Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Will The Best Team Win in 2006?

Rick Kaplan
Staff Writer

OAKLAND (September 30) – Can someone explain the difference between “balanced” and “best,” or between “hottest” and “scariest,” “gritty” and “clutch,” and so on?

Where did I put my Sportswriters’ Dictionary?

I said in a previous column that the Athletics-Twins ALDS (American League Divisional Series) winner would be the World Series champ, and that the A’s, the most balanced club, would triumph.

I still think so. And may the best team win.

But not in 2006.

Click below for more!Because the Angels are already going home.

A’s fans, admit it: Didn’t you feel like you were up against a superior team the last two weekends?

The recently played seven games between the Angels and the A’s hardly counted in the standings–with the A’s wrapping up the division title rather anti-climactically against the Mariners– but they sure mattered.

That’s because the Angels demonstrated why they are the best team in baseball. Or is it most talented?

I have said that the A’s are the most balanced team this season in MLB, but that isn’t the same as the most talented team in terms of ability and skill level.

And, to make it even more complicated, it’s not even the best team that usually wins the title in baseball’s post season.

It’s the hottest team, often the one that arrives at the playoffs with the most momentum.

That’s why wild card teams won the World Series in 2002 (Angels), 2003 (Marlins), and 2004 (Red Sox). They had to struggle and turn it on down the stretch to ward off a bunch of contenders for the wild card berth, and their winning ways just seemed to carry them and help defeat teams with superior talent.

Not only it’s often not the best that wins, but just as often the ‘experts’ don’t really even know who is the best.

A lot of writers got on the White Sox bandwagon last fall, labeling them baseball’s best club, after they coasted to the AL Central Division championship and won the World Series in a sweep over Houston.

Then, following their victory in 2005, ESPN and other experts were calling them “better than ever in 2006,” after they traded Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome during the winter, and were describing their pitching as now “the greatest in history” (this is a quote), after they added the highly-touted Javier Vasquez to their staff.

But the White Sox hurlers, including a very disappointing Vasquez and inferior seasons from Contreras, Buerhle, and Garland (don’t be fooled by the gaudy, and misleading, W-L record), together with sub-par middle relief work, revealed themselves to be quite ordinary in 2006, shriveling, along with every other team in MLB, when compared to the staff the Angels have assembled.

And it is that staff, while going home early themselves, very well may have placed their imprint on the post-season and dealt a fatal blow to the Oakland Athletics confidence going into the playoffs.

The A’s are a resilient bunch, but the shellacking they received in the last two weekends at the hands of the Halos may have been too much.

The A’s chances will largely depend on whether or not Barry Zito has to keep nibbling and walking hitters because he knows that he can’t get them out with an 85 MPH fastball, or if he can somehow return to the 88-90 range that made him so effective in the past.

Esteban, tell Barry quick who was that therapist that fixed your arm and got the sizzle back on your heater.

Like Jim Leyland said the other day after Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson had been bombed in successive starts: “Those are out guys. If they pitch well in the post-season, then we’ll be OK. If they don’t, then we won’t.”

That may not sell papers, but it completely explains the post-season and what to expect.

That’s why the Yankees aren’t going anywhere. This is a team of hired guns, with more firepower than the Israeli army and Hezbollah combined, but one that can’t pitch or catch the ball.

And like Leyland said, if the Tigers pitch, they’ll be fine. Except they won’t, because their young arms, Verlander, Bonderman, Robertson, and Zumaya, are all tired, and 41 year old Kenny Rogers is suddenly giving up runs and hits in bunches.

The NL? Please. Cardinals or Houston, the Mets, the Dodgers, or the Padres–It doesn’t matter. None of these teams have the weapons to compete with the AL.

The Dodgers might have a chance to win one game against the AL if they get lucky with an outstanding game from Derrick Lowe or Brad Penny.

The Mets don’t have a chance, although their outlook might be slightly improved now that El Duque has been moved up to start the NLDS, with Pedro going on the DL.

Some people like to fantasize about the Astros’ trio of Oswalt, Clemens, and Pettitte being able to compete in a World Series. A part of me would like to see that scenario tested, so that we could watch Roger head for the showers in the second inning once again.

All the NL teams are going to have trouble scoring against the AL, while the AL can run it up against the NL hurlers at will. The difference in pitching is enormous.

Back to the Angels for a moment.

The Angels are a team that runs out a number one type starter every day: Lackey, Weaver, Santana, and Escobar. And that doesn’t include their ace, Bartolo Colon, out nearly the entire season with elbow problems.

A pitching staff–which also includes set-up man Scott Shields and closer Fankie Rodriguez–that is unparalleled in baseball.

With a line-up consisting of the dangerous Chone Figgins and the rapidly improving Maicer Itzuris, a clutch Orlando Cabrera, power hitters Guerrero, Anderson, and now Ron Rivera, the up-and-coming catcher Mike Napoli, and a truly exciting rookie, Howie Kendricks–one can only wonder why this team didn’t run away with the AL West.

But they didn’t, and that’s why the deserving A’s, who pitched and played defense and fought off injuries (and who led the AL in batting average after the All Star break), captured the division title.

And they just may win the whole thing.

Mysteriously, the Angels, in spite of their enormous talent and loaded farm system, didn’t play defense or hit very much until the end of the season.

It just proves that the best–or is that the most talented team?–doesn’t always win.

Like Miggy and Byrnesy not touching home and the A’s losing to the Red Sox in the ALDS in 2003. Or was that about the more talented team also being the DUMBEST team?


1 Anonymous { 10.01.06 at 11:49 am }

Good points, Rick. But I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the Angels are better than the A’s. Better pitching, both starting and pen, sure, but A’s offense and defense was absolutely horrid. They played the A’s tough and were often times even able to out manage them, but A’s are still better, even though their head to head record doesn’t show it. And while the A’s are getting beat up this weekend, I don’t think it is going to have any negative affect on them. A’s are a little in cruise control. That’s fine. They had a long season. The intensity will pick up again especially with the coliseum being sold out. By the way, I’m tired of people trying to make Wolf sound like he is a “people’s team owner.” If he was, he would have at least taken the tarps off for the playoffs.
-Mike E.

2 Anonymous { 10.01.06 at 11:50 am }

I meant the Angels offense and defense was absolutely horrible, not the A’s!

3 Anonymous { 10.01.06 at 12:03 pm }

Mike E –
As always, I enjoyed your thoughtful and well-written comments. I hope you are right about the A’s. They have always been a hard, unpredictable team to read, bouncing back from 14-0 crushings the next day like nothing happened and then dropping a twin bill to KC in the middle of a hot streak. This goes all the way back to the bash brothers. So, your cruise control description may be very revealing. On the other hand, have you noticed anything about Zito in regard to what I was calling hisnibbling and inability to throw a hard one when needed? The one time in the last four or five starts that he got as high as 88 on a pitch it was a beautiful inside fastball that just froze Jim Thome with men on against the Chisox in a game situation (It seems like Zito has one every ining. It wa evieent to me how important his velocity is just form that one pitch. Thanks again. Hope to see you at the victory parade . . .

4 Anonymous { 10.01.06 at 1:21 pm }

nice article. One quibble: the Angels’ young power outfielder’s first name is Juan, not Ron

5 Anonymous { 10.01.06 at 9:23 pm }

I agree with you about Zito. I think he is overrated as it is (inconsistent with his curveball and terrible control) and right now he is looking even weaker. Lets hope he is able to keep the A’s in the games against the Twins. I was hoping the A’s would play the Tigers.
-Mike E.

6 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:13 pm }

7 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:50 pm }

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