Monday, November 12, 2007

AL Playoff Report -S6

Chicago makes it into the playoffs after battling Minnesota (who is going to miss the playoffs for the first time ever this season) all season long. This Chicago team is not as dominant as their consecutive 100+ win teams were a few seasons ago, but they can win it all. Vance Damon provides them with a huge bat, averaging 60 HRs 143 RBI since he came into the league; he was around that again this season. Surprisingly this guy has never had a single award at the ML level. George Spence will miss hitting 50HRs and 130RBI for the first time in his career due to a long injury, but he’s back now and will make a splash in the playoffs. Now that age is starting to sap former Cy Young winner Ted Rivera stamina and durability the responsibility of being an ace falls on Rocky Duvall and Torey Cunningham. While Cunningham stepped up and had a career year, cutting a full run off his previous best ERA, Rocky had serious decline after his promising rookie season. The wildcard player for this team could be Hector Machado, if he is even allowed to pitch. Machado has some of the best stuff in Morgan world, but he has a 44 control rating. He can pitch a CG Shutout or get shelled and booted in the 2nd inning. Chicago’s offense is championship caliber, but their SP can be either great or very average. Luckily for them they have some sure bullpen guys like Appier and Rivera that can hold the fort in case a SP has a bad night.

NY has an inspiring offense. It starts with a chillingly fast appetizer of leadoff hitter Estaban Montenez who hit righties just as well as lefties, had a .401 OBP, and stole 53 bases. Then the Elmer Crawford salad, who is a perfect #2 hitter that is well rounded and sets up the big guys. Then you get main course of Tarasco, Cordero, and Jefferies. They have immense power, speed, and OBP. Following them is some very capable side dishes and you can see this is a skillfully constructed and thought-out lineup. If there is any flaw it is that it is extremely RH heavy group of hitters, and it shows when you compare team OPS - .922 vL and .821 vR. NY has a good group of SPs, Clay Lincoln is the most talented of the group. Affeldt leads the world with 23 wins this season, but his 4.95 ERA suggests that he is an innings eater that gets fed from NY’s great offense. With that gaudy offense NY certainly has a chance to win it all, but at some point they will need a SP to step up. What’s interesting about their team also is that while they put up incredible offensive numbers, they were the second best fielding team in the league. Most teams have to sacrifice production to get that kind of fielding.

Washington – Havel would probably get my award for manager of year in the AL (in a tight race between him, Arte, and Exquezeme) What looked like an Atlanta Braves dynasty in the making a few seasons back blew up when a number of their frontline SPs declined due to age or injury. Washington rebuilt and has excelled doing it. They had the 5th best team ERA in the league this season, but not the hammer you were used to seeing them with. They have a superior bullpen that has both stamina and durability. They can cover for SPs that have a bad night early, and hang onto to slim leads late in the game. This really is a team that the sum is better than the parts. Statistically their offense is average and depending on the results of the last two games that might not have a 100 RBI guy. They do have a solid leadoff hitter, and after that 7 guys that his 75+ RBIs. So there are no real easy outs. Plus DC is the best fielding team in the league this year, so you won’t get many freebies from them.

Santa Fe might have won their division is a tight right over Memphis, but they truly are a wild card team. When playing in a +4 +4 stadium anything can happen and you can’t get good reads on how to scout player. SP Juan Pascal for instance has an unimpressive 4.72 ERA, but his road (in 14 starts) ERA is a stellar 2.21. They have some talented pitchers on the staff, but you just don’t know how they will do in that park and the same goes for visiting pitchers. What you do know is that Derrick Flynn and Alan O’Malley with get some licks in on even the best of pitchers. Keep the ball down, and avoid the walks and your pitchers might forgive you for making them pitch in Santa Fe.

Scottsdale will prove a difficult matchup for most any team. They are known for their explosive offense (NY and SCO traded 1st/2nd position in offense rankings all season long) but their pitching was ranked 2nd best this season. Their leadoff hitter is switch hitting rookie Felipe Rodriguez who is 2 SBs away from a 40/40 season. 2 Time MVP Rusty Jones had a dip in production, but still managed .352/47/145 and another year of 1.000+ OPS. Rookie Harry Roque finally added a power hitting left handed bat to the lineup as he, CF Tim Durbin, RF Alex Shibata, and DH Eric Thomas all hit 50+ HRs. Their bench is weak, filled mostly with defensive replacements and has-beens. The four man pitching staff they will use is Jerome Turner, Earl Wilkerson, Jaret Charles, and Virgil Quinn. 3 of them are up for Cy Young award and those same three each had sub 4.00 ERA. Middle relief for this team is just average, but rookie Ed Hitchcock who was rocked when first called up straightened himself out and has proved their most reliable setup man. Will Monroe has also had his best season as a closer, going 39/43 in saves and having a 2.72 ERA. The chink in their armor is fielding. Unlike NY which gets great offense with great fielding Scottsdale is one of the poorer fielding teams, the only position they excel defensively is SS and C.

Salem has built their team on the classic foundation of pitching and defense. They also have a good mix of vets and youth that shows they might not be going away soon. They will throw reigning Cy Young winner Jose Lee on the mound who had another good season. Accompanying him will be vets JC Russell (who had a tough season compared to his history) and Orel Payton. Then the two accomplished former first round draft picks in their rookie season Max Barrios and Bob Thompson. Barrios arguably was their best performing pitcher at 13-4 3.61 ERA, but after Lee they will have some tough decisions to make about which SPs will take the mound. Their closer has locked up the fireman of the year award for a while now. As far as their offense goes Salem has the weakest run total of any playoff team. They really only have one slugger and can’t compete in a slugfest. So they rely on their great pitching and one of the best defenses (including gold glove SS Toombs) to try and win those 3-2 ballgames.

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