10.04.2004

Baseball's second season

There are still many firm believers that baseball has been tarnished by changes in the past few years. Among the most despised is the invention of the wild card. Is it because more wild card teams have won the World Series in recent memory than teams that finishes with the best record? Is it because teams that don't win their division don't deserve a chance at the playoffs? Considering that baseball still has the fewest teams participating in the playoffs of any of the major sports, coupled with the way the strikes and lock-outs have crippled baseball the wild card has been instrumental in bringing people back to the sport.

There is a good reason that the top teams don't win year in and year out. I can tell you from personal experience that what wins in the postseason is pitching, defense and perhaps most of all, heart. Statistics be damned in the postseason; it's all about the heroes. The Twins had Frank Viola throwing sweet music in winning the final game of the 1987 World Series, only to be topped for years later by Jack Morris' 10 inning gem. There was Joe Carter's walkoff homerun to win the Blue Jays their second straight World Series. The best starting trio in baseball beat the best bullpen in baseball in 1995 as the Braves beat the Indians. The Yankees in 1996, coming out of a two game hole to rally for four staright wins on Rivera's electric arm that went up the ladder for two innings every night, only to be turned to the wicked John Wetland to close it out. The 1997 Marlins featuring a game five masterpiece by Livan Hernandez in which he threw 145 pitches and was prepared to come back in game 7 out of relief as both teams went to the starters in extra innings. The 2001 Diamondbacks using Johnson to win games two, six and seven (the final out of relief) to share the MVP with an equally dominating Curt Shilling. Last years Marlins relying on the raw talent of Josh Beckett.

Where does that leave us this post season? Who has the heart and hero potential to win it all?
I'm a firm believer you need two aces to win it all and that leaves the Red Sox and Twins battling it out in the ALCS and Houston and the Cards battling it out in the NLCS. Of course anything can happen in a short series but I'll take my bets on these teams.

It took Jack McDowell three years to believe in the Twins. He finally gave in when he said, "So I guess stats don't really win. Teams do." His case in point was the 2001 Mariners. We all should have learned that lesson from the Mariners' 116 win season in 2001, when they shed the stats of the game's most dominant pitcher (Randy Johnson), the game's best shortstop (Alex Rodriguez) and, at the time, the game's best player (Ken Griffey Jr.) and won the AL West by 14 games. I didn't learn from that and I tip my hat to a team for which every player would love to play. This Twins organization has been raised on winning.

I might be the only person who follows baseball to say this, but I'll hedge my bets on a Twins - Astros world series.

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