Postseason Roundup, Round One

2010 has certainly lived up to its billing as “Year of the Pitcher” in the first round of the playoffs. Roy Halladay did his thing. Cole Hamels: complete game shutout. Tim Lincecum: complete game shutout. Jonathan Sanchez: 7.1 innings, 1 run. Tim Hudson: 7 shutout innings. Phil Hughes: 7 runless innings. Cliff Lee: 16 total innings, 2 runs. CJ Wilson: 6.1 scoreless frames. Strikeouts are comin’ out the wazoo, and bases on balls are an endangered species. You know guys must be doing pretty well when you can make fun of Matt Garza’s 1 run in 6 innings. The only stinky pitching came from the quarters of Minnesota and Cincinnati. Even that wasn’t all stinky. Bronson Arroyo did alright. Seriously though, if this continues I expect the remainder of the postseason to be all kinds of delicious. (A Barry Zito-CJ Wilson World Series pitching match-up is still my ultimate dream.)

But how did my predictions hold up through round one? Behold:

Philly over Cincy in the battle of red-colored NL teams I can’t stand? Check. Kooky, quirky San Francisco over Bobby Cox’s Bravos? Check. Yankees over the Twins? Obviously. And the nail-biting down to the wire Rays-Rangers series? RANGERS TAKE IT!!! * Fist Pump * On a side note, if you are interested, tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers are: 10 14 23 26 31 and 42.

Here are some photographic highlights from the opening round series (one for each team):

Texas celebrates its series win with ginger ale so as to include Josh Hamilton in the festivities. A commendable decision, to say in the least.

You can cut your hair now, Mr. Longoria.

The San Francisco Giants offer a salute to Atlanta’s Bobby Cox after their series win. Classy.

Bobby says goodbye

……

No October smiles for Brandon Phillips.

Is it cold, CC?

See you next year, Mr. Mauer.

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Post Season’s Greetings!

Well, my friends, the post season is upon us. What twists and turns lie in store for the eight best teams in baseball? I hope everyone will be watching to find out, even if the none of the eight teams in question hold a special place in your heart. There are still plenty of teams worth rooting for… and against.

I have collected a thought or two to share for each team, and list them here in order of least-to-most likable.

8. Philadelphia Phillies

I am ready for the Phillies time of greatness to be over. The team is so old that I have to think it soon will be. If their glorified pitching staff and punchy offense do end up carring them as far as is generally expected, it will be to my chagrin.

7. Cincinnati Reds

Call me a bitter Cubs fan, but I simply cannot wish the Red any success. The only thing I like about this team is Brandon Phillips’ smile, and I am sure that if they went all the way, it would break his face.

6. New York Yankees

I am not a rabid anti-Yankee person, I just think they should let someone else have a turn this year. If they were to repeat, I would be truly happy for one solitary reason (Kerry Wood, of course.)

5. Atlanta Braves

Sure, it’d make a great story for the Bravos to win it all in Bobby Cox’s final season, but… meh. It’s a good enough story that they made the playoffs, in my book.

4. San Francisco Giants

I am willing to let go of the Cubs-Giants grudgery of ages past (I can be a forgiving fan, see?) We did humiliate them in 1908, after all. Besides, they’ve got Little Babe Ruth now. And Buster Posey is fun to watch. And Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Brian Wilson are fun to laugh at.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

The [Devil] Rays spent just long enough being the laughing stock of the major leagues as to give me pleasure in seeing them experience some success. I also like Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist.

2. Minnesota Twins

Jim Thome has played in the post season eight times without ever having won a World Series. I like Jim Thome and this fact makes me sad.

1. Texas Rangers

I do not, in fact, like the Rangers any more than the Twins. But Minnesota won a championship in 1991. In Cubs years, that’s like yesterday.

~

And here are a few bonus thoughts/opinions!

Match-up that would disgust me:

Yankees vs. Phillies

Match-ups that would bore me:

Yankees vs. Braves (The ’90’s are over.)

Rays vs. Phillies (So is 2008.)

Match-ups that I would watch with interest and pleasure:

Rangers vs. Giants (Think of the pitching match-ups! Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee! Mimbos Barry Zito and CJ Wilson!)

Twins vs. Braves (Think of the catching match-up! Joe Mauer and Brian McCann! Actually, a Twins-Giants [Mauer-Posey] contest would be almost as agreeable.)

Actual Predictions:

If I get this right, everyone owes me a jar of Nutella. To form these guesses, I used equal parts common sense and wishful thinking.

NLDS- I think that Philadelphia will dispatch Cincinnati. San Francisco will edge out Atlanta.

ALCS- I think that the Yankees will beat the Twins, and the Rangers will upset the Rays.

NLCS- The Phillies will come out on top of the Giants.

NCIS- I don’t know, I don’t watch that show.

ALCS- The Rangers will triumph over the Yankees.

World Series- I predict the Rangers will somehow defeat the Phillies. They already beat the Rays and Yankees, so why not? Like I said, wishful thinking.

“When putting away your luggage after arriving home, always close the zippers so bugs can’t crawl in.”

Author’s Note: The following post includes significant Starlin Castro-inspired enthusiasm. Nothing that has happened since his stellar debut has really dampened my excitement over him, and it is my opinion that the individuals who booed Starlin during last night’s game should all be hit square in the face with a sock full of pennies.

I hope nobody will hate me for relating every minute detail of the little trip I went on last week. Friday’s game was by far the best Cubs one I have ever been to in person, and the entire day was just flat out awesome. If it ever sounds like I’m bragging, forgive me. I am not trying to… I honestly had an incredible few days and count them as a tremendous blessing. If I could give everyone a little of my leftover joy, I would. And Cubs Nation would have a few more happy campers. Continue reading

The Hot Wire Sandwich: “I brought you a tuna sandwich. They say it’s brain food. I guess because there’s so much dolphin in it, and you know how smart they are.”

Think of this post as a sort of current event round-up. It’s a sandwich of everything that has happened lately. And, yes… I do like comparing baseball events to food.

-The biggest item that everyone has been buzzing about is Mark McGwire’s steriod confession. I haven’t been tuned in to the noise, but did read this article by Joe Posnanski (I’m glad I did. I thought it was excellent.) I’m in agreement with pretty much all of Mr. Posnanski’s points… let’s just forgive Mr. McGwire and move on, and let him move on.

The only thing that bothers me is that it took him so long to make these admissions. Wouldn’t the pain and embarrassment have been less if he’d done it years ago, anyway? Look at guys like Andy Pettitte and Brian Roberts. They both faced up to the charges and apologized as soon as their respective steroid usage became public knowledge. Now, I don’t think anyone has a thing bad to say about either of them. (Granted, the weight of Mr. McGwire’s accomplishments is greater. But I still believe that had he come right out and faced the situation like a man, folks would be more forgiving than they are now.) The persistent lying almost became worse than the original crime. I am glad that Mr. McGwire did finally decide to come clean and I hope that others will follow suit (*Cough-SammySosaRogerClemens-Cough!*)

-Buried beneath the Mark McGwire commotion was a smaller bit of news that brightened my day. Hearing that the Cubs had hired Greg Maddux as a special assistant to the GM brought me great joy. I barely even know what it means, but as a shameless Maddux admirer, I am thrilled to have him back in the Cubs organization in any capacity.

-So, Randy Johnson formally announced his retirement from pitching. The sad thing is how close I was to writing, “He was such a great player, it’s a shame I never got to see him pitch in person.” I thought those words. Fortunately, I remembered that I actually did see him pitch in person. Embarrassment averted!

-Cuban defector/supposed pitcher extraordinaire Aroldis Chapman signed with the Reds this week. I guess I’m a bit of a Chapman skeptic, or maybe it’s just that I don’t care for the man (one of these days I’m going to write up a list of the players I think could use a good slap in the face.) I was going to wish Cincinnati sarcastic luck, but I’m sure that it would come back to bite me. I might get bitten anyway. We’ll see.

-The 25th annual Cubs Convention kicks off TOMORROW! Expect coverage, miles away though I may be.


Review: “The Long Season”

I recently finished reading The Long Season, by Jim Brosnan. Mr. Brosnan was a major league pitcher from 1954-1963. The book is his personal account of the 1959 baseball season. Here, for your good information, is my “review.”

Given that real books written (actually written) by real baseball players are about as common as a unicorn sighting (Lisa Frank illustrations and Zork II don’t count), The Long Season is something of a rarity. Mr. Brosnan writes in a blunt, unpretentious style. He covers the highs and lows, and ins and outs of being a pro ballplayer; both the blessings and curses of his chosen profession. You don’t get the feeling that he’s trying to beat you over the head with anything, or that he’s talking down to you. The book seems more like a long conversation, with Mr. Brosnan leaning back in his chair, lighting a cigarette and matter-of-factly presenting you with his point-of-view.

Having only ever been a fan, I relish opportunities to learn how players really think, feel and react. What does it feel like to come through for the team in a big situation? Conversely, how does it feel to blow it? What is it like when you get traded? Mr. Brosnan has answers for all those questions and others besides. Such insights are what I enjoyed most about the book. As someone who is strongly against the practice of booing, I was glad to find that Mr. Brosnan’s take on the subject supports my stance. An excerpt:

I can’t stand to be booed. Some people say I’m being childish; most ballplayers say you get used to it. I can’t believe they really hear those boos; they turn their ears off when the ugly noise begins. Desperately I try to do the same; inevitably I managed only to turn up the sound, and it rings and reverberates for hours after I’m gone, the crowd’s gone, the game’s gone.

When twenty thousand people applaud as you walk out to do your job, it should be an inspiration. It should make you feel good. (Applause is what you play for, too, as well as money.) When those same twenty thousand cry, ‘Ptui, you let us down,’ you have to feel bad. Most of the fans probably didn’t open their mouths; many probably sympathized with me when the booing started; some, reasonable critics, probably said, ‘Guess he didn’t have it tonight.’

‘Didn’t have it! The bum blew it!’

Even in the clubhouse I could hear the final smattering of boos as Charley Jones announced the results; ‘Here are the summaries. Giants, 6- Cardinals, 5. Winning pitcher, Antonelli. Losing pitcher, Brosnan.’

Boo! Like and echo. Like the tardy, final twist of the knife. It hurts. Don’t let them tell you it doesn’t.

The conspicuous contrasts between the game in 1959 and today are almost as enjoyable as anything. The following passage, in which St. Louis player/manager Solly Hemus gets into a skirmish with a Pirates’ pitcher, got my attention:

Daniels charged off the mound and Hemus scampered up to him, fists at the ready. Both benches erupted, as players from both sided welcomed the break in the monotony. Some punched were thrown, indiscriminately and ineffectively.

Players who engaged in a like manner today would be promptly ejected and subsequently fined and suspended. Hemus and Daniels, after this incident, remained in the game long enough to start a second brawl. If either was punished after that Mr. Brosnan doesn’t detail it. It’s not quite as severe as fans charging the field and stabbing players like in the earlier part of the 20th century, but still…

Both teams that Mr. Brosnan played for in ’59 (the St.Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds) were, at best, mediocre. The ubiquity of subpar baseball teams is the only thing that really weighs the book down. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing, or writing about it, or reading about it- losing is about as much fun as a colonoscopy.

Although the whole losing thing causes portions of the book to drag, Mr. Brosnan does not allow it to swallow the entire project. He tackles pretty much everything with a dry, satirical wit. “A sense of humor,” he tells us, “is necessary for a life in the bullpen.” Ahh, true fact. While being liberal with his humor, Mr. Brosnan doesn’t use it to sugarcoat anything. Most modern writers tend to romanticize baseball, especially when referencing the past. The Long Season offers a healthy dose of reality. Baseball has never been perfect. The game was flawed then and it is flawed now. And although the nature of the imperfections has changed, the glorious nature of the game itself has not.

In the book’s last chapter, Mr. Brosnan describes the annual act of a player clearing out his locker once the dying season has breathed its last. The passage is almost sentimental and was this close to making me cry. As long and/or difficult as a baseball season may be, there is always going to be a hint of sadness when it ends.