Wednesday

Oof..., Playoff Predictions & Final Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

Clearly it's a dark day here in The Sports Take offices. If you didn't see the play-in game last night between the Twins and the White Sox, you missed a classic. It was playoff baseball at its finest. Unfortunately, the wrong team won.

So today I'll be giving you my thoughts on that game, previewing the first round of the playoffs, and bringing you the final Peek at the Picks segment for the 2008 baseball season. Off we go!

"Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together."
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 - 1799), German scientist, satirist and Anglophile


Dan's Baseball Corollary: "Every hitter is clutch at least once a year. The best hitters simply have their clutch hits come closer together."

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And in a way, that perfectly describes what happened in last night's 1-0 Chicago victory over the Twins in the play-in game.

Prior to the game, I thought that if the Twins lost, I was really going to be crushed since they'd come so far during the season. But it turns out I wasn't.

That game last night was everything that is good about baseball. It was brilliantly pitched on both sides. Both teams played solid defense. And in the end it was one fantastic defensive play and one clutch hit that determined the finish.

In the fifth inning, Twins DH Michael Cuddyer led off the inning with a double. Delmon Young followed with a productive out, as his fly out allowed Cuddyer to tag and move to third. That brought Brendan Harris to the plate. Harris hit a fly ball to shallow center field. Cuddyer tagged and tried to score from third. Chicago CF Ken Griffey, Jr., threw a strike to home plate. C A.J. Pierzynski skillfully blocked Cuddyer's path to the plate, caught Griffey's throw, and applied the tag to end the inning.

I've discussed this with several people who's baseball opinions I respect, and the overwhelming response is that you had to send Cuddyer in that situation. No, the fly ball wasn't as deep as you'd like it to be. And yes, Cuddyer had been plagued by injuries all year, including one to his foot. But Chicago pitcher John Danks was dealing, and you had to try and take your shot when you had it, because there was no guarantee that you were going to get another one.

Griffey made a perfect throw. A.J. made a fantastic tag. You tip your cap and move on.

As far as the Twins pitching goes, Nick Blackburn pitched a gem. Yes he made some mistakes, but not many, and those he did make, he limited the damage on as much as he could. Chicago DH Jim Thome is a future Hall of Fame hitter. Nick's not the first guy to leave a fat pitch up and over the plate that resulted in a moon-shot home run by Thome. And he won't be the last. It just happened at an awfully bad time.

But that was still only one run. And that means that Nick gave his team a chance to win, and that's all you can ask.

So that was it. One throw, one home run, and that's a ballgame. I'm bummed, but not devastated, because it was such a good game. The Twins had a helluva season and lost out on the playoffs by thaaaat much. Oh well. Let's go get 'em next year!

So with that said, here's a brief sketch of the first round of the playoffs:

Philadelphia over Milwaukee in 4: Sorry Crew fans. Believe me, I'd love to see you advance here. And I dearly hope I'm wrong. But the guy you're running out for Game 1 has pitched 4 innings since May? And then you're bringing back CC Sabathia on short rest again for Game 2? I just don't think you have the pitching to get this done. Again, I hope I'm selling you short. But if I have to make a pick, I'm going with Philly.

Chicago over Los Angeles in 3: The weakness of the NL West finally gets exposed here. Chicago throws Dempster, Zambrano and Harden and puts the baby to sleep. Fin.

Los Angeles over Boston (whom I hate) in 5: This one could really go either way. In the end, I think the Angels having home field and Boston (whom I hate) not having a healthy Josh Beckett makes the difference. Torii Hunter finally gets back to the ALCS with a whale of a chance to finally make a World Series. That makes me smile.

Tampa Bay over Chicago in 4: A lot of people are going to pick Chicago to upset in this series, and I can't blame them. There's no question that the White Sox have the edge in experience in this series. But they've had to expend so much emotion and energy just to get here, I don't think they have enough to make it past Tampa. The Rays are obviously in foreign territory, and it won't shock me if they fall flat because of it. But I'm sticking with Tampa on this one.

By the way, if you don't trust my picks, here are the Hammer's thoughts:

Angels over Boston in 5
Sox over Rays in 4
Cubs over Dodgers in 5
Brewers over Phillies in 5

I'll take 3 out of 4 versus the Hammer any day!

Finally today, it's the final edition of the Peek at the Picks for the 2008 baseball season. All year long I've compared the current MLB standings to my pre-season picks. Well we've reached the end of the marathon. Time to see how it all shook out.

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies, 92-70 (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 3 GB)
I got close on this one. Even closer if you count the Wild Card. But no cigar. Once again the Mets had a lead late in the year. And once again they failed to seal the deal. Johan Santana did his job, but Mets GM Omar Minaya is going to have to find him some help if he wants his club to finally break through.
NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 97-67 (DP: Cubs)
Hey, I got one right! Yup, this was the one. The Cubs had a fantastic year and are the presumptive NL representative in the World Series. In the words of the Hammer, "If they don't get it done this year, they never will". I'm with you Hammer. I'm with you.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers, 84-78 (DP: Arizona Diamondbacks, 2 GB)
If there was ever an argument to be made against automatically giving a division winner a playoff spot, this year was it. And yes, I'd have felt the same way if the D'backs had won it. Just an abysmal year for the West. There's enough talent in this division that they could rebound next year. But chalk this one up to, "somebody had to win it".

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers, 90-72 (DP: L.A. Dodgers, 6 GB)
Do I get half a point for having my pick make the playoffs somehow? Eh, it wouldn't really matter anyway. Kudos to the Brewers for not rolling over when their skipper was inexplicably let go. As I write this, Game 1 of Brewers/Phillies is under way. Suddenly the Twins not being there hurts a whole lot more than I expected it would. Oof...

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 97-65 (DP: Boston, whom I hate, 2 GB)
Flat out the best story in baseball this year. The Rays were in the mix from day one and persevered through some significant injuries to take down the big boys. Boston, whom I hate, still managed to grab the Wild Card. Another half a point? Maybe? Come on! Okay, maybe not.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 89-74 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 14 GB)
Yes, Chicago's record adds up to 163 games. Minnesota gave them a helluva run, but in the end, Chicago won out. Kudos South Siders. The Tigers were a complete failure. Originally my pick to win the World Series, Detroit failed in every way imaginable. It'll be interesting to see how much change occurs in Motown in the off season.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 100-62 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 39 GB)
My biggest failure of the year. I wanted to pick the Angels and managed to talk myself out of it at the last minute. Oof. There wasn't a winner in the "How far back will Seattle finish" contest. Congratulations do go to ST reader Lon in Forest Lake, for coming closest at 36 games. Close Lon, but no cigar.

AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 95-67 (DP: Cleveland Indians, 14 GB)
Completely whiffed on the Tribe too. Cleveland was beset by injuries early on in the campaign and never really recovered. As a Twins fan, I'm terrified by what the Indians could be next year. Flat out terrified.

So I got 1 right. Will anybody give me credit for two if you count the two half-points?! Post a comment below if you think I should get a little love for those!

Either way it was a rough year for the baseball picks. But baseball's a tough game to predict like that. That's why the people who are inveterate football gamblers rarely wager on baseball. Too many things change too quickly over too long a season. Then again, that's why I'm such a fan!

That's it for today folks. I'm back tomorrow with the 2nd ever Sports Take College Football Poll, and my Week 6 picks. Until then, thanks for reading!

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