Playoffs wind down bumpy baseball season


by David Morain

What a season. The Giants’ Barry Bonds follows last season’s home run barrage by leading the league in batting (.370). The Red Sox’ Derek Lowe emerged from the bullpen like Shoeless Joe from the Iowa corn, winning 21 games while posting a 2.58 ERA in his new starting role. The Twins, who barely avoided contraction and whose payroll topped out at $40.2 million, won the AL Central title by 13.5 games. Meanwhile the Mets, who spent $94.5 million on their way to last place in the NL East, finished 26.5 games out of first. Miguel Tejada more than made up for Jason Giambi’s departure by leading the Athletics to a division title, putting up 34 home runs and 131 RBIs along the way.

And the best part of the 2002 season – it’s not even over yet. The match-ups are established, the rotations are set and fans are geared up for a few more weeks of summer. So where does this leave us for the post-season? This article will attempt to break down each team’s quest for the ring, so even if you yell “touchdown” every time Sammy Sosa goes yard, you will be able to understand this year’s series.

American League

New York Yankees vs. Anaheim Angels


What they have: 2B Alfonso Soriano has come on like a tsunami since leaving the Japanese league two years ago. He and 1B Jason Giambi (.314 average/41 HRs/122 RBIs) provided enough fireworks to win the Yankees’ games this season despite a horrible performance from SS Derek Jeter. OF Bernie Williams quietly finished third in the AL batting title with a .333 average. David Wells, who looks more like one of the superfans from Saturday Night Live than a major league pitcher, won 19 games for the Yanks this year with teammate Mike Mussina not far behind with 18. New York has one of the deepest middle-relief bullpens in baseball, featuring Mike Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza and Steve Karsay.

What they need: The Yankees spent Uruguay’s deficit to put OF Raul Mondesi in pinstripes; now it’s time for him to step up. Jeter needs to remember how to hit a baseball in order to get on base for the big bats. Closer Mariano Rivera has struggled as of late. If he gets his control back, the Yanks have a great chance of getting back to the World Series. If not, they can watch it with the Kansas City Royals.


What they have: The Angels are blue-collar baseball at its finest. OF Garret Anderson is one of the best clean-up hitters in the game. Mighty-Mite SS David Eckstein exhibits more power than most 5’8″ frames should. Darin Erstad plays a near-flawless center field. Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz have anchored a no-name pitching staff that posted a 4.00 ERA this season. Closer Troy Percival has been virtually un-hittable, notching a miniscule 1.92 ERA.

What they need: While his power numbers are fine, 3B Troy Glaus (.250 average, 144 strikeouts) has to be more reliable at the plate for Anaheim to move anywhere. The shaky middle relief staff needs to carry the team if the starters get rocked in the early innings. Many of the Angels have never been to the post-season, and a match-up against the historic Yankees might leave them caught in the headlights.

Projection: Yankees, 3-1

Oakland Athletics vs. Minnesota Twins


What they have: Oakland boasts the best young pitching in the league, with starters Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito poised to anchor the playoff rotation. Past them, closer Billy Koch is a no-nonsense pitcher who makes few mistakes when the chips are down. Miguel Tejada has come into his own this year, moving into the ranks of fellow shortstops Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez. The A’s have an experienced veteran core of OF David Justice and DH Ray Durham to compliment up-and-comers 3B Eric Chavez and OF Terrence Long.

What they need: Minus Koch, the A’s have a weak bullpen. 1B Scott Hatteberg will have to produce runs more consistently than he did in the regular season. They will also have to get much more production out of their outfielders, who hit only .251 this season.


What they have: The Twins aren’t supposed to be here, but don’t tell them that. Their young core of OFs Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski are too inexperienced to know when they’re beat, making them extremely dangerous in the playoffs. The Twins won this year without injured pitchers Joe Mays and Brad Radke, who have since returned to the lineup. Closer “Everyday” Eddie Guardado has lived up to his nickname, posting 45 saves in 51 opportunities.

What they need: Youth can be a blessing and a curse; the Twins may get caught up in the circus of the playoffs and forget how they got there. Rick Reed (3.78 ERA) is the only starter with a sub-4.00 ERA. The Twins don’t have much power in their lineup (nobody over 30 HRs), making it difficult to turn a game around in later innings.

Projection: Athletics, 3-1

National League

Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants


What they have: Over the past decade the Braves have had the best rotation in the league. Why should this year be any different? Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine showed us why they have Cy Young Trophies sitting at home. John Smoltz moved from the rotation to closer and set the MLB record for saves with 55. Chipper Jones showed no ill effects this season as a result of switching from 3B to OF, leading the Braves in batting average (.327) and RBIs (100). OF Andruw Jones takes away about as many runs with his glove as he produces with his bat.

What they need: After being so far out in first place all season, there is talk that the Braves have become complacent and rusty, making them an easy target for the Giants to pick off. Atlanta is not a good hitting team, with only three regular players batting above .280. They will need to wake up their bats soon or face elimination.


What they have: Barry Bonds. That says it all really; his league-leading .370 batting average and record-setting 198 walks make it almost impossible to keep him from getting on base. 2B Jeff Kent came on strong in the second half this year, finishing with some nice power numbers (37 HRs, 108 RBIs). The rotation of Kirk Rueter, Jason Schmidt and Russ Ortiz proved they could hang with any staff in the league, each posting a 3.61 ERA or lower. Closer Robb Nen was up to his usual level of perfection (2.20 ERA, 51 saves).

What they need: Pitchers have figured out that they can pitch around Bonds, taking the bat out of his hands in key situations and giving it to geriatric catcher Benito Santiago, who is not exactly feared around the league. Once dominant middle-reliever Felix Rodriguez needs to find his comfort zone soon. OF Reggie Sanders has some pop in his bat, but it comes very infrequently anymore (.250 average).

Projection: Giants, 3-2

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals


What they have: This is pretty much the same team that won the World Series a year ago. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson are the most feared pair of pitchers since Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton in the late 60’s. Speedy SS Tony Womack is a threat to steal every time he gets on base. 2B Junior Spivey came out of nowhere to lead the D-Backs in hits this year with 162.

What they need: Past Schilling and Johnson, there is very little in the D-Backs rotation. A separated shoulder for OF Luis Gonzalez will keep the all-star out of the playoffs this year. The D-Backs will need to look to draft-day bust Erubiel Durazo to pick up the slack. 1B Mark Grace and OF Steve Finley will have to tuck the gray hairs under their caps for a couple more weeks and play like they are 35 again for Arizona to have a chance at repeating.


What they have: No club has proved their worth more than the Cardinals have in 2002 by overcoming the death of pitcher and team leader Darryl Kile in June. OF Albert Pujols showed no signs of a sophomore slump, batting .314 with 34 HRs and 127 RBIs to follow his rookie of the year award last year. Edgar Renteria (.305 average, 22 stolen bases) is finally becoming the shortstop the Cardinals hoped he would. The mid-season additions of 3B Scott Rolen and starting pitcher Chuck Finley, while with sporting the best bullpen in the NL, have put St. Louis in a position to make it to the World Series. The Cardinals are 2-0 against Schilling this year.

What they need: Past Matt Morris (3.42 ERA, 17 wins), the Cardinals rotation has been a little shaky this season. Starting pitchers Woody Williams and Garrett Stephenson will have to overcome their injuries soon for the Cardinals to have enough arms for the playoffs. 1B Tino Martinez needs to remember how he played when he was a Yankee and produce more at the plate.

Projection: Cardinals, 3-1

ALCS: Athletics over Yankees, 4-2

NLCS: Cardinals over Giants, 4-3

World Series: Athletics over Cardinals, 4-3