October 8, 2003

Lots and lots of baseball

I am willing to bet that no one, in the history of mankind, ever worked the "Last" button on their remote control as brilliantly as I did last night. I was bouncing back and forth between games, avoiding every commercial, switching channels between pitches. I was in "The Zone" and the remote control is still smoking. I think it might have to go on the 15-day DL.

I'm not a big fan of having two playoff games on at the exact same time, especially when they are the only two games being played that day, but I will say that it was sort of fun, and albeit a little tiring, to keep bouncing back and forth. Personally, I would prefer one afternoon game and one night game, but FOX didn't bother to ask my opinion.

Before I get to my thoughts on last night's games, I want to give you my thoughts on the broadcasts of last night's games...

Adding Bret Boone and Al Leiter to the broadcast teams is, in my opinion, a very good idea. I have long wondered why more active players weren't involved in broadcasts, either when they are injured or when their team is out of the picture.

During Mike Piazza's long stint on the DL this year, he did several Mets games on the MSG network and I thought he was excellent. Leiter hasn't impressed me all that much in the two games he's done for FOX so far, but he's still ten times better than Steve Lyons. And I thought Bret Boone was excellent last night, particularly after the first couple innings, when he warmed up a little bit.

Tim McCarver is 62 years old, he hasn't played major league baseball in 23 years and he is a very poor analyst. I would take a similarly poor active player over him every day of the week, and Boone could have a full frontal-lobotomy and not be as bad as McCarver.

Unlike McCarver, Boone was able to talk about how the game is played currently, telling the audience that batters admiring homers or pitchers pumping their fists after strikeouts are no longer big deals. Meanwhile, McCarver is still stuck in the 60s, maintaining the opinion that everything someone does after hitting a homer that doesn't involve putting your head down and sprinting around the bases is uncalled for and "showing up" the other team.

I thought Boone was much more clever and humorous in his very first experience on national television than McCarver has ever been and I thought Boone and Joe Buck had a much more entertaining banter and chemistry than Buck and McCarver have, and those two have worked together for years. I don't know whether that has to do with Boone being an active player or Boone being much closer to Buck's age or McCarver simply being a bad announcer, but I enjoyed having Bret Boone in the booth for last night's game, I hope he stays in for the rest of the series, and I would much prefer him over McCarver.

I often find that the "color man" or "analyst" on a broadcast will annoy me tremendously. I think it has to do with the fact that most analysts are at the point that they are simply repeating tired cliches while exaggerating the abilities and character of players and managers that they are fond of.

Getting some younger guys who are still playing the game into the booth is a great idea, if only because of the possibility that they might actually have some new things to say that they haven't already said 500 times. Maybe Bret Boone or Al Leiter has some actual insight about a player on one of these teams, which would certainly be better than hearing Steve Lyons tell me someone is a "clutch player" or a "down and dirty guy" or some other such cliched nonsense for the 10th time that inning.

Instead of listening to McCarver go on and on about what a "bandbox" Yankee Stadium is, there is the possibility that Bret Boone could actually tell us what it is like hitting in Yankee Stadium as it is currently configured or he could share with us what he thinks about the stadium and if his approach at the plate changes at all there. McCarver just repeats the same stuff about Yankee Stadium and the Yankees that he has been repeating for the last five post-seasons, and it wasn't even good stuff five years ago.

With all that said, it was rather disturbing seeing Bret Boone's blonde highlights and Tim McCarver's bright orange dye-job on the screen at the same time during the pre-game introductions. I won't say anything about Joe Buck's hair, because he's probably sort of sensitive about it, but the three of them were definitely "interesting" to look at.

Okay, enough about the announcers, let's talk about the games...

Before last night, I was thinking to myself just how amazingly entertaining this post-season has been so far. It seemed like just about every single game went right down to the wire, with several thrilling extra-inning games. Of course, right after I starting thinking about that, the Cubs went out and blew the Marlins out of the water.

Mark Prior definitely didn't have his "A-game" last night, but he picked a pretty great time to be simply good and not spectacular. The Cubs handed him a 2-0 lead after the first inning and it was an 11-0 laugher by the end of the fifth. Prior gave up a couple of solo shots to Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera in the top of the sixth inning, but he was pretty much just going through the motions at that point.

Dusty Baker has always been very willing to ride his starting pitchers deep into games while letting them rack up huge pitch-counts, and he has certainly done so with his young trio of starters this season. Because of that, I guess I shouldn't have been shocked when Mark Prior, a 23 year old pitcher who has thrown an average of 127 pitches in his last 7 starts, came out to pitch the seventh inning of an 11-2 game, having already topped 90 pitches.

I know the Marlins have had some amazing comebacks this year and I realize a playoff game is a little different than a regular season game, but there is absolutely no reason to let your best pitcher throw extra pitches in a blowout like that, particularly when that pitcher is one of the best young hurlers in baseball and especially when he has been ridden very hard down the stretch and into the playoffs.

And then do you know what happened? Mark Prior came out for the 8th inning too! Already over 100 pitches in a 12-2 game, Dusty Baker felt it necessary to make his 23 year old ace throw even more pitches. The first two batters of the inning reached base and Prior was then yanked from the game. So, not only did he throw a total of 116 pitches in a game that was over in the fifth inning, he did so and then was yanked from a game after struggling, which is obviously something no pitcher likes.

If Dusty Baker pulls Prior after 5 innings, with the score 11-0 Cubs, Prior ends the night throwing just 73 pitches. At worst, that gives him a nice break from the heavy-workload he's had over the last several months. At best, it means he might be able to start on short-rest later in the series, if needed.

Instead, Baker let Prior throw another 43 pitches, during which time Prior gave up 2 homers, a single and a walk, before getting yanked in the 8th inning. Prior left the mound shaking his head, which is exactly what I was doing too.

I am desperately hoping that Mark Prior is just a special pitcher who can avoid any serious injuries, despite whatever massive pitch-counts he accumulates, but if his arm becomes completely detached from his body on a pitch at some point during the next couple years or simply explodes, no one should be surprised. Well, no one except for Dusty Baker, of course.

By the way, I am not really a big Sammy Sosa fan or anything, but I was incredibly happy that he has homered in back-to-back games, just because it means the idiot announcers will have to shut up about Sosa "never hitting a home run in the playoffs." Sammy had a grand-total of 11 post-season at bats before this year, yet I heard about his zero post-season homers in every single game, before he shut everyone up with his 2-run shot to tie the game the other night. After his homer last night, Sosa now has 2 career post-season homers in 35 at bats, or one every 17.5 ABs. For his regular season career, he has a homer every 14.0 at bats.

Anyone who makes judgments on a great player based on a handful of games and then acts as if those judgments are important on the broadcast of a nationally televised baseball game should be made to write "I am an idiot who doesn't realize the importance of sample-sizes" on a chalk-board 1,000 times, while someone slaps them on the head with a ruler.

A .300 hitter does not hit .300 for every single 5-game or 20-at bat stretch during their entire career. And a power hitter doesn't evenly distribute his homers. Great hitters go hitless for 12 at bats, great sluggers go homerless for 5 games, great fielders make two errors in the same series. Did I mention most baseball announcers annoy me?

After last night's games, I am feeling pretty good about my two LCS predictions: Cubs in six and Red Sox in seven.

In fact, now that you mention it (okay, so I mentioned it), my first-round predictions were pretty damn good too. I got three of the four series correct, including amazingly predicting the correct amount of games in all three. Red Sox in five, Yankees in four, Cubs in five - you heard all of those here first.

Of course, my "Giants in four" prediction wasn't so great, although I did manage to get the amount of games right in that series too!

I got a lot of emails yesterday telling me I was crazy for picking the Red Sox over the Yankees, but I think Boston is now in a great position after their Game One win. They are up 1-0, they have taken homefield advantage, and they did so with their third-best starting pitcher on the mound.

Now, "all" they have to do is win three of the next six games, two of which will be started by Pedro Martinez and two of which will be started by Derek Lowe.

Of course, the Twins fan in me wants to remind everyone that the Yankees lost Game One of the ALDS too, and that didn't work out too badly for them. Tonight's game could be an entirely different story, with Andy Pettitte on the mound for New York. Several of the Boston's hitters - David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, Todd Walker - do significantly worse against left-handed pitching, and they don't really have any good bench options to sub in for them (for example: Damian Jackson will probably be playing 2B tonight instead of Walker).

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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