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?

Breaking News: Blockbuster Trade Sends Roy Halladay to Philadelphia; Cliff Lee to Seattle; Prospects to Toronto.

The star of last year's postseason, Cliff Lee is heading to Seattle after today's mega deal.

In the biggest surprise of the offseason thus far the Mariners, Phillies and Blue Jays have laid the groundwork for a stunning deal that would send Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, Cliff Lee to Seattle and prospects from both teams to Toronto. The Phillies actively pursued Halladay at last season’s trade deadline, but reached an impasse with Toronto regarding which players the Blue Jays would receive in compensation, and the deal was never completed. Philadelphia eventually worked out a trade with Cleveland to acquire Lee who was instrumental in guiding the Phillies to their second straight World Series-berth. Toronto has been shopping Halladay since his agent released a statement asking for a deal before Spring Training with New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia listed as possible trade destinations. The Mariners have been an active player all offseason, with the team linked to numerous free-agents, and the signing of third baseman Chone Figgins. If this deal is finalized, it will have major ramifications for all three teams, and could dramatically alter the power structure of both the AL West and NL East.

In this trade, the Mariners gain a certified staff ace to pair with Felix Hernandez, giving Seattle one of the most potent 1-2 combinations in baseball. The move also strongly indicates that GM Jack Zdurinciek is looking to build a team capable of not only winning the division, but also a World Series title. Seattle led the AL in numerous pitching categories last year, but needed to bolster their rotation with the departures of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. Enter Cliff Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young award winner, who went a combined 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA and 181 strikeouts between Cleveland and Philadelphia. The 31-year-old lefty was even more impressive in the postseason, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including a 2-0 mark against the Yankees in the World Series. The Mariners still have work to do offensively in order to have dreams of a pennant, but this move certainly makes them an early favorite to capture the AL West.

The Phillies hope Roy Halladay is the right player to lead them to a third straight World Series.

The Phillies finally acquired the pitcher they had long coveted in this deal and are likely to negotiate a long-term contract with Halladay in the next few days or weeks (somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years/$100 million dollars). Halladay continued his run as one of the game’s best pitchers in 2009, posting a 17-10 record with a 2.79 ERA and 208 strikeouts. The 32-year-old right hander is baseball’s most durable and consistent starting pitcher, having topped 220 innings in each of the past four seasons. Already the favorite to capture the NL East in 2010, this move solidifies the Phillies as a perennial contender in the National League. Lee was outstanding for Philadelphia last-season but the team was having trouble working out a long-term contract with the lefty, and decided to pursue Halladay as their frontline starter moving forward. Barring any significant injuries next season, this move gives the Phillies a strong shot at another trip to the World Series in 2010.

Toronto really had no choice except to trade Roy Halladay as their star pitcher planned to leave via free agency after the season. The Blue Jays will receive a package of top prospects from both the Mariners and Phillies, but it has not yet been announced which players are involved in the deal (early reports indicate that Seattle’s Phillipe Aumont and Philadelphia’s Travis d’Arnaud are headed to the Blue Jays). Toronto has a solid young core of position players (Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Travis Snider) and starting pitchers (Ricky Romero, Dustin McGowan, Brad Mills), and this trade will allow them to stockpile talent for a run at the division in a few years. As with all trades involving prospects it won’t be clear for a couple of seasons whether Toronto received a fair haul for Halladay, but the team’s hands were tied in this particular situation, and they made the move that they believed will give the Blue Jays the best shot to win in the near future.

It’s not often that a sport’s offseason is more exciting than the actual play on the field, but that’s been the case for baseball in 2009. Another blockbuster deal has two teams eyeing a World Series trophy and the other hoping it can overcome the loss of its franchise player. The Mariners and Phillies both made major strides with today’s trade, now how will the rest of baseball respond?

Winter Meetings Heating Up: Three-Way Trade Sends Granderson to New York Yankees, Jackson to Diamondbacks.

Granderson will be bringing his multi-talented game to New York next season.

Fresh off a victory in the 2009 World Series the New York Yankees have apparently set their sights on capturing the 2010 Fall Classic…and maybe a few more. In the biggest deal of the offseason thus far the Yankees are set to acquire All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers in a three team trade that also includes the Arizona Diamondbacks. Though the deal is yet to be finalized, it appears that the Diamondbacks will receive Ian Kennedy from New York and Edwin Jackson from the Tigers, while Detroit will pick up Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from Arizona and Phil Coke and outfield prospect Austin Jackson from the Yankees.

The deal addresses an immediate need in the outfield for the Bronx Bombers, who are set to lose Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui in free agency. Granderson is one of the game’s premier defensive centerfielders and despite a down year at the plate, still hit 30 homeruns and stole 20 bases. At only 28-years-old, the Yankees are hoping that Granderson will be able to rebound to his 2007 season form, a year in which he become only one of four players in history to post 20 HR’s, 20 triples, 20 doubles and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Granderson has a proclivity for strikeouts (141 K’s in 2009) and hit only .249 last year so this deal is anything but a sure thing for the Yankees.

Top prospect Austin Jackson was the key piece in the trade for Detroit.

The Detroit Tigers forfeit two of their franchise’s most popular players in Granderson and Edwin Jackson after a year in which they missed out on the playoffs despite holding a seven-game lead going into the season’s final month. Jackson finally lived up to his enormous potential in 2009, winning 13 games and posting a 3.62 ERA, although he struggled mightily after the All-Star break (5.07 ERA). Jackson was eligible for arbitration going into 2010, and the Tigers traded him to avoid paying the substantial increase in salary he was due to receive. Granderson was controlled by the Tigers through the 2012 season but the team was looking to shed payroll and the centerfielder was due almost $24 million over the next three years. In return for Jackson and Granderson, Detroit receives one of the best young power arms in the game, two solid left-handed relievers and a top outfield prospect. In just his second year in the big leauges, the hard throwing Scherzer struggled with consistency while going 9-11, but he did strikeout more than a batter an inning and shows considerable room for growth. Coke was the Yankees primary left-handed bullpen arm, going 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA, while Schlereth went 1-4 with a 5.89 ERA in just 18 1/3 innings. The key to the deal for the Tigers was the inclusion of Jackson, who hit .300 with four HR’s, 65 RBI’s and 24 stolen bases in Triple-A last season, and projects as a top-flight centerfielder.

The Arizona Diamondbacks seem like the odd team out in this deal, giving up a promising starter in Scherzer and a potential closer in Schlereth in return for the inconsistent Edwin Jackson and the unproven Ian Kennedy. Jackson certainly has quality stuff but is prone to bouts of wildness, and before last year never posted an ERA below 4.40 in a full season. Kennedy has struggled in his brief trials with the Yankees (1-4, 6.03 ERA) and doesn’t appear to be anything more than a fourth of fifth starter. Both pitchers will benefit from the move to the National League but the Diamondbacks may regret this trade if Scherzer continues to develop.

Just two days into baseball’s winter meetings and already a blockbuster deal is close to being completed that will have a substantial impact on how the rest of the offseason plays out. New York has made it clear that they won’t take a backseat to any team and the Red Sox and Devil Rays will have to act quickly in order to keep pace in the AL East. Baseball may be a methodical game but the offseason moves at the speed of light…at least when the Yankees are involved.

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.

Vicente Padilla’s Resurgence Raises Serious Question: Is Swine Flu Baseball’s Newest Peformance Enhancing Drug?

The secret to Padilla's newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

The secret to Padilla’s newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

Just when baseball thought it had cleared itself of a league wide steroid problem the ugly performance enhancing drug monster reared its ugly once again—and this time the sport is powerless to stop the new drug’s proliferation.

A few short months again Vicente Padilla was a cast-off from the Texas Rangers, banished to the waiver wire by a potent combination of poor pitching, bad breath and general unlikeability. Even a pitching starved franchise like Texas wasn’t willing to put up with Padilla’s behavior, and this is a team whose opening day starting pitchers this decade have included the likes of Rick Helling, Ismael Valdez (slaps forehead) and Ryan Drese.

The Rangers sent Padilla packing on August 17th, citing “poor personal hygiene” and his “disruptive clubhouse presence” as reasons for the release. At the time of his departure, Padilla was 8-6 for the Rangers, but sported a ghastly 4.92 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Just two days later, the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers signed the Nicaraguan Nightmare to a minor league contract in order to bolster their starting rotation. After a short stint in the minors, Padilla was called up to start for L.A. and immediately looked like a man reborn, closing out the season in style with a 4-0 record, 3.20 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.  He’s been even better in the postseason thus far, allowing only one earned run in 14 1/3 innings to go along with 10 K’s and only 2 walks, quickly establishing himself as the Dodger’s defacto playoff ace.

The origin of Padilla's super-powers.

The origin of Padilla’s super-powers.

All this from the same pitcher who a few short months again was cut by Texas and left for dead. Now Padilla is in the midst of a playoff run for L.A. and looking like Orel Hershiser; what exactly happened between his time with the Rangers and his signing with the Dodgers? As the great theologian Terrell Owens famously said, “if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.” Vicente Padilla does smell like a rat…and that rat is named swine flu.

Padilla was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus on July 22nd and was believed to be the first player in the four major American sports (baseball, quidditch, jai-alai and poker) to test positive for the disease. He was scratched from a start against the Red Sox and was kept away from the rest of the team to prevent a spread of the virus. Apparently quarantining Padilla worked, because he’s still the only major league player that developed a confirmed case of swine flu, although that may change after the startling discovery of Dr. Van Nostrom at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Van Nostrom, a specialist in infectious diseases, released a report yesterday that confirmed one of the most well-known old wives’ tales: that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. In his article published by Car & Driver & Science the doctor revealed his findings from Padilla’s stool sample, which may change the way America views the H1N1 virus. Below is an excerpt from Van Nostrom’s report:

“Much like a spider bite transformed Peter Parker into the powerful Spiderman and toxic ooze mutated ordinary turtles into extraordinary crime fighters, Vicente Padilla’s DNA was radically altered by his encounter with the H1N1 virus. After overcoming the disease, he was endowed with all the best characteristics of an adult pig: a strong sense of smell and keen understanding of the strikezone, as well as the ability to talk to spiders and increased velocity on his pitches. Since the diagnosis of swine flu, Padilla’s fastballs have looked better than ever and his curveballs are dropping right off the table, and this is only the beginning. If Padilla is able to fully harness the powers of the pig he will become unstoppable. There is no treatment, there is no cure, there is only unimaginable suffering ahead for all humankind.”

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

If what Dr. Van Nostrom indicated in his report is true, how long will it be until baseball players are throwing swine flu parties in hopes of catching up with Padilla? Is H1N1 baseball’s newest fad performance enhancer?

Not so fast, says Van Nostrom: “There are so many different strains of the flu and everyone’s body responds differently to disease, so it’s unlikely another player will have results like Vicente. That surly bastard is truly one of a kind and anyone else who develops this disease is putting their life at risk…it’s just not worth it.”

Baseball’s playing field, which had been leveled by the sports’ tough drug testing, is thrown into disarray once again with the evolution of Padilla into a super-human shutdown pitcher.

Padilla’s agent Bus Cook refused to comment on the situation, only saying that his client was pitching well because of hard work and determination, not the swine flu, and called Van Nostrom’s theory “preposterous”. Padilla was approached at his locker by a swarm of reporters following the Dodgers 5-4 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLCS, and in between karaoke renditions of Randy Newman’s I Love L.A., the right-hander muttered  “how ’bout them Cowboys”, but nothing about the H1N1 virus–only fueling speculation that he gained some special abilities from the disease.

At this point there’s nothing baseball can do to slow down Padilla. After all, Bud Selig can’t suspend someone for getting sick, even if that sickness imbued the pitcher with super-human skills the likes of which baseball has never seen before. The Dodgers will be the favorites to win every time Padilla takes the mound, and it won’t be long before the team discovers they should start him each and every game, because everyone knows that pigs never need rest. Padilla will be a free agent at the end of the season and stands to make a large chunk of change, how big simply depends on how long teams believe his powers will last…and how much better they think he can get.

Vicente Padilla; from an afterthought to the best pitcher in baseball, all thanks to the biggest health scare in America since SARS and the kangaroo flu. There’s no doubt that Padilla will dominate the baseball landscape over the next decade, Dr. Van Nostrom’s work proves this, but it also raise a very serious question. Will Padilla use his powers for good or evil once he retires? If his past behavior is any indication, governments around the world had better start working on a swine kryptonite…and soon.

ALCS Preview: NY Yankees vs. LA Angels

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins, is the Angels' Rally Monkey next?

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins. Is the Angels' Rally Monkey next on his list?

It’s a tale as old as time. Light versus dark, good versus evil, heaven versus hell, and of  course, Angels vs Demons Yankees. It’s difficult to find two teams more diametrically opposed than L.A. and New York, and fittingly the bi-coastal rivals meet in the 2009 ALCS to determine who will represent the American League in this year’s World Series. The Yankees and Angels were 1-2 in the AL in wins, but got there in vastly different ways. One team relied on speed, timely hitting,  sacrifice bunts and the dreaded “productive out”. The other team found success with sheer brawn, overpowering inferior opponents with an offensive barrage that made the U.S.’s invasion of Normandy look like child’s play. Which style will prevail when the two meet head-to-head in a no-holds barred cage match? Let’s break it down:

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Offense: Though the Yankees trio of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira receive more recognition than any L.A. hitter, the Angels had one of the most balanced lineups in all of baseball. The Halos averaged 5.5 runs per game in setting a single season franchise record for runs (the Yanks were slightly better at 5.6 runs per game). Although they’re not as explosive as New York, eight of L.A.’s starters hit .287 or better on the year, leading to a tremendous .285 team average. The team’s sparkplug is leadoff man Chone Figgins who stole 42 bases to go along with a .395 OBP. He sets the table for Bobby Abreu (.293-15 HR-103 RBI-30 SB), Torii Hunter (.299-22-90), Vladimir Guerrero (.295-15-50), Kendry Morales (.306-34-108) and Juan Rivera (.287-25-88). There are no easy outs in the lineup, and the Angels combination of patience at the plate and speed on the basepaths will make them a difficult matchup for Yankee pitchers. New York counters with the league’s highest scoring lineup headlined by Teixeira (.292-39-122), A-Rod (.286-30-100) and Jeter (.334-18-66). There’s great depth in the Bronx Bombers lineup, as players like Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui produce in whatever portion of the lineup that Joe Girardi employs them. Both teams are solid top-to-bottom, but there is a reason that the Yankees led the AL in runs, OBP, slugging and OPS–they’re really good. Advantage: New York

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Starting Pitching: It sounds like Girardi is planning to go with a 3-man rotation for the series, a good idea given that the Yankees’ rotation drops off precipitously after C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettite. Sabathia looked sharp against the Twins and New York will rely on the hefty lefty to get them a win in game one. The Yankees #2 starter, Burnett, is consistently inconsistent and got a win in the ALDS despite issuing 5 walks; he won’t be able to get away with that against the Angels. The savvy vet of the group, Pettite, has an impressive postseason resume and enough guts and guile to keep the Yankees within striking distance. The Angels starting pitching has been sub par all season, finishing 9th in the AL with a 4.45 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. The ace of the staff is John Lackey, a proven winner who bounced back from an early injury to post a strong season (11-8, 3.83 ERA). Jered Weaver will likely get the start in game two, and despite the fact that he is Jeff Weaver’s brother and sports a wicked mullet, was solid throughout the season and against Boston in the ALDS. After Lackey and Weaver, the Angels could go with either Scott Kazmir or Joe Saunders, two players who had horrendous starts to the season, but looked much better in the second half. Neither of these pitching staffs is a sure thing, but the Yankees get the nod because of Pettite’s experience. Advantage: New York

Relief Pitching: The bullpen is the only facet of this series where these two teams don’t match up at all. Despite the fact that they led the majors with 51 saves, the Angels relief pitching is still a major question mark. Closer Brian Fuentes was erratic all season long, finishing the year with a 3.93 ERA and an even more unsightly 1.40 WHIP. Fuentes blew 7 saves in the regular season and he can’t afford to keep putting extra runners on base against a potent Yankees’ attack. On the other hand, New York counters with arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time, Mariano Rivera. The “Panamanian Canalligator” is 8-1 in the playoffs, with 35 saves and a redonkulous 0.74 ERA; Rivera makes Michael Jordan look like A-Rod in crunch time–he’s as clutch as they come. The Yankees also found a dependable setup man in Phil Hughes and will have Joba Chamberlain available if need be. This one’s a no doubter. Advantage: New York

With Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

With lights-out Mariano Rivera in the bullpen the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

Coaching:  There are few managers more respected in the game of baseball than Mike Scioscia and for good reason, his teams love him and he wins games. Scioscia guided the Angels to a World Series title in 2002 and has only recorded one losing season since taking over in L.A. following the 1999 season. He’s a great X’s and O’s guy who emphasizes a National League style of play, which his team is perfectly suited for, and he consistently gets the most out of everyone on the Angels’ roster. Girardi rebounded after a tumultuous season to led the Yankees to the best record in baseball (103-59) and has done an admirable job managing some of the games highest paid players. Scioscia’s been here before, expect him to have the Angels ready to give the Yankees a run for their money. Advantage: Los Angeles

Outcome: This is a matchup that baseball analysts call “intriguing” simply because there isn’t much else to say about it. The Yankees are a markedly better team than the Angels with advantages in offense, starting pitching and relief pitching. New York looks like a team on a mission, and now that A-Rod discovered how to hit in the postseason (thank you Kate Hudson), Los Angeles will have their hands full trying to stop the Yankees from returning to their first World Series since 2001. The Angels will sneak out a couple of wins but New York will ultimately win the series in 6 games, as Teixeira garners ALCS MVP honors, and fans worldwide will once again have to put up with the evil empire in the World Series.

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.