When I did the first couple of Bes-ball Talks I thought I had a killer new idea for a regular column. They had both gone well and the season was yet to start. Well, unfortunately the rhythm I had hoped to start never really materialized for some reason. Which is unfortunate, I mean, talk about a season to have voiced my opinions on! Well, its over now, so I guess I can only move forward. However, I like talking baseball, with a focus on the Yanks, so I'm going to try to talk more consistently on the subject. Today's column is a look back at this past season in general. After that I'll do a break down of the Yankees' and Mets' seasons, and Hot Stove thoughts for both. There, I have subjects to work with for awhile.
I'd say this was a season where a huge surprise presented itself to the baseball gods. The Tampa Bay Rays had arrived in a big time way. Not only did these guys come from perpetually being last, but they came out strong and stayed strong throughout the year. As a Yankee fan I knew this was trouble. We had our own problems, and having to deal with the Rays, on top of the Red Sox, was going to be bad deal.
Not only were the Rays strong, but the Blue Jays and Orioles were very pesky, making the American League East very competitive, and, in my opinion, the strongest division this year. While the O's dropped out, the Jays were in there with the Yanks trying hard for the wild card till just about the very end. These two teams never really had a chance for the pennant anyway, and the Rays had pulled away with the Sox directly on their tail. The Sox though had to deal with Manny and his disgusting display half the year, as he tried to get out of town. I'd say this was a key factor in the Sox not catching the Rays, as the the distraction seemed to be a bit much.
The Yanks really never had an extended hot streak and that hurt them. It was a tough season all around though, losing Jeter and ARod to injuries early on for abit, and then the bigger blows of losing Chien-Ming Wang and Jorge Posada for the season. I mean, Wang was our ace and Posada is a true leader, not to mention his bat, and understanding of the pitching staff. Converting Joba into a starter was a side show that wasn't needed, and while he did well, he ultimately got himself injured, and was out for a month. ARod went through an ugly breakup, and even uglier (ongoing) relationship with Madonna, and we also lost the clutch Matsui for most of the season. Those, coupled with a lack of hitting in the clutch, completely derailed the Yanks season, and I didn't even get to Giradi's first year as manager...
So, the Rays grew up fast, although anyone really watching should have seen this coming. They had started to be really pesky in the last couple of years, at least against the Yanks. Being in last place for 10 years also gives you the advantage of choosing all the great draft picks, and, boy, did they ever parade them out. Throw in some wily veterans, and give them the wisdom and culture manager Joe Maddon brought in, and you had a recipe for success. This is a team that's going to be good for quite a while. And that's scary.
In the AL Central, you had a battle that lasted till a day after the season, with the White Sox finally beating the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were the real story though. They lost Johan Santana, Tori Hunter, Carlos Silva, and Matt Garza and still battled the entire season with a team of good rookies and growing stars. That's good management all around on display there. The Indians and Tigers were pretty disappointing this year; never really threatening for too long. And the Royals, while better, have a long way to go.
Rounding out the AL side of things, the Angels dominated the entire year, pretty much running and hiding by the beginning of September. Texas will be better next year though as their batting got better with Josh Hamilton, who was the highlight of the All Star break, and maybe their pitching can follow. Seattle was the biggest bust of the year, which was definitely surprising as they seemed competitive on paper.
In the NL East, the Mets blew it again at the very end. The Phillies just seemed to want it more, and did it with their play and not with loose words and dance routines. The Mets also fired manager Willie Randolph midseason in a cowardly, ugly fashion, and in a way it felt karmic that they didn't make it. Johan proved his toughness tough by kicking booty till the very end. The Marlins seem to be improving, and to the Mets they were the death knell. The Braves still need retooling, despite Chipper Jones' phenomenal year, and the Nats are still just the bad Nats.
The NL Central proved to be an interesting race with the Cubs matching their off season outlook and maximizing their potential, finishing first decisively. The Brewers battled right into the Wild Card with gritty play, and an extremely successful addition of CC Sabathia. The Astros had a nice last minute run, but were derailed by Hurricane Ike. The Cardinals did better than expected, and its seems that Pittsburgh, despite trading a couple of key players, have a good future ahead of them.
In the West, Joe Torre's Dodgers were the only story. Not only did Torre come to the team, have to settle the locker room, and prove NY was as much about him as it was the talent, but then he had to deal with the Manny trade, a factor from midseason on. Luckily, he dealt with everything as he always has: with calm and wisdom. The locker settled for the most part, and Manny was the picture perfect citizen, leading them right into the playoffs. It was just what the team, Torre, and Manny all needed; a kind of medicinal injection that gave them life, and a real good baseball story. I cant even think of anything else worth noting from the division.
The playoffs were interesting, but, of course, another animal all together. The dominant Angels once again fell to the Red Sox, and the Rays' magic continued as they dispensed of the White Sox pretty easily. The Phillies proved their worth further by taking out the Brew Crew, and Torre's boys upset the Cubs, who were trying to break their 100 year old curse. The Phillies then took care of business and eliminated the Dodgers handily. The Red Sox and Rays battled for 7 tough games though, as they should have after the season they had, and even though the Sox mounted a nice comeback the Rays won out.
Which all led us to this most interesting World Series; one that I'm sure Fox was dreading. They had to be praying for a Torre and Manny showdown with the Red Sox, but instead you got this ratings bomb that has been more engrossing than the last few no-contests. Here you have two teams that leave all of their blood and guts on the field fighting for the championship, what more could you want?! One team that has battled hard through the years, proving their grit time and again, and another that may be one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time, clashing for the first time for trophy. Both teams had hungry, electric, young players that have given us their all, and both who were ready to place their stamp on the world.
Who knew this series was intended to have one of the oddest finishes ever?! After the Phillies had taken a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, blanking the Rays offensive stars, the two teams played the soggiest six innings I had ever seen! Game 5 was a tale of two nights, the first ever in baseball history, with the first six innings coming Monday night, and the last three concluding this evening. Monday was insane, with a sick amount of rain poured on the players. I guess the umps wanted to wait it out, and not call it with anyone having a lead. Thus, once the Rays tied it, it was immediately suspended till tonight. Unfortunately for the Rays though, Maddon made some bad decisions, and Brad Lidge closed the door on them 4-3. So, congrats to the Phillies for winning the 2008 World Series!
You definitely take the unpredictability of baseball for granted during the long 162 game season, but in these short postseason series it all becomes apparent, and the appreciation level for the game shoots through the roof. This was one crazy season, and now comes the rebuilding time, the Hot Stove season, one of my favorite parts of baseball.
And that's Bes-ball.