Everything’s coming up Milhouse thus far in the playoffs, at least from my standpoint. The Dodgers swept the Cardinals, the Yankees swept the Twins, and the Angels swept the Red Sox, with each of the series more or less turning on a ninth-inning flub by the eventual losers — a harsh reminder that there’s almost no margin for error in such a short series.
In the Dodgers series, it came via Matt Holliday’s dropped fly ball on the potential final out of Game Two; had the catch been made, the series would have been knotted at one game apiece as it headed back to St. Louis, but as it was, the Dodgers rallied against closer Ryan Franklin for the win. In the Yankees series, it came when Alex Rodriguez slammed a Joe Nathan pitch into the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth of Game Two for a game-tying homer. The Yanks won it in the bottom of the 11th on a Mark Teixeira walk-off, but only after the Twins loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the inning and failed to score, a situation somewhat marred by umpire Phil Cuzzi’s failure to see a Joe Mauer drive land in fair territory beforehand; Mauer would have gotten a ground-rule double, but he had to settle for a single. In the Red Sox series, Jonathan Papelbon came on to protect a 5-2 lead with two outs and two on base in the eighth inning of Game Three. He gave up a two-run single, then surrendered three more runs in the ninth, the last two on a single by Vlad Guerrero following an intentional walk of Torii Hunter (Joe Posnanski has a great rant about that one), and soon the Sox were packing up for winter. Riverdance that one, kid.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers will have to wait for their opponents to emerge from the other NL Division Series currently being played under frigid conditions in Denver between the Phillies and the Rockies. From a historic standpoint, a rematch with the Phillies would be more favorable, but the Dodgers’ chances at reaching the World Series are probably better against the Rockies, whom they beat 14 out of 18 times this year. Personally, though, I’m just hoping for a protracted, miserable series full of extra-inning games ultimately won by the Donner Party.
I haven’t had much chance to write about postseason action yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. The season’s final Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus, with the Yanks finishing atop the list for the first time since 2006 and the Dodgers, who led most of the year, winding up second. The latest installment of our “Kiss ‘Em Goodbye” series is up at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider; this one, to which I contributed, covers the just-defeated Cardinals:
Key stats: 62 starts, 425 2/3 innings, 2.45 ERA, .650 SNWP
That’s what the Cardinals got from Carpenter and Wainwright, and after the pair combined for just 23 starts last year, it was their performances which were the main reason the Cardinals outdid their PECOTA projection by eight games. After pitching just 21 1/3 innings in 2007-2008 due to various elbow miseries, Carpenter rebounded to go 17-4 while posting the league’s top ERA (2.24) and SNWP (.673), with microscopic walk and homer rates (1.8 per nine and 0.3 per nine, the latter tops in the league) further underscoring the fact that he was back in Cy Young form. Wainwright, who missed two and a half months with a finger tendon injury in 2008, emerged as an ace thanks to improved command his curveball, which enabled him to smother righties (.217/.255/.290). He led the league with 19 wins and 233 innings while ranking fourth with a 2.63 ERA and 212 strikeouts.
The Bottom Line
With Holliday, DeRosa, Troy Glaus, and Rick Ankiel all free agents, the team will need to find a heavy hitter or two this winter to keep the lineup from feeling like “Albert and the Seven Dwarves” again. As the Cardinals fill their holes, they’ll especially need to emphasize plate discipline, given that Pujols and mid-season acquisition Julio Lugo were the only regulars to walk at least once for every 10 plate appearances. Furthermore, La Russa and Dave Duncan’s possible departure might present real problems for this franchise, given the skill both have shown at squeezing the most out of veteran rosters — and particularly rotations — assembled amid the limitations of a mid-market payroll.
Tough to believe that La Russa and Duncan might not be part of the Cardinals next year; they’ve been constants for so long it’s easy to forget they’re not surgically attached to the team.