Tag Archives: 2009 Postseason

Who has the momentum?

Heading into the National League Championship Series, the buzz around Philadelphia is about the nerves on the mend from the Phillies-Rockies NLDS. And those nerves don’t look like they are going to have an easy road ahead. The Los Angeles Dodgers enter the NLCS boasting the best record in the NL with a 95-67 record, finishing two games ahead of the Phillies.

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Game 1 is slated for 8:07 p.m. on Thursday. That’s about the only thing set in stone right now for the Dodgers. With starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda returning after taking a line drive to the cheek bone in August, the Dodgers have six starting pitchers vying for four spots. Two of the starters, Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf, anchored the Phillies pitching staff during the early 2000s, when people started looking ahead to “next season” by mid-May. The other four, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Garland, and Kuroda, are all solid pitchers who could make a big impact on the series. The Dodgers come into the NLCS with a stronger bullpen than the 2008 squad, but more or less a similar lineup with just another year under theirs belts.

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Lee-ding the way in Philadelphia

Coming into this postseason, there were many concerns about the world champion Phillies’ chances of repeating this year: their bullpen was in question, their new ace was struggling, and their offense was in a funk in almost the entirety of September. With game one of the NLDS now over, the Phillies responded to two of the three concerns with style in their 5-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

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The questions surrounding the new staff ace were answered with four words: Cliff Lee is back. After setting a torrid pace in his first five starts with the Phillies, Lee had slumped as of late, causing a bit of concern for fans when he was named Game 1 starter. In his playoff debut, Lee dazzled, throwing a complete game, allowing only one run while striking out five in 113 pitches. Looking like the pitcher who won 2008 Cy Young award, Lee took command of the game, escaping some tough jams in the early innings and allowing the solitary run to the Rockies in the bottom of the ninth inning. If Lee continues this pace and Cole Hamels is able to emerge from the dugout tomorrow in 2008 World Series MVP form, then the Phillies may in fact have the scariest 1-2 punch in the postseason. Continue reading

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Playoff Preview: Angels vs. Red Sox

Another year, another matchup between the Red Sox and the Angels. These two teams have met three times in the postseason since 2002, with the Red Sox dominating theRed SoxAngels Halos in each series. The Angels won the season series, 5-4, though, and have a considerably different team composition than any of most of their previous playoff attempts.

The Angels win if: A staff ace emerges. John Lackey has been there before, but he has been injured and inconsistent this season. Jered Weaver is 1-1 career in the postseason in just seven innings. Neither Joe Saunders nor Matt Palmer has a postseason victory to their credit. And Scott Kazmir looked anything but convincing in the October spotlight last year. The potential is there for a number of Angels, but someone must step up.

The Red Sox win if: The big two at the front of the rotation hold up. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are going to have to loom large for the Red Sox to advance. Yes, they’ve done well against the Angels in past years, but the Halos have never had this much offensive firepower, finishing second in the Majors behind the Yankees in runs scored. And the Sox staff has never looked this susceptible. Both Lester and Beckett have hit rough patches down the stretch, and the cast behind them is as shaky as ever. Clay Buchholz and his zero inning of postseason experience will get the start in Game 3, followed by either the ageless Tim Wakefield, the erratic Daisuke Matsuzaka, or the ever-present Paul Byrd. A loss by either Lester of Beckett to open the series could spell disaster.

The X factor: Matsuzaka. When he’s good, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game, and has a penchant for rising to the occasion of big games (3-1 career in postseason). When he’s bad, he’s a batting practice pitcher (1-5, 8.23 ERA until being placed on the 60-day DL on June 21). But he’s been better of late, posting a 3-1 record with an ERA just north of two in four starts since Sept. 15. If Dice-K can rejuvenate the terrific trio that brought them so much success the last two years, the path to the World Series may again travel through Beantown.

The verdict: This has potential to be the most compelling of the four divisional series, and should go five games regardless (a fact that decidedly plays into the hands of the Yankees or Twins). Both teams are hauntingly similar: balanced yet powerful offenses, lots of pitching questions with plenty of candidates to provide answers. The most poignant question may be what type of series it will be: a high-scoring slugfest, or a pitchers’ battle. Ultimately, the law of averages says the Angels have to beat the Red Sox eventually, and with this year’s team possessing what its predecessors so often lacked–offense–it will be the Halos moving on.

-Matthew De George ’10

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Playoff Preview: Yankees vs. Twins

The Yankees have known for pretty much the last three months that they would be playing in the postseason, tallying 103 wins for the best record in the Bigs, and an eight-gameTwinsYankees margin in the AL East. The Twins have known about their inclusion in the playoffs for less than 24 hours by the time the series starts in the Bronx, as they squeaked in thanks to a thrilling 6-5 victory in 12 innings in a one-game playoff with Detroit. On paper, the Yankees have the distinct advantage, having swept all seven games in the season series.

The Yankees win if: They avoid the expectations they have succumbed to in the playoffs in the recent past. The end of Joe Torre’s tenure in New York was marked by teams that grossly underachieved come October. It’s been eight years since they lifted a banner in the Bronx, and the pressure is mounting by the day. And they could get caught looking past the Twins to the prospect of a meeting with either their arch-enemy Red Sox or their playoff albatross Angels in the ALCS. Across the board, the Yankees have the superior talent (lineup, bullpen, starters). But a defeat or two at the hands of the Twins could bring out the boo-birds and the thoughts of “here we go again,” both in and out of the clubhouse.

The Twins win if: Their starting pitching keeps things together just enough. Offensively, the Twins aren’t going to blow anyone away. Losing top RBI man Justin Morneau hasn’t helped, but it has made the team refocus its efforts on small ball and producing runs station to station. It may be too much to ask for a staff who’s most experienced postseason performer is Carl Pavano against the most prolific offense in the majors this season. But with a strong bullpen anchored by perennial All-Star Joe Nathan, young starters like Nick Blackburn, Brian Deunsing, and Scott Baker may not need to be exceptional, but merely solid to give them a chance.

The X-factor: The Twins’ momentum. The Twinkies finished the season with 17 wins in the final 21 games to win the Central, all since Mourneau went down to injury. They have a proven star and leader in Joe Mauer, good veterans in Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, and just enough offensive cover to sustain their small ball style. They’re a plucky, hard-nosed team that lives off solid defense. Sound like 2007 Rockies? Also, keep in mind that while the Yankees won all seven meetings this year, six were decided by two runs or less, and momentum in the postseason can be the great equalizer.

The verdict: I wish I had the courage to say the Twins would topple the odds and the Yankees, but the combination of a possible letdown, exhaustion, and the Yankees strong lineup make the ALDS another uphill battle for the Twins. Ultimately, Jeter, A-Rod, and Mo will survive and advance. Anything more than four games would be a distinct surprise.

-Matthew De George ’10

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Playoff Preview: Dodgers vs. Cardinals

Two of Major League Baseball’s oldest and most storied franchises meet up again in the NLDS. The Cardinals and Dodgers last met in the playoffs in 2004, when St. Louis tookCardinalsDodgers the NLDS in four games and eventually advanced to the World Series. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1988 for the last matchup between the teams, a classic that involved Ozzie Smith’s walk-off home run in Game 5 and Jack Clark’s game-winning dinger in Game 6 that sent the Cards to the World Series. The Cardinals also held the advantage in the season series, winning five of seven games.

The Cardinals win if: Their one-two punch of Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.63 ERA) continue pitching like the Cy Young candidates that they are. Carpenter will take the rubber in Game 1 with Wainwright pitching Game 2. Given the schedule, Carpenter could potentially pitch Game 4 on three days rest. If not, both would be available for Game 5. Their one-two punch in the middle of their line-up of Albert Pujols (.327, 47 HR, 135 RBI) and Matt Holliday (.313, 24 HR, 109 RBI) should be able to produce enough runs to win the series against the Dodgers inferior pitching as long as Carpenter and Wainwright continue to do what they have been doing all year.

The Dodgers win if: They can hit the Cardinals starting pitching. They have the young stars ready to be recognized nationally by performing in the post-season with Matt Kemp (.272, 31 HR, 106 RBI), Andre Ethier (.297, 26 HR, 101 RBI), and James Loney (.281, 13 HR, 90 RBI). And they of course have future Hall of Famer Many Ramirez (.290, 19 HR, 63 RBI). But Manny, along with much of the Dodger line-up, has been struggling as of late. But if things begin to start clicking and they all play to their potential, they can win this series.

The X-factor: Dodger starting pitching. Starters Randy Wolf (11-7, 3.23 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.79 ERA) will be up against Carpenter and Wainwright, respectively. They need to be able to keep the Dodgers in the game for them to have any shot at winning this series.

The verdict: Cardinals in 4. Since July 22, when Manny came back from his 50-game suspension, the Dodgers are just 34-33. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are 40-25. They have better starting pitching and a line-up that is not struggling in the second half of the season. All signs point to a Cardinals win.

-Brad Allen ’13

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Playoff Preview: Phillies vs. Rockies

For the Philadelphia Phillies, the first step on the way to a repeat as world champions will be a five-game series against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS. Last time these twoRockiesPhillies met in the postseason, the Rockies swept the Phillies in three games during the NLDS as they went on to take their first National League pennant. These two meet once again in 2009, with the memories of 2007 fresh in their minds.

The Rockies win if: Their pitching can keep the Phillies’ bats cool. The Phils come into the postseason with four days of rest since their last truly meaningful game, which could mean a slow offensive start for the defending world champs, especially with legitimate ace Ubaldo Jimenez ready to go in game one. This task is made more difficult with the recent loss of starter Jorge De La Rosa for the series, but a return to All-Star form by Aaron Cook may make up for that. If Colorado can keep the likes of Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth off the bases, then Rocktober will be extended through at least next week.

The Phillies win if: Their bullpen can hold up their end of the bargain. The final nine outs of the ballgame have been one giant puzzle for Charlie Manuel this season, and he will have the rough job of piecing together a save each night of the playoffs when the stakes are raised. The combination of Brad Lidge, Scott Eyre, Ryan Madson, and possible either J.A. Happ or Pedro Martinez will have to regain the confidence of the 2008 edition to ensure that the Phillies don’t look more like the 2007 team.

The X-factor: The ballparks. Coors Field and Citizens Bank Park are not known for their famous pitching duels. Both parks, in fact, are considered to be more of a launching pad than Cape Canaveral, which means the long ball will probably make its appearance early and often in this series. When you add the power-hitters on both sides of the series, you may end up seeing more crooked scores than usual in a playoff series.

The Verdict: While they are not the bullpen of last year, the Phillies relievers know what it takes to play late into October. Despite the possibility of hiccups from the relief corps, Colorado has noted struggles against left-handed pitchers, and the Phillies are loaded with southpaws. Both Eyre and Happ get a workout while Howard and Werth take advantage of the friendly dimensions of both home stadiums. Despite putting up some tough competition, the Rockies will ultimately miss the talented arm of De La Rosa and lose the series in four games.

-Tom Hagan, ’11

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