MLB General

The Full Count: Bye Bye Yanks; LCS Picks

1. Another Disappointment: Once again, the New York Yankees had a great regular season that ended in disappointment in the playoffs. For the third straight year, they won at least 94 games but lost in the first round of the playoffs. Their last playoff victory was back in the 2004 division playoffs. As usual, their hitters were great in the regular season but failed in the playoffs. They only hit .228 in their series against the Indians, compared with a .290 mark in the regular season. Their pitching wasn’t much better, as Chien-Ming Wang gave two awful starts that both resulted in losses. In the decisive Game 4, Wang allowed four runs in just one inning before being pulled. Mike Mussina, who was competent in relief of Wang, did not earn a start in the series despite an excellent performance in September. The Indians won Game 4 6-4, getting a lead early and then holding the Yankees off late in the game.

The loss could mark the end of an era for New York, as the entire franchise could be overhauled this offseason. The biggest question is whether Joe Torre will be fired. It is obvious at least to us that he shouldn’t, considering he has given the Yankees their best era of success since Casey Stengel in the 1950’s. Despite the fact that this move is obviously not wanted by the Yankee players, and that this season was perhaps Torre’s best in bringing the team out of a 21-29 hole to the playoffs, it still shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if he is canned. Also, it is likely Alex Rodriguez will leave the team via free agency and Roger Clemens will retire. If those players both don’t return for next season, it will give New York a lot of money they can spend on rebuilding their pitching staff.

2. It’s Showtime: Now is perhaps the best time of the year for baseball, as only the four best teams are left in contention. In the NLCS, the Rockies and Diamondbacks will be the matchup. This surprising meeting of division foes includes two teams fueled by youth. The Rockies have the obviously superior lineup, with breakout stars such as Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, and Troy Tulowitzki. The Diamondbacks lineup, which is carried by youth as well, has struggled throughout much of the season. However, they do improve in clutch situations. They rely on Brandon Webb and the bullpen, with the others starters average at best. The Rockies’ pitching staff is nothing to brag about, but if they can at least be effective, the Rockies should win this series. Prediction: Rockies in 6.

The other series matches up the best two teams in baseball during the regular season, the Indians and Red Sox. Both just beat very good teams very easily in the first round. Both are loaded at the top of the rotation, with Carmona and Sabathia for the Indians and Beckett, Schilling, and Matsuzaka for the Red Sox. If the series goes seven games, Boston’s big three will likely have six starts, giving them a reliable pitcher for every game. Both teams also have good bullpens and solid offenses, making this series very hard to predict. In the end, I think the Red Sox’s prior postseason experience will play a major role against the youthful Indians. They should be able to win close games, with experienced, clutch hitters in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez as well as a superior closer. Prediction: Red Sox in 7.

MLB General

The Full Count: Yankees only team not swept

1. That was easy: The Red Sox dismantled the Angels, one of the league’s best teams during the regular season, completing a 3-0 sweep on Sunday. They became the third team to win by a sweep in the first round of these playoffs. Boston outscored Los Angeles 19-4 in the series, with three great pitching performances. Curt Schilling, who has a career 1.93 ERA in the postseason including the 2001 co-World Series MVP, pitched seven shutout innings in game 3. He followed up solid efforts from Dice-K and Josh Beckett, who when combined form the best pitching trio left in the playoffs. Their dominance of the Angels was surprising, especially considering the Angels had three great starters of their own. However, their bullpen was disappointing, and their offense couldn’t continue their success from the regular season. The Red Sox, who have been widely considered the best team since the start of the season, proved once again that they are with this overwhelming effort against a good team. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who both weren’t their usual selves for most of the regular season, had a dominant series. Ramirez hit the game-winning home run in game 2, while Ortiz had two long balls and hit .714 for the series. As things stand right now, if the World Series results in anything but a Red Sox victory it will be a surprise.

2. You’re (Almost) Fired: There were reports that George Steinbrenner might fire manager Joe Torre if the Yankees don’t win their series against the Indians. After losing the first two games, the Yankees might have saved their manager’s job with an 8-4 win in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. The fact that Torre’s job may be in jeopardy is absolutely ridiculous. He has taken the Yankees to the playoffs every year since joining the team, brought four World Series titles to New York, and did an excellent job this season in turning a losing team through the first half of the season into a force. Regardless of whether this would have happened, the Yankees did pull of a much-needed win over the Tribe. Roger Clemens was pulled in the third after allowing three runs, the Yankees scored seven combined runs in the fifth and sixth innings and never looked back. Johnny Damon had four RBIs including a three-run homerun. Phil Hughes and the bullpen were great in relief of Clemens. Even A-Rod cranked out two hits, his first of the series. Now the Yankees need to win game 4 on Monday to force a decisive game 5 in Cleveland.

MLB General

The Full Count: NL West Rules

1. Rocky Road: The Colorado Rockies, with their second straight win in Philadelphia, have virtually locked up a series victory over the Phils. After winning with pitching in Game 1, the offense took over in Game 2. Matt Holliday homered for the second straight game, and Kaz Matsui hit a key grand slam that helped Colorado to a 10-5 victory. The Rockies have been so good the first two games that they have established themselves as the team to beat in the National League. If they close out the series against the Phillies (which they will do as the series goes to Colorado on Saturday), then the Rockies will have by far the best offense left in the NL playoffs. Their pitching staff isn’t bad either, particularly the bullpen. The Rockies’ relievers had six innings pitched in Game 2 and only one earned run. For the Phillies, sluggers Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard each bounced back from an unproductive Game 1 with homeruns. However, their awful pitching sent the Phillies into a hole they won’t be able to overcome.

2. Amazing Arizona: The Rockies-Diamondbacks is now the probable NLCS matchup, as Arizona also gained a 2-0 series advantage with another win over the still-cursed Cubs. Chicago starter Ted Lilly got lit up for six runs, starting with a three-run shot by Chris Young. Arizona’s Doug Davis got his first career playoff win, with four runs allowed but eight strikeouts. The Diamondbacks, though far from a formidable team, have proved that they are the class of the National League this year, with its best regular-season record and the almost-clinched NLCS berth. However, they will have to top the red-hot Rockies, which may be more than anyone can handle right now.

3. Pitching Kills: Of all the teams in the MLB playoffs, it seems the Cleveland Indians went it the quietest. However, with a 12-3 statement win over the Yankees in Game 1, they proved they are a team to be feared. This game came down mainly to pitching. Cleveland starter CC Sabathia, though he walked six, allowed only three runs and was credited with the win. Then the bullpen was near-perfect in his relief. The Yankees’ pitchers looked as bad as they were in April. Chien-Ming Wang allowed eight runs, and the bullpen wasn’t any better as the Indians’ lineup dominated. Kenny Lofton went 3-4 with two RBIs, and Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez both homered for the Tribe. This series is far from over, but the Yankees need a Game 2 victory. That will be hard to get, as they face Fausto Carmona, who was just as good (if not better) than Sabathia this year. With those two at the top of the rotation, the Indians have a weapon not a lot of teams can come close to matching.

MLB General

The Full Count: Dbacks and Yankees hold serve

1. The Best Ace: John Lackey took on Josh Beckett in a battle of Cy Young candidates, and it was the 2003 World Series MVP Beckett that emerged with a decisive victory. Beckett pitched a shutout for his second consecutive postseason start, a streak that dates back to that 2003 World Series when he was with the Marlins. Lackey, meanwhile, was mediocre with four runs allowed in six innings. David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis both homered off Lackey in the Red Sox’s 4-0 victory. This game was really all about Beckett, who was the only pitcher in the regular season to win 20 games. Beckett walked none, struck out 8, and only surrendered 4 hits against a pesky Angels lineup. Beckett has gone from a near-disaster last season to the Red Sox’s most reliable pitcher by far. He owns a 1.74 playoff career ERA, and will give the Red Sox as many starts as he can in the playoffs. A game one win in the division series usually leads to a series victory for the winning team; however, the fate of this series is not sealed. The Angels still have an excellent chance, with Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver taking the mound the next two games. Boston will counter that with Dice-K, who has oddly received almost no attention the last few months, and Curt Schilling. It seems to me at least that these are the best two teams in baseball, so the whoever wins this series has a great shot at winning the World Series.

2. The Momentum Continues: The Rockies have gone from fourth in the division to a possible World Series contender in less than a month. No one thought they would even make the playoffs a few weeks ago; now they proved they are for real with a playoff-opening victory in Philadelphia. The Rockies’ pitching staff is thought to be a joke; however, the Phillies certainly weren’t laughing after Jeff Francis shut them down. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, three of the National League’s best hitters, went a combined 0-11. Francis allowed two runs (both off solo homers) in six innings while racking up eight strikeouts. His counterpart, Cole Hamels, was good as well, but the Rockies managed to emerge with the win. Matt Holiday, who should win the MVP hands-down over Rollins, had a key homer in the eighth inning. One element of the Rockies that few people are considering is their closer Manny Corpas, who has racked up 19 saves with a 2.08 ERA. Incredibly, the Rockies have won the last 17 games he has appeared in. Corpas and two-time All Star Brian Fuentes, who both pitched shutout innings in the win, give the Rockies a formidable duo in the bullpen. Their chance of winning this series is higher than many (including me) predicted.

3. Win for Webb: Since the Padres aren’t in the playoffs, the best pitcher by far in the National League is Brandon Webb. Webb, who went 18-10 with a 3.01 ERA this season, helped Arizona to a 3-1 win in their series opener against the Cubs. Webb had nine strikeouts in seven innings, allowing only one run. Carlos Zambrano had similar success through six innings, but regular season stud Carlos Marmol blew the game with two runs allowed. On the other hand, the Diamondbacks’ ace bullpen was nearly perfect after Webb left the game. The Diamondbacks’ only shot in the playoffs lies with Webb making multiple great starts, the bullpen remaining solid, and the offense being timely if not a powerhouse. The Cubs have a far deeper rotation and more stars on offense, giving them the advantage whenever Webb isn’t pitching.

MLB General

The Full Count: First round picks

The Tie is Broken: The Rockies and Padres played a rather excellent tiebreaker game that decided who is moving into the playoffs and who is staying home. The game lasted 13 innings, with the Rockies winning 9-8 in dramatic fashion. The Padres scored 2 runs in the 13th off Scott Hariston’s homer, but the Rockies came back in the bottom half of the inning against Trevor Hoffman. They scored three runs to win the game, with Matt Holliday getting the winning run on a close play at the plate. Holliday secured the NL batting title, and also passed Ryan Howard for the NL RBI title with his performance on Monday. The MVP candidate went 2-6 with 2 RBIs, and teammate Troy Tulowitzki was even better with a 4-7, three run effort. The Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez hit a grand slam early in the game to give himself 30 homers and 100 RBIs on the year. Both starters in this contest were lit up early on. Jake Peavy raised his ERA from 2.36 to 2.54 by allowing six runs in six innings. The Rockies’ Josh Fogg gave up five runs in four innings, but was bailed out by an excellent performance from the bullpen. The Rockies, who won 14 of 15 games to win the wild card, are completely deserving of their playoff spot.

Match Me Up: The first round matchups have been finalized, and there are multiple intriguing games across the board. The Red Sox-Angels series will feature two of the league’s best pitching staffs. On Wednesday Beckett vs. Lackey will kick off this showdown. The other AL matchup, Yankees-Indians, is no less interesting. The Yankees are the hottest team in baseball and have by far its best lineup, but the Indians are very balanced and tied the Red Sox for the best regular season record. The NL matchups, though the teams aren’t nearly as good as those in the AL, should also provide for some good baseball. The Phillies-Rockies has great potential, as these were the two highest-scoring teams in the NL this season. Also, both teams are red-hot, having to earn their way into the playoffs by making late-season comebacks. The Diamondbacks-Cubs will be a matchup of two great pitching staffs. Here are my picks for the first round series:

Angels over Red Sox in 5.
Yankees over Indians in 5.
Phillies over Rockies in 4.
Cubs over D-backs in 5.

MLB General

The Full Count: Yankees clinch

A-rod looking as douchey as possible

1. Lucky Number 13: The Yankees continued the longest playoff streak in all of baseball by clinching a spot in October for the 13th consecutive year. They did so in style, beating the Devil Rays 12-4 as Cano and Jeter homered and Chien-Ming Wang won his 19th game of the season. Now the American League playoff teams are set, with Cleveland, Los Angeles, Boston, and the Yanks competing for the pennant. Unless there is a bizarre change in the standings in the last few days this season, New York will take on the Indians and the Angels will battle the Red Sox in the opening matchups. The Yankees’ run at the playoffs of course was expected before the season, but by the end of May many thought their season was over. That’s because they were one of the worst teams in the AL exactly four months ago, only a few games ahead of Tampa Bay. Since then, however, they’ve had the best record in the league, and with 15 wins in their last 20 games they will head to the postseason with momentum on their side.

2. Still Undecided: The National League playoff situation remains the exact opposite of the American League. While all four teams have clinched in the AL, no team has clinched a playoff berth in the NL. Many contenders seem to be slipping at the wrong time, particularly the Mets. They’ve had the NL East lead the majority of the season, but after losing 9 of their last 13 games, the Phillies are only one game back. The Phillies virtually eliminated the Braves by beating them 5-2; Atlanta would now need a complete miracle to make the playoffs. The situation in the NL Central remains uncertain, as it has been for about a month. The Cubs’ loss gave the Brewers an opportunity to get within a single game, but Milwaukee lost to the Cardinals and remains two back. The hottest team in the NL right now is the Rockies, who have won a franchise-record 10 consecutive games. They are now one game back of the Padres, and tied with Philadelphia.

3. Bye Bye, Barry: Barry Bonds has been extremely quiet ever since breaking the major league homerun record, as the sale of the 756 ball has received more attention than the man who hit it. Bonds has started to play less and less; in fact, until last night he hadn’t appeared since September 15. Now Barry deserves at least some recognition, as he appeared in his last game in a Giants uniform on Wednesday. Bonds, who will likely play next year as a DH for an American League team, has officially ended his tenure with the Giants. He won 5 MVP awards with the club, and hit over 500 homers with them alone. In his last game with the club, Bonds went 0-3 as the Giants lost 11-3 to the Padres. Jake Peavy picked up his 19th win for San Diego.

Player of the Day: Mike Lowell, Red Sox: 3-5, 5 RBIs in an 11-6 win over the A’s. Lowell, who leads the team in RBIs with 116, also set the club’s single-season RBI record for third basemen.

MLB General

The Full Count: Phillies move into wild card lead doing nothing

1. It’s a Tie: The Padres seemingly had the wild card wrapped up, but with a four game losing streak they let two other teams back in the race. The Phillies, who were off on Monday, are now tied with San Diego for the wild card lead. The Rockies, who are riding an eight game winning streak, are now a game back. The Padres’ loss came 9-4 at the hands of the Giants. Chris Young continued his baffling collapse with seven runs allowed in five innings. This raised his ERA over 3 for the first time since May. Barry Zito of the Giants, one of the all-time biggest wastes of money, finally won his 10th game of the year. The Padres, 85-71, have two more games against the Giants before they travel to Milwaukee for a four-game showdown to finish the season. The Rockies have the toughest road among the contenders with Los Angeles and Arizona to finish up the season. The Phillies have the Braves and Nationals, all at home. Atlanta, who is three games back, could become competitive in the race themselves if they sweep Philly.

2. Unwanted Losses: Both New York teams lost on Monday. For the Yankees, it put them 2 games back of the Red Sox for the division lead. For the Mets, a loss put them only two games ahead of the Phillies in the division. The Mets fell to the last-place Nationals by an embarrassing 13-4 score. Spot starter Mike Pelfrey got torched for seven runs in the blowout loss at home. The Yankees also lost at home, this one coming to the Blue Jays. The pesky Jays, who swept Boston last week, took 2 of 4 from New York in the series. Rookie Jesse Litsch had 7.2 innings of near-scoreless action to pick up the win over Andy Pettitte. Even though the Yanks face Tampa and Baltimore the last two series, it is unlikely they will win the division. They play all those games on the road, while the Red Sox will stay at Fenway Park for the rest of the season.

3. Too Little, Too Late?: The Brewers certainly had an impressive showing Monday: a 13-4 win over St. Louis to put them three games back of the Cubs, who didn’t play. Ryan Braun (33) and Prince Fielder (48) both homered and had three RBIs. They piled up nine runs, though only four earned, off St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals, who have been officially eliminated from playoff contention, have gone 4-15 since September 7. At that point they were one game back in the division, now they trail by 10. The Brewers will have to virtually win out and hope the Cubs lose the majority of their remaining games if they want to get in the playoffs. However, that is looking highly unlikely right now.

Player of the Day: Carlos Silva, Twins: 7.2 innings, 6 hits, no runs in a 2-0 win over Detroit.

MLB General

The Full Count: Two postseason slots officially filled

1. Lock it Up, Part 1: The Indians, who have the best record in baseball by a half-game, became one of the first two teams to clinch their division on Sunday. They beat the A’s 6-2, keeping their 7.5 game lead in the division with only seven games left to play. Grady Sizemore went 4-4 and Jake Westbrook had nine strikeouts as the Indians rolled once again. The Indians are one of three teams in baseball to rank in the top ten in runs scored and ERA–Boston and Atlanta are the others. This is the balance that has led the team to such success this season. Though slugger Travis Hafner has had a down year, Victor Martinez has established himself as perhaps the game’s best-hitting catcher. The rotation, with aces Fausto Carmona and CC Sabathia in addition to the resurgent Westbrook, rivals that of Los Angeles and Boston. Though the other AL playoff teams have received more attention, the Indians will be just as much of a force in the playoffs.

2. Lock it Up, Part 2: On the same day the Indians clinched the AL Central, the Angels locked up the AL West with their 92nd win. Fittingly, ace John Lackey picked up the win. It was the 18th victory of the year for Lackey, as he struck out 7 and allowed 2 runs in 7 innings. He is part of an Angels’ rotation that is just as balanced as the Indians’. With Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver joining Lackey, along with a superb bullpen, the Angels have one of the league’s best overall pitching staffs. They have had the lead in their division basically from the start of the season, holding off Seattle despite numerous charges by the pesky Mariners. Their division-clinching win on Sunday was in fact over the Mariners, who have put together a great season but are no match for Los Angeles. The Angels will now be vying for the top overall seed in the American League playoffs, though it doesn’t really matter considering every AL playoff team is a force to be reckoned with.

3. It’s (Almost) Over: Barring a spectacular collapse, the Cubs will be playoff-bound for the first time since 2003. They swept the Pirates over the weekend while the Brewers struggled with the Braves. This gave Chicago a 3.5 game lead, which will likely be impossible to pass for the near-cinderella Brewers. The Cubs are the only team even nearly deserving of a playoff spot from the NL Central. Their `big three’ in the lineup is one of the best in the NL with Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, and Alfonso Soriano. More impressive is their pitching, which has five solid starters. Though many will likely write off the Cubs once they reach the playoffs, they actually have the tools to win the pennant. In a year where no team is even close to dominant in the NL, the Cubs could surprise everyone.

Player of the Day: Mike Mussina, Yankees: 7 innings, 3 runs, 5 strikeouts in a 7-5 win over Toronto. Mussina, who won his 250th career game, is 3-0 since returning to the rotation after temporary demotion. The Yanks are now 1.5 games back of Boston, though it doesn’t really matter who wins the division as both will make the playoffs.

MLB General

The Full Count: The real magic number is 1.5

1. One and a Half Games: Half of the MLB division leaders have a slim 1.5 games lead right now. The Cubs, Mets, and Red Sox are all holding on by this narrow margin. The Yankees and Red Sox didn’t play Thursday, but some of the other teams did. The Brewers lost a half-game to the Cubs as they fell 3-1 to Atlanta. Braves starter Jeff Bennett won in his first major league appearance since 2004. The Braves are virtually out of the playoff race, though with five straight wins they are ending their season on a good note. The NL East is between the Mets and Phillies. The Mets lost again, in a 10-inning contest with the Marlins. They had a three-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth, but Jorge Sosa blew the save. The Marlins piled up 21 hits, and 8 players in their lineup had at least two hits. The Phillies pulled out another victory, this one coming 7-6 over the Nationals. Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth both homered for Philadelphia, who is 10-3 since September 8. These division races, which all seemed over at one point this year, are providing for an exciting end to the season.

2. Watch Out in `08: The Rockies, an underappreciated surprise story this season, will be a dark horse contender next year if they can get some pitching. They are 81-72 and in third place after sweeping the Dodgers in a four game series, knocking LA out of the playoff picture. Their offense has been second in the NL only to the Phillies, with nearly 800 runs. Matt Holliday is showing he can be a franchise player with a .339 average, 36 homers, and 131 RBIs. He has been unstoppable in the month of September, with 12 homers and 26 RBIs. 11 of those homers have come in the last 12 games, with the Rockies winning 8 of them. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki would be an easy choice for Rookie of the Year if Ryan Braun wasn’t playing so well. Tulowitzki has 22 homers and 90 RBIs, and has hit around .290. That dynamic duo along with Brad Hawpe (101 RBIs), Garrett Atkins (23-103), and Todd Helton provide for an incredibly deep offense that will be a force for years to come.

3. The New Best Team: It’s official: the Red Sox no longer have the league’s best record. That honor now goes to the Angels, who have quietly been crushing every team in their path this month. The 91-62 Angels have gone 17-8 since August 26, and will become the first team to clinch their division with one more win. They beat the second-place Mariners 9-5 on Thursday as superstar Vlad Guerrero hit his 26th homerun of the season. Guerrero also has a .326 average and 122 RBIs, good enough to place him third in the AL MVP voting behind A-Rod and Magglio Ordonez. The Angels, who are rolling into the postseason with momentum, will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

Player of the Day: JR Towles, Astros: 4-4, 3 runs, HR (1st career), 8 RBI in an 18-1 win over the Cardinals. Playing in only his sixth career game, Towles set a Houston record for single-game RBIs.

MLB General

The Full Count: Fighting it out atop the AL

1. Becoming the Best: The Red Sox’s recent struggles mean two things. First, the Yankees are closing in on them (more on that later). Also, two other teams have caught up to them for the league’s best record. The Indians and Angels, both at 90-62, have the same number of wins as Boston with one less loss. They both have huge leads in their respective divisions and are on three game winning streaks. The Indians just swept the Tigers to virtually lock up their division. The Tigers, who could have closed the gap in the division with a sweep themselves, instead find themselves 7.5 games back. Cleveland’s 4-2 victory on Wednesday included CC Sabathia’s 18th win of the season. The Angels completed a sweep of the Devil Rays, who on Thursday lost their 90th game for the 10th straight season, an MLB record. The Angels, who improved to 52-25 at home this season, also have a commanding lead in their division. They are up by 8.5 games on the Mariners despite Seattle’s three-game winning streak. Both of these teams, though they get less attention than the Yankees or Red Sox, have a solid shot at winning the World Series.

2. The Yankees Draw Closer: This AL East division race, one-sided for most of this season, is finally getting interesting. The Yankees, with four straight wins, have climbed to 1.5 games back of the once-untouchable Red Sox. They beat the Orioles 2-1 thanks to Andy Pettitte’s strong pitching, completing a sweep of lowly Baltimore. The Red Sox, meanwhile, were swept by the Blue Jays, giving them their fifth loss of their last six games. The Yankees, who were 14.5 games back at one point this season, could make the largest divisional comeback since 1969 if they win it. Even if they don’t, they are guaranteed the wild card anyway.

3. Another Day, Another Win: The Padres are the hottest team in baseball right now, with six straight wins. They are still 1 game back of the Diamondbacks for the division lead. They beat the Pirates 5-3 on Thursday thanks to a walk-off three run homerun by Scott Hariston. If they win on Thursday it will be their second straight sweep. The D-backs are still holding on, as won a series against the Giants; however, the Padres are playing better right now. This is yet another divisional race that is going down to the wire.

Player of the Day: Matt Holliday, Rockies: 2-3, 2 HRs (35), 2 RBIs in a 6-5 win over the Dodgers. Holliday would be the easy choice for MVP if he played on a first place team. He is leading the league in batting average (.340) and RBIs (128), and has 11 homeruns in the month of September.