Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Second Season

The first day of the baseball playoffs is very nearly the best day in sports, trailing only baseball season's Opening Day and the first day of competition in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. There's usually brilliant sunshine for a couple of afternoon games and a crisp, refreshing bite in the air for the evening action, all serving as a backdrop for games featuring the sport's best teams.

Pitching carried the day yesterday.

Jason Schmidt blew away the Marlins at PacBell to give San Francisco a 2-0 victory in Game 1 of their National League Divisional Series. Edgardo Alfonzo was in the middle of both Giant runs, laying down a sacrifice bunt that the Fish threw away to score the first tally and blasting a double to plate Barry Bonds with a late insurance run. Schmidt was in complete command the entire game, twirling a three-hitter and retiring the last 14 Marlins in a row.

In the first game, at Yankee Stadium, the Twins' bullpen held down the fort admirably after starter Johan Santana left early with leg cramps. New York played disturbingly sloppy baseball, Minnesota got a huge, acrobatic catch from Shannon Stewart in the leftfield corner in the ninth, and the Twins captured Game 1, 3-1.

In the nightcap, it took a while for the Cubs to get to Russ Ortiz, but once they touched him for four runs in the sixth, the game was over. Kerry Wood allowed Atlanta just two hits in 7 1/3 innings, and drove home two runs with a double, giving Chicago a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of that series.

I'm loath to offer predictions, mostly because while, I'm a fan, I have nowhere near the expertise to analyze each team's strengths and weaknesses and figure out which team will win three of five. Then again, if Rush Limbaugh can offer unqualified -- and jaw-droppingly stupid -- opinions on quarterbacking, why not me on the playoffs?

Yankees/Twins: Minnesota isn't the cute story it was last year, and the Bronx Bombers are no longer a fun team to root for. I could get behind Joe Torre's early teams, with O'Neill, Tino, Brosius, and a young Jeter, but the more recent versions, put together after frantic Steinbrenner spending sprees, feature too many mercenaries and surly malcontents (Clemens, Giambi, Matsui, Mussina, etc.) to hope they win. The Twins showed yesterday they came to play, but the Yankees appear to have too many weapons.
Who Will Win: Yankees in five
Who I Hope Wins: Twins

Giants/Marlins: Skippers Felipe Alou and Jack McKeon managed their first post-season games yesterday. McKeon has done sterling job getting the Fish to this point, but San Francisco won't fold the way the Phillies did.
Who Will Win: Giants in three
Who I Hope Wins: Giants

Braves/Cubs: Atlanta's days of dominance appeared to be over after it lost Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood before the season, but all credit to the Braves for again running away with their division. The emergence, finally, of Andruw Jones as a major offensive weapon, the career year fashioned by Javy Lopez, and Gary Sheffield's continuing rampage through National League pitching offset having to play Vinny Castilla and Robert Fick at the corners. Chicago rode the impressive arms of its young guns to the National League Central crown, and you know what they say about pitching and short series. The Braves, too good for too long to like much, again are playing for their legacy despite a decade's worth of first place divisional finishes.
Who Will Win: Cubs in five
Who I Hope Wins: Cubs

Athletics/Red Sox: Billy Beane squares off against disciple Theo Epstein in this transatlantic series. For all their low-budget success, the A's are still looking for a ring, while the Sox, as always, are chasing ghosts of their own. Oakland can throw out its young studly starters, while Boston features Pedro and an extraordinarily balanced lineup, along with a reportedly very tight team bond.
Who Will Win: Red Sox in five
Who I Hope Wins: Red Sox


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