Baseball Playoff Preview (Special Section)

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Baseball Images Slideshow

Atlanta Braves

The Braves will win the World Series because their fans simply can’t take another near-miss. No team this side of the Buffalo Bills has teased its fans with so much success only to come up just short of a championship. Since 1991, the Braves have won 1341 games and lost only 859, a remarkable winning percentage of .610. The team has won 13 straight division titles and 5 National League pennants. Over forty million fans have come to watch the Braves during this period. But only once in this thirteen-year period have the Braves celebrated a championship.

How does this happen? How do the Braves keep coming up short in October, when championships are on the line? The Braves are baseball’s equivalent of the “good gunner.” This is the person in your 1L section who everyone actually pays attention to when they talk, because they always have something insightful to add to the discussion. But at the end of the year when you are discussing grades, you find out that the “good gunner” only got a B in the class. How does this happen? How did someone with seemingly so much promise fail to deliver at the end, when it mattered the most? This is the Atlanta Braves.

So, the Braves will win it all this time, right? They are due, right? As a lifelong Braves fan, I just don’t think I can take another playoff season that comes up just short.

– Greg Skidmore

St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals bring to the table baseball’s best record at 105-57. Though they have earned home-field advantage through the NLCS, the Cardinals don’t mind playing on the road either; they hold baseball’s best road record.

Offensively the Cardinals have plenty to offer. They lead the National League in runs scored, batting average, and runs per game. Defensively, St. Louis tops the National League, having allowed only 657 runs during the regular season. You think pitching wins championships? The Cardinals bring the game’s second best ERA, as well as four 15-game-winners going into the playoffs.

I can throw statistics at you all day, but as a professor once told me, “statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.” The reality is these Cardinals, from top to bottom, can and should beat any team that engages them in nine innings of baseball. They have gold-glovers at nearly every position, and when playing at the top of their game, I’ve never seen a team play with more determination than these St. Louis Cardinals. With a lineup featuring players like Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria, Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Larry Walker, they never can be counted out of a game.

It’s been 22 years since the city of St. Louis last celebrated a World Championship. Since then, the Cardinals have won two National League crowns (1985 and 1987), and Division titles in 1985, 1987, 1996, 2000, 2001, and 2002. No Cardinals team since 1944 has had more regular season wins than this year’s (including the 1982, 1967, 1964, and 1946 Championship teams). Anybody worried about their skid to end the season should take solace in the fact that they have not put their “A” team on the field since the middle of September, in the hope of resting their stars and getting them healthy them for the playoffs. Do not underestimate the significance of this advantage afforded to the Cardinals because of their tremendous play in July and August.

– Matt Schuh

Matt Schuh is a 1L at the Saint Louis University School of Law and wishes he could do backflips like Ozzie Smith.

Houston Astros

The Astros have won 18 straight games at home. They’re 36-10 since August 15th. 36 wins. 10 losses. That’s after going 44-44 over their first 88 games. Amazing. At the All-Star Break no one thought they were still in the race. They fired their manager. They were dead. And then they rose from the dead. It’s a storybook season, fated for a storybook ending. The Houston Astros are going to win the World Series. Roger Clemens is going to pitch Game 7 against his old team, the New York Yankees, and he’s going to throw a perfect game. Obviously. There are screenwriters in Hollywood who’ve already written the script. That’s what’s going to happen. No doubt about it.

Oh, and if Clemens isn’t enough: how about Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, hoping for World Series rings to cap off their Hall of Fame careers.

Or Carlos Beltran, acquired from Kansas City mid-season, finally getting a chance to play for a team that isn’t dreadfully horribly awful.

Or first-year closer Brad Lidge, who’s practically unhittable. Or rookie starter Brandon Backe, who pitched the Astros wild-card clincher on Sunday. Or twenty-game winner Roy Oswalt. Or catcher Brad Ausmus. Okay, maybe not Ausmus. But this is a good, solid, championship-caliber team.

And they’re on a hotter hot streak than anyone else in the postseason – and the Astros know hot; they’re from Houston! And their field knows huge corporate scandal, because it used to be sponsored by Enron. But that’s not really relevant.

They’re fated to win. Best storyline in the postseason. And you can’t help but root for Clemens, since it’s not like he ever threw a bat at Mike Piazza or anything like that.

– Jeremy Blachman

Los Angeles Dodgers

The best part about being a Dodgers fan in Boston is that you have few enemies. No one cares much about the Left Coast around here. The Dodgers will win the World Series, because they didn’t finish 85-77. They have broken the curse of respectable mediocrity, broken the curse of Rupert Murdoch’s tripped-out foray into baseball, broken the Curse of the Piazza. Their defense is stellar. Their capacity to average more than one run per game this season has been positively un-Dodger like. And they didn’t fold to the Giants despite repeatedly and desperately trying to insert poor Hideo Nomo into the starting lineup and witnessing him get whacked about like a Japanese pinata.

The Dodgers will win the World Series, because they have great fan support. Since Los Angeles has no football team, there are no NHL games being played, and the Kobe media frenzy has ended, Los Angeleans may devote their time and energy to getting stuck on the freeway and rooting for the Dodgers. For the first time in almost a decade, the Dodgers look like they won’t disappoint, and won’t become the mini-Cubs and mini-Red Sox of the 21st century. As any Dodger fan since 1988 knows, though, there is still a chance that the team will turn into a pumpkin, but, for now at least, this team is still riding its big, oblong, melony orange carriage through October.

– Roger Pao

Boston Red Sox

Have you looked around lately? Boston is currently experiencing the most beautiful autumn in recent memory. The air is crisp and clean, the leaves are starting to turn, and the guy outside CVS has an extra jingle in his coin cup. This autumn is all the sweeter because the Red Sox are playing up to their potential, and have secured a deserved place in the post-season and in our hearts. The weather and the Sox, contrary to popular belief, are not unrelated. 2004 is the Year of Boston: nothing can stop us.

For many years, the Sox have earned a reputation for fading down the stretch, but this Year of Boston is different. This September, the Sox stormed back into contention with a million wins in a row – or at least that’s how it seemed. Despite losing a superstar, despite sub-par seasons from longtime rotation anchors, and despite injury, this team emerged stronger at season’s end than it was at its start. For once, Boston is anticipating a win rather than waiting for the inevitable crushing loss. Mystique has changed addresses, and everyone knows it, from Steinbrenner on down. Curse be damned, THIS IS THE YEAR.

– Read Porter

Read Porter is a Harvard 3L.

Minnesota Twins

It only takes 2 words to sum up why the Twins will win the World Series: Johan Santana. Santana has been lights out since the All-Star break, including a streak of 30 straight scoreless innings, 13 straight winning decisions, and a record of 9-0 in his last ten starts with an ERA of 0.91. Although the rest of the Twins starters (Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, and Kyle Lohse) are nowhere near as dominant as Santana, they are still good enough to get at least one win between them. This is enough. Santana can do the rest.

The Twins also play better as a team than any team in baseball. Most people outside of Minnesota see the Twins as a group of average players with no chance of winning. But, all this group of “average” players does is pull together and win baseball games. In this age of over-hyped superstars getting all the attention, the Twins know the only way they are going to win is if they play together. When A-Rod or another one of the Yankee giants goes into a slump, the Yankees suffer a huge blow. But when an individual Twins player goes into a slump, the rest of the team has already pulled together to pick up the slack and find a way to win. There is no doubt that it will be a tough challenge for the Twins to win the World Series, but this is a team that was built for tough challenges, and nobody knows it better than the Twins.

– Michael Mischnick

Michael Mischnick is a 1L at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The 1978-79 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

The old saying holds that “offense wins games; defense wins championships.” No team heading into the playoffs embodies both of these essential features better than the 1978-79 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Start first where any true enthusiast of the game would: the unparalleled contributions of Governor Philip Coldwell (Dallas). Coldwell’s skillful open-market treasury buybacks have become the stuff of legend, and his dogged pursuit of LIBOR parity has frustrated batters all season: as Red Sox slugger Jason Varitek recently commented, “I don’t even know what that is.” No less crucial has been the offensive firepower provided by rising star Governor J. Charles Partee (Richmond), whose celebrated string of consecutive debt-equity swaps earlier this season proved his 1974 John Bates Clark medal to be no fluke. Matched up against any of the game’s best, the 1978-79 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System – the “Gas House Gang” of discount rate policy – simply has too many weapons for its opponents to counter.

Is the 1978-79 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System a lock? Of course not. That’s why they play the game. The team faces three hurdles in its quest for a title: first, questionable roster depth; second, overreliance on the Solow growth model; and third, failure to possess even the most rudimentary characteristics of a modern baseball team, including, but not limited to, a starting staff, a home stadium, and membership in Major League Baseball. Team chemistry is also a concern after Governor and Chairman G. William Miller (San Francisco) recently mocked Governor Nancy Teeter (Chicago) for “throw[ing] like a girl.” But these matters aside, the smart money remains on – and is controlled by – the 1978-79 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. So get on board the “FedHead Express” – next stop, titletown.

– George Hicks

Anaheim Angels

I could tell you the Angels are going to win because of Vladimir Guerrero, who batted .371 in September and hit 3 more home runs than Barry Bonds did. I could tell you they’re going to win because batters are hitting .172 off of Francisco Rodriguez, and he’s just one piece of the league’s deepest and scariest bullpen, which collectively has struck out more than a batter per inning and blown just three saves since August 1. I could tell you they’re going to win because their players know how to win, since most of them were on the 2002 team that won the World Series. But, most important, they’re going to win because they have no fans, and so no one at Edison Field, or whatever it is they’re calling their stadium these days, will make loud noises and break Darin Erstad’s concentration while he’s trying really, really hard to hit the little white ball with his small wooden stick.

Okay, maybe they have fans. But I couldn’t find any, and that’s why I had to write this piece myself. I don’t mind writing it, because it’s not like I’m an Oakland A’s fan and had to watch as the Angels ravaged the rotting corpse that the A’s brilliant starting rotation turned into after the All-Star Break, stealing a fifth consecutive playoff appearance from their not-as-firm-as-they-thought grasp. No, I’m a Mets fan, which means I may as well root for the Angels, because it’s not like the Mets are making the playoffs anytime soon. Not when they trade away their best pitching prospect for a guy with no arms. Or whatever Victor Zambrano’s problem is.

So enjoy it, Angels fans, if there are any of you out there. You do have the league’s deepest bullpen, and you can’t count out any team that’s got Guerrero leading the way. Plus you have the Rally Monkey. So you’ve got to win.

– Jeremy Blachman

New York Yankees

It’s easy to write the Yankees off in the post-season this year because they only have one starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.00. Conventional wisdom says that the single biggest factor in post-season success is the ability to roll an ace out more than once in a short series. Remember Beckett last year? Johnson and Schilling in ’01? But there’s more to it than that.

Just consider Mariano Rivera. A brief history lesson: ’96 began a run of three titles in four years that established these Yankees as a dynasty, and it was marked by Rivera’s emergence as a lights-out setup man for Series MVP John Wetteland.

The Yankees closer is not just a first-ballot Hall of Famer coming off a Cy Young-worthy campaign with 53 saves and a 1.94 ERA. He is also one of three current Yankees who were on the roster in 1996 and the proud owner of 13 post-season saves with a 0.27 ERA.

The starting rotation then was no slouch, and neither is today’s, not with Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez coming in strong down the stretch. But it is the back of the bullpen – Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, and, for the post-season, Kevin Brown – that makes them the favorites.

Well, that and the fact that they are the defending American League champs fielding All-Stars at every position except for second base in the midst of nine straight post-season appearances.

Ask any Red Sox fan if he remembers game 7 of last year’s ALCS and he or she will probably start lamenting Pedro Martinez’s hubris, Grady Little’s cowardice or the very existence of Aaron Boone. But remember: Boone wouldn’t even have come to bat if not for the scoreless 10th, 11th and 12th by Rivera.

– Sammy Kardon

Sammy Kardon is a Harvard 1L..

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