Sunday, October 30, 2005

Something Delicious

All right, it's time to try out my new-found positive attitude on all the Nats news I've been ignoring, so that I might continue to be an education to teh internet.

Free Agents! Seven Nationals have filed for free agency. As a very pretentious deep man once said, artistically disobeying the bourgeois rules of grammar, "if you love somebody, set them free." I can't say that I have that kind of emotional attachment to these guys, so I'm amending that bit of gnomic wisdom: If replaceable players want a million dollars, set them free. I fixed the grammar, too.

Here's the list: Tony Armas Jr., Carlos Baerga, Gary Bennett, Esteban Loaiza, Preston Wilson, Joey Eischen, and Deivi Cruz. I don't have much to say about any of these guys that wouldn't violate the editorial policies I instituted when I became pro-everything, but the Nats are going to be fine even without all of them. There is one exception, and his name should have stood out to you even if it weren't figuratively draped in the Mexican flag. Loaiza was really good this year, and I'd have known it all along if only I'd had my change of heart nine months ago. Now he wants three years at $7 million per, and that's a bit rich for my blood. While his ability to soak up innings is important, especially on a pitching staff that was looking a little thin at the end of the year, RFK made him look a lot better than he actually was -- that 2.86/4.77 home/road ERA split is pretty ugly. Bowden's offered him two years at $4 million per. That would be great, and I can't think of many free agents the Nats have a shot at signing who would help us more. I'd be willing to go a little higher than that, and I'd rather give in on money than on years. Please bear in mind, though, that I have conclusively proven that I don't know a damn thing about Esteban Loaiza.

I used to complain about Baseball Prospectus all the time. Not even just about Will Carroll and Dayn Perry, either -- pretty much everyone on the staff wormed his way onto my list at one time or another. But now that my glass is half-full -- of something delicious! -- I've gained a new appreciation of BP. Say you're looking for news and opinion about the Nationals. There are about ninety blogs out there, a couple news aggregators, the incomparable Barry Svrluga, and if that stuff is too much for your reading level, Thomas Boswell. There's just too much, and the pressure to read it all and evaluate hundreds of pounds -- literally -- of opinion can take all the fun out of reading about your favorite team. Sometimes you want to curl up with something unchallenging -- not too many intimidating new ideas or boring research or any of that. Even the snootiest gourmand likes a little Kraft Cheese 'n' Macaroni once in a while, right? Prospectus was kind enough to apply milk to powdered cheese product and come up with some tasty Nats info last week. Here's a sample:
If we estimate that every marginal win is worth $2 million, it’s a no-brainer for the Nats to exercise the $4 million option for Jose Guillen, who’s been worth five wins above replacement level for each of the past two years. Guillen still hasn’t conquered his poor plate discipline, but he’s emerged as a right-handed, slightly more strikeout-prone version of Garret Anderson.
Aah -- it's like a warm bubble bath. I do agree, by the way, the Nats should rush to excercise the option on Guillen before time runs out.

Meanwhile, non-sarcastic website praise.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Six More Months!

This morning I took my usual spin around the message boards at Paul Wall World, where I go to keep my finger on the pulse of the Paul Wall fan community.

Above: Paul Wall, the People's Champ. In his mouth: what a college education looks like portrayed into some in ice.

The first thing that caught my eye was this topic: Paul Wall: Worst Rapper Since Chingy? After I got over my shock that everything in the question was spelled correctly and that only one punctuation mark was used, I was outraged. First off, I'm not entirely sure who Chingy is, but no reasonable person could argue that Paul Wall is the worst rapper since him. I'm far worse, for instance, and Needham's flow is even lamer than mine. It's clear that topic starter F2theN is interested in no more than creating a negative atmosphere in what had once been a place of peaceful, jovial contemplation of Paul Wall, his collaborations with hip-hop's brightest stars, and the shiny crap on his teeth.

I don't mean to single out F2theN; I'm merely using him as an example of a widespread phenomenon: teh internet turns people into jerks. This was most most succintly described in Penny Arcade's justly classic "Shitcock" cartoon (more work safe than it sounds), and, though the friendly video game-enthusiasts at PA are talking about the effect of online competition on otherwise reasonable people, no corner of teh internet is safe from the Shitcock Effect, least of all this one. Over the months, I've called Bud Selig a corpse, Bill Collins a failure, Will Carroll a buffoon, and Dayn Perry an asshole. As a Wikipedia-recognized online journalist, I consider myself something of an ambassador of teh internet, and Google agrees with me. As such, I decided that I would try to set a good example by not being such a dick all the time. Hence the two weeks with no posts. If I couldn't make fun of Will Carroll's lapdog for sharing his favorite porn links with us and not knowing what "jingoistic" means, or even point out that Basil is sharing real estate with an unfortunate fellow who was literally struck retarded by the ALCS, what could I do? So I just shut up for a while and tried not to think about it.

But now I'm faced with a challenge I can't ignore.
General manager Jim Bowden was given a six-month contract extension by the Washington Nationals on Thursday, a deal that allows him to oversee offseason moves while new ownership is pending.
The old me would have mocked Jim Bowden's performance as GM and his track suits. He would have said something that rhymes with "pluck goo, Pud Knee-dig" or "row to smell, Barry Feinsblorf" or "Blaine Terry is a mass-hole." But I promised myself -- and the children -- I wouldn't do that anymore, so let's force ourselves to look at the bright side. Fortunately, some of the more diligent bloggers out there have already started. Needham points out that a crappy GM is better than no GM, and even the old me probably would have agreed with that. Furthermore, given the organizational rift that Tony Tavares made awesomely clear a couple weeks ago, this could mean the end of Frank Robinson as Nats manager. The old me would have mentioned that although a GM can do more damage to team than a field manager, Frank was worse at his job than Bodes was at his and worthier of a shit-canning. The new me wants only the best for Frank and that which is most important to him -- his golf game -- so both mes would be thrilled by this eventuality.

So, in conclusion, yay Bodes! The good thing about giving Bodes a six-month deal is that he doesn't feel at all constrained by the inherent interimosity of his position. Whether it's giving a four-year contract to our shortstop of the future, getting rid of the Nats scouting director when there was only half a month left on his own contract, or possibly making a deal to finally get rid of that clubhouse cancer Brad Wilkerson, JimBo is going to attack this just like he's a real GM.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Boswell: "Only Drooling Halfwits Have Moustaches"

That's the inescapable conclusion of his latest column. Well, I suppose that conclusion could be extremely escapable, but I didn't read the whole thing.
La Russa is the game's resident inside-baseball intellectual, a fellow with a law degree who never met a diamond conundrum he didn't want to solve. And get credit for. Garner . . . wears a brush mustache.

Tavares: "Ryan Was Completely Right"

It's not often that someone whose opinion matters agrees with me, but you can bet your ass that when it does happen I'm going to crow about until you, the reader, perform teh internet equivalent of nodding in a placating manner and backing away slowly, i.e., going back to DCist to see if there's any news on the Man trying to keep Jack Evans down. It's only happened a couple times -- Jim Bowden agreed that Jim Bowden sucks, and now MLB sees my point that it really would be the best story for the White Sox to go all the way this year and that they should do whatever they can to make sure that happens. MLB.com's Bill Ladson has finally contributed something positive to this blog, bringing us an interview that contains the third instance. Or fourth, depending on how you count Bodes agreeing twice. Third and a half.

Nationals president Tony Tavares takes this opportunity to say what I --among others -- have been saying for months: Frank Robinson is a terrible manager. Although he doesn't mention Frank by name, it's as perfect a piece of character assassination as you'll get from any bitter online journalist.
I just think we lost our focus. Honestly, it's a challenge going forward for the players. There are leadership issues within the locker room. There are guys who have to stand up and show better leadership. Frankly, our coaching staff has to show better leadership.
Frankly, I don't think he's talking about Don Buford or Randy St. Claire when he says "coaching staff." Frankly.
I don't think we should have had some of the issues that manifested themselves. They should have been handled. Nine times out of ten, they should have been handled by the players, but our coaching staff has to do a better job getting involved.
How many of those issues involved Frank's favorite, Jose Guillen? My sources tell me "approximately all." There was a minor disturbance when Ryan Church called Brandon Watson "Endy," but they patched it up.
We just lost our focus. And I think we have to work harder. I don't think we work very hard. There's an old saying, the harder I work, the more successful I am or the luckier I get. When I compare what we do to prepare and what other teams do, I don't think we work as hard as we need to.
Damn! I can only imagine how long Tony's been waiting to get this off his chest. I'd never heard that old saying, "the harder I work, the more successful I am or the luckier I get." It reminds me of another old saying of my people, "a bird in the hand is better than some other birds that you don't have or might not get."
Too many times, we didn't take batting practice. If you look at our record on Sundays, it's indicative of our success. I just don't think we prepare as well.

We are giving up hits in circumstances where our infielders should have been at a different position or our outfielders should have been at a different position. Our preparation is not there right now.

Lately, there have been a lot of people talking about how well-coached the Cardinals are. They execute the hit-'n'-run and the squeeze bunt, they don't screw up on defense, etc. Either Frank thinks the Nats have the talent to ignore that kind of thing or he just doesn't care.

I'm skipping quite a bit of stuff here, even some that makes Frank look bad. Check out Federal Baseball for more thorough coverage while I metaphorically toot my own proverbial horn.

Here's what I said about Frank during my last really bitter rant about him:

He needlessly humiliates his pitchers on the mound, then throws a fit and forces bad trades when they don't enjoy it. He slept through the Expos' last season in Montreal and is on his best behavior in Washington because he knows cameras are on him. He sees this job as a sinecure to subsidize his golf habit. The bottom line is that Frank Robinson doesn't care about this team as much as you do.
Look at what Tavares is mad about: no control over the players, not enough practice, poor game preparation. It sounds like Robinson doesn't care about this team as much as Tavares does either.

From a distance, Frank Robinson looks like a fine manager. People want to think he's doing a good job. He's a truly great but sorely underappreciated player watching his statistical accomplishments being snowed under in an era of high offense. As baseball's first black manager, he's a pioneer and a legend. Sure, he's a little rough around the edges, but it's good for these spoiled millionaires to get slapped around a little by a veteran. And look at the wins! Who expected the Expos to finish over .500 in '02 and '03 or the Nats to compete this year?

And yet here's Tony Tavares accusing the Robinson of dereliction of duty. What more damning indictment of Frank's reign can there be than the team president having to order the squad to take batting practice because of the manager's negligence? After this tirade -- after the man's boss came out publicly and said he wasn't doing his job -- there is no justification for bringing Robinson back.

UPDATE: I guess that old saying Tavares mentioned isn't as unusual as I thought it was.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

It's National Stats Coming Out Day

Baseball Reference, a site that goes a long toward making for up for all the pictures of fat people dressed like cartoon characters and the other unpleasant detritus festering in this furry-infested garbage dump we call teh internet, already has stats for 2005. In lieu of actually coming up with some content, I'm going to rummage around and see what fun we can have with the Nats.
  • Nationals league leaders: Jose Guillen (hit by pitch), Chad Cordero (saves), ¡Livan! (innings for the third year running, hits allowed, batters faced)
  • Offensive categories in which the Nationals ranked last: runs/game, runs, hits, home runs, batting average, slugging percentage, stolen bases, caught stealing (or did they come in first? They had the most.)
  • Defensive categories in which the Nationals ranked fourth: runs/game, ERA
  • Nats pitchers with an OPS+ better than Cristian Guzman's 55: ¡Livan!, Ayala, Eischen, Bergmann, Vargas
  • Ryan Church's 2005 OPS+: 120
  • Preston Wilson's 2005 OPS+: 107
  • Wilson and Wilkerson ranked 3/4 in strikeouts
  • Jose Guillen set new career highs in strikeouts, HBP, sac flies, and intentional walks
  • RFK was the second most pitcher-friendly park in the league, significantly behind Petco in San Diego
  • Nick Johnson set a career high in games played with only 131. His most similar player? Jeremy Giambi.
  • Rick Short wins the Nats OPS+ title with 268. Runner-up is Brendan Harris, at 209.
  • Nats home record: 41-40
  • Nats road record: 40-41
  • The Nats had a losing or even record against each of their divisional foes. They whupped the hell out of those American League punks, though (12-6)
  • Yuda.org is the sponsor of the Chad Cordero page, and I bet he got a bargain.
Speaking of Cordero and in non-B-Ref news, reader Janet alerts us that the Chief is in fact the winner of the Rolaids Relief Award, which is awarded based on sophisticated scientific calculations, rather than letting a bunch of drunken sportswriters vote on it. Congratulations!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More Bad Predictions

The playoffs continue their bittersweet progess, like a butterfly made of sugar but covered in vinegar. So far, I'm 3-1 in my predictions, which is even less impressive than it looks since the Cards series was automatic anyway (unless you're some Baseball Prospectus hack). Dumb Fucking Luck, you know? First, some general observations:
  • The playoffs are fun!
  • I don't care what Will Carroll's lapdog says, John Franco is my new favorite announcer. He's not afraid to call Roy Oswalt a dumbass for throwing Brian McCann a fastball after McCann demonstrated that his bats were scared of curveballs, and I find his lack of broadcasting polish endearing. He's a damn sight less aggravating than either Joe Morgan, who occasionally makes a good point but sends me diving for the mute button by repeating it eight or nine times, adjusting it in mid-rant if a replay proves him wrong; or Rick Sutcliffe, who's not just wrong but loud wrong. In fact, the radio crews for all these games have been more pleasant to listen to than their TV counterparts.
  • It's still not clear what show Fox is going to be to be shilling so hard that we won't be able to forget the catchphrase long after the program is cancelled (Her father's the district attorney!). Prison Break, maybe?
Cardinals vs. Somebody I Already Forgot About
That was quick. The Cards looked pretty good. Solid performances out of all three starters, sufficient offense, and Reggie Sanders' playoff beard looks good on him. The bullpen is a concern; they tried their damndest to stretch this series out, and that against a mediocre team.

Meanwhile, the Padres, as if eager to emphasize the fact that they shouldn't have been in the postseason anyway, started Pedro Astacio and Woody Williams in the second and third legs of the sweep. Now go the fuck home and we'll never speak of this again. We'll just say the Cards got a first round bye. Pedro A-fucking-stacio.

Astros vs. Braves
I can't remember much that happened in this series before Game 4. Hell, I can't remember much that happened period before Game 4. It was the most fun I've had watching a ball game in a long time. By the time the 15th rolled around, the very name of each inning was a delight. 16th? 17th?! 18th?! It didn't matter that the wrong team won (from the standpoint of my predictological credibility, at least) or that it made that fat bastard Roger Clemens look good. It was a dramatic, well-played, and it went on forever.

As for the Braves, this is where I'm supposed to make a crack about their sad inability to sell out playoff games. Suffice it to say that Atlanteans don't deserve the Braves, and that the Braves don't deserve the crap they get every year when they lose in the LDS, even if it really is every year. The Manager of the Year Award should be given to Bobby Cox every year until he dies and then named after him. See you next October, Bobby.

White Sox vs. Red Sox
I know I'm a bitter, cynical son of a bitch, but I can't be the only one who finds it hilarious that after the ink and various other fluids spilled about the Red Sox finally winning something, they defend their title by putting up less of a fight than the Padres. Their godawful pitching staff made Chicago look like a team that could actually hit, which we may be about to find out isn't quite true.

It seems that the undecideds are backing the White Sox this year, which is no surprise. They haven't won since 1917 and are overlooked by media both mainstream and sabermetric, as Will Carroll's corgi has complained. Jose Contreras is about as good a story as there is right now, having suffered under both Castro and Steinbrenner. Ozzie Guillen is entertaining unless you're Magglio Ordonez. That has nothing to do with why they won, though. In the end, good pitching beat out shitty pitching, and it looks pretty obvious when it's phrased like that, huh? If I were a GM, I would try not to have such shitty pitching next time. Just saying.

Angels vs. Yankees
I'm forcing myself not to gloat about this being all $200 million gets you. I was going to do that if the Yanks missed the playoffs, and it would be cheap of me to do it even though they did, and it's not like they lost to the Indians. The Angels did everything they could to give up their LCS pass -- LA's best pitcher, Bartolo Colon, left the game in the second, suffering from the effects of having a big fat ass, and the 17 year old they replaced him with pitched like me playing MVP Baseball drunk. By the time he settled down, New York had a 2-0 lead, but that can only last so long if you can't catch or throw.

The Yankees are like a leper with two oozing sores but enough bandages to staunch only one. Either you play Tino Martinez at first and let Bernie Williams trudge around in center, or you put Bubba Crosby out there and hope Jason Giambi isn't so worn out from playing Halo and smoking up all night with his brother that he forgets to put his foot on the bag. Don't do drugs, kids. Those are only the two biggest sores, of course: five errors in the first four games, and significant sloppy play beyond that. If one were so inclined, one could string together a series of Yankees miscues speeded up in a hilarious manner and accompanied by Yakety Sax. You could show it during rain delays. The piece de resistence would be Gary Sheffield delivering a Jumbo Tsuruta-style high knee to Bubba Crosby's stomach, allowing Adam Kennedy to scamper to third with two runs having scored. Throw in Giambi tossing to first as though the ball weighed 100 pounds, and there's your first round loss. But enough about the past; on to the future!

Cardinals vs. Astros
Last year, the Astros came (far too) close to winning this series and the honor of having their heads kicked in by Boston. Can they get over the hump this time? Nah. In 2004, if I recall correctly, Carlos Beltran and Brad Lidge won three games all by themselves. Nowadays, Beltran is sucking for the Mets and . . . well, Lidge is still there. Houston probably has the best rotation in the playoffs, but St. Louis' isn't so shabby either. The Cards have an advantage in hitting and defense, and not small ones. Cards in five.

White Sox vs. Angels
I expect this to be pretty good. Neither team can hit much, both can pitch. The Sox are being handed the first game -- LA doesn't even get a day off after a grueling couple of games. The Angels are a more balanced squad, but if Chicago's starting pitching is as dominant as it can be, that won't matter. Going with my initial guesses from April stopped me from making one bad prediction, so I'll stick with it. Angels in six.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Some Musings As We Shovel Dirt Upon the Padres

First, some personnel comments. Juan Pierre? Nationals Interest says yes, Curly W says no. I'm leaning towards the latter, and the more I look at it the farther I lean. I like the idea behind getting Pierre -- it's hard to hit home runs in RFK, but Pierre doesn't hit them anyway, so let him run around real fast. His on-base percentage was just .326, though, and that's pretty ugly for a guy with less power than ¡Livan!. It must be mentioned that this was after two years of very effective getting-on-basedness (gimme a GOB!) and that the dude really does steal a lot of bases (average of 52 over his five full years), which is just entertainment value added to your Nats ticket.

Then there's defense, allegedly the other neat part of Pierre's game. We could certainly use a DiMaggio-type in center, and even if he hits more like Vince than Joe, he'd be contributing something we lacked in '05. Pierre, however, doesn't seem to be that good. Win Shares credits him with 2.9 fielding shares, which, let me assure you, does not place him in lofty company. Baseball Prospectus has him as barely above average in his best years and consistently below recently. As usual, it comes down to money. He made $3.7 million last year and may not be offered arbitration by the penny-pinching Marlins. I wouldn't want us paying him that much, but I'd be fine with taking a $2 million-ish chance on him.

Every once in a while, when things are quiet, I like to pull a player idea out of my Bowden, so here's today's: Kenny Rogers. We need some pitchers, right? Kenny Rogers is certainly that. Sure, he's a violent jackass, but the Nationals have had remarkable success with violent jackasses so far.

He'll be a free agent, and my hope is that his age and violent jackassery keep his value on the open market reasonable. Isn't it about time Washington had a baseball player good-looking enough to keep up with its baseball bloggers?

Above: Artist's conception of Kenny Rogers hanging out with local bloggers. (l-r) Kenny Rogers, Me, Basil, Needham, Yuda.

Speaking of Basil, he moved. The former Inquirer got himself some new digs that don't look like everyone else's Blogger site. Personally, I've convinced myself that I prefer the ascetism of the default Blogger template to some competently designed site, but good for Basil, and let's all welcome Federal Baseball.

In getting myself a link from the Post news, this is going to get me a link from the Post. The venerable Barry Svrluga, who really is as good as everyone says he is, will be co-hosting a chat with Washington Post second banana beat writer Jorge Arangure, Jr. Will their feud be kind of funny or just tiresome? Tune in at 2:00 pm to find out!

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Distinguished Senators Playoff Preview

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.