantage for Ramirez. That's TWO World Series rings to NONE for A-Fraud.

So to my way of thinking, Ramirez has been the better value for the dollar.

So if you're wishing for A-Fraud on your team, be careful what you wish for.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Red Sox soak up another sweep

For the majority of the 2007 season, the Boston Red Sox owned the best record in baseball.

They capped that run Sunday night with a sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.

Appropriate? In that they won, yes. In the way they won, no.

Boston never won more than five games in a row during the season. So, of course, the Red Sox won their final seven games.

Boston's offense played to form -- inconsistent -- through much of the postseason, but came up with enough runs when it matters.

Mike Lowell may have been named the World Series Most Valuable Player, but an argument can be made manager Terry Francona was just as valuable.

Francona may not win any Manager of the Year awards, but his golden touch and his ability to blend young talent (Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury) with his big-name veterans (Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, David Ortiz) is a defining factor in both the 2004 and 2007 world championships.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Appropriate end for Biggio

Craig Biggio's playing career ended the last day of September when the Houston Astros ended their season.

His final award, however, came Saturday when he was presented with the Roberto Clemente Award, recognizing his off-field contributions.

Biggio long has been a supporter of the Sunshine Kids, an organization that helps children deal with cancer. He wore a Sunshine Kids pin on his hat throughout the majority of his career and, when he eclipsed the 3,000-hit plateau in June, one of the 0s in the ceremonial banner was the sunshine logo.

The Astros lost more than a second baseman when Biggio decided to retire. Hopefully, his off-field work will continue.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Buchholz unplugged

Prized Boston pitching prospect Clay Buchholz -- he of the no-hitter against Baltimore -- was in town Friday to help promote the Centenary Gents baseball team's golf tournament. The event takes place Nov. 9 at Olde Oaks.

The right-hander candidly discussed his first couple of months as a member of the Red Sox, which included the no-hitter, an AL East championship and an introduction into the Red Sox fraternity of focused, but entertaining, personalities.

Here's a sampling of some of the 23-year-old Texan's gems from our interview:

On how the no-hitter changed his life: "It was a complete 180-degree turn overnight. You go from being able to walk down the street to not being able to step foot out of your apartment. It’s all fun though. I can see where it would get old a little bit, but you play for the fans. It was almost like they were more excited for it than I was. That’s the way it worked out. My life has changed a lot in the last month, but it’s all been for the good."

On his 2007 season in general: "Words can’t describe what I’ve been able to go through this year. It’s hard to put words to it because it’s like things that you dream about are happening and you don’t know how to explain yourself. The only word I can say that could explain it would be ecstatic. Going up there, getting a taste, getting the win in your first game and the next game doing something that’s not done a lot. It’s been a great year for me. "

On Red Sox closer and aspiring Riverdancer Jonathan Papelbon: "I didn’t ask for any (dance lessons), but I think he’d freely hand them out if anyone wanted to learn. That was pretty good. The Riverdance was really good. I don’t know if he stood in front of the mirror in his spare time and learned how to do it. He’s an awesome guy. He’s always upbeat. You see him come in in the 8th or 9th inning and that’s what he loves to do. That’s his passion and he’s good at it."

On catcher Jason Varitek and his meticulous preparation for each game: "That guy is the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Three hours before a game he’s going over his books and stats Three hours after the game he’s going over the same things. He's so focused and prepared on what he has to do and what the pitcher has to do. He’s taking care of himself, his at-bats and the pitcher. It's a tough job but that’s why he’s the captain."

On teammate and fellow Texan Josh Beckett: "He’s a hardcore guy. He’s a workhorse. He does everything 10 times as much as he needs to to be good at it. I got to sit down and talk to him alot about the offseason and what he does and what he wanted me to do to come back and be in the rotation next year. He gave me some constructive criticism and I took and I’m going to work out and be stronger and healthier than every before."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sox halfway home

Game 2 of the World Series was much different from Game 1 except for the result.

After holding Colorado to one run for the second straight game, Boston heads across the country with a 2-0 series lead and an air of invincibility.

The question now becomes can Daisuke Matsuzaka, the $103 million Boston savior, keep it going?

Dice-K has been unable to make it past five innings in his first playoff starts and now he heads to Coors Field.

Coors isn't the launching pad it once was, but Dice-K likes to pitch up in the zone. If Colorado is to get back into the series, it had better take a Red Sox-like approach and work Matsuzaka's pitch count and hope he mispitches his way into trouble.

If not, get ready for a quick series and a lot of Dropkick Murphys music in the winter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Last-second World Series predictions

The long layoff is over for Colorado. The brief one finished for Boston.

In 4 1/2 hours, the 2007 World Series begins at Fenway Park.

And, after going 2-for-2 in league championship series predictions, I'm going to take aim at picking the World Series winner.

So after trying to separate my fandom from my professionalism, I'll go with Boston in 6.

I think the Red Sox are going to outpitch the Rockies, however slightly, and the Boston bats will take care of the rest.

We'll see over the next eight days if my recent hot streak (4-for-6) continues, or if I'm back to my loathsome 2006 form (0-for-the postseason).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Breaking down Colorado

The second of our two World Series breakdowns focuses on National League champion Colorado.

OUTFIELD: Left fielder Matt Holliday had an MVP-worthy season at the plate and his defense has improved in each of his four major league seasons. Center fielder Willy Taveras seems to be over his quad injury and saved Game 2 of the NLCS with a full-extension catch of a Tony Clark liner. Taveras is a burner and, despite missing substantial time, led the majors in bunt hits. He is prone to lose focus when he has to go back on balls and make over-the-shoulder grabs. Brad Hawpe is an excellent hitter in the 6 hole and has become a solid defensive outfielder after playing mostly first base at LSU. Fourth outfielder Ryan Spilborghs is a nice asset off the bench.

INFIELD: Great gloves abound, a big part of the reason the Rockies set a major league record for fielding percentage as a team. Third baseman Garrett Atkins hit .345 after the All-Star break and drove in 100-plus runs. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is the Rockies' emotional leader and surpassed the 20-home run mark as a rookie. He's a Gold Glover in training. Second baseman Kaz Matsui is a lot like Taveras -- he uses his speed as a weapon. He also came through with some big hits in the Rockies' magical run. Remember his grand slam in Game 2 of the NLDS against Philadelphia? Todd Helton has manned first base in Colorado for more than a decade and, while his numbers don't show it, has been a rock in his first postseason. He remains a slick fielder who can hurt you with a timely hit.

STARTING PITCHING: Left-hander Jeff Francis and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will start Games 1 and 2 and couldn't be more different. Francis is a thinking man's pitcher, who occasionally will hit the 90s with his fastball. Jimenez is a hard-throwing 23-year-old who lights up radar guns and has shown remarkable poise for a rookie. Josh Fogg earned the nickname "Dragon Slayer" for his propensity to beat opposing aces. He could oppose Curt Schilling or Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 3. Lastly, Aaron Cook returns after missing two months with an injured ab muscle. Cook will need his trademark sinker working to combat Boston's lethal lineup.

BULLPEN: Colorado needed a closer after All-Star Brain Fuentes went down in July. Enter Manny Corpas. All the 24-year-old Panamanian did was go 18-for-21 in the regular season and save all three division series games. Corpas throws hard and his pitches have plenty of movement. Fuentes returned and has been a nearly flawless setup man. In front of him, Matt Herges and LaTroy Hawkins are castoffs who have made a home in Colorado and been very good while there. Jeremy Affeldt found his niche as a lefty specialst and the Rockies get 21-year-old Franklin Morales into the bullpen. Morales' fastball reaches the high 90s.

MANAGER: Much like his Boston counterpart Terry Francona, Clint Hurdle is a player's manager. He caught some flack earlier this season for not changing his lineup. Now he has his full complement of players and has hit all the right buttons this postseason.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Breaking down Boston

With no baseball for the next two days, we'll break down the World Series teams. First up, the American League champion Boston Red Sox.

INFIELD: Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia are .300 hitters and Kevin Youkilis, when he's going well, finds ways to reach base. Julio Lugo was a drain on the offense through much of the season. Defensively, Lowell is still sharp at third and Youkilis has been surprisingly solid at first. David Ortiz's defense was notably better in the past when the Sox played in NL ballparks.

OUTFIELD: Manny Ramirez is, well, Manny Ramirez. He's an adventure in the field, but, rest assured, he'll drive in more runs than he allows. In center, the likely platoon of Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury plays to both sides of the ball. Ellsbury is the hotter offensive player while Crisp's defense is a plus tool. Red Sox Nation can only hope J.D. Drew's massive Game 6 (grand slam, 5 RBIs) gets the sweet-swinging, soft-spoken Georgia boy rolling. If not, Bobby Kielty may see more action.

DH: The one and only Big Papi, David Ortiz, is a proven playoff performer. Need a clutch hit? Call on Papi and, likely, he'll deliver.

STARTING PITCHING: Josh Beckett is his generation's best big-game pitcher and he's only 27. Curt Schilling was alternately stellar and sour in his three postseason outings. Spots 3 and 4 were iffy with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield scuffling.

BULLPEN: Jonathan Papelbon's dancing may leave something to be desired, but he is lights-out in save situations. Hideki Okajima is a fine setup man. If the Red Sox, however, are forced to turn to Eric Gagne, good luck winning that game.

MANAGER: Terry Francona is 2-for-4 in reaching World Series and 3-for-4 in making it to the postseason as Red Sox skipper. He has a handle on a frat-house type of club and has shown a knack for playing the hand he's been dealt. A little too statistically reliant for my tastes, Tito's been a winner in Boston.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I'm torn

As a fan, I'm torn between the two World Series teams.

Yes, the Boston Red Sox are on almost as much as "Leave it to Beaver" to borrow a phrase from Pete Gillen, and some people don't like that much exposure.

The flip side is you get to see personalities outside of just Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling and David Ortiz.

Take Red Sox rookie Dustin Pedroia. He's 150 pounds and has a softball-type uppercut swing. He looks nothing like the catalyst for a World Series team. Yet, that's exactly what he's been.

And Kevin Youkilis? Picture a baseball player. Eye-test wise, Youk's not gonna cut it. Word-by-word, however, he is a baseball player in his purest form.

Now, on to the Rockies. How can you not love the latest destiny's darlings?

They don't have a big payroll. They have a long-suffering star (Todd Helton). They have more ex-quarterbacks than a local college (Helton, Seth Smith and hitting coach Alan Cockerell were all college QBs and Matt Holliday was an Oklahoma State QB signee). They have two guys with Louisiana ties (LSU's Brad Hawpe and ex-Captain Yorvit Torrealba).

And they have a manager whose 5-year-old daughter has Prader-Willi Syndrome, a disorder that causes morbid obesity and cognitive struggles, among other things.

So it's hard to say who would make a better story should they win the World Series. And, in a postseason full of them that is something that is good for baseball.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Aces high in Boston

Note to Colorado: If Boston advances to the World Series, fear the Red Sox.

Even destiny itself would struggle against Boston's twin aces of Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling.

With the American League winner holding home-field advantage, it certainly would be tough to fathom Colorado reprising its summer success at a raucous Fenway Park against the best postseason pitcher older than 35 (Schilling) and probably the best one going of any age (Beckett).

Yes, the Rockies have beat up on some good starters during their 21-1 run (Jake Peavy, Brad Penny, Brandon Webb), but, if they face Schilling circa Game 6, after Beckett at Fenway, the odds-on favorite would be Colorado heading back to Coors Field in an 0-2 hole.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rockies have a three-deep roster -- at QB

During his college baseball career at the University of Tennessee, Todd Helton held a part-time job -- starting quarterback for the Vols -- until one Peyton Manning took it away from him.

As any sports fan knows, Manning broke through and won the Super Bowl in February.

What most sports fans don't know is Helton's Colorado Rockies teammate Seth Smith was the backup quarterback to Eli Manning while at Ole Miss.

Smith, who has become Colorado's top pinch-hitting option, was on the Rebels roster when Ole Miss knocked off Nebraska at the 2002 Independence Bowl.

Throw in Matt Holliday, once an Oklahoma State quarterback signee, and it's easy to see how a football fan could be easily swayed to root for the Rockies in the upcoming World Series.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good day -- if you're a Red Sox fan

Boston already was at the center of the sporting world this week with the Red Sox in the middle of the American League Championship Series, the Patriots' undefeated start, Boston College's perfect start and the Celtics' additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Then came Thursday -- a day that would be hard to top for any Red Sox fan.

First the news comes from Tampa, Fla., that Joe Torre has rejected the Yankees' low-ball offer to return for a 13th season as the New York skipper.

Then, with its back to the wall, Boston gets another lights-out effort from Josh Beckett to save its playoff existence.

Even if the Red Sox fail to reach the World Series, these are heady times in the Northeast.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Needed: One more Cowboy Up moment

A couple of weeks ago, before the playoffs started, I talked to Nashville-based singer/song writer Ryan Reynolds for a story on him and his mother who were invited to take part in Boston's Rally Monday celebration.

Reynolds is the man behind the song "Cowboy Up," which became the Red Sox motto in 2003. Something he said during the interview has stuck with me. I wasn't able to work it into the story so here goes.

In talking about the Red Sox, Reynolds said he really began following the team after 2003. He also said the 2004 Red Sox produced "the ultimate Cowboy Up."

In case you're wondering the "ultimate Cowboy Up" would be "getting thrown down, having your heart stomped on, breaking every bone in your body, and getting up and doing it again."

Now, staring down elimination and a potential Cy Young winner in Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, the Red Sox are in need of another "Cowboy Up" moment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Byrd pays big dividends

Almost two years ago, at the then-named Wyndham Anatole hotel in Dallas, baseball's winter meetings took place.

It was a slow time for the most part, certainly slower than the previous time owners and agents met in Dallas in 2000 and turned out Monopoly-money contracts.

The big-name signing was A.J. Burnett inking a five-year contract with Toronto, but a day earlier, there was a stack of copies with the Cleveland Indians' logo on them.

The gist of the news release: The Indians signed Paul Byrd to a two-year contract. That would be the same Paul Byrd that had handed the Chicago White Sox their only loss of the 2005 playoffs.

The signing was met with a yawn and, given the way Cleveland stumbled in 2006, it certainly did not look like a smart signing.

Then came Tuesday night when Byrd, who helped pitch LSU to its first national title in 1991, shut down the Boston Red Sox for the most part in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

Byrd has always been old-school. He won't pass many eye tests, but he's a winner. And because of his efforts, Cleveland has put Boston in the unenviable position of nearly having to duplicate its magical 2004 to reach another Fall Classic.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Run, Homer, run

The Cincinnati Reds have hired Dusty Baker as their manager.

This is the same team that has a hard-throwing young Texas-bred right-hander named Homer Bailey. Hmmm, seems to me Baker has hand to handle someone of that ilk before and we all know how that turned out.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Not where you think. I'm not going to compare Bailey to Kerry Wood, the oft-injured right-hander from Baker's Chicago time.

Instead, it's puzzling as to why Cincinnati went with Baker. Yes, for a manager, he's a big name. But you can't tell me Pete Mackanin, who took over after Jerry Narron was fired and turned the Reds around, wouldn't have been fine in the job for one more year.

The Reds once were among the proudest franchises in baseball. Now, they're on manager No. 9 since the 1990 season. Reds managers last shorter times in their jobs than your average NFL running back.

So, for anyone who griped about Baker's struggles in Chicago, sit back and enjoy opening fire on Baker as he battles what seems to be a no-win situation in the Queen City.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Left speechless

When we started this blog in February, I made it a point to try not to harp on the same subjects ad nauseum.

During college baseball season that was easy. Even during the summer, it was pretty easy to balance posts about different teams or players.

So, my apologies if this blog has become a little Colorado-centric. But the Rockies are on one of the all-time great runs in late-season baseball history.

I think, however, I'm running out of ways to describe what they are doing. Every night literally brings forth a new hero.

Sunday it was former Shreveport Captain Yorvit Torrealba's turn to shine. When Torrealba hit the tiebreaking three-run home run off Livan Hernandez, it was a giant jolt for Colorado's baseball history and another sad reminder of what we used to have here with the Captains.

Now the Rockies stand on the brink of franchise history thanks in large part to two players with Louisiana ties -- Torrealba and former LSU star Brad Hawpe.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rockies' run ridiculous

I walked out of our beautiful downtown office about 12:50 this morning after a Friday night full of high school football and a little playoff baseball thrown in.

Just before I left, I watched Arizona tie Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against Colorado at 2 in the bottom of the ninth.

After arriving home, I eventually jumped on the Internet in time to "watch" the end of the game. And it ended like 19 of the last 20 Rockies' games have -- with Colorado winning.

It's offical -- the Rockies' current run is ridiculous.

This time they scored the winning run off the major league saves leader by putting one ball in play and that ball didn't go more than 75 feet. Ryan Spilborghs' infield single and three walks later, the Rockies led again and headed home to Denver with a 2-0 series lead.

Seriously, have the Rockies forgotten how to lose? It looks that way. What's certain is they have learned how to win and done so in quick fashion.

If Arizona isn't careful, Monday night could be the end of its season.

Friday, October 12, 2007

ALCS prediction

Aces are high in the American League Championship Series as Cleveland and Boston open the series tonight in Fenway Park.

Cleveland features two front-runners in C.C. Sabthia and Fausto Carmona while the Red Sox counter with Josh Beckett and renowned big-game pitcher Curt Schilling.

So what will be the difference? The bats.

Boston tore through a pretty good pitching staff in the ALDS, torching Los Angeles' John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver.

Cleveland, meanwhile, drummed 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees twice, but was held in check by a throwback performance by Andy Pettitte.

Boston is healthy for the first time in a long time and that's reason enough to like the Red Sox. The Indians won't go down without swinging, so I'll say Boston in 6.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Last-second prediction, Vol. 2

I'm officially off the schnide as far as picking postseason winners thanks to the Red Sox and Indians.

The National League, meanwhile, still has not been very kind to me as I misfired on both NLDS picks.

But your humble, make that your very humbled, prognosticator is back to take on the National League Championship Series.

I like Colorado to win in six games.

The Rockies have far surpassed expectations. Now they're on house money. Of coure, the Diamondbacks are too. Neither team was expected to be here this quickly.

The difference is the Rockies, as of mid-September, were playoff afterthoughts. The D'backs were expected to reach October.

Now if someone in the NL can just prove me right for once.

Tough day for Louisiana baseball

Sad news out of Ruston as earlier this morning former Louisiana Tech baseball coach Pat "Gravy" Patterson killed himself and his wife, who was suffering from Alzheimer's.

I had the chance to talk to Patterson several times in the course of the last couple of years and his loss will be wide-ranging.

He took Tech to baseball heights it hasn't seen since. He remained an icon in state baseball circles since his retirement.

However, he also dealt with something almost no one overcomes -- Alzheimer's.

I watched the disease take away my maternal grandmother's mind and, in turn, some of the sanity of the people who took care of her.

Patterson told The Times' Teddy Allen a couple of weeks ago he never understood how "it's harder on the caregiver than the person with the disease" until the disease afflicted his wife.

I saw it first-hand and I pray I never have to see it again. Given the way Major League Baseball has become a huge fundraising arm for both breast and prostate cancer research, it would be nice if MLB -- or any of the other major sports -- took some time to promote research to eradicate Alzheimer's and the lives it affects.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Recruiting rankings praise LSU

It may not be long until LSU baseball is back among the nation's elite. That is if you read the recruiting rankings for the 2007 classes across the country.

The Tigers' class was named tops in the country by Collegiate Baseball last week and, earlier this week, picked up a No. 2 nod from Baseball America.

And, before you ask, these are post-draft rankings. Now that the NBA has instituted an age rule for its draft, no college sport's recruiting class can be destroyed -- or saved -- by the draft quite like baseball's.

The only strange thing about the LSU class is the large number of Midwest players in the class.

In Skip Bertman's glory years, the Tigers generally relied on players from within the state or worked Bertman's pipelines to Florida and California.

It seems Paul Mainieri has decided a national recruiting base is best for his program. The rankings seem to reinforce that, but, as we all know, championships aren't won on paper.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Strange couple of days

Because Major League Baseball is married to its preset postseason schedule, Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first days without games since the final day of the All-Star break in mid-July.

And it's strange. Well for me it is.

For the first time basically in six months, there's no reason to click on or to check the West Coast scores.

No checking the standings to see how close this team is to that team or how the wild-card race looks.

Strange, strange, strange feeling. But maybe there's a reason for this.

And apparently that reason is to prepare people like me for the end of the season later this month.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Yankees go home

We already know the last night of the Yankees dynasty came in November 2001 when Luis Gonzalez punctured the myth of New York's postseason invicibility.

Now, Grady Sizemore, Paul Byrd and the Cleveland Indians may have just ended a handful more of Yankee eras.

Joe Torre? Likely gone.

Roger Clemens? Hopefully, headed to retirement -- for good -- funny cell-phone commercials or not.

Alex Rodriguez? Wait 15 days after the World Series and watch the bidding begin.

That being said, the Indians deserve a tip of the cap. This was a team that went 0-6 against the Yankees in the regular season and saw their closer blow a 6-run lead at Yankee Stadium in the ninth inning.

So, in some ways, it was perfect symmetry that Joe Borowski, the aforementioned closer, whiffed Jorge Posada to lift the Indians into the ALCS for the first time since their glory days of the late 1990s.

Oh yeah, the prize for Cleveland? The "other" AL juggernaut, Boston. Have fun, Cleveland.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Yankees won't go away

There's a great, if completely impossible, scene in one of the Austin Powers' movies where the title character utters the line "Why won't you die?" to a bullet-riddled adversary.

Funny, we could apply the same line to the New York Yankees.

Everyone wanted to bury the Yankees when they stumbled to a 21-29 start. They came back.

Everyone wanted to write them off when they fell 14 1/2 games behind Boston. They came up short, but not before putting pressure on the Red Sox.

Everyone wanted to put the fork in them when they lost the first two games to Cleveland in their American League Division Series. They came up with a season-saving win.

True, the Indians aided the Yankees' survival by running out Jake Westbrook and his unsightly ERA against New York, but credit the Yankees for taking advantage.

Now we have a series on our hands and, as we continue to find out, the Yankees won't go down without a fight.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

By the book

First off, a big hand to the Arizona Diamondbacks for sweeping the Chicago Cubs and becoming the first member of baseball's final four for 2007.

Second, the Colorado Rockies. Wow.

Arizona and Colorado became the first teams to comprise an all-NL West National League Championship Series by finishing off division series sweeps Saturday.

And they did it by the book.

Pitching, defense and clutch hitting are a time-honored formula for success and the D'backs and Rox did it to near perfection in their sweeps.

Both teams flustered high-powered lineups with pitching -- something not associated with the Rockies until, oh, about July. They did it with great glove work and they did it with just enough hitting.

Now, two teams who arrived to the postseason well ahead of schedule -- of the teams' combined 16 everyday starters, only 2 had discernible playoff experience (Arizona's Eric Byrnes and Colorado's Yorvit Torrealba) -- meet in what should be a doozy of an NLCS.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Feeling buggy

Regardless of what some athletes and coaches say, God does not care who wins baseball games and other sporting events.

Apparently, Mother Nature does.

First, the clouds disappear when Colorado is hitting in Game 1 against Philadelphia. The result: 3 runs and a 1-0 series lead.

Then the bizarro world takes over Cleveland on Friday night, sending a plague of midges, not midgets, into Jacobs Field.

The small mosquito-like insects caused enough commotion to allow Cleveland to tie the game off supposedly unhittable Joba Chamberlain without a hit. Three innings later, Travis Hafner lined a shot through a swarm of bugs and muggy Cleveland air to give Cleveland a bug-aided 2-0 series lead heading back to Yankee Stadium.

Wild and wacky? Yes, it must be October.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Surprises? Not really

I'm not looking good in my first-round baseball predictions. That's not a surprise.

And while I misfired so far on both NLDS series, the results in those series aren't exactly surprising either.

Colorado is THE hottest team in baseball, so grabbing two wins at Philadelphia wasn't out of the question. Beating Cole Hamels could have been a stretch, but Jeff Francis outdueled "King Cole" and the Rockies stole Game 1.

Out in the desert, seeing the Cubs fall to Brandon Webb in Game 1 was not exactly earth-shattering news. However, seeing Ted Lilly fail to make it out of the fourth inning of Game 2 was a little stunning. Even at his worst this season, Lilly relaxed the Chicago bullpen's workload.

So far, no good for me in the NL. Not that that's a big surprise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Last-second predictions

After going 0-for-6 last season -- and sitting out the World Series -- I'm back to try to reprieve my pitiful prediction skills.

So here goes. NOTE: Anyone wishing to use these picks for betting purposes, I cannot be held responsible for your losses or my loss of credibility.

American League Division Series
over New York in 5. The Yankees have the bats, but Cleveland has C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Seeing Sabathia twice, could be the kiss of death for the Yankees.

Boston over L.A. Angels in 4. A lot of publications, Web sites, etc., like the Angels to win it all. I wouldn't disagree -- if they were healthy. They aren't. And given the way No. 2 pitcher Kelvim Escobar imploded down the stretch, he may not be either. Boston, on the other hand, is getting healthier by the day with the exception of Tim Wakefield. Too much healthy Red Sox for the Rally Monkey.

National League Division Series
Philadelphia over Colorado in 5. This could set the record for most runs in a playoff series of any length. The Phillies and Rockies are near mirror-images of each other -- great offenses, suspect starting pitching, rejuvenated bullpens, teams of destiny. While I think the Phillies will win, I would not be surprised to see the Rockies get their first taste of the National League Championship Series.

Chicago over Arizona in 4. Neither team has truly deep starting pitching, but each features a true ace (Chicago's Carlos Zambrano, Arizona's Brandon Webb). The difference will be offense. Chicago has it, Arizona really doesn't. That point will render the Arizona bullpen's edge over Chicago's moot.

Monday, October 1, 2007

October starts with a bang

What a way to start October baseball.

Thirteen innings of every-pitch-matters ball in Colorado came down to a defensive replacement's shallow fly ball that scored the former high school quarterback and NL MVP to send the Rockies into the playoffs for the first time since 1995.


Good for them and good for baseball. MLB needs more stories like the Rockies, the Phillies and the Cubs.

Bringing new blood and old-school franchises who have suffered lately into the playoffs is a sure-fire recipe for success.

Now the Cubs, Rockies, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Angels, Red Sox and Indians have a tough act to follow after what happened in Denver on Monday night.