Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Rick's Post-Season Picks

Rick Kaplan

OAKLAND (September 18) – If Oakland and Minnesota face each other in the first round, the winner of that series is my pick to win the World Series. And I’ll tell you later in my column which team I happen to think would win this match-up.

I’m jumping the gun a little on the post-season. Shortly, you’ll be inundated by the predictions of all the usual suspects–ESPN, our own Marty Lurie, the Sporting Green, the handicappers in Vegas, George Steinbrenner, your uncle Ralph–you name it.

I wanted to draw first blood.

And don’t forget you heard it first here!

Click below for Rick’s Picks.Last year’s World Series winners, the Chicago White Sox, swept four games from Houston by a grand total of six runs. Their formula in 2005 was solid starting pitching, backed by a strong bullpen, really good defense, timely hitting, and the ability to play through injuries to key players (such as White Sox great Frank Thomas).

In other words, BALANCE.

Interestingly, the White Sox added power to their attack in the off-season, in the person of Jim Thome, and sacrificed some defense when they traded away Aaron Rowand in the same transaction. And their ability to win close, one-run games–the best in baseball in 2005 at 35-19–seems to have suffered. In 2006 the Chisox are 22-21 in one-run games.

All season I have been harping on ‘balance.’

It’s even more important in the post-season when low-scoring, tightly played games are often decided by one or two runs, and the team that makes mistakes or has exploitable weaknesses is going to lose.

That’s why it’s so easy to eliminate the National League wholesale from consideration.

The Mets, able to put a line-up in the field that could play position-by-position with the best AL clubs, have little credible starting pitching. Pedro Martinez is shaky at best physically and unable to pitch effectively deep into a game. Tom Glavine is not going to shut down an AL line-up. And the drop-off in ability and effectiveness after these two question marks is dramatic. Trachsel, El Duque, John Maine, Oliver Perez– and whoever else they come up with–are not going to get it done against the AL’s best teams.

The Dodgers have been fading after looking like they might be able to contend in the fall. They have two starters who might be able to pitch effectively in the post-season, Brad Penney and Derrick Lowe, but they have little power, and their defense can be lacking.

The Cardinals? Are you kidding? Get past Chris Carpenter and you don’t have a pitcher who could crack the rotation of any of the AL contending teams. Scott Rolen is a very overrated player, and this team didn’t have a chance even before their very good centerfielder, Jim Edmonds, was knocked out of the line-up with concussion problems.

The one NL team that I thought might give the American League something to fret over, the Florida Marlins, with their very talented young starting pitchers and history of Wild Card miracles, seems to be coming up short as the season comes to an end.

Thus, in the end, the champion is going to be one of four AL teams: The Yankees, the Tigers, the Twins, or the A’s.

If there is a word to describe Yankee pitching, it’s “iffy.” The Yankees have a previously solid, although recently injured, Mike Mussina, a very hittable Randy Johnson, an up-and-down Chien-Ming Wang, an undependable Jaret Wright, and an ineffective Corey Lidle (who may now have been supplanted by Jeff Karstens as the fifth starter). They have a decent bullpen, and Mariano Rivera is still very effective. But, overall, their pitching doesn’t shut teams down, and their defense, typified by Mr. Passed Ball, Jorge Posada, is porous.

But they do have Derek Jeter. And ARod, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Robinson Cano. And they may be getting Gary Sheffield back. Can the Bronx Bombers ignore balance and win their twenty-seventh world title with their lumber alone?

Maybe so. But I don’t think so.

The Tigers have lost 23 of their last 37 games. They are not hitting, even with the additions of Sean Casey and our old friend Matt Stairs. But they could start to get their stroke back. They have speed, they play good defense, and they probably have the best starting pitchers in baseball.

41 year-old Kenny Rogers is a work horse (and a great fielder !). I would almost prefer to see the Tigers have the home field advantage if they play the A’s so that Rogers doesn’t get to make two starts in the Coliseum, where he is an unbeatable (and unbelievable) 23-1 over his last 24 decisions in Oakland. Justin Verlander has looked a little tired since returning from the DL, but he can still be very dominant, as he was against the Twins when his best stuff was needed to win a game in the Metrodome last week. Bonderman has been getting hit. Southpaw Nate Robertson has put together a very solid season as the fourth starter. 100 MPH set-up man Joel Zumaya is having wrist problems.

Their pitching is still a force. But I don’t think they are going to recover from their losing ways in time to put up much of a fight in the post-season.

If this team starts to hit again they can be very dominant. They are a talented club. But I think their bats will remain quiet in 2006.

The Twins may be the scariest team of the lot, especially if they get to play a lot of games in the Metrodome. They really pressure the defense with their speedy and endless array of the pesky Jasons (Bartlett, Tyner, and Kubel), Nick Punto, and Luis Castillo. And Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Torii H. can knock them in.

Like the A’s, this team has a lot of balance and an array of weapons. But I think the loss of Francisco Liriano really undermines their chances. Johann Santana can’t start every game, and Brad Radke wants to pitch with a broken arm. If they can get to the bullpen, Joe Nathan will carry them home. But I don’t think that, beyond Santana, they have the horses to go deep in the game.

The A’s enter the post-season hitting on all cylinders. As I have said all season, this team, when healthy, is going to win the close games.

The only wrinkle I see is Barry Zito’s apparent inability to throw strikes when he needs to, and an apparent loss of loss of velocity for the young staff leader. But he still seems to be able to figure out how to pitch effectively.

The bullpen has developed into one of the best in the game. If Esteban Loaiza can maintain his recent brilliance, Rich Harden returns to play any kind of role for the A’s, and Dan Haren continues his outstanding pitching, they look hard to beat. They are leading the AL in team batting average since the All-Star break, have a legitimate MVP candidate, Frank Thomas, in the middle of the line-up for the first time since the heyday of Jose Canseco, and play the best defense in baseball.

The Oakland Athletics will win their tenth World Series title in 2006.


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