Commentary

Getting pumped for the playoffs

Updated: October 8, 2009, 9:28 AM ET
By David Schoenfield | Page 2

We love the baseball postseason. The drama. The intrigue. The great catches, clutch hits, big strikeouts and bad managerial decisions. This year we may get the added bonus of seeing David Ortiz shovel snow to clear a path to the on-deck circle.

With that, we present 77 reasons to spend way too many hours in front of the TV this October … and early November):

[+] EnlargeDerek and Minka
AP Photo/Kathy WillensYou must admit: Derek Jeter had a heck of a season.

1. The most intriguing storyline of the postseason: Will Minka Kelly show up in the wives and girlfriends section at Yankee Stadium? We kid, Mr. Jeter, we kid. The real question: Does the pine tar on Manny Ramirez's grimy helmet get into his dreads? Does he wash it out? Does it just collate into a sticky goo?

2. The second-most intriguing storyline of the postseason: Joba Chamberlain. Because No. 4 starters don't get enough hype. Especially one that isn't even a particularly good No. 4 starter.

3. Checking out Matt Kemp, a five-tool star who flies under the radar despite playing in L.A. (It didn't help that Joe Torre batted him seventh or eighth much of the season.)

4. Josh Beckett in a big game.

5. Because Rocktober sounds way better than Broncuary or Avspril.

6. The go-go Angels. You know, guys like Kendry Morales, Mike Napoli, Vlad Guerrero, Juan Rivera. Speed kills, baby.

7. But seriously: You're going to hear all the talk about the Angels' speed and aggressiveness, but this is a different Angels team. They scored 883 runs (second in the AL), a franchise record. They also hit their most home runs since 2000. Their top 10 hitters have an OPS+ better than the league average. They score because they hit, not because they run fast.

8. No chance the Cubs flame out in three games.

9. If you love clutch saves, you get to watch Mariano Rivera.

10. On the other hand, the two biggest blown saves of the decade belong to … Mariano Rivera.

11. The excitement on the faces of Cardinals fans. No, not from watching Albert Pujols hit; they'll be happy just to not be at a Rams game.

12. The best player on the Phillies: Chase Utley.

13. All the other Phillies who received more attention than Chase Utley this season: Cole Hamels (Sports Illustrated cover, slow start), Raul Ibanez (red-hot start), Cliff Lee (big midseason trade), Ryan Howard (RBI machine, prodigious power), Jimmy Rollins (abysmal first half), Jayson Werth (monster season), Jamie Moyer (old), Brad Lidge (worst season ever for a reliever).

14. John Smoltz, one more time in October, maybe the final playoff appearance for the extraordinary Clemens/Maddux/Glavine/Johnson/Smoltz/Schilling generation of Hall of Famers.

[+] EnlargeJohn Smoltz
Rob Leiter/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesJohn Smoltz is 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 13 previous postseasons -- all with the Braves.
15. The joy of watching Nick Punto play baseball. If you just look at the stats -- the .228 batting average and the one home run -- you're missing the unique abilities he contributes to the Twins. It's difficult to explain. It's like great poetry: You may not realize you're reading iambic pentameter, but there's something in the words that just flow.

16. Finding out who will sit in those seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium that remained empty much of the season. Real fans? Club employees? Eliot Spitzer? LeBron James? Set up a drinking game around this and even one of those five-hour Yankee postseason games will be exciting.

17. Jacoby Ellsbury trying to beat out an infield single.

18. Midges. You never know.

19. Joel Pineiro and Ryan Franklin, two key cogs in the Cardinals' success. Pineiro and Franklin were members of the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games but washed out of Seattle due to an acute inability to pitch well. They found new life in St. Louis. Beware, however, Cards rooters: In September, Pineiro had a 4.98 ERA and Franklin gave up 15 hits and 10 walks in 9 1/3 innings.

20. We can look forward to all the new Yankee books if the team wins the World Series. You know, titles such as:

• "My Career in Pinstripes" by CC Sabathia

• "Success is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Baseball and Life" by Joe Girardi

• "Idiot: Beating The Curse and Enjoying the Game of Life" by Johnny Damon

• "The Joba Rules" by Joba Chamberlain

• "All My Octobers" by Derek Jeter

• "It's Great to be a Yankee, Or Certainly a Hell of a Lot Better Than Being a Ranger" by Mark Teixeira

• "Shelley!" by Shelley Duncan

• "Fast Times, Champagne and Coke: A Big Apple Adventure" by Phil Coke

• "Cash, Man: Surviving in a New Economy" by Brian Cashman

• "A.J.'s Big Book of Pie Recipes" by A.J. Burnett

• "Me and Kate" by Alex Rodriguez

• "Ringless in New York: A Memoir" by Don Mattingly

[+] EnlargeUbaldo Jimenez
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesUbaldo Jimenez lights up the radar gun and held righties to a .206 average.

21. The chance to see Ubaldo Jimenez. Admit it. It's OK. We won't get mad or question your love of baseball. You've never seen him pitch. Maybe you saw him in the 2007 playoffs, but you don't remember. Back then he was a rookie with a blazing fastball and shaky control. Now he's an ace with a blazing fastball (according to Baseball Info Solutions, he had the fastest heater in the game among starting pitchers).

22. Glue guys. Love the glue guys. Yadier Molina is a glue guy. Pedro Feliz is a glue guy. They may not be exciting to watch, but they bring the glue.

23. Dustin Pedroia. As scrappy as ever!

24. Because baseball in November means baseball players in turtlenecks and earmuffs!

25. The possibility of a Dodgers-Angels World Series. Or as those in Los Angeles like to call it, November baseball in 72-degree weather.

26. Gabor Paul Bako II. Nobody named Gabor has ever won the World Series.

27. The pitcher most likely to pull a Cole Hamels (LCS and World Series MVP): Jon Lester.

28. Rookie center fielders with enormous potential: Colby Rasmus and Dexter Fowler.

29. The confused thoughts in the minds of Pirates fans when they hear yet another story of how "Jim Tracy turned around the Rockies."

30. Which CC Sabathia will show up? The regular-season ace or the guy who in the last two postseasons went 1-3 in four starts with 20 runs allowed in 19 innings?

31. Which Cliff Lee will show up? The guy who went 5-0, 0.68 in his first five starts with the Phillies or the guy who went 2-4, 6.13 over his last seven?

32. Another October go-around for Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.

33. A potential Brett Favre sighting in Minnesota. Or at least an in-game interview. Which would be quite a catch, because you never see him doing those.

[+] EnlargeWilde
AP Photo/Chris PizzelloThis is Olivia Wilde, one of the stars of "House."

34. Fantasy draft! And by that we mean Fox TV personalities who will appear on screen. Should be an especially deep draft if it's a Dodgers-Angels World Series. Recommended first-round picks: Anna Torv, Olivia Wilde, the guy from "The Wire" and "Lost," Kiefer Sutherland, Emily Deschanel, Eliza Dushku and Stewie Griffin.

35. "M-V-P" chants for Joe Mauer.

36. Seeing if Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer will rise to the occasion, because with Justin Morneau out with back problems, don't expect Mauer to see many pitches to hit.

37. Seeing if Alex Rodriguez will rise to the occasion. You may have heard he has struggled recently in October. This isn't entirely true. He's hitting .143 over his past 16 postseason games. But he has one RBI. And it was a home run. And it came with the Yankees down 6-2 in Game 4 against Cleveland in 2007. So there.

38. A potential Cardinals-Phillies NLCS matchup. Does Charlie Manuel allow Brad Lidge to pitch to Albert Pujols? You know you want to see this. Please, Charlie, there is no better way to build up Lidge's confidence than to let him face Pujols in a game-deciding situation.

39. Because baseball coaches in satin jackets is the height of fashion.

40. To see the electric stuff of Clayton Kershaw. He led the majors in fewest hits allowed per nine innings. He surrendered just seven homers in 171 innings. He's also 21 years old and will be just the ninth pitcher that age to start a postseason game during the Division Series era (joining Jaret Wright, CC Sabathia, Dontrelle Willis, Kerry Wood, Rick Ankiel, Franklin Morales, Jerome Williams and Bud Smith).

41. Caveat: Those 21-year-olds have been shaky. Their combined postseason record: 5-2, 6.13 ERA in 15 starts, with 53 walks and 52 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings. Only once did one of those guys pitch into the seventh inning (Wright's start in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series).

42. Torii Hunter playing center field.

43. Troy Tulowitzki playing shortstop. (Is there a more underrated player in the majors? A terrific glove at a premium position, hits with power, gets on base. One of the 20 most valuable players in the game. Hey, there's a reason the Rockies have made the playoffs in his two healthy seasons.)

44. The possibility of a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. Our advice to the media: Cover the Joe Torre angle. You can thank us in advance for this tip.

45. The possibility of a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series: Mark Loretta seeks revenge against Boston!

46. No Yuniesky Betancourt, Luke Hochevar, Jose Guillen or any of the 30 guys who pitched for the Nationals.

47. To see if Jonathan Papelbon will give up a run. He's never been scored upon in 25 postseason innings.

48. The potential of Seth Smith getting a chance for revenge against Papelbon.

49. The chance to find out who Seth Smith is.

50. Hats with World Series logos. A fine fashion statement courtesy of the commissioner's office or a lame attempt to sell 22 extra hats to grandmothers who will buy them as Christmas presents for their grandkids? Watch and decide.

51. Matt Holliday. Enjoy him one last time before he signs with the Yankees.

52. The opportunity for the Rally Monkey to quiet the critics who say he's past his prime.

53. Who will the Yankees call on to throw out first pitches? It's been nine years since they've won it all. In other words, they better use the big guns: Yogi, Reggie, Paulie, Bernie and Jim Leyritz. If he's free on bail, that is.

54. The possibility that Joe Torre may nod off in the dugout. You would never see this in the NFL. Well, except maybe Dick Jauron.

55. Chris Carpenter painting the black. Adam Wainwright buckling knees with his big bender. Tony La Russa using five relievers in one inning.

56. Because we're due for a Game 5 in the Division Series. The last one was Angels over Yankees in 2005.

57. Speaking of which, it's the 15th anniversary of the Division Series. If we're lucky, we'll get a game as memorable as one of these, the 15 greatest Division Series games (according to us):

• (15) 1999 NLDS Game 3: Braves 5, Astros 3 (12 innings)
Remember Walt Weiss' diving stop with the bases loaded to preserve a tie in the 10th?

• (14) 1996 ALDS Game 4: Orioles 4, Indians 3 (12 innings)

Roberto Alomar ties game with RBI single in ninth, wins series with homer off Jose Mesa.

• (13) 2000 NLDS Game 3: Mets 3, Giants 2 (13 innings)
Mets tie it in eighth off Robb Nen, win on Benny Agbayani's home run.

• (12) 1997 ALDS Game 4: Indians 3, Yankees 2
Yankees on verge of clinching series, but lose after Sandy Alomar's homer off Mariano Rivera in eighth and Omar Vizquel's RBI single in ninth.

• (11) 2003 ALDS Game 3: Red Sox 3, A's 1 (11 innings)
Red Sox face elimination, game features several bizarre baserunning incidents, Sox win when Trot Nixon homers off Rich Harden.

• (10) 2003 NLDS Game 4: Marlins 7, Giants 6
Series ends with J.T. Snow tagged at home plate in collision with Ivan Rodriguez.

• (9) 1999 ALDS Game 5: Red Sox 12, Indians 8
An injured Pedro Martinez comes out of the bullpen to throw six hitless innings. Troy O'Leary has seven RBIs.

• (8) 2001 ALDS Game 3: Yankees 1, A's 0
Jeter. Giambi (the other one). The flip. Yankees stay alive despite only two hits, including a Jorge Posada homer.

• (7) 1999 NLDS Game 4: Mets 4, Diamondbacks 3 (10 innings)
Diamondbacks take 3-2 lead in top of eighth, Mets tie it in bottom of eighth, win series on Todd Pratt's walk-off home run.

• (6) 1995 ALDS Game 2: Yankees 7, Mariners 5 (15 innings)
Ken Griffey Jr. homers in the 12th, Yankees tie it, Jim Leyritz homers to win it. An obscure rookie named Rivera goes 3 1/3 for the win.

• (5) 2001 NLDS Game 5: Diamondbacks 2, Cardinals 1
Curt Schilling and Matt Morris duel 1-0 into the eighth. J.D. Drew homers to tie it. Tony Womack's hit wins series in bottom of ninth.

• (4) 1995 ALDS Game 4: Mariners 11, Yankees 8
Mariners rally from 5-0 deficit, Edgar Martinez homers twice, including grand slam off John Wetteland in the eighth.

[+] Enlarge1995 Mariners
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonKen Griffey Jr. scored the winning run as the Mariners shocked the Yankees in the greatest Division Series ever played.

• (3) 2003 ALDS Game 5: Red Sox 4, A's 3
Pedro versus Barry Zito, Manny Ramirez's three-run homer in sixth gives Boston lead, A's tie in eighth, Derek Lowe strikes out Adam Melhuse (with runners on second and third) and Terrence Long (with bases loaded) in bottom of ninth … then memorably grabs crotch.

• (2) 2005 NLDS Game 4: Astros 7, Braves 6 (18 innings)
Braves blow 6-1 eighth-inning lead. Lance Berkman hits grand slam in eighth. Light-hitting Brad Ausmus homers in ninth. Nobody scores until Chris Burke's walk-off homer. Roger Clemens gets win with three innings in relief.

• (1) 1995 ALDS Game 5: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)
Mariners cap comeback from 2-0 series deficit. Seattle scores twice in eighth to tie on Griffey's homer, two-out bases-loaded walk to Doug Strange. Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson pitch in relief on one day of rest. Yankees take lead on Randy Velarde's RBI hit, but Edgar Martinez's two-run double wins it.

(Thanks to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information for the research.)

58. Joe Nathan throwing gas for one inning. Or maybe 1 2/3 innings. But probably not two innings.

59. Pedro Martinez pitching out of the bullpen to get the Phillies out of a jam …

60. … only to have Brad Lidge blow the save.

61. Because Third World children need more Yankees T-shirts.

62. Andre Ethier at bat in the ninth inning with the winning run on base.

63. Gardenhire! Girardi! La Russa! Tracy! Torre! Francona! That's more big brains than a Mensa convention!

64. John Lackey. The Angels' Game 1 starter is winless in six postseason starts since winning Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie.

65. Hitter most likely to go off: Alex Rodriguez. You heard it here first. OK, him or Pujols.

[+] EnlargeThome
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesIf the Dodgers make the World Series, Jim Thome could serve as their DH.

66. Jim Thome, pinch-hitting for the Dodgers in a key situation, still searching for a ring in his eighth trip to the postseason.

67. The standing ovation Carl Pavano surely will get from Yankees fans thanking him for his great years of service in pinstripes.

68. Ryan Raburn playing left field.

69. Todd Helton, the longtime Colorado first baseman with the sweet swing and the .328 career average. Who says $141 million contracts for small-market clubs are an albatross? C'mon, Pittsburgh Pirates, just spend $141 million and maybe you, too, can make the postseason!

70. Because most games end way past kids' bedtimes. And it's hard to watch a game and have a few beers when kids are around.

71. Denard Span and Carlos Gomez running down fly balls … with the distinct possibility they'll crash into the wall at Yankee Stadium since it's only about 247 feet from home plate.

72. Trying to figure out if the Alex Gonzalez who plays shortstop for the Red Sox is the same Alex Gonzalez who booted the ground ball for the Cubs in the 2003 playoffs.

73. Trying to figure out if the Julio Lugo who plays shortstop for the Cardinals is the same Julio Lugo who was playing for the Red Sox earlier in the season.

74. After already playing 65 hours and 55 minutes of baseball against each other this season, a Red Sox-Yankees ALCS may match that time.

75. The chance to add to the storied postseason history of the Metrodome's Hefty bag outfield fence.

76. The Phillies' cream-colored uniforms in HD.

77. Because we haven't seen a Game 7 of the World Series since 2002. It's time.

Contributors: DJ Gallo, Thomas Neumann, Michael Philbrick

David Schoenfield | email

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