I'm going to skip the heartfelt reflections on the Nationals season that was. We all had a good time, and .500 is pretty impressive. It's a shame we wound up in last place, but it's an honorable last even if it is behind the Mets.
Now it's time for the playoffs, the most gut-wrenching time of the year! What journeyman will prove himself a hero? What managerial blunder will cost a man his job and a city its shot at glory? What crappy Fox show will be advertised ad nauseam with the same catchphrase repeated every single goddamn time? I'm not going to answer any of those questions in this, the 2005 Distinguished Senators Playoff Preview. Consider it the spiritual successor to the 2005 Distinguished Senators Season Preview, in that I'm going to swear a lot and be wrong about almost everything.
Before we get to the series, some general thoughts. The last weekend of the regular season reminded me why at times I prefer fixed sports. We could have had a three-way tie in the AL and a two-way in the NL. We could have seen as many as three desperate play-in games. On a more personal level, I could have seen the Nats knock the Phillies out of contention. Instead, we got nothing. When Chris Benoit and Booker T have a best of seven series for the WCW TV title, you damn well better believe it's going at least seven (it went eight, actually). This weekend was the equivalent of building up to a climactic title match and having one guy win it in about three minutes. It's just bad business and bad luck for us.
And that brings me to my next point. Inexplicable things happen in the playoffs, but that doesn't stop people from trying to explain them. These explanations typically center around "veteran leadership" or "knowing how to win" or "Derek Jeter," and if that gives you comfort, fine. I prefer to attribute playoff performance to something else. The Greeks called it Tuche, the Romans called it Fortuna, and I call it Dumb Fucking Luck. Sometimes it doesn't matter how good you are; the ball hits Tony Kubek in the throat and you lose the World Series. So feel free to ignore completely my and all other predictions. On to the games!
St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres
I'd like to take this opportunity to laugh at all the sucka-ass Cubs fans who thought that the NL Central would even be close. Mainly Will Carroll, actually. Anyway, a case can be made that the Cards are the only great team in the NL, even if they aren't as good as they were last year. Losing Scott Rolen hurts, Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker are always at least a little bit injured, and Chris Carpenter has been awful over the last month. Good thing for them that they're taking on the best argument against the current divisional system, the San Diego Padres. I'm not going to waste much time talking about the Padres. Suffice it to say that in easily the worst division in baseball, they could muster only an 82-80. They're worse than the last-place Nats, and if there's any justice in the world they'll lose in two. But there's not. Cards in 4.
Atlanta Braves vs. Houston Astros
Hell, I don't know. The Astros have a really superb rotation but can't hit. The Braves are balanced -- 10th in the majors in ERA, 10th in the majors in runs. If I had to fill out a word count, I'd probably go on about the first-round history between these two, but I don't and won't. Braves in 4.
Chicago White Sox vs. Boston Red Sox
I take no more joy in the Red Sox finally winning a World Series than I do in a crying baby finally getting a pacifier. The vital difference is that a baby with a pacifier actually shuts the hell up rather than going on and on about how great it was to get a pacifier and wouldn't it be great if it got another one? The White Sox, meanwhile, haven't won since 1917, but no one cares about that because they don't have any fans and haven't produced a Bill Simmons. It is for the latter that they deserve our support.
But none of that matters. On the field, it's a clash of opposites. The Peloponnesian War has been described as a fight between an elephant and a whale, and this should be similar. The White Sox, like the Athenians, have a superb starting rotation -- four pitchers in the top 26, if you dig the VORP -- but are in the bottom half of the league in offense. The Red Sox, like the Spartans, can hit. Leaving aside all the magic clutch pixie dust, David Ortiz is just a straight-up rad hitter, and he's not the only scary spot in the lineup. But check out the rotation: Wells, Schilling, Wakefield, Arroyo -- the best ERA in that pack of jockjaws is 4.15, and the bullpen isn't any better. Combine the pitching inequality with my own wishful thinking and I'm predicting the whale to beat this elephant this time - Chicago in 5. The bad news: we got Thucydides out of the Pelopennesian War. All we're likely to get out of this conflict is several thousand words of Simmons blathering about Saved By the Bell.
Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees
Of course, the real story here is the spunky, underdog Yankees. After starting out 11-19, they summoned all their pluck and courage and, with the help of rookies and journeymen like Aaron Small and Chien-Ming Wang whose pluck was matched only by their spunk and maybe even sticktuitiveness, battled their way back to the top of the division, and now New York can't get enough Small/Wang. How heartwarming. Seriously, though, the Yanks found themselves in a similar situation to that of Boston in that both spent many millions of dollars to assemble an ineffective starting staff. The difference is that New York scrounged around and came up with some cheap but useful stopgaps, and that, along with a quality bullpen, has made all the difference. Well, that and the fact that MLB's substance abuse program doesn't involve blood tests.
Meanwhile, everyone's forgotten about the Angels. They're a pretty forgettable team except when Mike Scioscia starts calling Frank Robinson names. Like the Braves, they have balance -- good but not great starters, mediocre offense, good (if occasionally unscrupulous) bullpen. You know, boring. On paper, I have to give the edge to the Yankees. The deciding factor, though, is that I picked the Angels to win the pennant back in April, and it would be neat if I were right. So Angels in 5. You see how scientifically I'm doing this.
So there you have it. Print this out, head to Vegas, and thank me when you're sitting in a hot tub full of Cristal. If they're wrong, remember: it's not my fault, it's our old friend Dumb Fucking Luck.