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NL Roundup

Playoff observations

There's probably more analysis of baseball done right before and during the playoffs than any other part of the season. Logically, it doesn't make much sense, since no one of this earth can predict with great accuracy which team will emerge victorious in a short series. The best one can do is pick the team with the best one-two starting tandem

But with that caveat, here are one writer's humble predictions:

Cardinals in 6
The Red Birds just seem too powerful to handle. They looked mighty impressive in dispatching the Dodgers, and their pitching, which was the only question mark, performed quite well in the opening series. Both the Astros's aces had to pitch on three days rest in the opening series, so it'll be a stern test to get themselves ready to face the Cardinals' offense.

Yankees in 6
Growing up, I was taught that stuff like curses didn't exist. However, teachers were wrong about other things and they're wrong about this too. Boston will never beat the Yankees in the playoffs and the Cubs will never win a World Series. There's no other way to explain Bartman, Buckner and Bucky. In my heart of hearts, I hope to see the Cubs qualify for one World Series, which they will, of coure, inevitably lose.

And now for some more general observations…

Off the Snide
Being that the Astros filched their playoff spot from the two teams closest to my heart, it is difficult to cheer for the team. However, rooting for Biggio and Bagwell -- which doesn't happen often -- seems like the respectable thing to do. To have a dozen years of hall-of-fame caliber baseball be overlooked because of a few poor playoff performances is nothing short of unjust.

After Phil Garner made a blunder so obvious that the Fox commentators noticed right away, it appeared the Astros were going to give away yet another series. But in the deciding game, the Astros played their best baseball in a 12-3 blowout; so much for the tense atmosphere of a series-clinching game.

Almost Perfect
Mark Bellhorn might have done the Yankees a favor by stroking a double off the left field wall to foil Mike Mussina's perfect game. With pitching on short rest a virtual certainty in the playoffs, limiting your starter's work should be something that is always on the manager's mind. Granted, one cannot pull a pitcher in the middle of a perfect game, regardless of score. However, the perfect game ended on pitch number 83 and Mussina was asked to throw a dozen more pitches -- which he did quite ineffectively as well. No one will ever be able to quantify what effect those extra pitches had, but if Mussina pitches poorly in his upcoming starts, one will have to wonder.

DH Kenny Lofton?
Ostensibly, the purpose of having Kenny Lofton on the roster is to provide a defensive upgrade in center field over the aged Bernie Williams. Certainly, Lofton is not such a phenomenal hitter that he can be valuable without providing any defensive value. All of this makes one wonder what the purpose of guys like Ruben Sierra and Tony Clark are if not to DH when Williams plays the field. It begs the question of why Jason Giambi isn't on the playoff roster. At least, he has the potential to be good.

Inside the Park Homer by David Ortiz
Hustle is the most overrated aspect of baseball, but watching David Ortiz trot around first on what could've been the game-tying inside the park home run. One can justify Ortiz's loafing, considering that Ortiz would have trouble hitting an inside-the-park homer in a slow-pitch softball game at Yellowstone. However, he had to know that there was a good chance the ball could end up a hit and it seems reasonable to ask someone to run a fly ball out in the ALCS against the Yankees. It probably wouldn't have made a difference, but putting a little extra pressure on the defense never hurt anybody.

I'm not saying Terry Francona is a bad manager…
But he is. There are two men on with two men out in the eight inning of a one-run game, and Keith Foulke, your team's best reliever by a large margin, is waiting in the bullpen. Do you bring him in? Maybe. But, you certainly don't bring him in after the lead balloons to three runs. Francona needs to realize that the adage "better late than never" doesn't govern bullpen usage.

Special commendation this week goes to Phil Garner, for his managerial actions in Game 4 of the NL Divisional Series, which can only be termed as temporary (or permanent) insanity. Technically, Garner didn't lose the game because only the players can do that, but he certainly placed the team in a good position to lose.

Removing starting pitcher Roger Clemens after only 87 pitches was questionable, especially considering that Clemens had just pitched his strongest inning. However, Clemens was pitching on three days of rest, so we'll allow Garner to use his "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

However, his failure to double-switch when bringing in Brad Lidge to pitch the 8th inning was inexcusable. The average little-league manager knows that when bringing in your stopper out of the bullpen, you double-switch if the pitcher's due up fifth in the next half of the inning.

Garner's lucky his team bailed him out in the next game, otherwise his stint as manager of the Astros might have ended just a few days from now. Garner should do his team a favor and let his bench coach handle the in-game decisions.