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by Bryan Leonard - 10/04/2005
Offense is going to dominate the topic of a lot of baseball conversation
this week as the playoffs start. But itâ€™s easy to overlook the fact that
defense and pitching are essential to playoff success. If you recall just
over a year ago, the Red Sox made a trade of one of their best players,
shortstop Nomar Garciapparra, to the Cubs. In return, they didnâ€™t get equal
value in offense, but they made the trade to shore up a terrible defense,
getting Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mentkiewicz.
The AL is going to be an interesting battle between slugging teams like the
Yankees and Red Sox, against more National League-style teams in the Angels
and White Sox. Boston and New York ranked in the bottom half of the AL in
fielding, while Anaheim was No. 1 and the White Sox were ranked 5th. Chicago
began the season by upgrading the defense and speed with Scott Posednik, and
theyâ€™ve never looked back.
The Angels won the World Series in 2002 with a premium on fundamentals and
running the bases aggressively, although this season they finished 11th in
steals, the worst of the four AL playoff teams.
Low scoring games are more likely this time of year, as well. Totals are
based on parks, pitchers, and stats during the regular season, but you must
remember that teams use No. 4, 5 and even 6 starting pitchers during the
season â€“ the worst starters on the staff. You wonâ€™t see these guys starting
many, if any, games in October. The same goes for the bullpens, too, as
managers will go with their best relievers this time of year. A year ago,
the Red Sox won the World Series and notice that 7 of their final 10 games
went under the total, including 3-1 under in the Series.
Another factor is the weather. October, particularly at night in the north,
has colder temps. Itâ€™s easier to hit a baseball in warm, hot summer weather
than it is in cool weather, which we find in April and October. And with
teams more inclined to go with their best pitchers, rather than some mop-up
guy with a 5.55 ERA, there is even more of a lean toward lower scoring
games. During the 2003 World Series, all were played in late October at
night, and 5 of the 6 games went under the total as managers went with their
best mound arms. Defense, pitching and low scoring games are more the norm
this time of year.