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Monday, October 29, 2007

5 Things I Learned From the 2007 Series

- Regular season broadcasters really aren't that bad.

I often find myself growing frustrated by the inanities of color commentators like Bob Brenly (Cubs) and Rex Hudler (Angels), but I yearn for them when faced with the prospect of watching several games in a row with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. I often find myself wondering if they even pay any attention to the regular season. I know that they are catering to an audience that may only watch baseball in October, but doesn't that make it all the more important that they provide a rich context for what makes the World Series worth watching. I don't expect anybody to be Vin Scully, but based on their broadcast, it's hard to tell if they do any preparation at all. When they do bring up a tidbit of moderate interest, like Manny Ramirez' average with two strikes or Troy Tulowitzki's likely Rookie of the Year candidacy, we get pounded with it at-bat after at-bat, night after night. Baseball is a game of nuance and almost hypnotic attention of detail. The broadcast should help bring that to life for both the baseball novice and the fanatic. Buck only sounds enthusiastic when he's making an ill-timed plug for one of their sponsors. Fox's broadcasters are neanderthals. If Fox wants to raise World Series ratings, I would start with something that they can change, instead of complaining about the prevalence of land-locked franchises in the playoffs. I was pleasantly surprised by the TBS broadcast team during the Division Series and the NLCS. Maybe that's an indication of a welcome change on the horizon.

- Dice-K needs to make some adjustments...and so do the Red Sox.

I was disappointed that Francona elected to remove Dice-K with one out in the sixth in Game 3. He had yet to give up a run, he had only allowed three hits and three walks, and Boston had a six-run lead! However, I did suffer through several of his late-season starts in which everything appeared to going smoothly before he suddenly got lit-up in the middle innings, so I can imagine what Francona was thinking.

I would argue that Dice-K's rookie year has been a success. Perhaps he has not fully lived up to the phenomenal expectations, but he pitched 200 innings, won 16 games, and was among the league leaders in strikeouts. And, there is no reason to believe that next year won't be even better. He is a smart pitcher and a fearsome competitor. I don't think he would've elected to join the MLB if he didn't think it was going to be a challenge. What is critical, I think, is that the Red Sox also make some changes to accomodate his idiosyncratic style and routines. I'm no saying they should be letting him throw 200 pitch bullpen sessions, but maybe they should let him get up to 120 more often. That is what his arm is used to, after all.

- Something really is wrong with the National League.

See previous post.

- Todd Helton deserves all those Gold Gloves, and another one in 2007.

Much has been made of the Rockies defense, and justifiably so. As the postseason wore on, announcers, particularly Buck and McCarver, became more and more enamored with the play of Colorado shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki. Again, justifiably so. However, what often got overlooked, was that the Rockies record-setting team fielding percentage could not have been achieved without Todd Helton. Sure, Helton has the typical lumbering physique of an aging first basemen. His range is not what it used to be. But, he is extraordinarily agile, his footwork is remarkable, and he has an amazing knack for reeling in wayward throws, whether they're in the dirt, over his head, or well off the bag. I think Tulowitzki and third baseman Garrett Atkins are pretty good glove men and they have extremely strong arms, but neither is particularly accurate. They don't have to be.

- Manny Ramirez is underrated.

It's strange to make such a remark about the fourth highest-paid player in the league, who is the clean-up hitter for one the best publicized teams in all of sports, but it's true. Sure, Manny has his adventures in left field, but he also turns in his fair share of web gems, especially when he's playing at home. His throw to cut down Kenny Lofton in a critical situation during Game 7 of the ALCS is a perfect example. Buck and McCarver don't like that his intentionally knocks off his helmet when he's on the basepaths or lingers to admire his atmospheric home runs. We're never going to confuse him with David Eckstein, but Manny doesn't exactly dog it either. His antics, which I can't help but find endearing for the most part, and the increasingly epic persona of David Ortiz, overshadow the fact that Manny Ramirez may be the best pure hitter in baseball right now. He works the count. He has power to all fields. He walks as often as he strikes out. He murders lefties and righties, even the best in the game. He hits situationally. You never see him swinging for the fences in an RBI situation, even though he often ends up clearing them nonetheless. And, of course, he's money when it counts most. In his four postseasons since joining the Sox, Manny is batting .321 with a 980 OPS and 38 RBIs in 43 games.

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