Okay, I think it’s time we close the curtain on the Gabe Kapler era in Philadelphia. Arming his players with cheat sheets to help them during the course of the game to me is just…I don’t know…lame? Lazy? Amateurish?
The other night veteran umpire Joe West, himself one frequently guilty of trying to make the show all about himself, successfully and correctly disarmed Phillies reliever Austin Davis, who was consulting a cheat sheet he had stashed in his pocket, prior to pitching to an opposing batter. West invoked the “foreign object” rule in taking the cheat sheet away, but someone at the league office needs to address this bush league crap before it takes on a life of its own.
Picture this: coming soon to a ballpark near you — defensive players will have tablets that arise out of the ground like sprinkler heads, to consult on proper positioning between each and every pitch. And hitters will have batting gloves equipped with sensors that will deliver a different and distinct audio tone through an ear piece built into the batters helmet, indicating fastball or breaking ball, as the orb approaches the plate — better to help in pitch identification. As the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick might say, “NURSE!”
Let’s scrap this whole idea right now, before it can get any legs with the stat heads and “moneyball” MBA’s populating most major league front offices today. And while we’re at it, here’s my nomination of Kapler for first manager canned in 2019.
His unorthodox, rah rah style coaxed a strong first half out of his Phils. Now with September upon us they are starting to look more like one of the drives I used to strike off the first tee — okay for a little while, but then the fade would inevitably kick in and I’d be playing a provisional before setting off into the fescue in a futile effort to find my errant first tee shot.
Kapler’s “Wait-what? Really? That was wrong?” response to his ham-handed attempt to skirt the rules and create an unfair advantage for his team, also grated my nerves.
So the Phils and their wired, over the top manager, and their cute little laminated cheat sheets (how about watching tape and keeping a book, like professional hitters have done for the past 100 years, huh??), are the first team overboard as I begin to handicap the National League playoffs likely matchups and outcomes.
While on the subject of playoffs (cue in Jim Mora and his “PLAYOFFS??” screech), I’m searching for an appropriate analogy to properly capture the lackluster nature of the Senior Circuit’s potential playoff matchups, when compared to the loaded American League.
Best I can come up with so far, is that business conference we’ve all attended, where the nice onsite location gets oversubscribed for rooms, so after spending the first night at the Ritz-Carlton, you are asked to re-pack and move to an inferior hotel (usually just a “short shuttle bus ride away”) for the remainder of the four-day conference. While the cool kids are celebrating with champagne and appetizers at the well-appointed Ritz lobby bar, we are out front waiting for the shuttle that was supposed to arrive 10 minutes ago. Okay, kind of a stretch, but you get the idea.
The 2018 National League is frankly just so darn uninspiring. But teams will make the playoffs (the rules say so), and the games and series’ will be played, so with my disgust for the fast-fading Phils now out of my system, here’s how the rest of the cards (no pun intended) will fall:
I’ll start with the have-nots. Some teams are going to fall short, even in this “nobody wants it” year of the NL, so let’s begin with the also-rans. If the playoffs started this morning, the Cards would be traveling to Milwaukee for the Wild Card game, with the winner heading to Chicago to face the Cubs. Meanwhile the Dodgers would be traveling to Atlanta for their first-round NLDS match up.
The Diamondbacks and Rockies would be on the outside looking in (and yes, I still think these franchises are one and the same, and the league should consider a merger — similar to how I still suspect that Freddy Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are righty/lefty mirror images of one another), and the Nats/Expos, Pirates (why in the world were they buyers at the deadline again??), and Giants were all never really part of the playoff hunt, but kept the charade up long enough to harm the long-term prospects of their respective franchises.
Of one thing I am certain, as I gaze into my murky National League crystal ball, and that is that some of these deck chairs will be rearranged between now and the end of the month. So I’m simply going on instinct and feel, having watched these clubs throughout the season, and I’m going to bench the Brewers out of the playoff picture, as I’ve never felt like they had staying power. Joining them and the Phils on my predictive sideline will be the Rockies, simply because they are the Rockies and there should be no humidors in baseball, which will set us up for:
National League Wild Card Game — Cardinals versus Diamondbacks in St. Louis
This is partly a tip of the hat to Chief Redbird, who might boycott future SportsAttic posts if I shove the Cards off my postseason slate. Despite that, St. Louis in the playoffs is good for baseball, and the idea of hosting a Wild Card game at Busch Stadium warms the soul. And they are the hot hand right now, so here’s thinking they have enough mojo still in the tank to make it through September for at least one bonus game.
Credit to the Chief for pointing out that as of this past Friday morning the Cardinals had won 10 series in a row and that manager Mike Shildt (who the Chief continues to tout for NL Manager of the Year consideration — no way, sorry) is 13-1 after a loss since taking over in July (of course, immediately following the Chief’s text the Cards dropped a series and two in a row — beware the text jinx, Chief), but they remain the momentum play in the National League, and the idea of them advancing from the Wild Card to an NLDS tilt versus the hated Cubbies is too good to pass up.
The Diamondbacks are limping out of L.A. right now wondering what happened to their division lead, and how the heck Matt Kemp got out of his rocking chair to personally shove them to the precipice of irrelevance over the course of two days in LaLa Land.
Zack Greinke is a strong reason to give the D’Backs a puncher’s chance in the winner takes all Wild Card format, but I’m going with St. Louis. The 40,000+ red-clad and raucous fans will be the difference in rallying their beloved Redbirds to a comeback victory against that porous D’Back bullpen.
SportsAttic Call: Cards 3-2, with all three Redbirds’ runs crossing the plate in the 8th and 9th innings.
NLDS 1 — Braves versus Dodgers with Atlanta having home field advantage
Let’s begin by introducing everyone to the actual National League Manager of the Year (in waiting), Brian Snitker (and raise your hand if you were one of the folks predicting that on September 3rd we’d be debating the merits of Shildt and Snitker (sounds like a new and trendy bourbon) for Manager of the Year honors, when the season began five months back).
Snitker and the Braves have certainly benefitted from the Expos being the Expos and the Mets being the Mets, but hey, someone had to step up and capture this train wreck of a division, and it looks like it will be the Bravos. It also didn’t hurt to have the amazing Freddy Freeman in the middle of the order, along with maybe the two best rookies in the NL, plus contributions from seemingly everywhere else on the roster (Nick Markaikis??) and early maturation of a few of those power arms this solid organization’s been stockpiling over the last couple of years of their rebuild.
Unlike the Phils, who will return to their sub-.500 ways in 2019 (again, Kapler, first manager to get the axe in 2019. Anyone? Anyone?), the Braves appear built to last, and apparently the farm system isn’t done feeding talent onto the major league roster. Yet the reality remains that they are at the party a year ahead of schedule, probably a bit satisfied just to be in the tournament, and waiting for them is the standing NL champion, still long on talent even in this up and down year out at Chavez Ravine.
So give me the Dodgers here, on muscle memory alone. The double-play combo of Machado and Dozier (anyone see that coming back in April??) will back a determined Clayton Kershaw, and I see the Dodgers closing this one out at home in Game 4. And yeah, we’ll probably see a big dinger off the bat of Justin Turner at some point in this series, too. Just because he’s a former Met.
SportsAttic Call: Dodgers in 4, riding a Kershaw Game 1 win to take the starch out of the euphoric Atlanta fans right from the get-go, and a couple of saves from Jansen along with the pre-ordained walk-off from Turner. If this formula sounds familiar, it should, as it got them to the Series a year ago.
NLDS 2 — Cubs versus Cardinals with Chicago holding home field edge
The Cubs remain the class of the National League by far (they probably were last year, too, but remember — hello again, Astros fans — nobody repeats in MLB in the 2000’s), and will roll out two built-for-September (if aging) lefties in Jon Lester and Cole Hamels to get this party started.
Then pick a name — Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, that pain in the ass Ben Zobrist, who always seems to be getting a big hit in a playoff game (I don’t even know what position the guy plays anymore), or maybe Anthony Rizzo, who stopped being lovable a couple of years back, but still can rake — there’s just too much firepower here for the Cards to expect to compete.
It’s tempting to predict the sweep, as I don’t see one starting pitching matchup that works in St. Louis’s favor, and other than Matt Carpenter, there’s really no reason to expect the Cards lineup to match the depth the Cubbies throw at you every day. We will give the Redbirds the “play it for pride” Game 3 win back at Busch, before heading home with nothing to be ashamed of, having rescued what looked like an also-ran year from the ashes and given their fans meaningful baseball way deeper into the fall than anyone could have expected.
SportsAttic Call: Cubs in 4 in a series that never felt close. We’ll throw MVP honors in the direction of Baez, as he prepares to take his place among the game’s elite under the bright lights of postseason television.
NLCS — Cubs versus Dodgers with the Cubs holding home field advantage
Is it possible for Clayton Kershaw to rid himself of his postseason stigma in a losing effort? That’s what I’m feeling as I prepare myself for the rematch of last year’s NLCS (it seems like these two teams face off every October, doesn’t it?).
I have to admit that while nobody enjoys an unexplainable inability to succeed in the postseason more than SportsBro, I’m rooting for Kershaw to right his Hall of Fame-bound ship. In fact, I’ll go further and say that I’m even in favor of him putting the Dodgers on his back, as he has for about 10 regular seasons in a row now, and take them all the way to a World Series Championship.
Alas, I’m afraid that ship has sailed for Kershaw, at least as it pertains to the Dodgers’ 2018 title hopes. From Day 1 things have just felt “wrong” for the boys in blue. Thus, the greatest lefty of the present day will have to satisfy himself with two NLCS wins in this series, while single-handedly keeping the Dodgers afloat against the more talented Chicago squad.
This series will have sidebars galore, as we’ll see how many tens of millions in contract money Manny Machado costs himself as his “meh” contributions to the Dodgers continue (I don’t know if ESPN is scheduled to do this series — I hope not — but if they are, look for A-Rod to do what A-Rod the Announcer does, and glorify his own playing career while opining on Machado’s shortcomings).
Not to mention, look for October pressure to further expose Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger (again) for the enormous holes in their looping swings, by the cagey veteran staff of the Cubs. Ultimately, baseball fans will be rewarded with a nail biting, momentum-shifting series that will go the full seven, even if it is for the Junior Varsity championship.
The Cubs combination of geezer-ball starters Lester and Hamels, and an everyday lineup that can hurt you from literally every spot in the order, will prove too much for the superhuman Kershaw, who will not only garner the two wins in his two NLCS starts, but also put up four scoreless out of the pen in Game 7, as the Dodgers gamely try to hang on.
SportsAttic Call: Cubs in seven games, with it all coming down to a walkoff series-ender courtesy of Anthony Rizzo, turning around a Kanley Jansen fastball and sending Cubs-nation into hysterics. Kershaw gets co-MVP in a losing cause (along with Rizzo), closing the books on “one of those years” for the defending NL Champion Dodgers. Los Angeles never quite shook off the negative hangover in their clubhouse that was palpable all year, and despite Lester and Hamels wheezing their way to the finish line, left arms hanging by a mere thread, the Cubbies just have too much.
Which will bring us a rematch of what may be the second-best World Series ever, the 2016 Fall Classic between the Cubs and Indians (we all know that the 1986 Series will go down in history as greatest ever, hands down…).
And once again, a deserving community of loyal fans who have suffered through decades of laughably bad teams and multiple near-misses will come out on top.
2018 World Series Champion: Cleveland Indians in 6 games (just so they can close it at home, giving us that delicious storyline about how they failed to do so when given the same opportunity two years ago.
World Series MVP: Too easy to pick Lindor or Ramirez, so let’s go with Michael Brantley, officially all the way back from his devastating ankle injury, and raking Chicago pitching from start to finish.
And one final note to emphasize the discrepancy between leagues this year. As of this writing, the Seattle Mariners are 76-61 and the Tampa Bay Rays are 73-63. The Rays aren’t even an afterthought in the AL postseason discussions, and the Mariners are on life support.
However, if you put them into the National League today, the Mariners would be in and Tampa would be right there fighting for the final Wild Card slot. Nuff sed.