Posted on: October 4, 2008 12:51 pm

The marathon vs. the sprint

As he tried to explain what's happening to the Cubs, Mark DeRosa said the other day: "We were the best team in the marathon. We need to be the best team in the sprint."

DeRosa got it right. In the wild-card era, history shows that the best team in the 162-game marathon often can't make it through the one-month October sprint.

In fact, in the 13 years of the three-tier playoff system, only three times has the team with the National League's best 162-game record represented the NL in the World Series. The Braves did the double in '95 and '96, and the Cardinals made it in '04.

Meanwhile, the "best team" has been knocked out in the first round four times.

The story is a little different in the American League, where six "best teams" have made it to the World Series in 13 years (counting the '07 Red Sox, who tied for the best record with the Indians). But even there, four "best teams" have lost in the very first round.

Who knows why this is true? Maybe it's that a short series is too much of a crapshoot. Maybe it's that the "best team" is often the first to clinch (as the Angels and Cubs were this year), and loses its edge through too many meaningless games leading up to the playoffs.

It is unusual for the team with the best record to exit the playoffs in a three-game sweep, which both the Cubs and Angels are in danger of doing. It has happened, but only twice. The 2000 White Sox (95-67) were swept by the Mariners, and the 2001 Astros (who tied for the best record at 93-69) were swept by the Braves.

As for a 100-win team like the Angels losing in the first round, that's surprisingly common. The Angels would be the ninth 100-win team in the last 11 years to fail to make it out of the first round.

Posted on: October 3, 2008 5:03 pm

Yount: These are great times for the Brewers

The question that is getting asked about the Brewers is a simple one:

Was it worth it?

Was it worth going for it all this year, when there's a real chance now that all they'll get out of it is one home playoff game at Miller Park? Was it worth it, with the very real likelihood that both CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets are headed out the door via free agency the moment this postseason ends (which could be Saturday night)?

Was it worth it? Robin Yount says absolutely, it was.

"Hey, it's been a long time since this organization has been able to feel anything like this," said Yount, who returned to the organization as bench coach when Dale Sveum replaced Ned Yost as manager. "You can see the excitement all around town. Everywhere you go in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, that's what they're talking about again. And it's great to see, because these people here have such a passion for this stuff. To get them this far, they feel like, 'Hey, we've done something!' "

Yount isn't giving up on this series with the Phillies, even though the Brewers trail two games to none and need two wins just to give Sabathia another chance. But Yount also believes that Brewers fans will appreciate this team, even if the postseason run doesn't end well.

"Hey, we didn't win the World Series (in 1982), and you would have thought we did when we came home (from St. Louis)," he said. "We were treated like we were world champions, even though we didn't win. I don't think there's too many places that would have accepted the team back in quite that manner. I'm telling you, this place has got something going for it."


Yes, Yount did hit against Jamie Moyer, the 45-year-old who starts Game 3 for the Phillies. He went 3-for-11, with four walks. Sveum also faced Moyer; he struck out once and was hit by a pitch in his other plate appearance.


In Chicago, they're wondering if Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez are reliving last year's playoffs. Neither one drove in a run last October, as the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by the Diamondbacks. Neither had an RBI as the Cubs lost the first two games to the Dodgers this week.

But if you think the big guys have to hit for a team to win, you haven't seen the Phillies. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley combined for just one hitt and two RBIs in the first two games against the Brewers, but the Phillies won both games.

"We had other guys step up," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's kind of what a team is about."

Utley and Howard were a combined 5-for-23 with one RBI last October, when the Phillies were swept by the Rockies.

Posted on: October 2, 2008 8:34 pm
Edited on: October 2, 2008 9:20 pm

Nervous times at Wrigley

it's OK for us to say that the Cubs have to win tonight to have a chance in the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.

It's a little shocking to hear one of the Cubs say it.

"I think it's pretty do-or-die," Mark DeRosa said this afternoon. "You don't want to get on a 4 1/2-hour plane ride down 0-2."

Let's think about this for a moment. The Cubs would seem to have an edge with Rich Harden against Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3. They wouldn't feel bad with Ted Lilly against Derek Lowe on short rest in Game 4. And if they won two in LA, wouldn't they feel pretty good about having Game 5 back at Wrigley?

Maybe so, but not if the Cubs really believe that Game 2 is do-or-die.

"I think it would be a huge advantage for the Dodgers, but do-or-die?" manager Lou Piniella said. "If we lose tonight, well, might as well just stay home and forfeit the game in Los Angeles. I don't see us doing that."

Incidentally, in Game 1 Wednesday and before the game tonight, there's been none of the buzz that there was at Wrigley in the 2003 playoffs or even in the regular season this year (and nothing like the buzz there was at U.S. Cellular Field for White Sox-Twins on Tuesday). Hard to say why, but you wonder if some of the Cubs fans have just assumed this team was headed for the World Series, and looked at this series as nothing but the prelims.

Category: MLB
Posted on: October 1, 2008 3:22 pm

From New York? Me? You've got to be kidding

I'm thankful for every one of you who takes the time to read, and for almost every one of you -- OK, for some of you -- who take the time to write.

But do you guys have to be so predictable?

When I finished my column the other day leading into the White Sox-Twins one-game playoff, I turned to a friend and said: "You know, I've lived in New York for all of five weeks, but I'll guarantee that someone writes accusing me of New York bias."

The only thing I didn't predict is how many of you would jump at such a goofy conclusion.

Here goes, at least with the (semi-)printable ones:

From Jeff: "You must be from NY, because the whole thing made me want to puke. Tell Jeter to wear some tighter pants."

Actually, I think Jeff was referring to the Yankee Stadium closing ceremony, rather than my column on the Twins and White Sox, but you get the idea. And actually, not only am I not from New York, but I didn't think it was much of a ceremony, either.

From Julie: "I think it's ridiculous the amount of self-importance surrounding East Cost baseball. You're adding fuel to the fire. Just because this is a Midwest battle does not make it any less exciting or important."

I hope baseball in the Midwest matters, because otherwise I really did waste those 18 1/2 years covering the Tigers. I hope baseball in the Midwest matters, because otherwise I've made a huge mistake choosing to open the postseason at Wrigley Field, and then going from here to Milwaukee.

From Robert: "You're obviously a New York !@#$@!$#@!$#@!. The thing that lacks sizzle is your writing."

How wrong you are. I'm actually a California !@@$@$!@!!.

From Pat: "What a terrible column. I guess since one of your precious New York teams didn't make it, you'll just have to cheer for Boston."

First off, I'm not from New York. Second, if I were from New York, do you really think I'd be cheering for Boston?

From Russ: "A one-game playoff is not exciting? Sorry it does not include a New York or Boston team. There is baseball played west of the Mississippi."

Wow, Chicago must have changed since the last time I was here. Now it's west of the Mississippi.

And now, to the rest of the mail:

From Mike: "If the Brewers win the wild card, the Cubs get to play in 70 degrees in sunny LA. Why would they want to play in NY?"

Uh, maybe because advancing to the next round  means more to them than getting a tan. Tell me, wouldn't you want to face the Mets bullpen?

From Pedro: "Great column. The Mets have given me more gray hair than my kids. Thanks for a non-New York doom and gloom column."

Thanks. And thanks for realizing that I'm not from New York.

Thanks to all for writing. And now that I'm spending a week (and maybe more) in Chicago, I can't wait for the next batch of letters accusing me of Midwest bias.


Category: MLB
Posted on: September 30, 2008 1:36 pm

Scott's wrong -- but not on everything

The great thing about awards is that you can argue about who deserves them. And the great thing about the 2008 awards for me is that for the first time in almost 20 years, I don't have an actual vote on any of them.

That means I'm completely free to tell you what I think, and you're completely free to totally ignore it.

And as much as I respect Scott Miller, I'm also completely prepared to tell him where he's wrong.

You can read Scott's picks for the postseason awards here, if you haven't already.

To save time and avoid repetition, I'll just say I agree completely with Scott on the AL Cy Young award (Cliff Lee), and on both managers of the year (Joe Maddon, Lou Piniella). I agree with him on both rookies of the year (Evan Longoria, Geovany Soto), although the AL decision is a tough one, with Longoria getting just a small edge over Alexei Ramirez.

No argument on executives of the year, either (Andrew Friedman and Doug Melvin).

Of course, those were the easy picks.

The MVPs were the tough ones. Too many candidates in the National League, not nearly enough in the AL.

But think about who had the most effect on this season. What will you remember about 2008?

In the NL, you'll remember how Manny Ramirez changed the Dodgers into winners, and how CC Sabathia did the same for the Brewers. You'll remember all those Ryan Howard home runs that put the Phillies over the top in the East. I'd put all three of them of them ahead of Albert Pujols, who had a very nice season but only turned the Cardinals into fringe wild-card contenders. The MVP: Manny.

In the AL, Dustin Pedroia is a nice pick. But it's the wrong pick, because Francisco Rodriguez's 62 saves made the difference this year. Sure the Angels won by about 50 games, but if you don't think a closer can be valuable, ask all those teams that are sitting home in October primarily because they didn't have one. The MVP: K-Rod.

That leaves the NL Cy Young. I admire what Tim Lincecum did. I love Sabathia. But Johan Santana didn't lose after June, and he nearly pulled a flawed Mets team into the playoffs. Yes, I know that Sabathia DID pull his team into the playoffs, but I'll give the edge to the guy who was there all year. The Cy Young: Johan.


Posted on: September 28, 2008 6:32 pm

Mets expected to retain Manuel

The Mets lost out again on the final day of the season, but that failure isn't expected to cost anyone a job.

General manager Omar Minaya's four-year contract extension became public knowledge a few days back, and after today's 4-2 loss to the Marlins, major-league sources said that it's almost certain that Jerry Manuel will remain as manager.

Manuel took over as interim manager when Willie Randolph was fired late on the night of June 16. The Mets, who were a game under .500 at the time (34-35), went 55-38 under Manuel. Mets players have repeatedly praised Manuel, and several Mets players endorsed him again after today's loss.

"I believe he should be back," Carlos Beltran said. "He's a great man, and he did everything possible. He did his part, and he did his best."

Minaya also praised Manuel, saying he did "a very good job going into a difficult situation."

Minaya wouldn't directly comment on Manuel's future, saying he first had to discuss the situation with club ownership. But it's believed that the decision has already been all but finalized.

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 27, 2008 5:19 pm

Scoreboard-watching with the Mets

The Brewers-Cubs game was playing on one television in the Mets clubhouse after this afternoon's 2-0 win over the Marlins, but only a few players stopped to watch. The Phillies-Nationals game was on a TV just outside the clubhouse, but only a security guard was watching.

And on the board that told the Mets what time to report for Sunday's game against the Marlins, there was also a reminder to pack for a one-day trip to Philadelphia, should the Phillies lose that game to Washington.

As of 5 p.m., as the Mets players and coaches were heading home, there was still a chance of a one-game playoff with the Phils, which would be Monday at Citizens Bank Park. There was still a chance of a one-game playoff with the Brewers, which would be Monday at Shea Stadium. And there was still a chance, of course, that the Mets' season would end with Sunday's game against the Marlins.

So many possibilities.

"We've taken care of what we could do today," David Wright said.

Yes, they had. For the second straight season, the Mets are alive right to their final scheduled game.

It didn't go well a year ago. Now they have another chance.


There's a feeling in New York that the Marlins hate the Mets, and that it would make the Marlins' season if they keep the Mets out of the playoffs.

"That's not true at all," Marlins center fielder Cody Ross said today. "Any one of us in here would trade places with them in a heartbeat. The only thing for us is that if we don't make it (to the playoffs), we don't want anyone else to. That would be true if we were playing the Phillies, the Cubs, anyone. It's nothing personal (against the Mets). That wouldn't make our season."


Posted on: September 25, 2008 5:43 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2008 5:57 pm

Dempster in Game 1, and more from the Cubs

Lou Piniella strongly suggested Wednesday night that Ryan Dempster would be his Game 1 starter. Today, he made it official.

Dempster, 14-3 this season at Wrigley Field, will be on the mound for the Cubs Wednesday at Wrigley, against either the Mets or the Dodgers.

"He deserves it," Piniella said. "He's been extremely consistent and reliable all season long. Plus, Games 1 and 5 are at home, so it makes all the sense in the world."

Piniella didn't name the rest of his playoff rotation.

In other Cubs news, Piniella left Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Aramis Ramirez out of his lineup for tonight's game against the Mets. Mark DeRosa is also out, but he's unavailable because of a calf strain.

Piniella said that the Brewers, battling the Mets in the NL wild-card race, have no reason to be upset, because the Cubs have already won two of the first three games against the Mets.

"I'm resting my team," Piniella said. "That was a long, long game (Wednesday night)."

Piniella hinted that he'll also rest many regulars Friday night in Milwaukee, but that he plans to play most of them Saturday and Sunday.

"We have two days off Monday and Tuesday," Piniella explained. "I've got to play the regulars, because I don't want to see them sit for three or four days."

That all assumes, of course, that the Cubs don't ahve to play a makeup game Monday.

There are two scenarios in which they would. Rain is coming to New York, although as of now (almost 6 p.m.) the rain still hasn't arrived. If tonight's game can't be played, it would be made up on Monday if necessary.

And then there's the third game of the Hurricane series, the one in which the Cubs and Astros played two games in Milwaukee last week. The only way that game would be played Monday in Houston is if the Astros make up three games on both the Mets and Brewers between now and Sunday.

What makes that strange, of course, is that one part of the Astros making up all those games on the Brewers is that the Cubs would have to beat the Brewers all weekend in Milwaukee. Imagine a scenario Sunday in which the Cubs could get Monday off by losing, but could force themselves into a meaningless (for them) Monday trip to Houston should they win.

What kind of lineup do you think Piniella would play that day?

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or