Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-10-11

10/11/2006
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Top of the 1st
THE TOTAL PACKAGE
Here’s what you are looking for in a playoff team –
* Steady starting pitching
* Clutch hitting
* Steady defense
* A few web gems
* A little bop in the bat
* Speed
* Dominant middle relief
* A closer who closes the door
* Chemistry
* Astute, inspirational managing
* A little magic

Who comes closest to the total package? Let’s look at the four remaining playoff teams and see who comes the closest on paper. For you fans of teams who are not in the final four you can play along and see why your favorites are playing golf instead of baseball.

* Steady starting pitching – We certainly have to put the Tigers on the top in this category. Robertson, Verlander, Bonderman, Rogers is the best rotation in baseball right now. Even with some injuries, I’ll also give the A’s and Mets the benefit of the doubt. The Cardinals don’t make it. Overall, the Tigers led the majors in ERA, the Mets were 6th, the A’s were 7th, and the Cardinals were 16th. For you Red Sox fans are bemoaning the firing of pitching coach Dave Wallace, the BoSox were 26th.
* Clutch hitting – Once again the Tigers make the list along with the Mets and the Cardinals, each team hit over .270 this regular season, while the A’s limped along in the .240s. Interestingly enough in late innings of close games, the Mets hit .248, the Cardinals .240, the Tigers hit .239, and amazingly the A’s hit .218.
* Steady defense – The A’s are by far the best fielding team of the four.
* A few web gems – Watch the third basemen, they are all capable of making an outstanding play at any time. I love watching Eric Chavez and Brandon Inge. Guillen at short is my next fave for pulling off a great infield play. I also believe the improvements that Pujols have made at first are signficant.
* A little bop in the bat – The Tigers and Mets each had over 200 homers
* Speed – Three teams had around 60 stolen bases, the Mets had 146. Their team speed is a significant offensive factor and an annoyance to the opposing pitcher.
* Dominant middle relief – Three of the four playoff teams were in the top five for relievers’ ERA. The Cardinals finished 14th. The Mets’ bullpen ERA was an outstanding 3.28 while striking out 485 batters. No other bullpen had over 382 strikeouts. The Mets relievers WHIP (average number of Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) was an outstanding 1.21. There is no pitcher in baseball right now as exciting as the Tigers’ Joel Zumaya.
* A closer who closes the door – The Cardinals had 38 saves and without Isringhausen don’t have a lights-out closer. The Mets had 43 saves and I never feel confident with Billy Wagner. The Tigers had 46 saves and I barely feel confident with Todd Jones. The A’s had 54 saves. Right now Huston Street is my post-season closer of choice.
* Chemistry – Watch those Tigers, watch those Mets, they genuinely root for their teammates. It’s not just a ridiculous dance after a home run (and by the way, there’s no stopping to admire a home run that’s been hit) it’s rally caps and bubble gum and supporting one another. What Tigers manager Jim Leyland liked best about Saturday’s post game victory celebration is that it involved their families. “The kids, the mothers and wives, they sacrifice so much,” he said, “and we never acknowledge that enough.”
* Astute, inspirational managing – There are four outstanding managers left in the playoffs. The young Willie Randolph, the steady Ken Macha, the genius Tony LaRussa, but it has been the inspirational leadership of Jim Leyland that other teams will try to copy with their managers.
* A little magic – Who’s got the magic? Who has that unknown dynamic that will enable them to drink champagne two more times. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, but at this point I’ll be disappointed if it’s not the Tigers or the Mets.

Top of the 2nd
POST-SEASON SCHEDULE AND RESULTS
AL DIVISION SERIES
Oakland Athletics vs. Minnesota Twins
OAK wins 3-0

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
DET wins 3-1
NL DIVISION SERIES

St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres
STL wins 3-1

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets
NYM wins 3-0

AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
Gm Date Site Time (TV)/Result
1 DET, 5-1 @ OAK WP Robertson (1-1) – LP Zito (1-1)
2 Wed. Oct. 11 @ OAK 8 p.m. (FOX)
Rogers vs. Loaiza
3 Fri. Oct. 13 @ DET 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
Haren vs. Verlander
4 Sat. Oct. 14 @ DET 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
Harden vs. Bonderman
5* Sun. Oct. 15 @ DET 4 p.m. ET (FOX)
Zito vs. Robertson
6* Tue. Oct. 17 @ OAK 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
Rogers vs. Loaiza
7* Wed. Oct. 18 @ OAK 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
Verlander vs. Haren

NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
St. Louis Cardinals vs. N.Y. Mets
Gm Date Site Time (TV)/Result
1 Wed. Oct. 11 @ NYM 8 p.m. ET (FX)
Weaver vs. Glavine
2 Thu. Oct. 12 @ NYM 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
Suppan vs. Trachsel
3 Sat. Oct. 14 @ STL 4 p.m. ET (FOX)
Maine vs. Carpenter
4 Sun. Oct. 15 @ STL 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
5* Mon. Oct. 16* @ STL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
6* Wed. Oct. 18* @ NYM 4 p.m. ET (FOX)
7* Thu. Oct. 19* @ NYM 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
* – If necessary

WORLD SERIES
TBD vs. TBD
Gm Date Site Time (TV)/Result
1 Sat. Oct. 21 @ AL 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
2 Sun. Oct. 22 @ AL 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
3 Tue. Oct. 24 @ NL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
4 Wed. Oct. 25 @ NL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
5* Thu. Oct. 26 @ NL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
6* Sat. Oct. 28 @ AL 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
7* Sun. Oct. 29 @ AL 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
* – If necessary

All games can be heard on ESPN Radio

Top of the 3rd
Nate Robertson escaped but Barry Zito didn’t. Barry Zito lasted only 3 2/3 innings last night as the Tigers topped the A’s, 5-1 to take a 1-0 lead in their playoff series. “We were dodging bullets all night from the get-go,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, referring to the A’s first-inning rally when starter Nate Robertson, who pitched five scoreless innings, had runners on first and second with one out. “We just put too many guys out there (on the bases) and were really fortunate.”

Zito retired the first eight batters he faced but just three of the next 10. The A’s failed to turn a double play in the 4th when second baseman D’Angelo Jimenez made a throwing error on a play started by third baseman Eric Chavez, a gaffe A’s manager Ken Macha said “wound up costing us two runs” and enabled the Tigers to build a five-run lead.

“With our lineup, at any point, if you make a mistake, something big can happen,” Tigers’ left fielder Craig Monroe said. “That’s not being cocky or anything. But in other lineups, when you get to the bottom, you maybe get a chance to relax. Not ours.”

Proving his point, at the top of the lineup Curtis Granderson had two hits. In the middle of the lineup Pudge Rodriguez hit a home run. And at the bottom of the lineup, Brandon Inge had a home run among three hits.

During the regular season, Zito had lasted at least five innings in 33 of his 34 starts; the only time he didn’t came in an opening-night loss to the Yankees, when he was routed after 1 1/3 innings, the crowning blow being a grand slam by Alex Rodriguez. Last night, Zito retired the first eight Tigers, with five grounders, a foul out and two fly balls for outs. But of the last 13 hitters he faced, he gave up four walks and six hits. Two hits were homers.

On the other hand, Oakland threatened with two runners aboard in the 4th inning and nobody out. Manager Jim Leyland goes to the mound (note that Leyland went and not the pitching coach), and said fewer words to Robertson, than it took pitches for Robertson to strike out Eric Chavez, strike out Nick Swisher and strike out Marco Scutaro.

One point of concern for the Tigers is first base. Sean Casey left the game early because of a left calf injury. Leyland said Casey would not play tonight and while it was possible he would play Friday in Detroit, those chances could be reduced by expected cold weather. Carlos Guillen, who moved from shortstop to first base after Casey’s injury, will start there tonight and Neifi Perez will start at shortstop

Top of the 4th
WHO WANTS A-ROD?
Well Uncle Joe has been invited back but there will be at least one less face in the Yankee team picture next season and I’m pretty sure it will be A-Rod. The esteemed Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is of the same mindset.

K-Ros writes, “The reality for Rodriguez hasn’t changed — he isn’t Derek Jeter in New York, and never will be. A-Rod is a great player, a Hall of Famer. But he’s not going to be happy as a Yankee. He’s not going to be accepted as a Yankee. He needs to get out — and really, anywhere else would be better.”

Rodriguez insists he won’t waive his no-trade clause, but a few extra million dollars will be tossed his way to ease the pain. The checks should probably be made out to his new shrink in whatever city he lands. L.A. seems like a strong possibility whether it is the Dodgers or the L.A. team that is in Anaheim whose owner, Arte Moreno, has pledged to make a major move.

Ozzie Guillen might be an intriguing dugout shrink for Alex and an extra White Sox bat could provide insurance in case Thome breaks down. The other side of Chicago might be a good landing spot particularly if the Cubs sign Pinella to be their manager. Lou and Alex seem to hit off. While Rosenthal also mentions the Astros and the Padres, somehow I don’t see the fit. But then again where does A-Rod really ever fit in?

The trade that will consume talk radio will be A-Rod, plus mucho dinero, to the Marlins for Dontrelle Willis.

Rosenthal ends his piece with an intriguing aspect in the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry. Be still your beating hearts, hell will freeze over before there is an A-Rod for Manny swap. That, ironically, would have been a key aspect of the deal that would have brought A-Rod to Fenway from Texas. But Rosenthal does point out that Rodriguez on the market hurts the demand for Ramirez. As K-Ros points out, “Exasperating as A-Rod can be, he shows up, plays hard, puts up numbers. He’s not nearly as wacky as Manny.”

Top of the 5th
WHO WANTS BOCHY?
Tracy Ringolsby reports that San Diego president Sandy Alderson would like to bring in his own people, but with the recent success of the Padres it is difficult for him to get rid of general manager Kevin Towers and manager Bruce Bochy. According to Ringolsby in today’s Rocky Mountain News, that’s why Alderson granted permission to Arizona, Boston and the Dodgers to talk to Towers about vacant GM jobs a year ago. And it’s why the Padres have let it be known that if the Cubs or Giants want to talk to Bochy about their managerial vacancies, they will be given the chance.

Top of the 6th
CELEBRITY NONSENSE
According to the Cindy Adams gossip page:
Actor Billy Bob Thornton, tried out for the Kansas City Royals as a pitcher: “At infield practice I was behind the first baseman, and the guy on third threw to the first baseman, who missed the ball. It broke my collarbone, and that was it for me.”
George Clooney tried out for the Cincinnati Reds
Robert Redford had a baseball scholarship at the University of Colorado
Robin Williams: “I hated baseball as a kid. I played catcher and got run over by so many opposing players that I began to suspect my own team was setting me up to get knocked down. It was no good. I finally told the coach the only position I’m willing to play is pinch runner, so that ended my baseball career.”

Top of the 7th
ON THIS DATE…
On October 11, 1967, Rico Petrocelli’s two home runs led the Boston Red Sox in an 8-4 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals and forced a seventh game in the World Series.

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Oakland’s batters went hitless in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position yesterday, matching the most hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position by one team in a postseason game. The Cardinals went 0-for-13 in those situations against the Mets in Game 1 of the 2000 NL Championship Series.

Top of the 9th
REMEMBERING BUCK
State offices in Missouri will fly flags at half-staff Friday and Saturday to honor former Negro Leagues player Buck O’Neil. O’Neil died Friday of congestive heart failure and complications of bone marrow cancer at 94. He was a player and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs, the first black coach in the major leagues and a well- known promoter of the Negro Leagues in his later years.

“Buck O’Neil was an outstanding baseball player and remarkable Missourian,” Gov. Matt Blunt said Tuesday in announcing the decision. “He was a tremendous citizen who also was a great role model for young Missourians. He will be missed.”

Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.