Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away: The Authoritative 2010 Seattle Mariners Season Preview.

Are the Seattle Mariners bound for baseball heaven in 2010?

It was the year 1989 when Warrant penned their classic hair-metal ballad “Heaven”—a song that helped their album go platinum and pushed the band to the forefront of the rock-and-roll consciousness. That very same year another chart topper emerged into the national spotlight—a young ballplayer by the name of Ken Griffey Jr. who energized a sleepy city and brought direction to a long lost franchise.   

Now in the third decade of a storybook career, Griffey has one last, final last chance to bring a title to a championship-starved town and add the only thing missing from an otherwise spotless resume. Does he have enough left in his 40-year-old body to will the M’s across the finish line? Are his teammates up to the challenge?   

The Mariners took a major step forward last season, finishing with an 85-77 record on the strength of breakout stars like Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez. Seattle’s GM Jack Zduriencik sensed that 2010 could be a banner year for his team and he spent the offseason creating a championship caliber ballclub, headlined by the additions of former Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee and speedster Chone Figgins. Do the Mariners have enough ammunition to compete in a deep and talented division or are they once again destined for disappointment? Here’s what they’re bringing to the table in 2010:  

Starting Nine (Projected 2010 stats from ESPN.com)   

Rightfield: Ichiro Suzuki (.307-6 HR’s-49 RBI’s-29 SB’s-.350 OBP)   

Second Base: Chone Figgins (.281-4 HR’s-46 RBI’s-35 SB’s-.375 OBP)   

Leftfield: Milton Bradley (.285-15 HR’s-58 RBI’s-.394 OBP)   

Designated Hitter: Ken Griffey Jr. (.239-14 HR’s-41 RBI’s-.341 OBP)   

Third Base: Jose Lopez (.279-24 HR’s-90 RBI’s-.308 OBP)   

Centerfield: Franklin Gutierrez (.280-20 HR’s-68 RBI’s-14 SB’s-.333 OBP)   

First Base: Casey Kotchman (.274-9 HR’s-53 RBI’s-.342 OBP)   

Shortstop: Jack Wilson (.250-4 HR’s-40 RBI’s-.293 OBP)   

Catcher: Adam Moore/Rob Johnson (.250-6-22/.243-5-30)   

The Mariners need Griffey to hit like a kid again in 2010.

Thoughts: While it’s not exactly Murderer’s Row, the M’s lineup should be an improvement over the squad that managed to score only 640 runs last season. Seattle might not have a single player top 30 home runs this year, but playing in spacious Safeco Field the team is better suited to rely on speed and gap power anyway, and it appears the M’s finally have a squad suited for that style of play with Ichiro and Figgins leading the way atop the lineup. The two combined for an astounding 408 hits, 202 runs and 68 stolen bases last year and should cause nightmares for opposing pitchers.

Bradley has the potential to be a solid #3 hitter with decent pop and good patience but he’s anything but a sure thing mentally or physically. Griffey is expected to be in better shape than 2009 after offseason knee surgery and Gutierrez should continue to mature as a hitter after showing marked improvement last year. Lopez wouldn’t draw a walk if you offered him $100,000 for each base on balls, but he’s at least adequate for Seattle at third base and will be an improvement over the injury-riddled Adrian Beltre of last year. The bottom third of the order is better suited for play in the deadball era and will need to exceed expectations in order to avoid letting the rest of the team down.  

Ryan Garko and Eric Byrnes should provide some energy off the bench and talented youngster Michael Saunders is waiting in the wings with the Tacoma Rainiers if Bradley gets stupid or injured (or both at the same time). Hopefully Seattle can avoid handing out too many at-bats to the offensively challenged Jack Hannahan and Ryan Langerhans (both of whom have more holes in their swings than the plot of an M. Night Shyamalan movie). Their lineup clearly isn’t going to carry the Mariners to the pennant, but it ought to be good enough to keep games close…and that’s all Seattle’s pitchers will need.  

Pitching Staff (Projected Stats from ESPN.com)   

1) Felix Hernandez (17 wins-2.95 ERA-1.21 WHIP-203 K’s)   

2) Cliff Lee (18 wins-3.33 ERA-1.22 WHIP-180 K’s)     

3) Ryan Rowland-Smith (10 wins-4.06 ERA-1.31 WHIP-111 K’s)   

4) Ian Snell (7 wins-5.05 ERA-1.59 WHIP-96 K’s)   

5) Jason Vargas/Doug Fister/Luke French (????)   

Can the Hyphenator build of his late season success and complement Felix and Cliff?

Thoughts: The pitching talent drops off precipitously after Hernandez and Lee, and if they could, the team would probably pitch those two every other day (Dr. James Andrews has advised against it). The Mariners have to hope that Erik Bedard makes a speedy recovery from offseason surgery or the club might have to pursue another arm at the trading deadline to stay in contention.  

King Felix will be hard pressed to improve upon his 2009 season, but at only 23-years-old (24 in April), nothing is out of the question for the talented Venezuelan (he’s the odds on favorite for the 2010 AL Cy Young Award). Lee should be able to thrive in a pitcher’s park with a strong defense up the middle, and his impending free agency at the end of the year should provide him with all the motivation he needs. Rowland-Smith is a serviceable number three starter who could turn some heads after a strong finish to 2009. After Rowland-Smith however, things get a little bit murky. 

Ian Snell was consistently inconsistent after being acquired from the Pirates last year and unless he drastically cuts down on walks he’ll never be anything but a headache for the Mariners. Fister, Vargas and French all had moments of brilliance in 2009, but none of them have taken the bull by the horns and grabbed the #5 spot with their performances in Spring Training. Seattle has the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball with Hernandez and Lee and they’ll need to lean heavily on them with question marks throughout the rest of the rotation. A healthy Bedard is paramount to a deep postseason run. 

Bullpen:   

Closer: David Aardsma   

Set-Up: Mark Lowe, Brandon League, Shawn Kelley, Kanekoa Texeira, etc.   

It's everything I always hoped it would be.

Thoughts:  Just like last year, the bullpen should be the real strength of the club. David Aardsma was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last year, and even with the expected regression in 2010, should be an above-average closer for the M’s. If he struggles, the newly acquired Brandon League has the stuff to close games, as does Mark Lowe. Texeira (thankfully no relation to the Yankees’ Mark) has looked sharp all spring and should help to bridge the gap in the 7th or 8th inning. If there is one facet of the team that I’m not worried about, it’s the bullpen.

Fearless Forecast: Call me hopelessly optimistic, but something about this Mariners’ squad has me more excited for Opening Day than I can ever remember. The team has a good mix of veterans and rising stars and a boatload of positive momentum after a surprising 2009 season. The clubhouse chemistry should remain intact with Griffey still aboard, although it may suffer some with the loss of Carlos Silva (aka Felix’s BFF).

The Mariners aren’t great in any one area of the game, but they are solid across the board and should be able to take advantage of a down year for the Los Angeles Angels and capture the AL West in a hard fought battle. With King Felix, Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard leading the rotation Seattle would be unstoppable in a postseason series, because as is proven year after year, pitching wins championships. And finally, after all these years and countless tears, Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners will bring a World Series title home to Seattle.

For once Mariners’ fans, heaven isn’t too far away.

Topics That Should Have Been Tackled Months Ago: Should Baseball Expand Instant Replay Beyond Home Runs?

Would more instant replay help the boys in blue?

After a postseason filled with inexplicable mistakes (not the least of which was the Yankees winning the World Series) Major League Baseball and its umpires came under intense and deserved scrutiny for their handling of crucial calls in the playoffs. No series was exempt from questionable rulings, including the one-game playoff between the Twins and Tigers, but the biggest gaffe came in Game Two of the ALDS between New York and Minnesota. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 11th Joltin’ Joe Mauer stepped up to the plate and laced an apparent double down the leftfield line. Though replays clearly showed that the ball glanced off outfielder Melky Cabrera’s glove and landed in fair territory, umpire Phil “Beer” Cuzzi ruled the ball foul and effectively handed the game to the Yankees, who scored in the bottom of the inning to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Would the course of history been changed if baseball had used instant replay to make the correct call? Is the Yankees’ title forever tainted? Does MLB need to expand instant replay beyond homeruns in order to avoid further embarrassment?  

No, no and no. As much as it pains me to say it, the Yankees were the best team in baseball last season (and will presumably be in 2010) and would have won the World Series with or without help from the umpires (though some have speculated that A-Rod sold his soul to the devil for one good postseason). As for expanding replay beyond just homeruns, it might help baseball’s image in the short-term, but a knee-jerk reaction to one postseason would undoubtedly hurt the sport more than it would help it. 

We might not like 'em, but umpires are an important part of the game.

Despite the findings of a recent study which showed that there is more live action in a MLB game than there is in an NFL game (12:22 vs 12:08 minutes with the ball in play), baseball is viewed by and large as a “slow” sport. By adding replays to calls at the bases and along the foul-lines, baseball would further alienate fans who prefer the fast paced action of basketball or football. If baseball is intent on adding more replays (Bud Selig is not keen on the idea but he might not be the commissioner for much longer) the sport will have to find additional ways to speed the game up (less trips to the mound, less chances for a batter to step out of the box, etc.) to compensate for the extra time added with each replay. 

In addition to making baseball games longer expanding replay would also take away the unique place in sports occupied by umpires. In baseball, more than any other professional sport, umpires are intertwined with the game and its players. While they might not quite rival Leslie Nielson’s portrayal in the Naked Gun, each umpires signature “strike” or “out” call add an element to baseball that help to make it America’s pastime. Mistakes by umpires are an inherent part of the game, and reviewing every questionable call with replay would turn baseball from something organic into something mechanical—further distancing the sport from its origins. More often than not, umpires make the correct calls, and one bad postseason doesn’t warrant tearing apart the fabric of the game to appease a few offended parties.

Let’s leave replay to football and keep baseball from making a change it will inevitably regret. After all, if we don’t have umpires to blame for losing games, who are we going to point the finger at? Ourselves?

Can You Take Me High Enough? The Only World Series Preview You’ll Ever Need.

Phillies Giants Baseball

Can Cliff Lee and the Phillies make this a World Series to remember?

After six uneventful playoff series thus far (thanks for nothing Minnesota, Colorado, St. Louis, L.A. Dodgers/Angels and Boston) fans are hoping for some added drama in the World Series, but that hasn’t been the case in the recent history of October baseball. Three of the past five World Series have been sweeps and you would have to go all the way back to 2003 to find a Fall Classic that went more than 5 games.  That series featured an underdog Florida Marlins club taking down the vaunted New York Yankees on the strength of a heroic performance by a younger, svelter Josh Beckett. Well, those Damn Yankees are back in the World Series again, and while 80’s music fans across the country celebrate, the rest of the nation is left shaking their collective fists at a franchise that spent a quarter billion dollars on free-agents in the offseason. New York will be opposed by the defending champion and geographic rival (only 107 miles as the crow flies) Philadelphia Phillies, who are seeking to become the first NL team since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds to repeat as World Series champs. The series boasts two franchises on opposite sides of the spectrum (the Yankees are a historically great team with 26 World Series Titles, whereas the Phillies were the first team in pro sports history to lose 10,000 games…the Pirates can’t be far behind) with plenty of interesting subplots (former teammates Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia oppose each other in Game 1) and two of the game’s best offenses. Undoubtedly every last detail of this series will be broken down over the next few days, from bullpens to offenses and everything in between…so who needs to hear more about that? No more talking heads droning on about left-handed hitters off the bench, here’s the information you really need heading into the 2009 World Series:

rocky5a

People don't love to hate Rocky V. They just plain hate it.

Worst Movie Set in City  (Philadelphia–Rocky V vs. New York–Daredevil): Despite boasting a strong and stirring soundtrack that featured the work of Elton John and M.C. Hammer, Rocky V never really enjoyed the success of its predecessors. Actually, it was just terrible. Detailing Rocky’s retirement, training of a young boxer named Tommy Gunn and ending in a bizarre, acid-induced street fight, Rocky V is almost two hours of mind numbing agony and is one of the biggest box-office disasters of the 1990s, leaving a permanent scar on the Rocky franchise (since rectified with the release of Rocky Balboa). New York has seen it’s share of crappy movies, but arguably none worse than 2003’s Daredevil, a marvel flick based off a comic book of the same name. Starring Ben Affleck, the movie…well, nothing else needs to be said about the movie, it stars Ben Affleck. Sure Daredevil was bad, but Rocky V was historically bad. Advantage: Philadelphia

Best Obese Player (Philadelphia–Matt Stairs vs. New York–C.C. Sabathia): Let’s be honest, this category is a landslide. When sizing up these two, you’re not comparing apples and oranges, you’re comparing watermelons and pumpkins (because they’re huge). While the dwarfish Matt Stairs (who was cast as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) can certainly pull his own weight, the 5-9″, 222-pound Canadian Crusher is no match for the 6’7″, 290-pound C.C. Sabathia. It’s Rocky vs. Drago all over again, but this time the bigger man (literally) comes out on top. Stairs is 0-2 with 2 walks so far in the postseason, Sabathia is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Let’s call this fight before it gets ugly so these two rotund diamondeers can get something to eat. Advantage: New York

Cheesesteaks will be instrumental if the Phillies hope to repeat as World Series champs.

Cheesesteaks will have to play an instrumental role if the Phillies hope to repeat as World Series champs.

Famous Food (Philadelphia–Philly Cheesesteak vs. New York–Nathan’s Hot Dogs): Unfortunately, neither of these foods will ever receive Dr. Oz’s coveted seal of approval, but that sure doesn’t mean they aren’t good eating. Philly Cheesesteaks have been around since the 1930’s and pack a menacing combination of beef, onions, peppers and of course, cheese. An average cheesesteak comes in at just over 700 calories, but that’s somewhat offset with an impressive 30 grams of protein. Nathan’s Hot Dogs are used every year in the World Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (hats off to Joey Chestnut), and are so popular and revered for their flavor that President Franklin Delanore Roosevelt even served them to the King and Queen of England. A regulation Nathan’s Hot Dog has only 300 calories, but then again the serving size is much smaller. Nathan’s wins calorically, but Philly Cheesesteak takes the all important taste title. Advantage: Philadelphia

Mascot (Philadelphia–Philly Phanatic vs. New York–Dandy the Bird): The Philadelphia Phanatic is one of the best known mascots in any sport across the world and is only rivaled by the San Diego Chicken in popularity. It was also one of the first mascots elected to the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, it’s real, and don’t forget to grab a t-shirt while you’re there). Conversely the Yankees don’t even really have a mascot, although the Geico googly-eyed money seems like a natural fit due to the team’s spending habits. The last New York mascot was Dandy, a pinstriped, mustachioed bird who wore a Yankees hat and entertained fans between 1980 and 1985 (he was famously beaten up by Yankees fans in the stadium’s upper deck). Advantage: Philadelphia

the-big-apple-hugo-sandoval

New York's nickname makes less sense than most episodes of Lost.

Nickname (Philadelphia–The City of Brotherly Love vs. New York–The Big Apple): Boasting murder and robbery rates three times the national average and a famous incident in which fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs at an Eagles game, it’s easy to see why Philadelphia was nicknamed “The City of Brotherly Love”. Philadelphia, which translated from Greek literally means “brotherly love”, gained its name from William Penn who saw the city as a refuge for Quakers escaping persecution (and high cholesterol!).  On the other hand, the origin of New York’s nickname ,”The Big Apple”,  is still shrouded in mystery after all these years. Theories include everything from a brothel owned by someone named Eve to a sportswriter who referred to horseracing tracks as “apples” (with New York of course being the “Big Apple”). Regardless of how it got it’s nickname, “The Big Apple” doesn’t make much sense today, but then again neither does “The City of Brotherly Love”. Advantage: Push

Final Outcome: Well, the numbers don’t lie and it looks like the Phillies are a heavy favorite to capture the World Series. Philadelphia dominated New York in the head-to-head matchups, coming out ahead with the worst movie and the best mascot and food, while New York was only able to win the best obese player category (let’s be honest, that doesn’t count for much) and tie for best nickname. Extrapolating these numbers over the course of the series showed the Phillies winning in 7 games and Shane Victorino capturing MVP honors. Raise a cheesesteak to Philadelphia…your 2009 World Series Champions.

Like Detroit Needs More Bad News: Tigers Lose One-Game Playoff to Minnesota

America wants more Joe Mauer? America gets more Joe Mauer.

America wants more Joe Mauer? America gets more Joe Mauer with the Twins thrilling win.

It’s almost unbelievable to think that after a 162-game regular season two teams in the same division would finish with the exact same record. It’s even more amazing when it happens two years in a row to the same team, yet that’s exactly what fate conjured up for the Minnesota Twins. After a furious rally in the season’s last month, the Twins found themselves deadlocked with the Tigers, both sporting 86-76 records, and both having one game to prove that they belonged in the postseason (or at least deserved to lose to the Yankees).

For the Twins, the game was a shot at redemption after last year’s gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox in the season’s 163rd game. For the Tigers, it was a chance to save face after blowing a 7-game lead in the last month of the season, and of course to lift the spirits of a downtrodden city (it worked out well for Michigan State!) The Tigers trotted out 20-year-old Rick Porcello to the mound (sporting a dynamite playoff beard) to oppose Twins’ right-hander Scott Baker in a game for all the marbles. After a season full of bad blood between the two teams, many feared that this game might turn ugly, but instead it became an instant classic.

Porcello pitched a gem, but it wasn't enough for the Tigers.

Porcello pitched a gem, but it wasn't enough for the stunned Tigers.

Despite a record crowd of over 54,000 rabid fans in the Metrodome, young Rick Porcello exhibited the poise of a seasoned veteran, blowing away Twins’ hitters and quieting the home crowd with a career-high tying 8 strikeouts. He was staked to a 3-0 lead after the Tigers turned a lead-off walk from Baker in the third into 3 runs on a single from Magglio Ordonez (sans Sampson-esque locks) and a 2-run bomb from the “domestically challenged” Miguel Cabrera. The Twins answered in the bottom of the frame, with Matt Tolbert scoring on an errant pick-off attempt from Porcello.

Both pitchers settled down and the game quickly moved into the 6th inning when Jason Kubel, who had stranded runners in both his previous at-bats, launched a towering shot into the upper-deck to bring the Twins within one run. The Tigers ran into more trouble in the 7th. Reliever Zach Miner took over for Porcello and promptly coughed up the lead as light-hitting Orlando Cabrera drilled a pitch just over the wall in left field to score Nick Punto and give Minnesota a 4-3 cushion. It didn’t last long though, as Ordonez evened up the game with a HR to left field off Twins pitcher Matt Guerrier to open up the 8th inning. The Tigers threatened again in the 9th, but an Ordonez line-drive to Cabrera turned into a double play as an over-aggressive Curtis Granderson got caught in between first and second, sending the game into extra innings. Would you want it any other way?

Cabrera played a pivotal role in helping the Twins advance into the playoffs.

Cabrera played a pivotal role in helping the Twins advance into the playoffs.

Both teams scored in the 10th, with the Tigers taking a 5-4 lead on a Brandon Inge double before allowing the Twins to tie the game on a Tolbert bouncing ball back up the middle. The 11th inning passed quietly for Detroit and Minnesota, setting up a thrilling finish to the game. The Tigers appeared to score in the top of the 12th when a Bob Keppel pitch grazed Inge’s uniform with the bases loaded, but umpire Randy Marsh saw otherwise, and Inge eventually grounded to second where Punto fired home for a force out. Keppel ended the inning with a strikeout of Gerald Laird. Carlos Gomez opened the Twins’ half of the 12th inning with a single and then advanced to second on a Michael Cuddyer groundout. A tiring Fernando Rodney intentionally walked Delmon Young to bring Alexei Casilla, hitting only .198 on the season, to the plate. With the Metrodome rocking and homer hankies waving in all parts of the ballpark, Casilla lined a single into right-field, easily scoring the speedy Gomez from second and setting off a rampant celebrationg from Minnesota players and fans.

The party will likely be short lived for the Twins though, they travel to New York tomorrow to face the 103-win Yankees team. Although they will be heavy underdogs against the mighty Yankees, (they went 0-7 against New York this season) the fiesty Twins have kept the Metrodome open for at least one more game, (they are scheduled to move into their new stadium next year) and after winning 18 of their final 22 games to squeak into the postseason, the team believes anything is possible.

Will the Twins keep on rolling? Or will they be stopped by the buzzsaw that is the New York Yankees? Will America finally appreciate how good Joe Mauer is? Can Alex Rodriguez salvage his reputation with a clutch performance? Should Minnesota ask Brett Favre to start Game One?

It’s the postseason in baseball…anything can happen.

Fatally Flawed Phillies: Can Philadelphia Win the World Series with Brad Lidge?

All the Ryan Howard HR's in the world won't mean a thing if the Phillies can't figure out their bullpen.

All the Ryan Howard HR's in the world won't mean a thing if the Phillies can't figure out their bullpen, and soon.

After a dominating showcase of offensive firepower and clutch pitching in last year’s World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Philadelphia Phillies quickly found themselves a favorite to become the first team since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees to repeat as winners of the Fall Classic. The team bolstered their already prolific offense with the signing of free agent Raul Ibanez, teaming the veteran slugger with Chase  Utley, Jimmy  Rollins, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth to form the NL’s most feared and complete lineup. And as if that wasn’t enough ammunition to capture another pennant, Philadelphia added an one of the game’s elite starting pitchers in reigning AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. World Series hero Cole Hamels was expected to be even better with one more year of maturity, and a healthy Brett Myers and Joe Blanton would serve as worthy counterparts in the middle of the Phillies rotation. Rookie J.A. Happ and a revitalized Pedro Martinez were both pleasant surprises and gave Philadelphia five quality starters to trot out to the hill. A stacked lineup, a quality starting five and a closer coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory…it seemed as if the all the pieces were in place for the Phillies to repeat as World Series champions. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

The difference between the Brad Lidge of 2008 and the Brad Lidge of this year is so gargantuan that it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the real Lidge was abducted by aliens after last season’s historic run and replaced with a cheap knockoff version. In 2008 Lidge was nearly flawless, converting all 41 save chances on the strength of a 1.95 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 69 innings. Believe it or not, he got even better in the postseason, going a perfect 7 for 7 in save opportunities with a 0.96 ERA and recording the final out of the World Series. At only 31 years of age, the Phillies felt like they had found their long-term solution at closer. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

Lidge hasn't received many high-fives for his performance this year.

Lidge hasn't received many high-fives for his performance this year.

Lidge is no stranger to meltdowns. After coughing up a titantic go-ahead 3-run HR to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS something snapped and he clearly wasn’t the same pitcher afterwards, giving up a walk-off HR to Scott Podsednik in Game 2 of the World Series and a game-winning hit to Jermaine Dye in Game 4. The hangover from Pujols’ homer lasted throughout 2006 and 2007; Lidge blew 14 saves combined in those two years with a cumulative ERA of 4.36. He was demoted to the minors and moved to a set-up role, all to help him regain his confidence, but it never really clicked until he left the Astros and joined the Phillies last season. He looked like he had it all together again after a scintillating 2008 regular season and playoff run, which made it all the more the more puzzling why Lidge struggled so mightily this year. It looked like he had finally conquered the mental demons that haunted him since the 2005 postseason. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

How bad has Brad Lidge been this year? So bad that if he was a free agent this off-season it’s unlikely that even the Nationals would try and sign him. In 57 innings Lidge has given up 47 earned runs for a whopping 7.34 ERA and has blown 11 saves in 42 chances. After only giving up 2 HRs last season, Lidge has served up 11 longballs in 2009, which helps to explain his 0-8 record. Sure even the game’s best closers blow 4-5 saves in a season, but 11? The Phillies still have been one of the NL’s better squads all year and they already clinched the East, but this team should be considered a disappointment because they had 100-win potential. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

charlie-manuel

Charlie Manuel has some tough decisions to make heading into October.

So where do the Phillies go from here? Do they keep sending Lidge out to the mound hoping that one good outing will get him back on track or do they keep him off the playoff roster and pray that he never shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park again? Charlie Manuel has shown himself to be extremely loyal, but at what point does loyalty morph into utter stupidity? Philadelphia has other options in the bullpen, both Brett Myers and Ryan Madson have prior closing experience, but neither one is a sure thing. A team that should be riding high after clinching a playoff spot finds itself with more questions than answers in regard to their bullpen, and they only have four more games to figure it out. Despite having five players with at least 20 HRs, four players with at least 15 stolen bases, last year’s World Series MVP and the 2008 AL Cy Young winner the Phillies aren’t going to win the Fall Classic this October. Everything was lining up for Philadelphia to celebrate back-to-back World Series titles. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

Next Stop: The World Series? Red Hot Yankees Clinch AL East with 100th Win

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason.

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

Left out of the postseason for the first time in over a decade last season the Yankees came into 2009 with a chip on their shoulders and one goal in mind: reclaim the AL East from Boston. New York did just that and more on Sunday night, securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a 4-2 victory against the Red Sox while winning the division for the first time since 2006 and becoming the first team in the majors to 100 wins in the process.

While the Yankees’ roster was overhauled in the offseason it was some familiar faces that helped the Bronx Bombers complete a sweep of their arch rival Boston. The Yankee’s new all-time hit leader Derek Jeter went 2-4 in the leadoff spot, Andy Pettite pitched 6 innings of 2-run baseball and, of course, Mariano Rivera was there to shut the door in the 9th. Along with Jorge Posada, those three players are the only remaining members of the last Yankees team to win a World Series (2000), and will be leaned on heavily as New York moves into the post-season to face the winner of the AL Central (Detroit or Minnesota). If tonight, and the other 155 games of the season are any indication, the Yankees will be a handful for opponents come October.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

The key to New York’s resurgence this season has been their new look lineup. The Yankee’s offense has been unstoppable all season, leading the American League in runs, slugging, on-base percentage and OPS. The indefatigable Jeter is putting up one of his best seasons ever at age 35, hitting .333 with 17 HRs, 65 RBIs and 30 SBs. Newcomer Mark Teixeria has been on a tear since the return of Alex Rodriguez to the lineup, and will likely garner some MVP votes with a line of  .294-38 HRs-120 RBIs. A-Rod, despite the steroid scandal and a balky hip, is still one of the game’s most feared sluggers and will look to shake a track record for inconsistent playoff production. In addition to the big three, New York boasts a wealth of talented hitters throughout their order, from a revitalized Robinson Cano (.321-24 HR-80 RBI) to spark plug Nick Swisher (.250-27 HR-79 RBI-.370 OBP) and the seemingly ageless Johnny Damon (.284-24 HR-79 RBI-106 R), New York’s potent combination of left and right-handed hitters may prove to be too much for any pitching staff this postseason.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big (no pun intended) if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

Though much maligned throughout the season for their inconsistency and lack of depth behind C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees’ pitching staff has still managed to post strong numbers, ranking 2nd in the AL in batting average against, 2nd in WHIP and 6th in ERA. Sabathia was signed in the offseason for a king’s ransom and so far has proved his mettle with a record of 19-7, 3.21 ERA and 194 Ks. First-year Yankee A.J. Burnett has had his ups-and-downs this season, but has the stuff to dominate games (184 Ks in 195 innings) if he can keep the walks to a minimum. Joba Chamberlain’s first season as a starter has been a disappointment (9-6, 4.72 ERA), and New York may try to keep his post-season starts to a minimum as he reaches a career high in innings pitched but fellow youngster Phil Hughes has thrived since being converted to a reliever (8-3, 2.99 ERA) and has led a surprisingly effective Yankees’ bullpen. New York’s stalwart starting pitcher Pettite has been consistent all season long (14-7, 4.11 ERA) and has a strong postseason track record that includes winning the ALCS MVP in 2001.If New York does have an Achilles heel, it’s their pitching staff, but with their prolific offense all the Yankee’s pitchers need to do is keep the games close and hand the ball off to Rivera in the 9th; he’s as good as ever with 44 saves and a 1.82 ERA in 2009.

After another win over the suddenly old Boston Red Sox, few will argue that New York’s offseason spending spree was a success as the Yankees march into October on the strength of acquisitions like Sabathia and Teixeria. New York has looked nearly unbeatable in the 2nd half of the season, and with the ever-clutch Jeter and Rivera hungry for another taste of glory, will anyone stand in the Yankees way in the playoffs?

New York fans sure have plenty of reasons to smile these days as their beloved Yankees return to the postseason and look like a favorite to capture their first World Series in nine years. Who says money can’t buy you happiness?

The Fish are Flying High: Why the Florida Marlins will win the 2009 World Series.

The Marlins are like Britney Spears. Good for one year, a wreck for the next five.

The Marlins are like Britney Spears. Good for one year, a wreck for the next five.

1997-Florida Marlins over Cleveland Indians

2003-Florida Marlins over New York Yankees

2009-Florida Marlins over ????

It’s been six seasons since the Marlins last World Series title, and if history is any indicator, the stars are aligned for Florida to claim the Fall Classic once again. South Florida’s franchise hasn’t even been around for 20 years but already they have had more postseason success in that span than storied franchises like the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, L.A. Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. During the past 15 years, only three teams have won multiple World Series titles: the Yankees, Red Sox and yep you guessed it, the Florida Marlins. However, unlike New York and Boston who seek to build dynasties, the Marlins self-destruct after each championship; selling off their top players and in turn alienate their fans. With that in mind, the Marlins are off to a torrid start in 2009, and here are six reasons (besides the astrological signs) that Florida will win this year’s World Series.

1) Starting Pitching: The Marlins own one of the best starting quartets in the game with Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad. They also have an x-factor in 5th starter Andrew Miller who has the stuff of a future ace but still needs to harness his control. None of these pitchers is over 26-years-old and all of them have lots of room for improvement. If they can stay healthy and continue to mature this fearsome foursome could become any playoff opponent’s nightmare.

Josh Johnson anchors a talented pitching staff.

Josh Johnson anchors a talented pitching staff.

2) Infield Power: The keystone combination of Hanley Ramirez at short and Dan Uggla at second combined for 65 homeruns last season, astonishing numbers for a pair of middle infielders. That number could increase this year as Ramirez moves down in the lineup and Uggla cuts down on his strikeouts. First baseman Jorge Cantu is capable of hitting 30 HRs and so is the heir apparent at 1st Gaby Sanchez. Throw in the speedy Emilio Bonifacio (who already has an inside-the-park homerun) and this is an infield that is capable of going deep over 100 times in 2009.

3) Outfield Upside: Often overshadowed by their infield peers, the Marlins’ outfield is poised for a breakout season in 2009. Jeremy Hermida has started the year on a tear and may finally live up to his limitless potential. He is flanked by speedy leftfielder and former #1 pick Cameron Maybin (who is still just 22) and Cody “the Toy Cannon” Ross in center. Super utility man Alfredo Amezaga can play any position in the outfield and is capable of stealing 15 bases off the bench. Although they may not match the infield’s power, this bunch is more than capable of holding their own among the NL East’s best outfields.

4) Youth is Served: The average age of a Florida Marlin is only 26-years-old, and while many may cite this inexperience as a reason they won’t win it all, it hasn’t stopped them before (the average age for the Fish in 2003 was only 27-years-old). The regular season is a 162-game marathon that wears down even the most conditioned players, especially older veterans with some mileage on their engines. The Marlins crop of youngsters may experience some hiccups along the way, but their relatively young age should have them fresh come playoff time.

Expect the Fish to grace the cover of SI once again this fall.

Expect the Fish to grace the cover of SI once again this fall.

5) Zero Pressure:The Marlins are playing in one of the best divisions in all of baseball, but the pressure to win the NL East falls squarely on the shoulders of the New York Mets and defending champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Marlins were an afterthought coming into the season, but have raced out to an 11-1 start which already puts them five games up in the division. Although the spotlight in the NL has been shifted to Florida, if the young players can continue to play carefree baseball, the Marlins should cruise to the NL East title.

6) Odds and Ends: The Marlins have a well respected coach, Fredi Gonzalez, who has improved the team each year he has managed (71-91 in 2007, 84-77 in 2008, ??-?? in 2009). Florida is an extremely likable bunch of players with no bad apples and good chemistry, something that can’t be overlooked come playoff time (see the 2004 Red Sox). The Marlins will be able to play the “nobody believed in us” card in the postseason, and everybody except the Yankees love an underdog. The franchise has shown the ability to make key acquisitions at the trade deadline to improve their squad for the postseason push (Arthur Rhodes in 2008, Jeff Conine in 2003). And of course, the Mayans have been predicting this title run for over 1500 years, and they’re never wrong (besides the time they guessed that LC and Spencer would end up together on The Hills).

So hop on the Marlins’ bandwagon now before it fills up as quickly as Dolphin Stadium for a mid-April game, it just might be the best decision you ever make (outside of stockpiling your basement with Crystal Pepsi).