Handicapping the MLB Playoffs

World class baseball handicappers at The Diamond Report take a look at playoff betting strategies.

The playoffs are here. You pay your money and you take your choice:

Neatest Uniform Theory: Nouveaux distractions like pro football, MLS and roller derby may go for teal on black or cartoon sharks chomping through hockey sticks. But that doesn’t cut it for our most storied pastime.

Hard traditionalists will favor the Yankee pinstripes: solid navy blue stockings and overlaid “NY” on blouse and cap. The understated elegance that was good enough for the Babe and Lou, DiMag, Casey, Yogi and the Mick.

But here’s a contrarian vote for Boston. Brilliant home whites with simple old-fashioned “Red Sox” across the chest, drab road grays featuring simple block letters, the daring flash of color when the occasional participant hikes pants leg to mid-calf.

Boston’s uni is Theodore Samuel Williams leaning over the plate with the discernment of a master jeweler, and it’s Fisk body English on a frosty October midnight willing a deep fly ball to stay fair. It’s also Buckner wheeling around in disbelief to gape at the simple bouncer that Got Away. And most of all it’s one of baseball’s last cathedrals — Fenway.

The Red Sox ensemble is the essence of the game, i.e., that the best of hitters fail more than six times in ten, and that deserving teams fail even more often than that. It’s a Hub barber as the Sox, once again, falter in the stretch: “The bastards killed our fathers, and now they’re coming after us.”

You don’t get more baseball than that. Unless you go to Philadelphia.

Curse of the Babe Theory: On the other hand, an ancient Red Sox owner named Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in order to finance a hit Broadway play, No-No Nanette. Whereupon the gods of the game decreed that, for at least the next millennium, Boston and its fans would be condemned to the fate of Don Juan in hell — close but no cigar.

And that, after the summer’s tease, autumn’s ultimate triumph would, time and again, belong to the detested Yankees.

The Year of the Lone Star Theory: Is this just the year that Texas wins, especially over contenders from New York?

The Heisman Trophy recipient toted the ball for the U of T. Maybe one Texan in a thousand has ever been on ice skates, but Dallas claimed the Stanley Cup over Buffalo. San Antonio walloped the Knicks for the NBA championship. A guy from Austin won the Tour de France, for goodness sake. A triumphant US Ryder Cup team was captained by another Austinite, with the pivotal putt drained by a fellow from Dallas. A Houston women’s professional basketball team even won its championship, again over New York in the finals.

For provincials long resentful of media doting on Big Apple teams, here’s the wet dream:

The Rangers upset the Yankees for the American League title. And —

Houston whips the Mets in the National League.

The final stroke? As the millennium dawns with Super Bowl 2000, remember an erstwhile “America’s Team?”

The Leo the Lip Nice Guys Finish Last Theory: Houston is the kind of team that you just fall in love with. Alou, who maybe should’ve been last year’s MVP, lost from Day One. Caminiti, the big off-season addition because he counted satisfaction worth more than money, out more than half the year. Even the manager and half the coaching staff MIA with physical ailments.

The two big guns, Bagwell and Biggio, doing it all and with the dirtiest uniforms in the league.

And never whimpering, but fighting back day after day with pitching, defense, fundamentals, intelligence and guts.

Can these guys possibly have a chance?

Been There, Done That Theory: A recurring theme for championship showdowns in every sport is: Go with the team that’s back for (at least) the second time.

That militates against the Diamondbacks and Mets.

But remember the Bills, Super Bowl frustration personified. And the upstart Marlins of two years ago.

The “They’re Due” Theory: Are the Braves the Team of the ‘Nineties? Not unless they can get more than one world’s championship to go with those eight division titles.

Strength Up the Middle Theory: Checked out the leather packed by the Mets’ double play combo of Ordonez and Alfonzo, complimented by Piazza catching?

The Gimme That Killer Closer Theory: Last year San Diego’s Trevor Hoffman, who deserved the Cy Young, dragged San Diego into the World Series. Now Houston lefty Billy Wagner, only 5-10 but dealing industrial-strength giddy-up, has more saves than hits allowed and 1-2/3 strikeouts per inning pitched.

The Team That Had to Fight All the Way Theory: In 1954 the Indians won a record 111 games but were swept in the World Series. Ever since, entrails readers have figured that the squad that didn’t just coast in had the postseason advantage.

Didn’t work with the Yankees last season, but if it kicks in this year forget about ’em. Boston wins the AL, either the Mets or the Astros the NL.

The In a Short Series, Go With Starting Pitching Theory: O.k., but who’s got it?

At the beginning of this season, we’d have said Atlanta, or maybe the Yankees.

The Diamond Report utilizes the most accurate baseball stats ever devised, and here’s a thumbnail breakdown:

Arizona: Randy Johnson was the NL’s most effective starter, and Omar Daal tenth best. But it’s a pretty steep falloff for the Snakes after that.

Atlanta: Maddux and Glavine both finished down the list this year, but Kevin Millwood and John Smoltz stepped right in. By our reckoning Millwood was the league’s second-ranked starter, Smoltz third. Maddux was 15th after a rocky start, Glavine an unaccustomed 38th and barely above average for starters in all National League games. If Maddux and Glavine rebound the way you know they can, so do the Braves.

Houston: In our ratings Hampton was sixth, Lima seventh and Reynolds 11th in the National League. Combined with good middle relief and Wagner lurking around for the coup de grace, that’s a terrific short series rotation.

The Mets: Yoshii (13th) and Hershiser (19th) surprised. Reed (24th) and Leiter (31st), both in the NL top ten last year, disappointed.

The Yankees: Everyone’s off from a year ago. Hernandez is 9th in the American League, Cone 11th. But Clemens and Irabu are 25 and 26, Pettitte only 37th.

Boston: Pedro Martinez is easily baseball’s best hurler for ’99, and we rate Bret Saberhagen, when he was able to pitch, second best in the AL. But the Sox need a rainout on the third day.

The Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting, But Also Vice-Versa Theory: Texas and Cleveland must hope for the versa part.

The View from Here: Houston, on the strength of that third starter, in the National. New York in the American. And Houston closing out the Astrodome era, and the century, with Texas’ first World Series championship.

thedailyspread.com | October 5th, 1999

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