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Last-Minute Thoughts on the Baseball Playoffs

As readers of this blog know, I don't bet on sports except once in a blue moon I might make a friendly bet with someone from a rival alma mater.  

 

Don't think I'll be doing even that this season with Wisconsin football off to a horrific start and basketball not likely to be a real contender.  

 

But this year's baseball playoffs are certainly intriguing. What I want to see is a pairing in the World Series of the Braves or Giants with any of the AL teams except the Yankees.  

 

Even before Mick Jagger sang about it, I know that you can't always get what you want. 

So here is what I think may happen but don't necessarily want to happen.  

 

The Red Sox in the wild card game against Yankees will be missing J. D. Martinez who suffered the second most absurd injury on the eve of the playoffs. He tripped over second base and sprained his ankle running into the outfield in the last game of regular season.   

 

So that's advantage Yankees in Wild Card game at Fenway just six hours away as I finish this blog.  They will miss D. J. LeMahieu out with a sports hernia but they may have enough offense with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

 

Anything can happen in a short series let alone one game, but the Yankees do have a better defense and bullpen than their longtime rivals.   

 

If I have forceast correctly, the Yankees will then take on the Tampa Bay Rays in a best of five series.

 

The Rays amaze everyone in baseball, succeeding with a low payroll invested in winning players throughout the roster.  They are adventurous, experimental, and fun to watch (if you can tolerate all the strikeouts and the endless shifts).  

 

They don't have a traditional starting rotation or one real closer.  The Yankees or Red Sox don't have overwhelming starters either but the Yankees do have a rejuvenated Aroldis Chapman at the back end which could be a deciding factor.  I hope not.

 

In the other division series, two septuagenarians lead the White Sox and Astros into the fray.  As nearly an octogenarian myself. I can't miss in this series.  These guys are living proof that older folks have much to offer.  

 

I'd like to see Dusty Baker go deep into the playoffs despite the stain of chicanery indelibly upon the Astros. The scandal, of course, happened before Baker arrived on the scene. 

 

The White Sox coasted in the second half with no AL Central team mounting any real challenge.  We'll see if Tony LaRussa's lads led by the most consistent of all the Cubans in MLB, dh/1b Jose Abreu, can turn it on when it matters most.

 

In the NL wild card, it would be great if Adam Wainwright, 40, can outpitch the very talented and enormously high-paid Max Scherzer, no youngster himself at 36 or 37.  I am not sure St. Louis has the bullpen to stifle LA once the game goes into late innings.

 

The loss of Max Muncy to an elbow injury in a collision at first base will hurt the Dodgers. But they have another oldster and former Cardinal, Albert Pujols, to replace him. Or perhaps the slumping former MVP Cody Bellinger who could relish a chance to redeem himself in October.  

 

The Dodgers are favored in the wild card game and to go all the way to their second straight World Series championship.  But if they beat the Cardinals, they'll have to go through the Giants who won 107 games this year.

 

No one expected the Giants to soar, including me.  But they have a wonderful mixutre of vets from the world champs last decade, including Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, and Brandon Belt.  Plus some good youngsters like Lamont Wade Jr. and pitcher Logan Webb, only 26 but he already possesses the visage of a gritty savvy veteran.

 

Belt got hit by a pitch and his broken finger may keep him out of the entire post-season.  But the Giants have always found a way in 2021 and I hope they do so again.

 

Winner of the first NLDS will face either the Braves or the Brewers, both teams with

Milwaukee in their history. Unfortunately, a key Brewers reliever, Devin Williams, suffered the most absurd and stupid injury shortly before the playoffs.  

 

After the NL Central-winning celebration, Williams had too much to drink. He went home and in undisclosed circumstances, he punched a wall in his house and broke his hand.  

 

He is out until at least the World Series if the Brewers get that far.  Since manager Craig Counsell micro-manages his bullpen seemingly more than any other manager, the loss of Williams to set up for closer Josh Hader might be too much to overcome. 

 

The Braves finished strong and I think have an edge over Milwaukee. They have two MVP candidates in the heart of their lineup, Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley.  (They might split the vote which could allow a poseur to win it like Bryce Harper - he always electioneers for the award but usually plays golf in October.)  

 

I am sure the Braves would like to meet the Dodgers in the NLCS and avenge last year's wrenching loss. Their one Achilles heel is closer Will Smith who is shaky far too often.  

 

Well, there you have my analysis for what it is worth.  And the old adage still applies.

"Opinions are like assholes - everyone has them."  

 

Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

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Missing "The Crowd at the ballpark" and Other Thoughts on This Strange MLB Season

I ran across last night a 1923 poem by William Carlos Williams, the physician-poet from nearby Paterson, New Jersey.  The title is from the first line. The first three couplets go: 

 

"The crowd at the ballgame

is moved continuously

 
by a spirit of uselessness

which delights them—

 
all the exciting detail 

of the chase"

 
It's nice to have games to watch again on TV, but it's the genuine crowd reaction that I miss the most. I think most of the players, managers, and coaches agree - canned cheering doens't cut it.  

 

I realize that in a time of pandemic, there was no other route to choose but fan-less games.

Still, the cardboard cutouts substituting for fans at most ballparks doesn't do it for me.

 

I also miss the attendance figures at the bottom of every box score.  I would love to miss ballplayers' cheat sheets on positioning and pitch sequences that they are sticking in their caps or pockets.  Can they just play the game on what used to be called muscle memory?! 

 

There have been humorous responses to this strange season. A clever fellow wrote Phil Mushnick of the NY Post yesterday that the cutouts at Dodger Stadium are actually real because they leave the game in the 7th inning. 

 

I also liked the humor of the person that selects the music at the White Sox's Guaranteed Rate Field. On the Sunday night game against the Indians, the Beatles' "Let It Be" came over the loudspeaker as the umps were going to replay to perhaps change a call that aided the home team. 

 

Voila! The music must have worked - Cleveland baserunner Delino DeShields Jr. remained out at second on a close call.  The White Sox have invested heavily in Cuban ballplayers, batting four of them the other day in the first four spots in the batting order.  

 

Only DH/first baseman Jose Abreu is a proven player but hopes are high for Eloy Jimenez, Juan Moncada, and rookie Luis Robert. If they come through with improved pitching, maybe hard-bitten Chisox fans will stop calling the home park Guaranteed Second-Rate Field.

 
As for me, I am happy that the Orioles are surprising people by reaching .500 after 14 games.  Corner infielders Rio Ruiz and Renato Nunez are showing that they learned something playing for last year's horrible Oriole team.  

 

Ditto for second baseman Hanser Alberto and well-traveled Cuban-born shortstop Jose Iglesias.  Their pop and run-production have been fun to watch. 

 
Maybe "experience is your best teacher" is not so old-fashioned an adage even if you can't put an "advanced metric" on it.  Somehow Oriole pitching, with three lefty starters, retreads Wade Leblanc and Tom Milone and last year's breakout winner John Means, has been OK.  

 

So has the bullpen with young veteran Miguel Castro and the castoff Cole Sulser showing the way.  I'm not reserving playoff tickets yet, esp. since there won't be live attendance most likely until next season at the earliest. 

  
How long the MLB baseball season can continue remains in doubt.  I feel for St. Louis players and fans because the Cardinals have only played five games. Positive Covid-19 tests of several players including All-Star catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong (and several non-playing personnel) mean that St. Louis won't play again until this weekend. 

 
There is no way that St. Louis will be able to play a full schedule in this truncated 60-game season. Even with seven-inning doubleheaders to lessen the wear-and-tear on pitchers.  

 
Interestingly, MLB broadcaster Jim Kaat (and winner of 283 MLB games) thinks that all games should be seven innings. He may be talking tongue-in-cheek but he has a valid point. 

 
If the length of games is the huge issue that commissioner Rob Manfred claims it is (and the TV networks too), why not shorten every game to 7 innings?  Most starters including great ones like the Mets' Jacob DeGrom rarely go more than six innings anyway. 

 

If good faith bargaining ever happens in baseball. a frank exchange of views and real leadership would address this issue and many others.  In the meantime, let me end with the last couplets of WC Williams' "The Crowd at the ballgame":

 

"It is summer, it is the solstice

the crowd is

 
cheering, the crowd is laughing

in detail

 
permanently, seriously 

without thought."

 

Here's to "laughing in detail . . . permanently, seriously without thought."

 

And always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

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