Recently in 2008 Playoff Previews Category

morerocco.jpgTo mark the momentous occasion that is the 2008 Playoffs we asked a couple of esteemed guest writers to talk about their favorite team's chances this postseason. Sadly, nobody likes the Rays. Yet. So Lloyd the Barber of Roccorunner on First will examine the other 24 roster spots and the team's postseason chances.

I won't be the first person to draw the analogy, but the Tamp Bay Rays meteoric rise is unlike any seen in baseball for 40 years. Teams like the Diamondbacks, Jays and Marlins discovered success almost instantly while the Mariners slowly improved, posting a few winning seasons before finally breaking out in 1995. The only team that can relate to a decade of futility giving way to a dream season are the Miracle Mets. The Rays didn't even have the dignity of being lovable losers, they just lost. Over and over again. In new and dramatic ways. They tried spending money, but it didn't work, so they opted to spend none and build from inside.

The Rays came into this season as the sexy pick of clever writers everywhere, but with many questions surrounding their pitching. "Troy Pervical is still alive?" they asked. "I saw Scott Kazmir throw 75 pitches in one inning, no way will he last the season." they said. Their bullpen ended up being one of the best in baseball while Kazmir's season started late but ended without missing a start.

We all waited for the inevitable collapse but the Rays started hot and stayed hot. They overcame key injuries, BJ Upton's aversion to effort and Rocco's illness scare to stay in first all summer. They signed an unproven but massively hyped rookie to a massive contract and he responded with a 130 OPS+ season. Just when it looked like they were going to roll over in Boston, they took two of three from the Sox and didn't look back.

There is a lot to like about this team. They grew beards in support of their ailing teammate and then grew mohawks in support of Indigenous peoples and their struggle all over North America. They have a wacky manager that walks in runs to avoid facing sluggers and is more of a cork dork than Rob & Kris combined. They are an exciting mix of high draft picks (not as many as you'd think) and shrewd waiver-wire pick ups that play a free-swinging, exciting brand of baseball. Their playoff rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine is a good combination of control and power pitchers. Their bullpen was bolstered by that submariner that's played for half the teams in the American League.

Just in time for the playoffs, the Rays are getting healthy. Carl Crawford will be in the starting lineup for game one after missing almost two months. BJ Upton and Evan Longoria both missed time in September but have bounced back in time for the second season.

The Rays are playing with nothing but house money at this point. No matter how sexy a pick they were, nobody expected them to be here. They will be playing in a sold-out Trop, but for the first time those in attendance will be cheering for them! The infernal cowbells will be clanging, the young Rays might not have to good sense to be nervous.

Special thanks to the Che Guevara of the Rayvolution David Chalk for the spiritual guidance.

Boston Red Sox Playoff Preview: Me

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To mark the momentous occasion that is the 2008 Playoffs we asked a couple of esteemed guest writers to talk about their favorite team's chances this postseason. But not this one. There was no way I was letting anyone else take the Red Sox. So here's Kris "CTC" Liakos of the mildly unhated Walkoff Walk.

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The Red Sox have won an average of 93.1 games over the past 7 years. In the seven years prior to that, they won an average of 86 games. All that is to say, what was once a decent team has upped their year in and year out performance to a much higher level, and while the playoffs aren't expected every year, it sure is tougher to take when they don't get there.

But this year was a relative cruise toward October. Since Boston had been making the postseason with some frequency without winning their division for a dozen or so years, it's hard to summon any righteous indignation about not winning the division, and "if we don't win it, I hope the Rays do" has become a phrase just as overused here as anywhere else in the United States of Baseball.

But if you're under the impression that I'm not freaking out about the playoffs, you're sorely mistaken and the only reason I haven't pissed my jeans is because the Brewers thought of it first and I'm no copycat.

A couple weeks back I was high high high on this team's chances to repeat. I felt like Ortiz was coming around at the right time, Bay was filling in respectably for Manny and the entire right side of the infield was getting MVP consideration.

Since then injuries, and the soft underbelly they revealed, have me seriously questioning their ability to go the distance. Josh Beckett's oblique strain is an injury that is rarely seen in public without the word "nagging." That leaves the rotation, after Jon Lester, pretty light. At first glance Matsuzaka's numbers are great, but once you look more closely at his WHIP, and more importantly, watch him pitch every game hanging off a ledge by his fingernails, he does little to inspire confidence. Tim Wakefield is impossible to predict and Paul Byrd gets hit harder than one of John Bonham's floor toms.

Injuries in the lineup to JD Drew and Mike Lowell have allowed weaknesses to appear form other places. Jed Lowrie has redefined the rookie wall and Mark Kotsay may still be the gosh darned nicest guy in the game but hasn't been hitting anything. In a situation where even a playing Mike Lowell may be limited to DH, there is a huge burden on many guys that may not be a-list players.

The bullpen has been marginally better down the stretch, and this team still won 95 games. I like their chances against the Angels because, well, the Angels are overrated. But after that. Color me a pessimist. I'm not sure what color that would be, but when you figure it out feel free to color me in it. Paint, crayon whatever.

Why do I sound so terminally negative? Things haven't chaged all that much for a lifelong Sox fan. It takes more than 7 years.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Preview: Kevin Kaduk

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To mark the momentous occasion that is the 2008 Playoffs we asked a couple of esteemed guest writers to talk about their favorite team's chances this postseason. We start it off with one of our closest baseball buddies, Kevin Kaduk of the juggernaut that is Big League Stew.

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Ladies and gentlemen of Walkoff Walk, if I were to preview the Cubs' World Series chances here in a few words, it would be with the simple text I received from a Brewers fan after his trip to Wrigley earlier this season.

"You son of a bitch. Even your shitty players are good."

Very succinct, yes, considering it targets guys like Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot.

In fact, I'd challenge anyone to find 11 better words to describe the '08 Cubs.

But since I don't think that Rob and CTC want me to email this in like they do their day jobs -- hey, those guys post more on WoW than a Twittering twelve-year-old on Rockstar Energy drink -- allow me to expound on the first five things that come to mind regarding the glorious month that awaits Lou Piniella and His Merry Band of 100-Year Drought Breakers:

1) There is no such thing as The Billy Goat Curse: Oh, I'm sure Jeannie Z. and Joe B. will try to convince you otherwise on no less than 300 occasions during FOX's coverage, but the truth is that everyone with a brain here in Wrigleyville moved past that garbage once Lou came in and shot us a look that said, "Do I look like the type of guy who'd participate in such nonsense? You cut that crap right now or I'll give this job right back to Dusty Baker."

(Actually, I think the look said, "What did you just say? The Purse of the Moat? Ah, hell, what time is dinner?" but I don't think Lou would have approved even if he had heard correctly. Anyway, the Curse is gone. Please join me in plugging your ears and humming any time it is brought up.)

2) "It's Gonna Happen" is NOT the official team slogan: You've probably seen this infernal sign a few times through the year. Hell, Sports Illustrated keeps insisting on putting it in the pages of its magazine and even though I chastised one of their editors at the All-Star Game for doing so, it again turned up in the pages of that boring Gary Smith bleachers piece. But to set the record straight one more time: No self-respecting Cubs fan likes that slogan even a little bit. It was made up by that clown who charged Randy Myers back in '95. It failed in Boston and has now somehow survived almost two seasons at Wrigley Field, pissing me off any time I see it with its grammatical carelessness. If I ever meet that guy, I'm GONNA punch him.

3) The players are the main story, not the fans: I realize that sounds weird from someone who cashed a few checks from writing a book about being a Cubs fan, but as the postseason wears on, I'm hoping that the guys on the field get their fair share of credit for putting together one helluva season in the face of injuries to star players, a subpar season from Derrek Lee and the pressure of high expectations. Oh, we're sure to hear all about the 99-year-old women who were born the day of the last Cubs' title win and about the couple who traded two of their children for a pair to Game Three, but in the end it will be the players who achieve this feat, not the collective nobility and perseverance of our fan base.

4) A National League win in the All-Star Game would've been nice: I know that we're jumping to a lot of conclusions here in Chicago about the World Series, but the best record in the National League -- only the Phillies scare me more than a little bit -- should be enough for us to look a little ahead. That said, wouldn't it have been cool to see Wrigley Field glowing on the first pitch of a World Series? Instead, thanks to the AL win at Yankee Stadium, we're likely going to have to suffer through two games at the drab Trop before kicking off the party back here in the Chi. The only salvation? Opening up at Fenway.

5) In a way, it feels like the Cubs season starts on Wednesday. In my quarter-century or so of following the Cubs, I can safely say I've never been through an easier season this one. The Cubs have held a share of first place since May 11 and a postseason appearance always seemed inevitable. Even when they tanked a bit in September, I never got all that worried, because this season was always about what was going to happen in October. The Cubs now have the best team on the field in my lifetime and it's time for them to prove it. The biggest challenge of '08 is finally here.

Am I nervous? Oh, hell yes, it's the Cubs.

But they've got the guns to do it.

But they're not GONNA do it.

They WILL do it.

October 2008: Monthly Archives