Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The First Step

Kudos to all the baseball experts than said the Cleveland Indians had no chance in the ALDS versus the mighty New York Yankees. Final tally Indians 3, Yankees 1. It's amazing that the Indians were such overwhelming underdogs despite some obvious statistics.

First, they actually won their division. Now I know since the inception of the 3 divisions and wild card formats in 1995 wild card teams have fared very well in the playoffs due to them having to fight down the wire to get in (see Rockies, Colorado 2007). However, the Yankees did not come in on a roll. They were slumping but they weren't in their intimidating form of July and August when they were tearing up the competition left and right. The Indians came into the playoffs sure and steady wining series after series after series to pull away from Detroit.

Second, the Indians tied for the best record in baseball. Now I know they were 96-66 and the Yankees were 94-68. Two games, wow. But when you look at it, due to the unbalanced schedule the Indians had to play the Tigers, Twins, White Sox and feisty Royals almost 80 times this year while the Red Sox and Yankees had to play Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay, three of the dredges of the American League. The Indians were challenged more often on a nightly basis than the Yankees were, plain and simple.

Finally, what is the old baseball adage? Good pitching beats good hitting. Despite the Yankees superior line-up and playoff experience it was painfully obvious that the advantage the Indians had in pitching was ginormous. Carmona was dominant, Sabathia gutted it out long enough to let the Indians bats wake up, Byrd was solid yet unspectacular and the bullpen was lights out. Wang, Clemens and the Yankees bullpen could never come through when it counted and it ultimately cost them the series.

Yes, the Indians played over their head by coming through time and time again with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. But it's not like the Indians are a horrible offensive team. They can deliver in the clutch. In game 2, they stranded runner after runner on base against Andy Pettitte but kept chopping away and came through with an 11 inning win. They aren't the offense of the late 1990's but they can score runs. The percent of games they win when they score 4 or more runs is gaudy especially when you consider they play in the AL. With this pitching staff I will take my chances with 4 runs every game of the playoffs.

So now it's on to the ALCS and "The Commonwealth". The land of bad weather, ugly women and wicked awful accents. To face the other Evil Empire... the Boston Red Sox. Red Sox Nation won't admit it but they are what the Yankees are. A team with unlimited resources that can fill holes, take chances, make personnel mistakes and not bat an eye. They have all the high priced, high profile talent that the national media loves and once again the Indians will be a huge underdog.

But when you look at it these teams are eerily similar (including the identical 96-66 records) except for one thing the explosiveness of the line-up. Just like the Yankees, the Red Sox can hurt you from #1-#9. They have some power up and down their entire line-up. They play in a quirky little ball park that they take advantage of. The Red Sox can slug it out with the best, if not better than the rest of the league and that is what makes them dangerous. The Indians do not have the firepower the Red Sox do, but their line-up can take advantage of Fenway Park as well.

Ryan Garko and Jhonny Peralta can take advantage of the Green Monster just like Mike Lowell and Manny "Scum" Ramirez can. Hafner and Martinez can wrap one around the Pesky Pole just as well as Big Papi or J. D. Drew. Grady Sizemore and Kenny Lofton can get under your skin on the bases just like Dustin Pedroia or Coco Crisp. The Red Sox are a threat for a big inning every time they step up to the plate, but the Indians are capable of putting up crooked numbers to.

The starting pitching is a draw. Beckett and Schilling, playoff dominant. Sabathia and Carmona, hot and hungry. Dice K and Westbrook both have had up and down years and can wither be brilliant or ugly. Byrd and Wakefield are both tie testing veterans with more guts that stuff but are capable of getting the job done. Whichever offense can take advantage of the small amount of opportunities presented will have an upper hand.

The bullpen is also pretty even. The Indians set-up trio of Lewis, Perez and Betancourt has an advantage of Boston duo of Okajima and Gagne. But Jonathan Papelbon is lights out and we all know that Iron Joe Borowski is a rock mentally but has his moments of vulnerability.

The Indians need to take the same approach they took all season and just win series. It got them 96 wins and an ALDS victory. All season they kept winning series, whether 3-1, 2-1, 3-0 or 2-0 they kept winning series. They split some 2 game series here and there but you can live with that on the road.

They broke the ALDS into a 2 game series at home, a 2 game series on the road and a 1 game series at home. Just win the mini-series you win the series. They won the home series with NY 2-0 and split on the road 1-1. The Red Sox series is just 3 mini-series. 2 games at Boston, 3 games at home and 2 game back in Beantown. If you split both road series and win the home series you win the ALCS. That's all they have to do and they are more than capable of doing it.

The Indians Magic Number is 8. It's Tribe Time Now.

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