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NL Roundup

Observations from Day One of the Playoffs

My plan was to do a scouting report on all of the National League contenders, but since Buck Martinez is already doing that for ESPN, there's probably no point. I'm sure he'll give plenty of coverage as to which pitcher has the most resolve, and which hitters are proficient at executing the sacrifice bunt.

Instead, we'll examine a few things from the opening games of the playoffs.

Jason Giambi staying home
A .208 hitter being left off the playoff roster isn't exactly big news -- except when that hitter is a former-MVP that clubbed 41 home runs each of the last two years. Given Giambi's performance, the decision is defensible. However, his replacements aren't exactly world-beaters. Tony Clark doesn't remind anyone of Albert Pujols and a team that lost 100 games waived John Olerud.

Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Dodgers fans may soon be cursing to themselves that they knocked the Giants out of the playoffs. If they hadn't, the Dodgers could be playing the Braves instead of the Cardinals. Of the eight regular position players, the Cardinals have big edges at three spots -- 1B Albert Pujols, RF Larry Walker and CF Jim Edmonds -- and are basically equal at all the others. Now that Odalis Perez got shelled in his inaugural playoff start, the only advantage the Dodgers may possess is their closer Eric Gagne. And if the Cardinals keep hitting, they might not ever get to use him.

Larry Walker
The acquisition of Larry Walker went largely unheralded, partly because the intrigue over trades dissipated after the non-waiver trade deadline, and partly because he went to a team that was clearly going to the playoffs anyway. It's far more dramatic when a new player leads his team to a playoff berth. It should get a bit more attention now. In his first playoff appearance since 1995, Walker went deep twice as the Cardinals cruised to an 8-3 victory. Five game series between playoff-caliber teams are basically just crapshoots, but when you have a 1-0 lead and are the superior team, things smell pretty rosy.

Playoff rotations
Five-man rotations may have their place in the regular season, but the next time they make a cameo in the postseason will be the first. This raises the question of what the point of carrying five starting pitchers on your postseason roster really is. One possible reason would be a backup in case of a freak injury. A better reason would be that the unused starting pitcher could be brought out in the event of a blowout. This has become common practice for the team on the losing end of an ass-kicking. However, it has yet to occur to the great minds in baseball that this strategy can be employed in a blowout victory as well. Allowing a pitcher to complete the fifth inning so he can earn the win is reasonable, but with a seven-run lead, the Red Sox trotted Curt Schilling out for the sixth and seventh innings of an 8-1 blowout.

If this series sees a fourth game, I'd be willing to bet my erector set that Schilling will be handed the ball. Being that Schilling will likely be working on short rest, it makes a lot of sense to limit his workload in his first start. Remind me, what exactly is the purpose of Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield?

Oh, Johan
In the opening game between the Yankees and Twins, the Evil Empire had two baserunners in each of the first two innings against soon-to-be Cy Young winner Johan Santana. Unfortunately, for New Yorkers and bandwagoners alike, they failed to score. Afterward, they failed to score for the next seven innings. If Santana has pitched the same way he has for the past three months, it means the Yankees will have to win all the games he doesn't make an appearance. It's a scary proposition for the best team money can buy.

Special commendation this week goes to all Bay Area sports franchises. Coming into last weekend, it was a nervous, but exciting time for sports fans in Northern California. The Giants and A's were both in position to claim spots in the postseason going into key series against divisional rivals.

After a win in the first game of the series, the Giants looked to be in position to pull within one game of the Dodgers with one game left. Up 3-0, Felipe Alou called on closer Dustin Hermanson; then Scott Eyre; then Matt Herges; then Wayne Franklin. The end result: Steve Finley jogging around the bases after a game-winning grand slam.

The A's lost in less exhilarating fashion. With a final series in Oakland to decide who claimed the division title, the A's coughed up the first two games of the series and were eliminated before any drama could develop.

Oh, the Raiders lost to the Houston Texans and the 49ers were blown out for the second straight week.