Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Power Rankings shuffle…

The deadline is quickly approaching to file one’s post-season prognostications. Across America, barroom banter is fully charged with patrons adjusting their visions of playoff participants and pennant champions. Now is the time to perfect their ballot, before injuries and dead arms take effect. This is a serious undertaking for the baseball fan. Serious, after all, because diamond pundits will have to live with their playoff conjecture over the next six months—and quite a bit longer if they fathom a return to the NLCS for the Phillies in 2005.

I tend to get nauseous from the onslaught of preseason rankings and playoff picks offered by the mass media. The facts are usually superficial (i.e. the Yankees have the best team on paper), the writers pitifully obvious (The Yankees will win the World Series) and the content lacks a flare for the dramatic (yup, Yankees win again).

While I hate to read preseason predictions, I remain strangely drawn to them. I glance over their vertical rankings, quickly, like a motorist who peeks at the remains of a highway collision. Regardless of my distaste for these uneducated guesses, it is often called upon me to put my best foot forward and make an assertion or two regarding the 2005 MLB Season according to yours truly.

Once in a blue moon a team—2005 appears to be the Twins turn at this role—is picked to wind the World Series for shock value. Listen, it’s bad enough the Twins have to play at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, home field of the Vikings. But now, those poor turf kids have to endure all of 2005 with the omnipotent glare of Peter Gammons who dared to pick them to win the whole pizza pie. Somewhere Ron Gardenhire confronts reality, “World Series? The Twin-City Twinkies? World Series? Hell, we are just trying to win a playoff game.”

The problem isn’t that an “underdog” team is picked to run the table. The problem is that the right underdog team never is selected. Since the wild card / eight team playoff format was introduced, postseason has become an exciting crapshoot where the Angels once and the Marlins twice carried away World Championships to the chagrin of Las Vegas odds makers. Playoff outcomes are less certain than every before. So, without further adieu, I hereby declare the Florida Marlins right and honorable World Champions of 2005.

Yes, those Marlins, aiming for their third ring in the past nine seasons. Certainly you have to like their offense, reinforced with the addition of Carlos Delgado, the left-handed stick long sought in Florida. Wedging Delgado between Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera provides great balance and slugging potential. The only team in the National League that surpasses the Marlins middle order are the spectacular St. Louis Cardinals. When I say spectacular, what I truly mean is freakish. That may be the only way to comprehend a healthy dose of Edmonds-Pujols-Rolen-Walker 162 game a year. The Marlins offense possesses an edge, however, not found in their sluggers, but in their leadoff men.

Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo have high OBP’s and excellent speed. In terms of pure leadoff qualities, few teams possess such threats. The Mariners use of Ichiro and Winn/Reed comes close. The same potential may be found with Carl Crawford in Tampa if Sweet Lou can find an assertive number two hitter who can feature the hit-and-run threat. Pierre and Castillo are the perfect assets to manufacture runs when sluggers get hogtied. As we have seen in the cases of Ricky Henderson and Kenny Lofton in postseason play, a tip-tier leadoff man can distract the opponent’s pitcher, forcing mental errors.

Josh Beckett dominated the 2003 World Series for the Marlins and will be complimented by A.J. Burnett this year. Burnett, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2003, pitched well in 2004, with a strikeout per inning ratio. These two pitchers have the ability to dominate in the playoffs and could be the best kept secret in baseball this year. Dontrelle Willis enters his third major league season and has opened 2005 with a complete game shutout. Al Leiter, though he walks too many batters, is a stable veteran and pitching connoisseur. Adding Leiter this off-season is akin the Cleveland Indians adding Orel Hershiser in 1995, where clubhouse contributions rivaled his on-field effectiveness.

The Marlins remain a very good defensive team. Lowell and Pierre bring Gold Glove play. Gonzalez-Castillo provide the best double play tandem in the view of many. The pen will be weaker than last year due to the loss of Armando Benitez, but Guillermo Mota should have no problem moving into the closer role this season.

I expect the Cardinals to win the NL Central handily, while the West appears to be a battle of attrition. It may be the Padres time to renter the month of October in 2005. The Mets have received much press with the additions of Beltran and Martinez, but the Marlins and Braves are the better teams in the division. I never count out Bobby Cox and it wouldn’t surprise me if Atlanta wins the division for the 148th straight season. However, it would surprise me if Atlanta won the NL pennant. Florida has too much intrigue and we may see a repeat of 1997 when the Fish won the World Series as a Wild Card participant.

By Josh Brown

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