**NOTE: this was written Tuesday, before the ALDS games were played that night
Last week the Eye returned with columns full of playoff analysis – this week I’ll look at how those series have gone, as well as a quick look at the NFL and NHL.
-The Pirates head to St. Louis for Wednesday’s Game Five, and just like the Wild-Card game against Cincy, you have to characterize the game as a toss-up. Both starters (Wainwright and Cole) are working on full rest, both were excellent in their first starts, and both offenses are probably due for a little more action after combining for only FOUR hits in Game 4. My key hitters are Walker and Morneau – Walker has picked the wrong time to hit a slump, as he’s gone hitless in the series, and Morneau has yet to even come close to hitting a home run for the Bucs. I expect Cole to be good, but expecting to hold the Cards under three runs again is probably not realistic – the bats HAVE to come through for the Pirates to advance.
-The Dodgers avoided a similar coin-flip game, with an unlikely home run from Juan Uribe propelling them into the NLCS over the Braves. I was definitely rooting for Atlanta, because I think LA’s top five hitters are the best in the NL and because beating Kershaw even once is a very tall order, much less twice.
Having said that, LA’s biggest weakness so far has been their manager – their dominant offense has mostly covered it up, but Donnie Baseball has made several tactical errors in the postseason, the largest of which was risking Kershaw by starting him on short rest in Game 4. If the Dodgers were down in the series, fine, I get that – better to go down with your best pitcher on the hill. However, with a series lead, why take the risk? Why not empty your bullpen if needed in Game 4 behind the fourth starter, take advantage of the scheduled off day, and count on Kershaw (with Grienke out of the ‘pen if needed) to carry the day if Game 5 is necessary? Just because they won does not mean the thought process was correct there…and while I’m no fan of the Dodgers, I AM a fan of great talent so let’s hope that Mattingly’s move didn’t do any permanent damage to Kershaw.
-I thought Detroit would be a force in the postseason – and they DID get great starting pitching in Games 1 & 2 – but their offense has been a complete no-show. Cabrera’s injury is clearly more severe than I thought, but there’s more to the story than just him – the whole team has gone silent. Their poor bullpen has also cost them – Leyland should have pulled the starter Sanchez in Game 3, but I believe his mistrust of his middle relief caused him to wait one batter too long. The ‘pen also failed in Game 2, although in a 0-0 game I have trouble blaming the pitchers for the outcome.
As for Oakland, you’d think I would have learned by now, but it’s clear I underrated that team as well – particularly rookie starter Sonny Gray. He might not have Michael Wacha or Gerrit Cole’s raw ‘stuff’, but he was completely poised and unflappable in what was essentially a must-win game for the A’s. Their offense is not great, but it has just enough ‘pop’ to be competitive – not unlike the Pirate offense, in fact. If the pitching holds up, this could be the A’s team that finally gets over the hump and into the World Series.
-Finally, the Tampa Rays just won’t die. They have played four elimination games in six days, and won them all – the latest, in Game 3, courtesy of a walk-off home run from their BACKUP CATCHER. I still think Boston will win the series – their offense is SO strong, and they’ve battered the Rays for three games – but the Rays still have a pulse, and all they need is one good pitching performance to get this to a Game Five.
-In the NFL, I’ll start at the bottom, with the Steelers. Being 0-4 is bad – being 0-4 while losing to the Vikings and Titans is worse – being 0-4, losing to those teams, and having the audacity to proclaim ‘we will make the playoffs’ as safety Ryan Clark did this week – well, that takes a special kind of delusion. Ryan, face it…these aren’t your daddy’s Steelers, these aren’t the 2008 Steelers; heck they aren’t even the 2012 Steelers…who went 8-8, but played good defense along the way. The 2013 Steelers can’t stop the run, have not forced a SINGLE TURNOVER, have a sieve at left tackle, and a relatively tough slate of games left (the Ravens twice, Green Bay, Detroit, Cincy, Miami). I can’t find FIVE wins on the remaining schedule, much less nine or ten. In order to fix a problem, the first step is admitting there IS a problem. Talking about playoff berths when 0-4 shows me that this team still has a ways to fall before they get serious about where they really are and what changes they need to make.
-On the other end of the league…how ‘bout them Broncos?? I thought Manning could still play after his neck injuries, but I NEVER thought he’d be better than ever at age 37. He’s having a season for the ages, and it’s hard for me to imagine this offense being truly shut down by ANYONE in the league. Before we start talking about 16-0 and Super Bowls, however, consider the 48 points they allowed this week – this is not a good defense, or even an average defense…it’s a poor defense, especially against the pass, and that puts a TON of pressure on the offense to score 30+ every week. If Champ Bailey gets healthy that could fix a big part of the problem – and there’s no question that they have a great OFFENSE – but for now, I need to see more before I proclaim Denver a great TEAM.
-I’ll have a lot more on the NHL as the season progresses (yes, hockey has started up again…easy to overlook with Buctober going on), but I have to comment on the Flyers’ latest folly. Philly missed the playoffs a year ago, and then made a scapegoat out of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov by buying out his contract. Never mind that the Flyers’ defensive corps might be the worst in the conference, let’s do the Philly thing and blame the goalie! Oh, by the way…the goalie let go to make room for Bryzgalov, Sergei Bobrovsky? He won the Vezina Trophy (given to the top goalie) for Columbus last year.
So the Flyers have made quite a few questionable personnel decisions, which are on the GM…so naturally, after an 0-3 start, the coach gets fired. What a JOKE! There are 79 games left to play, what do you know after three games? If he was that close to the ax, why not fire him in June so the new coach can put in the system he wants? The move smacks of pure desperation from a franchise that seems to be out of control. One has to wonder how much longer the GM has until ownership makes a change there, as well. Sometimes coaching changes work against all odds – I was firmly against firing Therrien in ’09 in favor of Bylsma, and clearly that worked out – but I just don’t understand doing it so early in the season.
Next week, more baseball playoff talk, and a look around the rest of the NFL.
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.