Like cops love being legally permitted to beat the shit out of guys because they carry badges. Like Hollywood producers inexplicably love Shia LaBeouf. Like James Murphy loves self-referential lyrics. Like “Macho Man” Randy Savage loves Miss Elizabeth.
That’s how much I love postseason baseball.
There’s nothing better than playoff baseball set in proud northern cities. New York, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Philadelphia — the wind is crackling cold, dirty leaves litter the ground, you see your team’s colors on every corner. The brutal weather makes the playoffs feel important — like they matter more than regular season games. That’s something you don’t ever see with basketball or hockey (just the opposite — indoor basketball in June is an abomination) and only with football when it snows or when Lambeau Field has a -35 degree wind chill.
Baseball’s playoffs are part of our slow march through history. Every pitch matters. Every excruciating, unnecessary Fox close-up matters (not really).
Here’s what to watch for as the rest of October unfolds.
Like those ridiculous episodes of Survivor where the last few contestants walk through a field of torches or something to honor their fallen competitors, we must offer a proverbial tip of the cap to those teams that didn’t make the postseason. To that end, we pay tribute to baseball’s also-rans with a hand-picked Springsteen lyric to sum up each of their seasons. Why? Because that’s the kind of shit we do around here. Because we felt like it. And because we tried it with Duran Duran lyrics, and it didn’t really work. So quit your belly-aching, pull up a motherfucking ice block, and lend an ear.
Boston Red Sox – And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment/And try to make an honest stand/But they wind up wounded, not even dead
Toronto Blue Jays – The tough, now they get going, when the going gets tough/But for you my best was never good enough
Baltimore Orioles – For what are we/Without hope in our hearts/That someday we’ll drink from God’s blessed waters
Chicago White Sox – There’s a war outside still raging/You say it ain’t ours anymore to win
Detroit Tigers – Well everybody’s dying, this town’s closing down/They’re all sittin’ down at the courthouse waiting for ’em to take the flag down
Kansas City Royals – I’m tired of waiting for tomorrow to come/For that train to come roaring round the bend
Cleveland Indians – Lights out tonight/Trouble in the heartland
Oakland A’s – Some folks are born into a good life/Other folks get it anyway, anyhow
Anaheim Angels – Well now everything dies baby that’s a fact/But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Seattle Mariners – We’ve given each other some hard lessons lately/But we ain’t learning/We’re the same sad story that’s a fact/One step up and two steps back
New York Mets – Well I got all the riches baby any man ever knew/But the only thing I ain’t got honey I ain’t got you
Florida Marlins – What if what you do to survive/Kills the things you love
Washington Nationals – I had a friend was a big baseball player/Back in high school/He could throw that speedball by you/Make you look like a fool boy/Then he had Tommy John surgery/And the franchise collapsed
St. Louis Cardinals – ‘Neath the summer sky my eyes went black/Sister I won’t ask for forgiveness/My sins are all I have
Milwaukee Brewers – They say you gotta stay hungry/Hey baby, I’m just about starving tonight
Houston Astros – When the promise is broken, you go on living/But it steals something from down in your soul
Chicago Cubs – Struck me kinda funny/Seems kinda funny sir to me/Still at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe
Pittsburgh Pirates – Man at the top says it’s lonely up there/If it is, man, I don’t care
San Diego Padres – There ain’t no storybook story/There’s no never-ending song/Our happily ever after darlin’/Forever come and gone
Colorado Rockies – My faith’s been torn asunder/Tell me is that rolling thunder/Or just the sinking sound of something righteous going under
Los Angeles Dodgers – You squandered all your riches, your beauty and your wealth/Like you had no further use for life itself
Arizona Diamondbacks – Now I been out in the desert, just doing my time/Searchin’ through the dust, lookin’ for a sign
OK, now that that piece of business is out of the way, we can move on to the playoff preview proper. Here are the key storylines to keep an eye on, beginning tomorrow afternoon…
Can Anyone Beat the Phillies?
Certainly not in the National League. Barring a disaster, the Phils can punch their own ticket to the World Series. No team in baseball can match up with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation. Between those three, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies are basically trying the old fantasy strategy of stars-and-scrubs in real life. The Reds have almost no chance in the first round, short of some incredibly flukey occurrences. Obviously, anything can happen in a short series, but come on…In the NLCS, Philadelphia has already shown their dominance over the Braves down the stretch, and the Giants can’t score against normal pitching, let along the Phillies’ front-line starters. So the only real question left is…can someone from the A.L. step up and keep Philadelphia from its second title in three years (a feat no team has accomplished since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000)? If anyone can do it, it looks like the Rays, who have the starting pitching to keep the Phillies in tight games, and the defense, bullpen and speed to win those tight games.
Will the Old-Timer Have One More First-Round Flame-Out for Old Times’ Sake?
Bobby Cox is hanging up his foul, decrepit spikes after this season, following a remarkable two-decade run as Braves manager. This has predictably led to a lot of cuddly media coverage about the lovable old scamp, and his hilarious penchant for getting ejected from games. What a crusty old coot! He’s like a real-life version of the manager from Major League. Oh, except for that part where he was arrested for hitting his wife.
So…you know…maybe a little less pageantry and a little more “don’t beat your wife” messaging would be in order when discussing his retirement. In San Francisco, home of the Braves’ first-round opponents, Barry Bonds’ very existence has been erased from AT&T Park because he injected some questionable substances. In the PGA, Tiger Woods is shunned and harassed because he had sex with some glorified hookers, all of whom wanted to have sex with him. In Atlanta, and throughout the sports media world, Cox is celebrated and his transgressions are ignored. Something’s not right here.
Not Counting Grampa Soap-in-a-Sock, Which Manager Will Acquit Himself The Worst?
Postseason play casts a glaring spotlight on managers, whose only job in the regular season is, “don’t fuck things up too badly.” In the postseason, when each game has season-ending implications, managers feel pressure to actually do things. To act decisively. Last year, Joe Girardi’s personality changed so much in the playoffs that Steven Goldman tabbed him “Coffee Joe” for his hyperactive bullpen moves and reliance on unnecessary pinch-runners.
Unfortunately, no MLB manager is a tactical genius. All are better at maintaining a steady ride than they are at analyzing complex numbers and piloting through tricky in-game situations. Most of them are former players, for God’s sake. Girardi is a vast upgrade over the corpse of Joe Torre, strategically speaking, but he’s still prone to game-ruining mistakes. Ron Gardenhire and Joe Maddon both seem like good leaders of men, or whatever, but both seem limited and myopic with in-game decisions. Maddon, in particular, is disappointing because he’s so free-thinking and likable. Ron Washington is a bit of a wild card, both because you never know how a manager will react to his first time in the postseason, and because of the cocaine.
Over in the National League, Dusty Baker seems to have actually changed from a guy who bats Corey Patterson leadoff into a guy who will at least consider batting Jay Bruce leadoff. But that doesn’t mean he won’t let Aroldis Chapman throw 170 pitches out of the bullpen one game. Bruce Bochy, Charlie Manuel and Cox are all old warhorses who let conventional wisdom dictate their moves more often than not. And frankly, in the postseason, that might be OK because staying away from the big mistake is more important than finding subtle ways to help your team win. Of course, Manuel’s refusal to pitch Cliff Lee on three days’ rest last year might have cost the Phillies the World Series.
How Will Television Attempt to Ruin Our Viewing Experience?
Ever since TBS won partial rights to broadcast the postseason, they have been openly trying to compete with Fox for the title of “Worst Baseball Broadcast in History.” This year, TBS fired an impressive opening salvo with this promotional campaign:
I mean…are you fucking kidding me? Could a network possibly be less in tune with the fan base they’re attempting to reach? People are going to watch playoff games because they like to watch baseball, not because Kid Rock (last date of relevancy: December 13, 20Never) is singing some country song while American flags unfurl and fighter jets fly overhead. I am not a marketing expert, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that there is not one person on this Earth who that ad has convinced to watch the playoffs on TBS. But other than that…good job, fellas.
Meanwhile, Fox will continue to subject us to those aforementioned closeups: of players, of managers, of distraught fans. Fox thinks you can’t really tell that something’s important unless the camera is zoomed up someone’s nostril. And then there are the announcers: Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are an ongoing war crime, and imbeciles like Thom Brennaman and Eric Karros aren’t much better. Maybe someday, baseball will get the announcers and the broadcasts it deserves. But Vin Scully can’t have too many good years left, so I’d deem that possibility unlikely. But hey, at least we’ll get to see the cast of Glee in the stands!
How About Some Predictions?
Twins over Yankees in 5 — In their fourth try in the last eight years, the Twins will finally get past the Yankees juggernaut. The Bombers’ starting pitching is a mess, and the team hasn’t really found its groove offensively all year. So the Twins move on despite CC Sabathia’s best efforts. Also, Girardi made his first two blunders of the postseason already: starting Andy Pettitte instead of Phil Hughes in Game 2, and including Dustin Moseley on the postseason roster. At least Craig Finn will be happy.
Rays over Rangers in 5 — Like the Yankees, the Rays’ pitching rotation isn’t in good form heading into the playoffs. And they have to face Cliff Lee twice. But they’re deeper in every way than the Rangers.
Phillies over Reds in 3 — Cincinnati’s just not good enough.
Giants over Braves in 4 — The Braves crumbled down the stretch while the Giants surged. More importantly, Tim Lincecum has found whatever it is that he lost in August. Expect a lot of 3-2 games in this series.
Rays over Twins in 6 — This is where the loss of Justin Morneau will really hurt Minnesota. And you can only go so far with Carl Pavano, The American Idle, as your #2 starter.
Phillies over Giants in 5 –Sorry, Frisco. The drought continues. Be happy you made it this far with that lineup.
Phillies over Rays in 7 — In a rematch of the rain-soaked 2008 World Series, the Phillies will triumph again. They’re not invulnerable, and I’m not even sure they’re a “great” team, but with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels all pitching near their best, they’ll have enough to overcome a fairly weak field.