Archive for the 'PnP Conversations' Category

PnP Conversations: No-Hitting and the Tight Rope

Ted: Eric, Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the year, which creates a great opportunity to discuss one of the more distinct accomplishments that baseball has to offer. I can’t think of another accomplishment in sport that receives so much attention for preventing something from happening. No shutout by any goalie, dominant number of blocks from a basketball big man or NFL defensive wall has quite the cultural cachet as the no-no does.

I still get all tingly when a pitcher throws a no-hitter. What is it about the feat, and the watching of the feat, that is so dramatic and compelling?

Eric: I have always admired the basketball Triple Double because it comes with a sense of completeness — it highlights balance and teamwork and efficiency. But rebounds are far less romantic than strikeouts. The great thing about the no-hitter is that it’s a high-wire act. With every succeeding batter the odds of it actually happening get slimmer. The other thing is that like a high-wire act, a no-hitter allows for a certain amount of wobbliness.

Ubaldo Jimenez walked a precarious six batters when he threw his no-no. That’s far from a perfect game. The perfect game is a different feat, a symmetrical achievement that borders on the artistically genius (I wrote about it here). A no-hitter like the one thrown by Jimenez is as much about guile, as much about nerves, as much about fear, as it is about pitching.

When pitchers throw perfect games, they look invincible. But when they throw no-hitters, they look human. That’s why I won’t let go of my high-wire metaphor. Have you seen Man on Wire by the way? I’ve been meaning to check it out on Netflix Instant.

Ted: I have seen Man on Wire. You will love it for the same reasons you’ll love the 1978 Expos: if you’re into the 70s and eccentric French people.

I don’t know if I’m buying your starry eyed vision of a 6-walk no-hitter. When I heard that little side note about the free passes I felt the feat was that something of a gold-plated clunker, to get the credit for a no-no when you’ve let six men on base. After all, the point of a no-hitter is that you dominated the opposition, not that you gave up an inordinate number of free outs. There’s a point at which it becomes a gimmick, like saying a guy just threw a no-doubler or a no-balker.

Now obviously I’m exaggerating; it was still a dominant performance. But can we put this into the canon of great performances? I suppose it doesn’t matter: it’s really fun to watch a pitcher walk the tight rope.

Have you ever seen a no-hitter in person? I haven’t, and I wonder what it’s like. Thoughts?

Eric: This is the point in our conversation when I inevitably tip my cap to the blogosphere’s ghost of the Expos, Jonah Keri. Moving on, I don’t know if I buy your sudden sabermetrically induced skepticism. It’s a no-hitter, not a no-walker. Have there been 1-hitters or 3-hitters pitched better than Ubaldo’s no-hitter? Probably. But they aren’t magic.

In other words, I don’t think the idea is that you dominated. The idea is that you didn’t allow any hits. NO HITS! I don’t see it as a gimmick at all. The no-hitter is not about retrospect. It’s not about analysis. It’s about the moment. Some accomplishments grow greater in scope as we look back on them. No-hitters are at their most dynamic as they are occurring.

I haven’t seen a no-hitter in person. But this is why I’ve always wanted to. I don’t think there’s any sporting achievment I’d rather see in person. I saw Fernando Tatis take Chan Ho Park for two grand slams in the same inning. I saw Ichiro break the single season hit record. But I’d trade both to see a no-hitter in person. I can only imagine the shivers and the tension and the elation at the end of it all.

What about you? If you could see any baseball achievement in person, what would it be? I know you’re a fan of the cycle’s mystique.

Ted: I feel fortunate to have actually seen the achievement I most wanted to in person: Craig Biggio’s 3,000th hit. As you’ve very effectively pointed out, that one was about retrospect, not about the tension of the moment. If you’re talking single-game variety achievements, I’d most want to see Josh Wilker throw out the first pitch at a Vermont Lake Monsters game.

Some cynical part of me thinks that a no-hitter is best appreciated from home, via television. That’s where the mastery is clear, after all. From the stands, most pitchers look the same, as do most pitches. The results would be engaging, obviously, but the true depth of the accomplishment goes out the door. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to be there, just that the experience is profoundly different. It’s very likely that I am over-thinking it. I’d love to see a no-hitter in person.

Having no-hit myself with 18 walks, logic-wise, we’ll just have to agree to agree. No-hitters are as awesome as eccentric French people and the 70s.

PnP Conversations: Minding the Gap

Optimism.

Eric: Less than one month until Pitchers & Catchers report. Let’s start it this way. What non-roster invitee/subradar acquisition do you think will have the biggest impact in the majors this year?

Ted: That’s a great question, Eric. Unfortunately, I am in the process of memorizing each non-roster invitee for every team in the AL. I’m playing catch-up for when I move into full-on Mariners bandwagon mode. I don’t want to interrupt this intensive exercise by pointing out any particular player. Besides, all I’ve got is radar, so if they’re subradar then I don’t know about them anyway. Let’s just say that my full support is behind any non-roster invitee who is still older than I am. The list shrivels each year.

Maybe I’m getting old and cynical, but I have a hard time feeling optimistic about the old guys in camp. The systems are too good these days to let a player slip through the cracks. I mean, I’m sitting here amazed that nobody has signed Johnny Damon yet, but he’ll probably suck next year. The computers already know it, even if the American people don’t. I think it’s also still a result of the long steroids hangover. Ah, the Steroids Era! When careers never had to end! The cold hard truth of entropy was suspended and we all frolicked in a NeverNeverLand of home runs and swollen heads.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away. Even if a biblical snowstorm is ravaging the mid-Atlantic, spring is approaching, and that’s no time for cynicism and nostalgia. It’s time to think about new, young things. I bet Kevin Millar bought himself a new pair of ostrich skin boots when the Cubs signed him!

So I’ve gone on about the hard truths. Give us some bunny rabbits and Skittles, Eric. Who do you think will shine this year?

Eric: You mean besides Kevin Millar’s gleaming, winning smile? The obvious answer is that the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers will shine this year. Right? Right? Yeah.

In all seriousness, I have high expectations for the math-powered Mariners.I share your creeping feeling that the fans are just a little too optimistic, but you know what? It’s been a helluva sunny winter here in Seattle. So why not?  And keeping things semi-Pacific, I have very optimistic notions about the AL West this year. The Mariners are obviously and (especially if they bring Bedard) significantly improved. The A’s are doing something interesting by signing all these old guys, the Angels lost stuff but probably not enough to make them a below-average team, and the Rangers enter year two of the great Nolan Ryan badassery experiment.

Speaking of which, there won’t be any skittles in the Rangers clubhouse for them this year. As a Texas-native, how do you feel about the rise of Nolan Ryan The Executive? He’s proving to be a pretty fascinating dude, ditching conventional wisdom (pitch counts)  in favor old conventional wisdom (suck it up). I almost see it as a Finley or Veeckesque maneuver. Thoughts?

Nolan Ryan only pretended he knew what pain was for this ad.

Ted: Nolan Ryan judging pitchers’ durability is like Brian Cashman complaining that other teams aren’t spending enough money. The Ryan Express had the most rubbery wing in history, making him the worst possible judge of human arms other than his own. That said, I think he may be tapping into what has long been stewing: a desire for pitchers and pitching coaches to stop being such babies. I have a bit of this in me myself, though I temper this attitude with the mental image of some poor second-year guy sweating bullets and lobbing hand grenades towards the plate while Nolan Ryan grins down from the luxury box in his cowboy hat with his arms crossed.

Suddenly, the “old guy market gap” is gathering steam, which is great because it took the baseball public like ten years to catch up with Billy Beane and his OBP gap. Nowadays, a market gap lasts about fifteen minutes, and that’s before it proves to have any value. I think we can say that Nolan Ryan will probably own the “blow out guys’ arms” market gap for some time. This article here has a good little recap. (editor’s note: No pitcher on the Rangers threw 200 innings in 2009. I don’t know what that means.)

In this era, everybody notices what nobody is noticing really quickly, in what feels like the length of The Sandblast. The amazing thing as that some people still regularly blunder through the process, and seem to ignore all available insight. I’m a fan of one of those teams, the Astros, and the most popular blogger in the hemisphere, JoePos, chronicles the pratfalls of another. In this age of excellence, where there’s so much information and so much insight, there are a few shining lights that tip the balance back to the mediocre. And that is why they play the games.

Here’s a challenge, Eric: I’ve ended with a cliche. I challenge you to start your reply with a cliche, and build off of that like Dayton Moore has built a dynamo off of Billy Butler.

Eric: How about two? They play the games to win and there’s more than one way to skin a cat. What I mean to say is that there’s no right or wrong way to build a roster; there is only winning and losing. These market gaps, whether age, defense, or OBP-based, are only a small part of what goes into assembling each lineup and pitching staff and bench. Take the Twins, whose success seems to be the result of existing in a vacuum, apart from all the hype and all the trends.

When it comes to what goes into each transaction, we are still very much in the dark. Baseball moves slower than politics and the stakes are different. The narrative cycle — is the bottoming out of the veteran market really “news”? — exists more for the sake of the fans than for the sake of the executives. For all we know, for all the tweeting and info-sharing, they are probably still a good seven steps ahead of us. After all, they make the market. We only react to it.

Pnp Conversations: Winter Meeting Wonderland

Eric: First off, I’d like to wish you a Happy Winter Meetings Day. The winter meetings mark the end of that unsettling post-World Series period and the dawning of the Real Offseason. The Real Offseason consists of speculative tweets and desperate rumor mongering and so much Scott Boras. It is basically the time when everything that’s wrong about baseball and baseball coverage comes to the forefront. Okay fine. I’m not this cranky. I’m just a little tired.

My first season of baseball blogging has left me exhausted. The Dodger ownership situation has left me cynical.  And the sheer amount of information one must consume to stay truly informed has left me overwhelmed. So I ask you Ted, what is a fan to do? Is there such a thing as too much information? Is it better to immerse one’s self in the madness, or to bide one’s time and count the months until pitchers (and poets) and catchers report?

Ted: You know, last offseason I went into it whole hog. It was a conscious decision to do so, and I ended up refreshing MLBTradeRumors.com every five minutes, studying up on arbitration processes and Rule 5 draft minutiae until my eyes watered. And I enjoyed myself, if only because it was an active decision. I dove into the pool of rumor madness. And it left me exhausted. By the time the season came around, I felt too tired for excitement. Following this pseudo-baseball whirling dervish of information was so taxing that the actual baseball season seemed less a relief than it did a continuation of the information torrent.

This offseason, using what I learned from last, I have decided to stick to the major news outlets and enjoy the big stories after they’ve been filtered through the tickers of the major coverage. This is in opposition to the trade rumor angle, in which mentions and possibilities are the currency. It’s a far less concrete baseball milieu, requiring of a lot of energy, the rumor mill, and I’m hoping to store my baseball energies up for when the season comes around, so that baseball will feel like a novelty at that point, rather than a chore.

This is not to say that I’m against the hot stove season. In the words of Maude Lebowski, “it can be a natural, zesty enterprise.” Most especially if you are a Red Sox, Yankees or Angels fan, and even if you’re a mid market fan looking to see who this year’s big pick-up will be. I’m thinking, for example, of Chone Figgins coming to the Mariners, which is one of those really cool moves if, like me, you are in Seattle and hoping they’ll put together an interesting team.

The hot stove season can be a downer, too, if, like me, your team will surely do nothing interesting. I’m thinking, with a blank heart, of the Astros.

Now, you are a political news junkie, and seem to follow that sordid, labyrinthine business with a natural, zesty consistency. Do you feel that MLB trade jibber-jabber is somehow different than that? Are the demands more severe?

Eric: Ted, you are even crazier than i thought. Studying up on arbitration processes? Rule 5? I thought only bloggers who dealt in numbers did stuff like that.  But crazy or not, you pose an interesting question. I am a political news junkie. It’s true. But believe it or not, that feels less insane to me. The MLB trade jibber-jabber is somehow different than that. The demands are more severe.

Allow me to demonstrate some differences between the MLB offseason rumor mill, and the ever-buzzing world of political news.

1. Substance. Huffington Post readers might not be aware of this, but political news actually goes beyond airport bathroom rendezvous, Joe Lieberman sightings, and the Obama girls’ clothes. There are actual substantial — if stodgy and hysterical — debates happening in congress, over actual issues. Bloggy analysis of these issues is more akin to the world of sabermetrics, in that it is ongoing, and has a certain timelessness.

2. There are only two teams! This means that an Arlen Specter trade is likely to be far more significant than, say, Akinori Iwamura for Jesse Chavez.


3. If you’re a cynical person, and it’s hard not to be, than you could argue that politics is the inverse of baseball: long offseason, and short regular season.  This means that things happen much slower. We only get a federal election every two years. THis means lots of time spent positioning, and acquiring the kind of record (or roster) it takes to compete.

4. Baseball owners are much better at working together than politicians.

5. Political news is fueled less by rumor-mongering and savvy positioning, and more by bad-decision-making, name-calling, and cowardice. Unlike baseball, the consequences for corruption are minimal and vague. The world of political news is hazy and ill-defined. The stakes are higher, but the IQs are probably lower.

Anyway, the point is that in politics, election season has that whirling dervish feel to it. But the day-to-day existence is a lot slower, a lot more like baseball’s regular season. It’s less demanding, less surprising, and more substantive.  That said, I don’t have the impulse to refresh the NY Times or TPM one hundred times a day like i do with MLBTradeRumors.com. My views on Afghanistan are not as well-defined as my views on, say, who the Mets should sign to play Left Field.

Is the desire to play armchair GM part of what makes this time of year so compelling? Or is it just the excitement of seeing how baseball’s pieces will fall into place before next season starts? What  makes these winter meetings so…massive?

Ted: I find your informational reply to be enlightening and entertaining, though unfortunately it doesn’t at all increase my interest in politics. I’d rather count Ichiro’s career hits one-by-one than watch more than five minutes of CNBC (does that even still exist?). Observation: in politics, the vote is king; in baseball, votes are reserved for the least crucial moments. Not counting, of course, the one-man vote that is an umpire’s decision.

What makes the winter meetings so interesting is what makes politics so interesting. We are, as media consumers, compelled by the idea of powerful men (it’s a sexist compulsion) in conference rooms hammering things out. Ideally, we’d like to be one of these men, but the only replacement is to follow their each maneuver. Add one or six fantasy baseball teams, and the compulsion is satiated. Speaking only for myself, I don’t really imagine myself in the role per se. I don’t need a second job, and to really understand a big league team, a farm team, waivers, etc., seems like it would be just that, even vicariously.

No, I think we like to watch power plays, and the winter meetings are like the meeting of the five bosses; it’s the world’s epicenter of power, bad golf shirts, and double-talk.

Here’s a semi-related question: would you ever attend the winter meetings? Let’s say it was taking place a half-hour from your residence, in the Holiday Inn-Tacoma. Would you go to there? Why?

Eric: You may not need a second job, but I certainly need a first job (take heed PnP readers, my services are available). For that reason alone, I’d go to the winter meetings. But truthfully, if they were local, I think I’d go out of sheer curiosity. The meetings fascinate me. I love baseball and, despite everything, the baseball media, and would love to see what the wheels look like when they are turning. It’s not often you get to safely watch a Scott Boras hunting in the wild, or a Tommy Lasorda gulping down spaghetti and meatballs. It may be meaningless, it may be sterile, it may even be disheartening. But sure, I’d go.

How about you, fair readers, would you go to the Winter Meetings if given the chance?

PnP Conversations: Of Men and Supermen

Ted: The best part about making predictions is praising the ones you got right and pretending the ones you got wrong never existed. That said, what hasn’t surprised you about the World Series so far?

Eric:You mean besides the fact that the Yankees are up 3-1? What hasn’t surprised me is the way these teams have won and lost, and the sheer randomness when it comes to which players have driven those results. Sure, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher were having lousy postseasons. But is it really a shock that they have hit for power in the World Series? Sure, Brad Lidge has walked that tightrope successfully so far in the playoffs, but wasn’t he doomed to fall off eventually? If anything, the World Series has been kind of a regression to the mean. Cliff Lee’s performance in Game One withstanding, the Yankees have just flat outplayed the Phillies. But speaking of pitching performances, I want your opinion on what Cole Hamels said after his start:

“I can’t wait for it to end,” Hamels said, referring to his wildly inconsistent 2009 season. “It’s been mentally draining … It’s one of those things, a year in, you just can’t wait for a fresh start.

Sons of Steve Garvey wonder if if Hamels is the anti-MSB. Is that the case? Or did a frustrated dude just misspeak a little?

Ted: It seems like less than coincidence that a fellow who has appeared in more creepy ads than the Burger King king has also spoken out against wanting to play any more this year. And it’s an odd time to say that you want the year to be over, in the midst of a World Series in which the end is in plain sight. What does he gain by saying such a thing, when he won’t even be pitching again this year as his mates battle it out on the field? Anyone capable of such a statement at such a time is clearly a bit self-centered. No MSB would find satisfaction in but a single World Series ring.

As I watched Nick Swisher swish his way out of a slump during the game from two nights ago (it was a simpler time, before the Phils had to win three in a row), my buddy Dan turned to me and said, “He told everyone he was gonna end his slump tonight and he did it!” I don’t know if that’s true, but assuming it is, then you can see the difference between a Swisher and a Hamels. Swish’s clubhouse presence has been hammed up all year, but when it comes down to it, I’ll take a guy who’s constantly talking about how tomorrow is a new day over a guy who sulks it out in the showers. Every team has to have that positivity freak who, even if he’s annoying, rubs off on the more stoic ones in the group. I think Rollins has been that for the Phillies in the past, and Swisher’s on it this year. He’s the guy who skews up the median optimism up past mid-range through sheer force of will.

It’s always easy to cite this mojo-type thing after the fact. But is it more a case of what Dan said later in that game, about Swisher bringing the team closer?: “Winning brings a team closer.” Cliff Lee’s game would suggest that a great starting pitcher is more valuable than a bragadocious, faux-hawked right fielder, but you’d have to check the numbers on that one. Though given one mediocre player vs. another, I’ll take your Swish any day. Is it too late to bother with these questions, since the Phillies seem doomed anyhow? Are they doomed?

Eric: I like how our answers in these conversations are by themselves double the length of the average post on many other baseball blogs. I’ll just skip all the stuff about optimism because well, I’m not really optimistic. As to your questions about the nature of this exercise, no I don’t think it’s too late. The Phillies may have been doomed from the start, but if they were/are then that’s beyond our control. We have discussed the role of fate/religion/aliens/robots in determining the outcome of this postseason. But all along we’ve had to just accept the fact that if these things actually do matter, actually do have an impact, we don’t know what that impact is. We speculate because we’re ignorant as to exactly what factors will affect the outcome. Is it sheer force of personality a la Swisher, or is it sheer force of hitting the ball really hard a la A-Rod? Or, once again, is it aliens?

From a purely baseball perspective, I think the Phillies are done. We’ve seen teams come back from 3-1 deficits. But The Yankees. Are. Just. So. Damn. Good. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. I still want the Phillies to lose, but the sheer awesomeness of the Yankee lineup is starting to annoy me. Looking at a Yankee box score is like standing at the bottom of Mount Kilimanjaro and staring straight up. You feel so insignificant. Any inkling of affection I had a few days ago for the Yankees has now been replaced by nerves and fear. They scare me a little. They are not of this planet. So I ask you — bearing in mind that to disrespect them is to risk your life — how can anybody actually like the Yankees? Is there anything sympathetic about them at all?

Ted: Every superhero has his weakness, and his/her endurance as a compelling figure hinges on the audience’s capacity to fear their falling, or their failing. It may be that the Yankees flashed their vulnerability in the first game of the World Series, and games two through whatever are merely this plot’s symphonic crescendo. Maybe A-Rod’s early whiffs were like the Incredible Hulk taking that blast from the sound cannons before stepping up and hurling a Hummer into the fray, and Brad Lidge is General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Then again, Cliff Lee’s up again. Perhaps the Phillies have got themselves an Abomination-in-the-hole.

PnP Conversations: Of Men and Robots

Ted: You okay, buddy? Clearly this year’s playoffs have spurred in you a Van Gogh-esque creativity, as evidenced by Fernando’s Tears in the header image (Fernando’s Tears is a great name for a blog about dejected playoff exitees).

Eric: I”m okay, actually. The aftermath of Monday’s game was much worse for me than yesterday’s. If Game 4 was an unexpected knife wound to the stomach, Game 5 was a controlled bloodletting. There is actually a sense of weird psychic relief for me right now; this postseason run, more than any I can remember, really wrapped me up emotionally. Perhaps it was the fact that I had spent the past six months blogging about baseball. Perhaps it was that last year at this time, I was working 90+ hour weeks a political campaign and just didn’t have the time/emotional energy to get wrapped up in baseball. Either way, I sort of feel like I just passed a bladder stone. It was painful. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But the worst is over. Plus, I’ll realize in a few weeks that this was, on balance, a great season to be a Dodger fan.

Now to you: Who do you got in the World Series? Yankees (may Angels?) or Phillies? Or are you just rooting for the umpires at this point?

Ted: That’s a really good point. I went through an era in Astros baseball that was full of the emotion that you describe, including a trip to the World Series in ’05. The playoffs for a committed fan are intense. Every pitch offers the possibility of annihilation. It is the antithesis of the lazy Sunday afternoon regular season game, in which the lulls and gales of one game are rhythmic and calming. The playoffs feel like a constant 60-knot blow, and as a fan you’re a lowly midshipman, gripping the rigging tight with every lurch of the ship and watching your captain navigate without your input. When it’s over, your hands are raw, your eyes bloodshot.
In the last few years, my team has been nowhere close. It keeps me calm, and lets me look outward a bit more, something like the old timer spinning yarns in some port-town saloon, telling tall tales of turbulent times from a becalmed bar stool. I’m not saying I don’t want to set sail again, but I can appreciate the decreased blood pressure that comes with time ashore. To switch metaphors to something more appropriate to your last year’s experience: for the last few years, I’ve been the Al Gore of baseball fans, and you are the Sarah Palin. Rogue!

I’m all Yanks at this point. It’s come to that. I’m enjoying the successes of a strong baseball team. The Phillies have their charms, without question. They are a strong team themselves, and Lidge’s rejuvenation is thrilling to watch. But I can’t help being–with a fluttering attention span that is all-too-typical for me–a little tired of the Phillies. They won it all last year, obviously, and there’s something great about repeating, but a repeat team is inherently less interesting than a newcomer, if you can call the Yanks newcomers.

I’m glad you have the right perspective–a great season to be a fan. Baseball is competitive as all hell. It’s hard to get into the playoffs, and it’s hard to win even one series. The competition itself must be the reward. The win-only mentality is like staking your happiness on the nightly lottery numbers. (Easy for me to say.) When we’re not a fan of either team, we watch for the competition, the struggle, that shines out the trappings of laundry.

Though I haven’t touched on it, I’ll change lanes and ask you about what you brought up: what about the umpires? Do they piss you off, or is human error compelling? Are the stakes too high for mistakes? Should we expect perfection on every pitch?

Eric: You know Ted, I have always thought of you as the grizzled Simpsonsesque Sea Captain of the blogosphere. I like that metaphor. But the Al Gore/Sarah Palin thing is lost on me. If anything, we’re both Al Gore. I’m strung out post-2000 Al Gore with a beard and an identity crisis. You are the settled-in, wise Al Gore with a Nobel Peace Prize and a sense of greater purpose.

I’m going to skip most of the Yankes/Phils stuff because I have a post on that coming soon. But the Lidge rejuvenation is a story I’ve been kind of blind to. I suppose if I was to really pull emotions out of it, I’d be happy for the guy. Hell, I am happy for the guy. He’s not a head case necessarily, but he’s the perfect example of how baseball is 90% mental and half physical. He’s at once dominant and vulnerable. There’s a lot wrapped up in Lidge.

As far as the umpires, it hasn’t really pissed me off. I generally think the stakes are never too high for mistakes — after all, it’s merely a baseball game. The range of emotions an umpire can elicit amazes me. After all, we’re talking not about shit going down in hospital rooms or the annals of the New York Stock Exchange or the halls of the US Capitol. We’re talking about a few mistakes that may or may not determine the outcome of a baseball game. The holier than thou cries for robotic intervention amuse me more than anything. Perfection is something to strive for, but it’s not attainable. Ever. Not by man or robot. (I never thought I would find myself writing a sentence like that on this blog. We’ve really turned into an Isaac Asimov society this postseason). So my opinion on the umpires is this: it sucks when they make mistakes, but it’s going to happen, it’s going to give us something to talk about, and it’s really not that big of a deal.

I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, an article about West Coast teams losing in postseason games played in East Coast ballparks; something about the warm weather/cold weather factor. This is something we talk about a lot in football. And we just saw it with the Dodgers and Angels. Do you think it’s temperature that causes those teams to lose in the big bad Northeast? Or is it something else? I don’t really buy any arguments about “intensity” and “pressure” and “playoff atmospheres.” Baseball is baseball. Or maybe it isn’t?

Ted: I’m with you all the way on umpires, I have nothing to add but my support. And By Man or Robot should be a Will Smith movie.

Cold weather baseball blows. It hurts. It’s annoying as hell. I can’t even imagine mis-hitting a baseball with a wooden bat. Well, I can imagine it, and it’s something like grabbing an electric fence with both hands. I think there are players who are better at blocking out the sheer aggravation that comes from playing a summer sport in chilly weather. Some can’t block out the potential hand-numbing stinger that lurks around every corner. It’s got to have an impact, but no one in their right mind would admit to it. Hints might come from which players is wearing the more ridiculous facemask on the field. Clearly, for those players, warming up their ears is worth wearing the most ridiculous of field costumery. I’d like to see a study of statistics as they correlate to the temperature-to-headwear-to-performance ratio. You show me a middle infielder with a full ninja mask in 45 degrees, and I’ll show you the Mendoza Line.

Eric: I agree. It hurts to play baseball in the cold. I’ve done it too, and it’s not fun. Then again you are from Houston and I am from Los Angeles. We are, for all of our lives’ journeys, sunshine boys. I remember a David Justice card from my youth in which he is wearing the Ninja Mask. It always made me laugh. Why would anybody wear something so silly, I thought to myself, staring out the window at another 78 degree November afternoon.

PnP Conversations: Horse-Hopping and Lid Popping

standing cat

Eric: So talk me down a little bit. Last night was very nearly a sit in your bedroom in the dark drinking a twelve pack and listening to the same Wilco record for six hours type of night. Somehow, I pulled through. Lean On Me came over the radio in the car as I drove home from the bar. Perspective doesn’t really work in those situations, but maybe a little bit of tenderness, a little bit of soul music does.

Anyway, after games like last night’s, and really an entire shattering weekend of sports, I begin to question the role fandom has in my life. Maybe it’s just a weird reaction. I intellectualize to cope. So here’s the question: Is it worth it? Fandom is 90 percent misery. You open a bit of your heart only to have it whacked across the room by a man with a 33 inch Louisville Slugger. So what are we doing? Why do we put ourselves through it — after all, the identities of these teams are arbitrary. Seinfeld said we’re rooting for laundry. If not that, geography? But you and I both choose not to live in the cities of our favorite baseball teams. What the hell, Ted?

Ted: Eric, it’s gonna be alright. Everything’s gonna be oooooo-kay. What you have described to me are not only the trappings of fandom, but also the trappings of love. Since the dawn of time (an era very accurately depicted by Jack Black and Michael Cera in Year One) man has hurled himself into emotionally risky situations. Simply put, it’s worth it. The risk of engagement is worth a) the crush of disappoint and more importantly b) the thrill of victory. You know it with the rush endorphines on that first kiss, and you know it when your team clinches the playoffs and maybe if the gods are with you the World Series. This is what we humans do. Besides, what else is there? Chess in the park? Maybe you’d prefer to be a human battery in the Matrix? Incidentally, I’ve been doing some pretty serious conspiracy theory research, and one alien expert in the 90s described humans in relationship to the alien species that live under the earth as being “bags of food.” So things could be worse, and they are, according to this guy (editor’s note: he was also a racist and sexist and totally insane). In this context, I’ll restate it to say that we are bags of food to the species of anxiety, doubt, pleasure, and purpose that live in our brains.

So, like I would say to a buddy who feels tremors in the foundations of his relationship with a high school sweetheart: just take a deep breath, it might not be as bad as it seems. Things can turn around, you’re being overdramatic. Do some pushups, write a letter to Vin Scully. You know, things that make you feel good. Anyway, it’s only a 2-game deficit. It’s not over yet.

Okay, now that you’re back: I talked to a guy the other night who thought that CC was going to fall apart under the pressure of the playoffs. He’s looked pretty great so far, and this guy totally agreed with me about Posada and Molina, so he seems smart. Thoughts? And this postseason continues to offer up some really special game-winning hits and circus tricks, no?

And well, alright, I’ll turn the dagger again: as a fan, would you rather lose a blowout or a game-losing hit, a la Rollins last night? Sorry. Just answer the question.

alien_beach

Eric: You are one cruel SOB. You remove the machete from my chest with gentle precision, only to turn and giggle to your friends on the other side of the room, and then shove it back in three inches deeper. But I will answer your questions. In the immediate aftermath, the walkoff loss a la Rollins is much worse. But then with a little perspective, you realize that there’s a lot less shame in that kind of loss. Also, with that kind of loss means you actually got to enjoy a baseball game for three hours, whereas with the the blowout, there’s no pleasure to be found at any point. So in retrospect, I’ll take the hard-fought heart breaker. Those kinds of losses are what it takes, I suppose, to remind a man that good or bad he is more than just a giant bag of food.

Anyway, when it comes to the Yankees, it sounds like your friend is, no offense, an idiot. What on earth would make him think that CC would suck in the postseason? One bad start with the Brewers? He handled the pressures of being a New Yankee this year with even more than his usual heavy grace, and once you get that done it really ain’t so hard. Postseason? To a guy with his stuff/confidence? Whatever says old CC.

One of my favorite parts of the playoffs in any sport is deciding who to root for as the scenarios unfold. We’re down to 4 teams now. 1 of whom I adore, and 3 of whom i abhor. If things go badly Wednesday (or Friday or Saturday), I’ll have to take stock. I think I previously asked how you pick a team with no horse in the race. When the one you’re riding drowns, you’re given no choice but to change horses in midstream. How do you switch? NL/AL loyalty? Geography? Random prejudice?

Ted: When picking a new playoff team to root for, there are two distinct options: 1) you root for the team that beat you. When they win, you can say that you were beaten by the best, or 2) you root for every other team, as an act of petty revenge.

For the record, I disagreed with this guy about C.C., but it was one of the more controversial statements I’d heard in some time. Also, he is a Red Sox fan. But also, he admitted that he was a huge fan of Posada and Mariano Rivera. And he was from Panama, so when he said the names Posada and Rivera it sounded fantastically musical and lent a certain weight to his arguments (which I agreed with anyway). Also, he told me never to tell any of his friends that he said any of that, except the C.C. part. So his assertion that C.C. would flop may have been an overcompensation for his clear affinity for other prominent Bombers. These things are complicated.

To pursue the tangent, is there a better baseball conversation than one in which one of the participant says something ridiculous and totally wrong? You can see it in their eyes, the lighting of the fuse and the watching while you blow your lid. And you are happy to oblige and go ballistic with streams of logic and aesthetic argument. This friend is unlikely to bend or he wouldn’t have lobbed the original blaspheme to begin with.

monte cristo comic

Eric: When picking a new playoff team to root for, I normally choose option 1. But this year, if it comes to it, I will pick option 2. Petty revenge is hard to beat.

And those baseball conversations, yes, they descend like gifts from the heavens. Intellectual supremacy at our fingertips, to be picked like a low-hanging apple at the end of Autumn. You can blow your lid, and just wipe the floor with the guy, you can remain calm and mock him quietly, you can just tell him plainly that he’s wrong. There are so many ways to assert ones superiority when chatting with the immensely incorrect. Good times.

PnP Conversations: The Balanced Equation and Variables

balanced

Ted: So, Eric, what’s the most compelling storyline for you going into the next round of the playoffs? The impact of Nick A.? The charisma of Andre E.? The Yankees and their undeniable goodness? It’s down to four of the most competent teams in the league now. What jumps out at you?

Eric: No surprise that for me it’s Dodger-centric, but not the way it should be. Tonight should be all about Clayton Kershaw’s full immersion in the limelight. Unfortunately all that light, and perhaps all the sun over Chavez Ravine is clouded by the weird and sad and kind of juicy news that Dodger owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are splitting up. Could this story have broken at a worse time? Reports are that the split has already created front office fault lines and that the divorce could throw the future of the team’s ownership into doubt.

jamiemccourt

How much does this actually have an impact on the players and coaches? I don’t see this storyline as an obstacle per say–Joe Torre knows a thing or two about overcoming kooky ownership situations– but it does throw a bit of rain on the Dodgers’ so-far smooth postseason. You mentioned Adenhart briefly in your question. So I’d like to follow up with this: With such small margins for error, and four balanced clubs remaining, do off-the-field events have a meaningful impact between the lines?

Ted: I think there’s a distinction to be made between off-the-field events and team mojo. One can certainly impact the other, as we’re seeing with the Angels, and really the determinate is how such an event makes the team feel. If I can cite my own meager baseball career for a minute, there’s a big difference between a team that shares a collective goal and a team full of players working basically on their own. What coalesces a team might be the random chance of personality, as we’ve seen with the 2005 White Sox and the 2004 Red Sox, or an external something-or-other like the Adenhart situation. You can easily punch holes in this lovey dovey assessment, but when it comes down to it, the theme of these conversations has been the craziness of the playoffs, and team chemistry has a remarkable way of making interesting, unexpected things happen.

Either way, it’s a necessity, that collective vibe, so I will say yes, external events do matter, as they apply to a team coming together. For the record, no, that divorce thing will have no impact on anything but the children.

That said, another recurring theme is that individual players catch fire. Kershaw is a great example of a young gun who as they say doesn’t know any better than to pitch his game. Last year’s Hamels, perhaps (and we’ll see tonight if that’s true). The Phillies ooze confidence and well-roundedness as a team. Kershaw, the young and hungry, will face a team full of postseason experience and confidence (Lidge being the very important exception, though his confidence seems to be budding at the right time).

You know, I just thought of something, which includes the ruinous act of “looking ahead”: what about a World Series between the Yanks and Joe Torre?!? How sweet would that be….Thoughts? (though I’d be a little shocked if you were willing to draw back your gaze away from this one game tonight.

teamwork

Eric: I agree with everything you said right there, so I’ll just go ahead ans answer your question. As scared as I am to speculate beyond Clayton Kershaw’s first pitch of the first inning tonight, I do think a Yanks-Dodgers series would be sweet. I also think an Angels-Dodgers series would be sweet. From my decidedly western coast and LA-native perspective, by far the two most compelling storylines involve the Dodgers reaching the World Series. That said, the Phils defending their title against the once-again-colossal Yankees would be great, as would seven games between the Phils and the emotionally charged Angels. If you don’t have a horse left in this race, I don’t think you can lose. You’re gonna get a great show.

Now that my gaze has been drawn back, I’m a little overwhelmed by possibilities. I try to keep a steady perspective. The Dodgers will win or they will lose. There is absolutely no way to accurately predict which of those two results will occur, and all speculation is worthless. I just need to be satisfied with the knowledge that they are capable of winning a seven game series against any team. It’s hard, but that’s what I need to do.

But with that out of the way, let’s turn it over to the AL for a moment. Most folks I talk to seem to have handed this series to the Yankees already. It’s not hard to do, especially considering the fact that as a friend recently pointed out, their 8th best hitter is Johnny Damon. But the 3-man rotation does make them seem vulnerable — going to it seems almost like an admission of guilt when it comes to pitching depth. Plus the Angels can really freaking hit too. Kendry Morales is probably the most underrated player left in the postseason. I think they’ve got a hell of a shot at winning the AL, especially if they take a game in the Bronx.

Am I completely misguided?

Ted: It’s not that your wrong. You’ve just caught the Angels spirit:

Mel Clark: I’ve got nothing left.
George Knox: Yeah, you do. You’ve got one strike left.
[turns to dugout, Roger walks out flapping his arms like angel’s wings]
George Knox: You’ve got an angel with you right now… just got here, and he’s going to help.
Mel Clark: The kid sees an angel?
George Knox: Yeah, he must. That’s the signal.
[gradually all players and crowd, even those in the office, stand and flap their arms]
George Knox: [moved by seeing the crowd] It could happen.
Mel Clark, George Knox: Okay.
George Knox: [laughs] Go get ’em for the championship!

imdb

PnP Conversations: Playoff Talk Pt. II

The ambling dialogue continues between Ted and I. This time, with reflections on the sloppy first day of action, the nature of fanhood, Cliff Lee’s divine assistance, and Ted’s fascinating hatred of the Cardinals.


Eric: Ted, we like to think of postseason play as existing on an elevated plane. These are the best teams, the best players, the brightest lights. But from the clips I saw, and the one full game I watched, the first day of postseason baseball was hardly exceptional. The Dodgers and Cardinals left a postseason record of 30 (30!) runners on base. Mark De Rosa launched a ball from third base to right field. Matt Kemp (praise be him) looked positively 2007 on a pair of short fly balls. Carlos Gonzalez had a painfully awkward looking encounter with the left field wall in Philly. Sure, Jeter was Jeter and Cliff Lee pitched like a Cy Young winner. But overall the quality of play left me flatter than the brim of Brendan Ryan’s cap. So the question is this: Am I still hung over from that Twins-Tigers masterpiece on Tuesday, or were today’s games just a sputtering start to this postseason?

Ted: There did certainly to be a surfeit of ugliness around the playoffs. In Philly, the forty-plus replays of the stadium flags I saw on the other TV while watching the Dodgers-Cards matchup at the bar taught me that greater forces worked against any efforts towards fine glovework and sound paths to the ball. This only furthers my theory of Cliff Lee’s divine support. My first prediction of the postseason came true: Lee reprimanded the Rockies like little Salem schoolchildren, with some help from the great schoolmaster in the sky.

In LA, there weren’t such simple answers. Despite his putrid play in the field, Matt Kemp slugged a home run early. It’s my belief that sluggish bats are the worst curse that can befall a playoff team. Furcal and Kemp took care of that early, as did America’s Most Watched playoffer, Alex Rodriguez, who rapped a couple of slump busters. I will commit a little sacrilege here: I think the Yankees are an interesting postseason team. Yes, I am not repulsed by them. It’s been almost a decade since they dominated the scene, and this year I want to see what happens, whether Jeter and Posada and Rivera can recapture their former invincibility, whether A-Rod can shake his rep and carry the mantle of the greatest player of his generation(*) for real. If there is a storyline in there, it’s the reclamation of heroism after the hero’s been cast out of the kingdom.

So what do you think? Does the mere suggestion of not hating the Yankees throw your humors all to hell? Was last night’s victory a little too easy, or are we ready for a playoffs in which the Yankees are underdogs, or at the very least a compelling and enjoyable part of the equation?

Eric: Alright, I’m going to ignore what you said about Cliff Lee, because I can’t find a compelling argument to disprove your point. Cliff Lee is probably a direct descendant of Mayflower settlers.

Onto your broader point: The Yankees. I not only tolerate your sentiment, but completely echo it. In the years since Boston won its curse-breaking World Series, I’ve slowly found myself shifting my hatred from one over-exposed AL East franchise to the other. I’ve also got an inexplicable personal affection for Alex Rodriguez (I tried to work through it on the early days of the blog through the A-Rod as Tragic Hero series). So I think the Yankees are extremely compelling, yes. How do guys like Sabathia and Burnett perform under real pressure? Why isn’t Jorge Posada catching every freaking game? There’s a great deal of reclamation, but there’s also a lot on the table for the guys who have yet to achieve anything — and that’s most of the Yankees. Whither Hideki Matsui? Nick Swisher? Robinson Cano?

The thing about the Yankees is that they aren’t underdogs. Their lineup is stupid good. They have Mariano Rivera. I still want the Twins to win. But this time the idea of a Yankee World Series does not repulse me like it once did. It doesn’t even bother me really. An Angels or a Red Sox title bothers me way more. Perhaps it’s the general silence from the Steinbrenners this season. Perhaps it’s the whole A-Rod thing. Perhaps it’s just the intellectual understanding that yes, they are an excellent team, and no it won’t be the end of the world if they win a World Series. After all, my emotional investment in the playoffs is entirely wrapped up in the Dodgers. I don’t have the spirit energy to get all carried away about the other games going on.

That brings me to my next question. How differently do we watch a postseason when our favorite teams are involved? What do we do when they aren’t? I’ve definitely got experience picking random teams or players I want to see win, and just rooting for them for the hell of it, for the sake of having some investment. As an Astros fan, how do you view the playoffs? Do your NL Central biases get involved, or do you just try and appreciate the baseball for baseball, the games for games, the story lines for however they play out?

Ted: How differently do we watch a postseason when our favorite teams are involved? What do we do when they aren’t?

I am so glad that you asked this question, as it was one that I was thinking on just last night, as I watched the Cards-Dodgers. I don’t have a dog in this fight, clearly, and so for me this year the nature of the game-watching is based more on a sense of what’s around me and broader context. First off, I was rooting for the Dodgers because you like the Dodgers, and I’m always a sucker to root for whatever team those around me, especially good friends. The year the Angels won the WS, I dug in for victory with and on behalf of my buddy Prescott, a massive Halos fan. I’d like to see the Cubs win a WS because it would make my buddy Paul a gentler person. Et cetera.

Then there is the broader context of teams and players that populate the games. I don’t want to say that I “hate” any particular team–I try too hard to watch the game as a whole to use such extremes. But if there is a team that rankles me to the point that I can’t help it, it is the Cardinals. There’s really only one specific incident I can refer to, it is the one in which “Death Star” Pujols destroyed the confidence of Brad Lidge, which led to his decline with the team and then his trading away and then his total domination with Philly (his return to fragility this season has perhaps confirmed that the Pujols incident was but one fissure in his unstable mental architecture). Beyond that, there is just this general sense that they are just really competent, studious and logical, the kid in lit class that you can’t quite catch up to, whose comment on Emerson’s insight into the nature of the soul is just too fucking smart to be real. It’s a helluva a time battling a team like that every year, as they seem fueled by motherboards rather than beating hearts (we’re pushing this Pujols-as-machine conceit as far as it will go, eh?). Point being, I am watching this series hoping more than anything that I don’t have to watch the Cards play anymore. That’s old news, and teams like the Dodgers and the Rockies are fresh meat, with stories that I haven’t heard yet.

I also wanted to touch on the biggest difference between watching your team in the playoffs and watching any team in the playoffs, and for this I draw from my experience watching the Astros go to the WS in 2005. That year, in the playoffs and especially in the later rounds, with every single pitch it felt like the walls of the stadium would either a) burst forth with plumes of daisies and firecrackers and vestal virgins or b) darken and spiral into oblivion. Every, single, damn, pitch. Not since Call of Duty 4 have I narrowed in so intensely on each and every sliver of the game. That’s also the most welcomed offseason I’ve had. I was just totally drained, and physically exhausted. A dynasty would be too much on the ticker.

It’s a long journey, and right now we can be glad to watch the first few strides. For some–the Twins, the Rockies–a stumble, for others–Dodgers–a stumbling walk. My mantra is that waking up the bats is the hardest thing about playing in the playoffs. When you can’t hit, the game quickly skips away. The Dodgers unstuck the bats quick last night.

With your eyes intensely focused on the Dodgers, how do you watch the rest of the field? Constantly tabulating possible opponents? Couldn’t care less?

Eric: That’s a good question. As much as I wish I was that confident, I think it would be forward to constantly tabulate possible opponents at this point. The future is so fragile in these tense times, is it not? I suppose in the NL I’d rather play the Rockies, but I’m too focused on the Dodgers to invest in something so distant. As far as the AL goes, it’s not a case of not caring, just a case of less caring. I’m a baseball fan before a Dodger fan (I think that’s a necessary condition right?), so the games still interest me a great deal, just not with a rooting interest. I’m more invested in the quality of the play, in the story lines. Dodgers-Yankees would be cool right? Dodgers-Angels too.

I admire your graciousness as a baseball fan — the desire to see your friends’ teams win big — but I wonder if I share it completely. Sometimes I’m just drawn to the aesthetic of a team, the names, the narratives, the players,te scene surrounding their performance good or bad. I think the playoffs allow you to really embrace those other factors in ways you can’t during the regular season, especially if the team you are tied to for sentimental/geographic reasons is no longer involved. I read an interview with Bethlehem Shoals the other day where he said the following:

You shouldn’t just root for your team because it’s in your city. You should root for a team because something that they are doing is resonating with you, and when they stop doing that, you have no reason to keep rooting for them if you don’t want to.

For many intangible reasons, that’s impossible to do for me to do fulltime. Ignoring any constitutional differences between baseball and basketball teams, I think the playoffs allow us an opportunity to reassess a little, and maybe embrace those ideas. Why not jump on the bandwagon that speaks to you when your team is out of it?

PnP Conversations: Playoff Talk Pt. I

Fall is in the air, and it’s playoff time in baseball land. In this tet-a-tet, Eric and I will force our tendency to wax on and on into a conversational format, trading our takes the way kids used to trade baseball cards before the Internet stole their souls.

via flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/

via flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/

Ted: Eric, we’ve just witnessed a thrilling win in a one game playoff by the Twins. Should Minnesota have tried harder to feature Joe Mauer in the hero’s role? Should Alexi Casilla be allowed to enjoy himself, knowing the heroic glory that he stole from Joe?

Eric: Was it stolen necessarily? Captain America went 2-4 with a double and a pair of walks. Dude reached base 4 times! I’ve listened to enough Prairie Home Companion to know that Minnesota is not a state to overdo things, and that includes its heroes. Favre Monday and Mauer Tuesday would have been too much. Better to let the redemption story play out. Let the Mendoza Line-treading Casilla make up for his hideous piece of base-running a couple innings prior. Let the Twin Cities celebrate this stage-setting victory. And leave Joe Mauer to do something heroic when the lights are shining even brighter. Because with Mariano Rivera on the mound, it’s going to take a lot more than seeing-eye astroturf groundballs to win baseball games. Do you see the Twins’ momentum as viable…are they a real threat to the Yankees in the Rockies ’07 sense? What about this year’s Rockies?

Ted: How right you are. A simple regular season game, even one as fancy as that, is no stage for the man-shaped comet, Joe Mauer. Sorry, I got caught up in the moment.

I do not see the Twins momentum as viable. I don’t see any momentum as viable. The Yanks are formidable. A-Rod’s pecs and Mark Teixeira’s winning smile are well-rested. That said, the news just hit that Joe Girardi will squeeze lovable lump Jose Molina behind home plate in place of of Jorge Posada when A.J. Burnett pitches. This kind of decision-making does not bode well for the Yankees. Granted, pitchers are weird and sensitive, but if I’m out there on the mound I’d be more distraught about the worm hole in the lineup that is Jose Molina than enthused about his powder-soft receiver’s touch. Posada might be one of the most underrated catchers of all-time. He’s just great, and he has a beautiful web site, with lots of great breaking news, including the Pulitzer-level story “HOW POSADA GOT HIS GROOVE.” Girardi needs to get his head on straight.

via flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/

via flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/

Despite the massive success of the Marlins and the Dbacks and the Rockies over the past decade-and-a-half, I still have trouble investing any confidence in the 90s expansion teams. When they make a playoff run, I give them the stink-eye like an old man in an F150 at the SmartCar cheerfully idling next to him at the red. I don’t even know how the Rockies got into the playoffs. I feel like I’m at the supermarket, and the pimply kid bagging groceries just tore open his apron to reveal a Superman emblem on his chest. In any event, when you’re talking Rockies v. Phillies, I think that Cliff Lee will shut down the pups. He has a stern, sort of Puritan presence on the mound with the long face and the devil’s left-handedness. The upstarts will quake under his pious glare.

What about your Dodgers? Will an extremely successful regular season campaign translate into LDS success against Pujols and Dave Duncan’s merry band of really really good starting pitchers?

Eric: You mention man-shaped comets and lovable lumps. These are terms that encapsulate my fears regarding the Dodgers in this series. Albert Pujols is less man-shaped comet than man-shaped Death Star. Can Clayton “Skywalker” Kershaw fly blind into the depths of evil and redeem humanity? I sure as hell hope so. Second, and more importantly, the lovable lumps. Joe Torre has opted to start Ronnie Belliard at second base and Vicente Padilla in game 3. Indeed those two lumps have been nothing but lovable in their supporting turns on the middling second-half version of the Dodgers. But the moves reek of a manager playing his gut. I really want to see Hudson and Billingsley out there. Even with Belliard red-hot, I think Hudson is a safer bet at second base. And even with a fairly abysmal second-half (combined with notable postseason collapse last year), Billingsley has the stuff to shut teams down. His last two starts have been encouraging, if not all that successful. Let’s not treat the guy like Oliver Perez.

All that said, is it just me or are the Cardinals only 4 players deep? 4 great players certainly (maybe 4.5 with Pineiro), but not that scary. I’m a little bit confounded by their near unanimous anointment as LDS winners by pundits far and wide. Side note: There are some crazy religious overtones going on today as we keep using the acronym LDS. So my question is this: If Cliff Lee represents the stern, Puritan presence of a Nathaniel Hawthorne character, who is Chris Carpenter? With a name like Carpenter, fairly unassuming stuff at first glance, and now two rises from baseball’s (near) dead, he appears to be some kind of redemptive construction of the baseball gods. Never mind the fact that his WHIP of 1.01 this year aligns perfectly with the 101st Psalm. A Pledge To Live Righteously…

Are players who live righteously rewarded for such in the postseason? Are the failures of Alex Rodriguez merely the restoration of karmic balance to the universe? Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers might think so right about now. And what of the Angels, and their inherent spirituality. Is baseball’s ultimate lovable lump, the somehow 30-base stealing Bobby Abreu, just riding on the wings of Christopher Lloyd? Will the gilded men of Anaheim make quick work of Boston? Has there ever been a Red Sox club to enter the playoffs so unassumingly? I find lack of Boston hum strange…something amiss in the Sports Media Industrial Complex?

via flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shgmom56/

via flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shgmom56/

Ted: Isn’t it always a matter of Good versus Evil? The Evil Empire, after all, is a term regularly used to describe the most hallowed and admirable team in baseball history. Yogi Berra, Dimaggio, Gehrig, Ruth? Hardly a Pantheon of ghouls, but so swings the taste of the baseball fans, and this schizophrenic dichotomy of wills is what makes life interesting: the eternal Versus; one force pressing against another. That, and Christopher Lloyd.

We could very well see such spiritual concerns steer the course of events in these playoffs, for the reasons you’ve outlined. I’m usually as secular as it gets, but it is hard to explain Abreu’s stolen base totals in any other way but some kind of divine intervention. Such prognostication can be problematic when looking forward, however. Some say that you can read the future in one of Manny’s game-used chaw-balls. Others claim that Josh Beckett’s Abercrombie Rosary carries great mystical powers. Those forces are beyond us, unfortunately, and the most we can hope for is to find some pattern after it’s all over and the dust has settled.

I’m afraid I can’t agree with you re: the Cardinals and their lineup. I have learned over a number of years never to doubt the Cardinals, even when they appear mediocre. Yadier Molina’s got mojo, and the rest of white dudes hitting around him and Pujols might appear to lack character and distinction, but the moment you forget about them is when you get Ludwicked. That said, the Dodgers stink with talent and skill and youth, which is a fine formula for success in the short format. Think Andruw Jones back in the day, think Steve Avery back in the day, Josh Beckett as a Marlin, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Papelbon, Pedroia, etc. The postseason brings with it great surprises, every time. Some old timers reemerge, yes, but more often (anecdotally speaking, this ain’t FanGraphs) one or two youngsters make their names. That said, there aren’t many youngsters on the Cardinals who seem ready to burst. You never know. It could be a triumph of the young, or it could be one of those Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling years. But in the name of Chris Carpenter, let’s hope not.

PS: If you have any concerns you’d like us to address in tomorrow’s little dialogue, feel free to drop them in the comments.