LCS Impressions

Some thoughts on the League Championship Series as Rock-tober Fest heads for a possible extension into November:

— The Red Sox have the most relentless lineup in baseball. I was amazed in Games 1 and 2 at how many times Indians aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona got ahead early in the count, only to find themselves in hitters’ counts later on. Red Sox hitters absolutely refuse to swing at anything outside the strike zone, and they’re terrific at fouling off the tough pitches they can’t handle. Getting through that lineup three or four times a game has to be one of the biggest headaches in baseball.

— That said, the Indians can win this series, because their bullpen is probably just a tad deeper than Boston’s. If any of the duels boils down to the relievers, the game could be determined late as it was in Game 2, and I’d feel much better having to call on Cleveland’s Tom Mastny and Jensen Lewis than I would Boston’s Eric Gagne and Javier Lopez. That may seem like a small thing, but these teams are awfully even, and many of the games could come down a key out or two achieved by a pitcher at the bottom of the bullpen rung.

— Another reason the Indians can win this series: The Red Sox now are scheduled to start Daisuke Matsuzaka in two of the final five games of the series, and that doesn’t inspire much confidence considering 1) the way the Indians swung it against Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling and 2) the way Daisuke pitched in the late stages of the season.

— With all due respect to Eric Byrnes, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Rockies are absolutely outplaying the Diamondbacks. Colorado is getting all the key hits, and just as important, making all the clutch defensive plays. One example: The absolute ridiculous turn of a double play executed by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the second inning of Game 3. Prevented a possible early rally by Arizona.

Nice weather for baseball in Colorado, by the way. And we’re going to see only more examples of it as we move toward and into the World Series. Baseball needs to take a serious look at its schedule format. Even football moves its showcase sight to a warm-weather location.

— Six words that will take six decades to get used to hearing: The National League champion Colorado Rockies.


Tough times ahead for Geren?

Normally, I’m not big on using my blog to rehash a column from the same day, but space prevented me from delving into every possible angle regarding the firing of three A’s coaches last week. And the one thing I really wasn’t able to discuss is how this whole thing could make life tough for manager Bob Geren.

It was obvious during the A’s first losing season since 1998 that Geren didn’t endear himself to everybody. That’s to be expected, because the bulk of players are rarely entirely happy unless a) they’re playing everyday, b) hitting where they want to hit in the lineup c) pitching regularly d) the team is winning or e) all of the above. And even then, most will usually find things to gripe about, because, well, when your young and a millionaire, why be content?

Anyway, through calls made to gauge reaction to the way the A’s handled the dismissals of Brad Fischer and Marcel Lachemann, it seems clear that many players are unhappy with it (I excuse Bob Schaefer from this discussion, because he has admitted he really didn’t want to be here anyway, and with only a year of service, he didn’t really warrent the consideration that Fischer and Lacemann did). Again, this is not so much that the A’s decided to make a change — that’s their perogative, and as players realize, it’s part of the business — but how they did it.

One of the gripes I’m hearing is that Fischer and Lachemann each were tight with the players and that Geren was closed off to any of the input the two had to offer. As one source put it to me, I might as well have been wearing a uniform for all they were allowed to contribute. From an outsider’s perspective, that sure sounds like the continuation of the A’s trend to surround themselves with “yes” men, and that’s always a dangerous thing, because any successful organization has dissenting opinions in the course of charting future strategy (once a strategy has been reached, those same organizations then present a united front, and that’s how it should be).

Thus, Geren may well find a clubhouse where the veterans are ready to tune him out. Now ultimately, that may not be as huge a deal as you might think, because 1) the A’s have several solid pros who are motivated by pride and 2) the youth they figure to use will play hard regardless, because they’re trying to establish themselves in the majors. But a clubhouse that’s not on board with the skipper can foster a bad culture where everybody fends for themselves, and that does not make for winning baseball. And once that culture is established, it can take several seasons to get rid of it.

Of course, it may be that the A’s are preparing to spend the next few seasons near the bottom of the American League West. The players who formed the nucleus of the winning clubs earlier this decade has either aged or moved on; the farm system is not in great shape; and the front office may be enduring transition of some sort, because general manager Billy Beane clearly is enjoying the new responsibilities that come with being an owner.

It all could add up to some turbulent times ahead, and that’s never an easy thing for a manager. Geren has a tremendous advantage in that the front office supports him fully (why else would they give him the autonomy to choose his own coaches?), but he may have to work real hard to establish his authority in the clubhouse. For every action, there is a consequence, and the shabby way with which the A’s dismissed two of their longtime employees may have ramifications that last for some time.


Inching closer to the World Series

OK, Red Sox Nation, pile on. You deserve it. My pick for the Angels over the Red Sox couldn’t have been more wrong. Truth is, I regretted that pick the minute I saw John Lackey pitch his first inning in Fenway Park. Won’t make that mistake again, at least when Boston’s opponent is the Angels.

Other random thoughts:

— The dismissal of three A’s coaches over the weekend signals the onset of a tumultuous time for that organization. Manager Bob Geren either didn’t welcome or didn’t value (or both) the information that was coming in from many of the folks on his staff, and that’s fine. It is interesting, though, that two of the three coaches dismissed — Brad Fischer and Rene Lachemann — carried an influential voice in the clubhouse and were considered close to the players. The other foul-smelling part about this whole thing is that Fischer and Lachemann were informed via brief telephone calls. Lachemann has managed in the majors and spent much of his career with the A’s, and Fischer had spent 29 years there doing everything the organization ever asked. Common decency demands that they be given their walking papers in a more dignified way.

— Don’t expect this prediction to be as poor as my outlook for the ALDS: The A’s are going to be in the dumps for another two or three years. They’ve got only so many bullets left from this winning era — Eric Chavez, Mark Kotsay, Dan Haren, Huston Street, and Joe Blanton jump to mind — and the front office may well decide to start stocking bullets for another winning era ahead. Expect all of them to be dangled this winter for future reinforcements. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing for the A’s to be stuck in the bottom tier for a while, though, because that would allow them to find some potential gems higher up in the draft.

— If I’m Joe Torre, George Steinbrenner’s statement that I’m gone if the Yankees don’t advance beyond the ALDS doesn’t raise my pulse even one beat per minute. Look at it from Torre’s perspective. He has won four World Series. He’s been the most successful manager in the Steinbrenner Era. The players still play hard for him. And he’s financially set. Heck, deep down, Torre might be ready to step aside because who needs the hassle?

— The Angels’ medicority in the ALDS gives hope to fellow AL West rivals Seattle and Texas. Manager Mike Scioscia’s club has survived for a long time on its speed-and-pressure philosophy, but with the Mariners and Rangers improving rapidly, they may need another bopper to maintain their edge. Counting on GM Bill Stoneman to add the necessary part is always an iffy proposition.

— Another hunch: Paul Byrd pitches well tonight for Cleveland. Not saying he’ll win, or even that the Indians will avoid a Game 5, but the anticipated blowout would surprise me.


Playoff thoughts

A few thoughts as we proceed into Day 3 of the 2007 playoffs:

— Anybody else on the Rockies’ bandwagon? Colorado has impressed in so many ways down the stretch, and now they’re thumping Philadelphia as I suspected they would. One thing that’s going on now with Colorado is that somebody else is stepping to the forefront everyday. On Wednesday, it was Kaz Matsui. In Game 1, it was Jeff Francis. When team’s get that sort of rotation contributions, they become awfully tough to beat. One other thing that continues to impress: The approach of the Rockies’ hitters. They just do not go outside the strike zone very often.

— Another reason to root for the Rockies: They’ve voted a playoff share to the Mandy Coolbaugh, the widow of minor-league coach Mike Coolbaugh. Mike Coolbaugh was killed when he was hit on the head with a line drive on July 22.

— C.C. Sabathia seemed a bit amped at the beginning of his Game 1 start vs. the Yankees, and that may have contributed to some early wildness. But his final pitching line — specifically the five walks — was the result of something else, something that drives managers and coaches from other teams nuts. Simply, the Yankees hitters operate with a strike zone that is smaller than any other team, save perhaps Boston’s. Some of the borderline pitches that went against Sabathia were a joke. I could understand it if he weren’t an established pitcher, but the guy is the Cy Young favorite in the AL, and his walks-per-strikeouts innings ratio was the best in baseball for a starter.

— Got inundated with e-mails from Boston Red Sox fans saying I don’t know a thing about baseball, because I had the audacity to pick the Angels. Granted, that probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t write off the Angels just yet. Kelvim Escobar has been awfully good, and unlike John Lackey, he’s had some success in Fenway Park.

— That said, I won’t be betting against Josh Beckett anytime soon.

Lou blew it for his crew, and now they’re in a hole that’ll be awfully difficult to escape. One hope for the Cubbies. The Diamondbacks have been awfully streaky. Arizona lost at least three games in a row 10 times during the regular season.

— A rather insensitive headline on the back of the New York Post. One bright spot for the Yankees. The blame couldn’t be pinned on Alex Rodriguez.




Don’t really know what else to say about the Rockies’ victory over the Padres in the tiebreaker to determine the National League wild-card winner. Well, other than, “wow,” “amazing,” “unbelievable,” “holy toledo,” etc. Simply put, one of the great games of all time. Put it right up there next to Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (the Jack Morris game), Game 6 of the 1975 Series (the Carlton Fisk game) and the 1978 AL East tiebreaker (the Bucky Dent game).

Matt Holliday may well have won an MVP award last night. Good thing he knocked himself silly diving into home plate for the winning run; otherwise, he may have realized he never touched home plate and made a mad scramble to tag it. That, in turn, would’ve let home-plate umpire Tim McClelland know the same thing. As it was, Holliday missed the plate, McClelland missed the call, and everybody in Colorado went home happy.

I’ve mentioned a lot in the past couple of days that baseball is unfair, and the failure of Trevor Hoffman is the latest example. Hoffman is class personified and an easy Hall of Famer. But not sure if any other closer has faced the burden he now carries. Hoffman blew two successive saves that would’ve gotten his team to the playoffs. Dennis Eckersley melted down twice for the A’s in the playoffs, but not in succession. Donnie Moore gave up a pennant-killing home run for the Angels, but that was just one home run. Listening to Hoffman afterward, you realized it’s going to be a brutal time for him.

So on to the playoffs. My picks? You get those tomorrow? For now, it’s time for baseball fans to bask in the glow of one of its great nights. Same for the fans. Let me know your thoughts.


Onto extras

So, 162 games and nine innings and still we don’t have a winner. San Diego and Colorado will play extras at Coors. Matt Holliday hurt his MVP chances by misplaying a fly ball by Brian Giles, and when the ball sailed over his head, that allowed the equalizer to score.

Unfortunately, have to stop the blogging for a while. Got my own ballgame to attend. More when I get back.


Obscurity rules

If the score — now 6-5 Rockies in the top of the seventh, holds, remember the name Seth Smith. In only his eighth at-bat of the season, Smith tripled to start the sixth, then scored on a sacrifice fly. So if that winds up the winner, Smith gets his name alongside Brian Doyle, Al Gionfreddo as one of baseball’s most obscure heroes.

Smith, by the way, is only on the roster, because a tie-breaker is considered a regular-season game and September call-ups are allowed to be used. Terrible rule, but baseball has a ton of those.

LaTroy Hawkins in for Colorado, so this one is not even close to being over.


Holliday’s MVP surge

Halfway through, and the Rockies and Padres are no closer to determining the NL wild-card. Matt Holliday continued to put up his MVP case by singling in the tying run in the bottom of the fifth.

Holliday’s single brings the MVP up for debate again. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Jimmy Rollins secured it with his fantastic final week for the Philadelphia Phillies. But heroics from Holliday tonight could tilt the pendulum toward him, because East Coast voters are likely tuning in for the first time.

Holliday’s hit made it 5-5. Jake Peavy still in there for the Padres, though he’s been unable to protect a 5-3 lead, and he’s getting up there in pitches (no mention from the TBS broadcasters on that point). The Rockies have put their faith in Taylor Buchholz, who replaced Josh Fogg.


Back come the Padres

Josh Fogg has suddenly turned into Josh Fogg, and the Padres’ hopes are once again alive. San Diego has scored four times in the third inning to erase an early 3-0 lead.

Loved the bewildered look at Fogg’s face after Adrian Gonzalez smoked a grand slam to put San Diego ahead 4-3. Like he hasn’t seen that happen a bunch of times before during his career with the Pirates.

So then, the pitching match-up has gone as expected so far. The difference is that Jake Peavy did better damage control, limiting Colorado to two after loading the bases with no outs in the first. Fogg loaded them with no outs in the third, and all three (plus the hitter) scored.

Not smart to let a pitcher the caliber of Peavy off the hook. Maybe the Rockies’ magic has reached an end.


Rockies strike first

Like I said earlier today, baseball is never straighforward. The journeyman got through the first inning unscathed. The ace got touched for two.

So 2-0 Rockies through one. San Diego’s Jake Peavy did some decent damage control after loading the bases with no outs. But he threw a ton of pitches, and that wil affect things later, because Colorado’s lineup is such a juggernaut.

Meantime, Fogg allowed only a hit and struck out two in his first inning. Padres should’ve been well aware he’d be a load. Check out this list of pitchers Fogg has beaten this season: Roy Oswalt, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe