The AtHome Pilgrim

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AtHomePilgrim

AtHomePilgrim
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"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita," I find myself still asking some of the same questions I did when I was just a punk kid. The Big Things confuse me. Fortunately, though, many little things delight and amuse me, and some Big Things--my wife, our kids, our bird and bunny visitors, food, baseball--make me very, very happy. In my pilgrimage, I try to be guided by the wisdom of dear old Auntie Mame: "Life is a banquet!"

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OCTOBER 6, 2010 7:46AM

Three Aces Ain’t a Bad Hand: NL Playoff Predictions

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It’s that time of year, when pumpkin beer and flannel shirts appear, when pig(skins) fly and spring’s dreams die, when eight survivors eye each other warily after baseball’s marathon heat and begin to prep for the final three races—the 3K run with two 5Ks to follow. 

Also that time of year when anxious seers pull out their Ouija boards (the palantírs of spring having proven a tad murkier than expected, and entrails being a trifle messy) and attempt to divine the future. 

Yup, it’s time to either spin the opening-day prognostications (three of eight playoff teams correctly predicted—that’s a .375 average, baby, which is better than Ty Cobb’s lifetime mark) (ahem) or shamelessly move on from them (I’m not here to talk about the past . . . ) and boldly record in the ether one’s (hopefully) prescient impressions of What Will Be in the National League playoffs, which commence today.  

(And if one gets it wrong, one can always sing “Qué sera, sera.” Though one will not don a Doris Day wig.)  

 

What?? Just the National League? What’s up, Pilgrim, loyal recollectors of last year’s playoff predictions ask. Last year you gave us the AL and the NL, and the World Series to boot. What gives? 

This year, I rely on the insights of my OS bud and resident American League expert Andy Wolfenson—the guy who gives Yankees fans a good name—to offer his insightful outlook on the AL playoffs: here. Andy’s report is chuck full of brilliant analysis and able wit. Go. Study. (Apologies to any that find that sacrilegious.) 

As for the World Series, come back in a couple of weeks, and we’ll have something for you. (Unless the Phils somehow don’t make it, and I’m too depressed.)  

 

The National League offers four intriguing teams.  

After stumbling the last few weeks, the Atlanta Braves snagged their wild-card entry on the final day of the season. They come in with a strong starting rotation (Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Tommy Hanson); an excellent bullpen; and a celebratory/sentimental vibe as they try to capture a second World Series title for manager Bobby Cox, whose last game managing this postseason will be his last game managing after 21 straight seasons at the Braves’ helm. Missing is veteran third baseman Chipper Jones. 

The San Francisco Giants surged in the final weeks until nearly stumbling out of the race on the final weekend, only to nab the National League West on the season’s final day. They sport a trio of aces—two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, the able Matt Cain, and lefty Jonathan Sanchez—a superb closer in Brian Wilson, and a team that doesn’t hit a whole lot. The Giants are led by perhaps the most underrated manager of the postseason quartet, Bruce Bochy, in the playoffs for the fifth time in 16 seasons: not a bad record. 

The Cincinnati Reds have a power-packed lineup that features probable National League MVP Joey Votto and rightfielder Jay Bruce, good if not great starting pitching, and a bullpen that of four tough lefthanders and the flame-throwing (his pitches easily top 100 miles per hour) Aroldis Chapman. They are led by everyone’s favorite toothpick-chewer, Dusty Baker, taking his third team to the postseason and hoping for his second appearance at a World Series. 

The Philadelphia Phillies seek to become the first National League team to win three league championships in a row since the 1942–1944 St. Louis Cardinals. They have ridden experience; the strong arms of aces Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and lefty Cole Hamels*; opportunistic hitting; a bench that came through despite a rash of injuries** (thank you, Wilson Valdez); and the steady hand of manager Charlie Manuel (who should definitely win NL Manager of the Year) to build the best record in baseball. The Phils are riding a sizzling 41-19 record in their last 60 games.  

Well, as they say in the fashion biz, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out. (Hoping Heidi didn’t copyright that.) Which team will stay on the Runway, and which will walk the plank? 

 

In the first half of the first-round, double-elimination challenge, the Braves go against the Giants. The Braves have a very slight edge in hitting, but the Giants have a decided advantage in pitching, with the top earned run average (ERA) and opponents’ batting average in the NL. Home-field advantage in their larger ballpark plays to their strength. In addition, the Braves in the second half of the season have shown pitiful team defense (second most errors in all of baseball). In the last two weeks of the season, in two must-win three-game series against the Phils, they booted the ball and threw it all over the place. I don’t think their relatively inexperienced, Chipper Jones–less team will be able to beat the Giants in what will probably be low-scoring games. San Fran’s Three Aces triumph in four games. Sorry, Bobby. Sorry, T. Michael. Series MVP will be Giants rookie catcher Buster (gotta love that name) Posey. 

In the other elimination, the powerful Reds face the starting pitching-rich and should-be powerful Phils. Both teams play in small ballparks, and both pitching staffs gave up a lot of home runs. The balls could be flyin’. My Phils are the favorite in the NL, but they have issues. The lineup has gone strangely futile for long stretches this season; Brad Lidge seems always to be one bad outing away from a crushing loss of confidence; the middle relief can be iffy; and Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have both been subpar all season due to injuries. But this team is made for September and October, and Roy Halladay, finally enjoying his chance to taste the postseason, is simply not going to lose. Phils in four, with Halladay winning two games and the series MVP.

Take heart, Bea. The Reds are like the ’07 Phils: this is good experience for them. They’ll be back.  

 

Which brings us to Giants and Phils, two teams each holding Three Aces. The Phils have home-field advantage, thanks to their league-best record. They will probably be able to get two games each out of Oswalt, Hamels, and Halladay (if needed). They still have tremendous desire to win and have an uncanny ability to came back against anyone not named Mariano Rivera.

Result? Phils in six for the three-peat. My favorite Panamanian (post–Rod Carew), Carlos “Chooooooooch” Ruiz, takes the MVP. And I’m not just saying that for Mrs. P’s sake.  

 

Will the Phils face last year’s ace Cliff Lee and the rejuvenated Texas Rangers? Will they see former first baseman and all-around Nice Guy Jim Thome and his Minnesota Twins? Will they stage a rematch of the 2008 Series with the Tampa Bay Rays (the Team Without Fans)? Or will they go for revenge of last year’s Series defeat (and, for those of you with long memories, revenge for the four-game sweep of the Whiz Kids back in 1950) and play the Yankees?  

Read Andy’s post to find out!  

 

* Halladay won the American League Cy Young Award in 2003, threw a perfect game this May, and is probable winner of this year’s NL award; Oswalt won the National League Championship Series MVP award in 2005 and was only 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA after joining the Phils in July; and Hamels won the MVP awards of the NLCS and the World Series in 2008. 

** Six of the Phils’ eight starting position players have been on the disabled list this year. So have two-fifths of the original starting rotation and four of the six bullpen arms that are on the postseason roster. To get through that and have the best record in baseball is why Charlie should be manager of the year. And if your answer is “Well, with that team, how could he lose?” my response is, fine. Then make Ruben Amaro, Jr., executive of the year. Just sayin’. 

 

Words © 2010 AtHome Pilgrim.

All Rights Reserved.

 

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This year, like quite a few years previously, I am going to climb out on my own limb and make my one and only prediction: The Astros will not be playing in Oct.

By making that single prediction each year I have managed to maintain a perfect record.....damnit!
I think the Phils take it but I just can't help but think Bobby Cox will get the manager of the year on sentiment along. They may even beat the Giants. Any team can get hot in these 5 game series which is one reason I've never liked them. But the Phils, with their pitching and offense unless they really, really screw up, are the national league champs.
You come to the right conclusion but with way too much humility. Nothing is going to stop the Phillies. And a pair of sweeps, to go with their three aces, is not out of the question. Excellent analysis, as always.
I'm boycotting the playoffs, Pilgrim, because the Mets...the Mets...

Crap. I can't think of anything. Go Phillies.
The Phillies seem like the team to win it all this year, but the joy of baseball is that anything can happen. Should be some good matchups.
Good job and an especially good headline. As long as the Yankees lose in the first round, I will be happy.
Also the time of year to get out my flannel pj's.
I know you won't argue with me on this one, Pilgrim, (not that you've argued with me on anything - yet) but the Phils have a lock. All the way.
Yes, that time of year. Lots of good things come in the fall. R
I've been so busy, Pilgrim and only able to read sporadically. I had almost forgotten how brilliantly you can write about even the things that hold little interest for me. Excellent post.
Oddly, the National League has never produced a true dynasty (the American League has produced 4--Yankees, 36-39, 49-54, 99-00, A's 72-74). Should the Phillies win this year, they would closer than anyone in league history (closer than the Big Red machine, and WWII teams don't count) and would take their place among the other near misses (the 26-28, 76-78 Yankees, the 29-31 A's). I never thought I would see this franchise, which has lost more games than any other, by far, come to enjoy such success.
I think you'll be parading in the City of Brotherly Love in a month, Mr. P, though I think you'd look quite fetching in a Doris Day wig. My only worry for them is Lidge closing out close games.

I would like SF over Braves too, but when I went on the Sports Illustrated website yesterday to see their predictions, I saw that all 11 "experts" picked the Giants. My experience is that whenever the experts agree on something that appears to be a toss-up, go the other way.
I can't read this, please! Have a heart! Some poetry or a story...baseball, oh...Mrs. P. let's go out for some coffee....
I'll be sleeping far more calmly this year, but I know the feeling and I know you'll enjoy every minute of this! John Henry is focusing on Liverpool right now. I can root for the Phillies til the Series at least. How about that?
Halladay!!! Big ups, props to the Doc.
Halladay looked like he could have pitched 18 innings without giving up a hit.
Great insight. I've lived in the Philly region for a decade but have never been able to become a fan. (Some childhood baseball card trauma I'm sure.) But I must admit that the Phils are an interesting team, and loaded from top to bottom. I'm calling Minnesota v. Philadelphia in the Series, with the Phillies taking the whole cheese steak. R.
A no-hitter??? The gods seem to be looking down on your team tonight!
Guess you peeked in the crystal ball about Halladay AtHome. Just got finished watching his no-hit gem in Game 1. It wouldn't surprise me much if he won 4 games before he even gets to the World Series.
Well. That was a good start . . . .

Tor: But we're very pleased that you sent us Brad and Roy. Mighty obliged.

scanner: If Bobby wins the MotY, more power to him. Can't control that, so I can't really care. But my man deserves it. As for the Braves beating the Giants: yes, it's possible. But unlikely.

Andy: So, other than the fact that I got it wrong, it was excellent? ;)

Ken: Hey, I've lived through Chico Fernandez and Hank Aguirre (Tigers); Don Zimmer and Bob bleepin' Bailey and Bucky f'in Dent (up north there); and Steve Jeltz, Wayne Gomes (the next great thing), and Joe f'in Carter. Don't tell me your problems, Dude. You willing to trade Peyton for Kolb and Vick?

saf: Well said.

Nick: The joy of all sports is that what looks good on paper is only on paper. You gotta play the games. Ask the Pats a couple of years ago.

Spuds: I dunno. Kinda want the revenge.

Sheba: I think some of the people at Citizens' Bank Park had some flannels tonight.

Black Jack: Well, that's bold rather than with the odds. Vegas actually has the Phils as the fav's, I believe (which concerns me). And the "experts" ain't too favorable toward the Bombers, either. I think you're boldly out on a limb.

Matt; See my comment to Nick.There is no such thing as a lock. Ever. Ever. Ever. Have to play the games. This is one of those things that's creed to me.

JW: Step 2.1 has been completed.

Sheila: Want some cider?

Fay: I feel that I should send you chocolate. That's the only thing that could repay such a charming comment.

libertarius: I marvel at being in an area that can enjoy such excellence. It always seemed like such a foreign thing, and yet here it is at my doorstep. Thank you, God.

Cranky: Change your name to "Contrary." Most of ESPN picks the Phils in the Series. Want to change your mind? I have several concerns, as outlined above, of which Brad is one. But I have (mostly) faith that they will overcome. And after tonight, I am convinced that Roy Halladay simply will not allow himself to lose a game this postseason. Whatever else happens, that can be relied on.

vanessa: Lo siento mucho, mi hermana, a decir ese, pero cuando La Señora salió de la oficina y entró el coche, pusó el radio para oír la radio. Y cuando llegó a casa, se sentó conmigo para ver el fín. Ello me pidió a decir que durante los playoffs, ella está dispuesto a ver los Phillies. Si el juego es fútbol (perdón, LC), ella me abanona para el placer de pasar tiempo contiga inmediante.
(I hope that isn’t too garbled.) For my part, you have a free pass for any baseball posts. Don't feel obliged. (But what kind of Puerto Rican doesn't like baseball? . . . . )

anna1: 'Preciate the support. Good luck with those Liverpudlians.

catch-22: Speechless, I am. (You're all grateful, I know.)

Cranky: Damn. Whatever else happens, and I seriously mean this, it was pretty cool to watch. History doesn't happen often, you know. It was watching an artist.

Jeff: They seem (and I try to remind myself it's only "seem") a good bunch of guys: dedicated to the craft and aware of the need to live in the moment and accept limitations.
Fun, too, that they win. (Let's be honest, here.)

anna1: He had them totally off balance, from beginning to end. And when he finished, what he cared about most was that the team was up one game.
But wouldn't you hate to be Oswalt, who had to start Game 2?
I mean. Only a perfect game is better. Sheesh.
Abrawang: Winning 4 before the WS would require the NLCS to go 7, I think. Don't put me through that! :)
Hey Pal how about that game tonight!! Incredible control, Doc nailed it and our defensive looked awesome too.. Great way to open Red Doctober!
rita: WOW. All I can say. Just WOW. (Also, I love Chooch.)
Chooch is my favorite Phillie and that is saying a lot. He is the heart of the team.
The Royals!
Right...the Royals....it could happen some day....it could!!!!
But good calls above on your part I think.
Ok...the Chiefs....the Chiefs.......maybe this year...?
I would love to see the Yanks lose. But my all time hated team is Atlanta. chop, chop, vomit...
A very strange one, I know. Yet, I love soccer.
Though one will not don a Doris Day wig.)

Awww, c'mon Pilgrim! Pleaaaaase??? bats eyelashes

The SF Giants made the playoffs by the skin of their teeths and there is moderate joy in mudville, accordingly.

But the entrail business... it put me right off of Baseball! Unpatriotic of me, I know.
rated
I wish I could disagree with you, but I can't. The Braves won four of seven against the Giants this year, but Chipper and Martin Prado were healthy when those games were played. Still, if the Braves can win one in SF (and I'm hanging my hat on the opener because Lowe has been good lately), they might have a shot; they have played pretty well at home, but I just don't think the team has much left. I think Bobby has done a good job as manager, but if I had a vote for MOTY I would vote for Charlie. He kept the Phillies in range while the Braves were playing well and the Phillies had injury issues, and then he pushed all the right buttons in September. (I also appreciate old Charlie picking Omar Infante for the All-Star team -- we don't forget little things like that down here in Atlanta.)

All things considered, the Phillies should win the NLCS no matter who they play, but, as you have pointed out, you have to play the games. Baseball is not the Darwinian game that football has become, and anything can and will happen. I think the Phillies have the pitching and the bats to win it all. The big, bad Yankees might not be so fortunate this time around if they make it that far. I'm rooting for the Rangers myself.
rita: It's really cool how he has become that. (He's also Mrs. P's favorite, btw, and if not the favorite of mine, toward the top.)

JD: Someday! And, yes, perhaps the Chiefs are this year's Cinderella.

kate: You're allowed. You're pitchers are just as good as ours, I think, and so I'm concerned about meeting them.

rita: Ha! Sorry, T. Mike!

vanessa: There's a great story in Mrs. P's family about the time that Mami first met Papi's family, when they were first going out. And that day, he and one of his sisters got into a rip-roaring argument. It was about which team in the Cuban League was best. She was a bit concerned by all the heat they generated at each other.

T. Michael: Good luck, buddy. But I think you're right about them being spent. Rangers are another scary team, if they can have enough pitching. (Lee versus Halladay sure would be interesting . . . .)