— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Playoff Preview - National League Divisional Series
Is Javy Lopez blowing smoke?
The National League Divisional Series
The Florida Marlins versus the San Francisco Giants
The Marlins have been simply phenomenal since Jack McKeon took over in May. Will the magic continue? At first thought, one might think the Marlins are over-matched by the Giants, but with McKeon declaring in advance that they wouldn?t be pitching to Barry Bonds, the playing field levels a bit ? and you can read more about when you should walk Bonds in Tango?s work.
The starters are pretty even. Jason Schmidt is significantly better than anyone the Marlins have, but after that, park effects wash any perceived advantage the Giant starters have. The season series didn?t go well for the Marlins, with the Giants winning 5 of 6 games.
What about the lineups?
J. Pierre, CF
Schmidt owns Castillo and Pierre. Mike Lowell is 3 for 32 in Pac Bell Park. Ivan Rodriguez is wearing down, seeing his OPS drop 30 points in August and another 40 points in September. I don?t know what McKeon is going to do with Jeff Conine, but I suspect he?ll be playing ahead of Miguel Cabrera in left field. Conine has never played in PacBell. What struck me as unusual is how well the bottom part of the Marlins lineup has handled the stadium. Both Derrek Lee and Juan Encarnacion have hit very well in San Fran, but they have a heavy load to bear.
R. Durham, 2B
The Giants lineup is clicking on all cylinders. All the regulars, save Benito Santiago, have an OPS of .800 in September. That includes a lot of games at Pac Bell. The most dangerous hitter right now, and what will be the downfall of the Marlins, is the Giants main winter acquisition ? Edgardo Alfonzo. Alfonzo struggled most of the season, but for the last month has hit very well and with power. I don?t know much about back injuries, but he may be getting well after two years. Felipe Alou has been very smart about writing out his lineup card, and I expect to see Alfonzo batting fifth.
The only benefit to "protection" is the decrease in intentional walks, and that?s what we?re gong to see a lot of. That may not make sense on the surface ? how can anyone provide protection for Bonds ? but Bonds has redefined the IBB. Many of us have heard announcers say that Aurilia/Grissom shouldn?t take second or the Giants? opponent would walk Bonds. And many of us have said (while arguing with an "average" fan) that they could walk Bonds regardless of where Aurilia is. Giants? opponents figured that out last year and this. An open base against Bonds is an open base. The Giants haven?t had anyone be wildly successful in the fifth slot. I have heard the argument that because Bonds gets stranded a lot when he is walked, his walks are less valuable, and thus he is less valuable. That?s never made much sense to me in any MVP/greatest player discussion. We never discuss wins/RBIs because it isn?t a player?s fault if his teammates suck. If Alfonzo gets really hot, and he is, Bonds will get pitched to more. Yes, he will still get walked with runners in scoring position, but the "open base" will revert back to "just first base". Or at least "mostly just first base".
The Giants players haven?t faced the Marlins pitchers very much ? that?ll happen when you have starters with little service time in the rotation. The number of pitches Bonds sees will be a huge factor.
For seven of the eight positions, the Marlins and Giants hitters are just about equal, in terms of run value over replacement. Bonds tips the scales. McKeon says that won?t matter because Bonds won?t be swinging the bat. Defensively, the teams are very similar as well. The starting pitchers tip back the other direction ? 2-1-1 for the Marlins. The bullpens are going to come out even, as long as McKeon doesn?t do anything dumb like bring in Michael Tejera to face Barry Bonds, in a futile attempt to get him out. The acquisition of Ugueth Urbina really levels this playing field versus the depth of the Giants bullpen.
In the end, the Marlins just won?t hit enough at Pac Bell and will lose in four games.
The Chicago Cubs versus the Atlanta Braves
It?s brutally obvious that the Cubs have far better pitching, and I always like to to say that, while over a season, performance is judged widely, but when you hit the short series, it becomes about matchups ? Ace against Ace and whatnot. In this series, the Cubs simply have more guns than the Braves ? and they are big guns. The Cub starters have gone and can go deep into games. They are conditioned to throw more pitches than the Braves starters, and the Braves bullpen, with the exception of John Smoltz, isn?t good, Will Cunnane notwithstanding.
The Braves offense has been one of the best in the majors this season. However, their offense the last two months has been slowing. It?s still very good, but not nearly as dominant. A struggling Andruw Jones isn?t going to hit much off the late movement of Wood/Zambrano/Prior. Looking at the small sample size batter-v-pitcher matchups, none of the Braves hit any of these three very well. Okay, Vinny Castilla has had a good bit of success, but if I were a Braves fan, I wouldn?t want to hope he was my "surprise hero".
In looking at the matchups, the Braves have battered Shawn Estes, so if Dusty gets kooky, the Braves will feast. It was also interesting that the Braves hit the Cubs bullpen pretty well.
Wood is going to dominate. Zambrano is going to dominate. Prior is going to dominate.
One of the great things about baseball is any pitcher can throw a no-hitter against any team on any day. While the Cubs are bringing better arms to the games, Ortiz, Hampton and Maddux can certainly all be un-hittable ? and they have all done so in the playoffs before.
No one will be greatly surprised if the Braves put a 6 spot on the board. They can. The Cubs pitchers are also good enough to throw complete game shutouts. The real question mark is going to be the Brave starting pitchers against the Cub hitters. What do those look like?
Mark Grudzielanek is going to be the Billy Hatcher of the series. Grudz has hit all three of the Braves starters very well ? he?s 42 for 111 against the first three Brave starters and posting an OPS in the range of .900.
But will he be enough?
Not against Maddux. Grudz has a high BA against Maddux, but has no peripheral skills, few walks and no power. Damian Miller hits Maddux hard in a small sample. The rest of the Cubs are simply owned by Maddux. Game 3 is going to be a classic ? Prior vs. Maddux.
Half of the Cub lineup hits Hampton hard. He?s going to be really on not to get shelled. One advantage Hampton has is his pitching in Atlanta. He has only given up 4 home runs in 99.1 innings at home. Keeping it in the yard is key to his success, because he?s walking plenty of hitters.
Russ Ortiz has roughly the same problem as Hampton. Half the Cubs hit him pretty well ? Ortiz is a hot and cold pitcher ? which one shows up will be the difference in the game, but the Braves aren?t going to score a lot, so the really good Ortiz needs to show up ? just the "pretty good" Ortiz won?t get the job done.
The Cubs better be ahead in the 9th, because John Smoltz utterly destroys them. The Cub hitters have a cumulative .198/.253/.293 mark against him. Sosa? Um, right turn, Sammy - .105/.171/.158 ? in 40 PAs. I wish that were a typo.
Because the Braves goofed their rotation, Maddux will only get one start in this series. Saving Maddux for the first game of the NLCS is going to be like the A?s with Mulder last season ? it?ll be the Braves undoing.
Cubs win the series 3-2.