October 04, 2004

Mediocre Fred's Gala Playoff Preview

Today's Musical Selection: "Taking Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive

Hi, everybody! Those of you sick of my DC-baseball victory dance are in luck: Today, you get a reprieve. Those of you sick of my baseball writings, however, are going to have to wait for Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice to show up tomorrow. Because it's the eve of the playoffs, and because I'm honor-bound to make a fool of myself every so often, it is my duty to predict the results of said playoffs. In keeping with the long-standing Mediocre Fred tradition dating all the way back to last year, I will attempt to use as little actual baseball knowledge as possible in the making of these picks.

Last season I wrote a paragraph proclaiming my agnosticism regarding the playoffs, a paragraph that is worth reproducing for its timelessness:

There are those who, seeing that I'm planning to stay away from objective statistics, will accuse me of bias in my picks. To this I say: Pish tosh. Not because I know what it means, but because it is fun to say, and it sounds like the sort of thing you should say to answer charges like that. To begin with, I don't have any particular rooting interest, since my team of choice, the Milwaukee Brewers, narrowly missed the playoffs for the 21st consecutive year with a 68-94 record. And my family and friends are more or less evenly divided among the playoff teams. My good friend the Young American once threatened to wear a Marlins-teal tuxedo to his wedding. (He is not, as of this writing, married, for which we can probably thank the indifferent gods.) My other good friend the Mad Prophet is a diehard Red Sox fan. He claims to have patented the Red Sox Fan's Crown of Thorns. One of my cousins has always rooted for the Cubs. My front-running sister roots for the Braves. She learned her front-running behavior from my Yankee-fan dad. One of my co-workers is a big-time Giants rooter. I once dated a Twins fan. And while I don't know any Athletics fans, I am kind of fond of their uniforms. So rest assured that, no matter who I pick to win, I'm bound to alienate someone I care about. That's your guarantee of impartiality.

Much of this paragraph holds true again this year. The Brewers are now in Year 22 of their playoff "drought" (although at this point, I think we have to start seriously considering whether this is in fact a drought, or if we've undergone a climate change that has stranded my beloved Brew Crew in the midst of a desert. I'm still pondering this) and this year's 67-94 record is almost identical to last season's performance. The Yankees, Braves, Red Sox and Twins are all back in the dance this year, while the Athletics, Cubs, Giants and Marlins have been replaced by the Angels, Cardinals, Dodgers and Astros. The Smart Lady is (marginally) an Astros fan. I played for the Dodgers in Little League. I got my first Little League hit against the Cardinals. And while I know no Angels fan, I used to have a crush on the Rally Monkey, a phase I'd rather not discuss. So, just the same as last year, any pick I make is bound to alienate me from someone close to me. I am as impartial as a network news anchor. And pish tosh is still fun to say.

That said, I proudly present:

Mediocre Fred's Exclusive Guide to the Playoffs, 2004

(DISCLAIMER: These picks are provided by the site proprietor (hereinafter "Mediocre Fred") to the site viewer (hereinafter "You, The Reader") for the strict and sole purpose of the entertainment (hereinafter "Shits and Giggles") of said Reader. Should said Reader used said picks as the basis of any actual cash wager (hereinafter "Filthy Lucre"), and should said Said lose any Filthy Lucre, up to and including the Reader's life savings (hereinafter "The Farm"), Mediocre Fred will upon questioning deny any knowledge of said picks, said Reader, and anything else he may care to deny, and will then go to said Reader's house to laugh at said Reader. Should said Reader win any Filthy Lucre, said Reader owes Mediocre Fred a taste of the gig, okay? Come on. I'm dying here.)


National League

Los Angeles Dodgers vs St. Louis Cardinals

Boy, the Cardinals looked good this year, didn't they? At least until they clinched the division, at which point they began resembling the early-season Los Angeles Lakers. But this sounds suspiciously like actual baseball knowledge, which I promised I'd avoid. So I decided to compare uniforms. The Dodgers and Cardinals have two of the most classic looks in baseball. Tough to choose between them. So I decided to run this by an expert. Specifically, my mom, who knows little about baseball but plenty about color combinations. I showed my mom pictures of the Cardinals and Dodgers in home and road garb. She squinted at the pictures a bit, then rendered her verdict.

"I'll go with the red ones," she said. "Muscular men look good in bright colors."

I neglected to show her the Cardinals' navy caps, so I don't know how those would affect her judgment. Take this under advisement.

Pick: Cardinals in 4

Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

Do I have to pick a winner here? I don't like either team. The Braves' jaded, cell-phoning fan base doesn't deserve another playoff win. Meanwhile, the Astros' stadium, with its cheap hill-and-flagpole gimmick in centerfield and that gaudy, tacky train, deserves to be the site of the next above-ground nuclear bomb test. I'd like to get both out of the playoffs as soon as possible. Hrmpf.

Since the annoyance factor is even, I'm going with Garner. Phil Garner, that is, the man who took over a slumbering, sagging team at the All-Star Break and guided them into the promised land. This is a particularly happy experience for me, because I remember Garner's miracle work running the Brewers for a decade. Turning water into wine? You call that a miracle? Keeping the Crew on the periphery of contention for so many years is tantamount to making wine out of elephant urine. It ended badly, though, and after he left everyone assumed Garner couldn't manage. His next gig came at the helm of the Tigers, and we all know how that turned out. It's vindicated to see Garner leading a team with actual talent and proving once and for all that, as Lefty Driesell liked to say, "Ah can coach." This pick's for you, Scrap Iron.

Pick: Astros in 5

American League

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

These same teams met in the divisional playoffs last year, and this is what I wrote then:

The Yankees suffer a hugely stunning upset. Giambi, Soriano and Jeter go 0-for-the-series. The pitching staff falls apart like an old jalopy. After the series, George Steinbrenner is so disgusted that he sells the team for the $10 million he purchased it for in 1973. After Steinbrenner sells, Commissioner Selig bans him from any future involvement with the game for "conduct detrimental to the game." The Yankees auction off all their good players and enter into a 50-year Series-less odyssey of mediocrity.

PICK: Twins in 3

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. But it was fun, wasn't it? I really want to pick the Twins here. I'd love to. And the Twins have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star Break. But the Yankees rolled to a 101-61 season despite having looking thoroughly unimpressive all year. (Or so claims my dad.)

PICK: Sigh. Yankees in 5. Dammit.

Substitute "A-Rod" for "Soriano," and the exact same applies today. (Even the record's the same.) The more things change...

PICK: Sigh. Yankees in 5. Dammit.

Boston Red Sox vs. Anaheim Angels

It's a shame that Oakland didn't win the West, because then I could have used last season's paragraph on that match-up and saved myself some trouble. Alas, 'twas not to be. Last year, the Sawx defied my prediction and made it to the ALCS, and fell one Grady Little short of the World Series. Do they have it in them to do it again? Possibly. They've got that Animal House chemistry, and a real playoff stud in Schilling. On the other hand, the Angels have Bad Vlad (so nicknamed by Jon Miller, and so repeated by me every time he comes to the plate, which annoys the hell out of my viewing companions), a pretty tough starter in Bartolo Colon (assuming he doesn't eat the pitcher's mound) and some good karma of their own.

This is a tough call. But I'm going with Boston. See, the Rally Monkey... but we don't talk about the Rally Monkey.

PICK: Red Sox in 5


National League

Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Boy, tough pick. The Cards have the best record in baseball, which is actually a bad omen (in the last 15 years, only once has the team with the best record won the Series). And Scrap Iron, he's a good manager. And Roger Clemens... well, if you don't think he's hungry for another shot at Series glory, you're crazy. That's what he came out of retirement for, after all.

But if the Astros win, that means we'll be treated to three World Series games in that carnival fun house of a ballpark, and that I simply will not stand for.

PICK: Cardinals in 6

American League

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

Ah, the classic age-old rivalry again. And it's easy to just pick New York and be done with it. After all, as Yogi Berra said, "Relax, we've been beating these guys for 80 years."

But the Yankees can be had, dammit! Their starting pitching is weak, and their only consistently good starter, El Duque, has a tired shoulder at the worst possible time. The lineup has holes. And the Hammer of God, Mariano Rivera, has had hiccups lately. The Yankees can be had!

And if anyone is well-suited to beat them, it's this Red Sox squad. They're so loose and happy-go-lucky that no curse can stop them, can they? I don't believe in curses, anyway. I think that the Red Sox' so-called "curse" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the Sawx expect to choke in big games, they always do. This team, I tihnk, is too crazy to believe in the Fickle Finger of Fate the way past teams have.

That said, if the Yankees win this Series, somebody better call an exorcist.

PICK: Red Sox in 7


St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox

A rematch of the 1967 "Impossible Dream Series," for you history buff. Boy, this is a tough one. Hmmm... let me toss my coin here... it's tails!

What, you find that unsatisfying? Okay. These are two great teams with a rich and storied history. The Cardinals have a fistful of World Series titles, most recently in 1985, while the Red Sox haven't won since... oh, you know. (If you've forgotten, sit in the Yankee Stadium bleachers for a couple innings and they'll remind you.) If the Red Sox have gotten this far, and dispatched the Yankees, who knows how far their curse-busting mojo might take them? And the Cardinals are good, but they don't that kind of game-changing starter that a Series champion usually has. The Sawx do, in Schilling. And God knows what that team might do with the World Series trophy. Turning it into a bong might just be for starters.

So what say you, Baseball Gods? What say we end the Curse once and for all? I'd do it for you.

Pick: Red Sox in 7

There you have it. And if you dare to doubt the accuracy of my picks, remember that I'm the guy who gave you Giants over Yankees last year. In other words, you're right to doubt me.

That's all for today. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at October 4, 2004 10:01 PM

I don't like either team. The Braves' jaded, cell-phoning fan base doesn't deserve another playoff win. Meanwhile, the Astros' stadium, with its cheap hill-and-flagpole gimmick in centerfield and that gaudy, tacky train, deserves to be the site of the next above-ground nuclear bomb test. I'd like to get both out of the playoffs as soon as possible.

This doesn't sound like an equal annoyance factor for each team. While the Braves fans don't deserve another playoff win, the Astros stadium cannot reasonably be said to be deserving or undeserving of a win (it being an unfeeling object), and the fans should get something to make up for 2001, not to mention this season up 'til mid-August. So yes, they definitely should be favored over Atlanta.

As for the theoretical matchup against St. Louis, please consider the total absence of pennants from the Juice Box. Maybe they'd take down the flagpole if they had something else to wave.

Posted by: PG at October 5, 2004 06:22 PM

You want something to make up for the first half of the year? Try the second half of the year. As for 2001... the Astros tried and lost. The fans don't "deserve" anything. By that logic, Brew Crew fans like me deserve about 10 world titles in a row.

And if anything, my personal annoyance factor tilts toward the Astros, since the Braves fans are less obvious on TV than that obnoxious stadium in Houston.

Anyway, I picked the Astros over the Braves, so what do you want from me?

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at October 6, 2004 12:59 AM

Before the playoffs, I predicted the Astros over the Angels in six, with Houston beating St. Louis and Anaheim beating New York in their respective LCS. Houston's turnaround is a great story, and I'd like to see their long-suffering fans (remember the '80 and '86 NLCS?) finally rewarded with postseason victory.

Oh, I forgot -- the only fans who can be described as "long-suffering" are Red Sox and Cubs fans. Of course, the White Sox have gone even longer without winning it all than the Red Sox, but demographically they're not the right people, so they don't count. It's like when Kansas State and Northwestern both sucked at football -- Northwestern got all the sympathy because it was an elite private institution where the wealthy sent their kids, and K-State was a public ag college in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, the Astros/Colt .45s are in their 43rd season and have yet to win a postseason series. Perhaps the Red Sox's inability to win the big one has nothing to do with the Bambino, but is instead God's way at getting back at Harvard for running the world.

Posted by: Vincent at October 6, 2004 08:28 AM

Hi Vincent,

You know, I very nearly mentioned the Astros' postseason drought in my article. Not sure why I left it out; guess I felt I was running long. As for Houston fans being long-suffering, it's hard to compare 43 fallow years to 80, but since there aren't that many 80-year-olds running around, perhaps it's time to let Astro rooters share the crown of thorns.

I'm with you all the way on the White Sox... this is the third time I've mentioned that they have the same sad history as the Red Sox and Cubs but no popular mythology. I'm happy to beat the drums for the misery of White Sox fans any time. You guys deserve a break. (So, for that matter, do Phillie fans, as their club as only won one World Series but no one cares because it was in 1980.)

As for my pick of the Red Sox, look on the bright side... if they win, the club's raison d'etre will collapse. Suddenly, they'll be Just Another Club. If the Sawx do win the World Series, I predict their fans will abandon them and they'll be in Vegas within a decade. How about that?

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at October 6, 2004 05:57 PM
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