Giants in 5

Or the Braves. Russ Ortiz pitching on full rest is as sure a thing as anything in the playoffs so far. That is: Not very sure.

Published October 7, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Well, this postseason's going pretty much according to form so far, isn't it?

We all figured the Yankees would lose three straight after having to rally to beat the Angels in Game 1. We knew the Twins would beat the A's, right? I heard you talking to your buddies at work before the series started. "Twenty straight, shmunny straight," you said, trying to impress that hottie over in accounts payable, "the A's are toast." And of course the Diamondbacks, who only had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling starting the first two, had no chance to win a game against the Cardinals.

So what was that you were saying about the Giants-Braves series, which finishes Monday night at 8 p.m. EDT with Game 5 in Atlanta?

I said the Giants would win in five, and considering that I picked the Yanks and A's in four and the Diamondbacks in five, you ought to bet Junior's college money on the Atlantas, who after all have gone 6-1 in first-round series since the current playoff format began in 1995. But I'm sticking with my Giants pick, for a number of reasons, including the fact that the old trick knee's acting up and I got bit by a dead bee the other day.

That methodology is about as good as any other when trying to predict the outcome of a single baseball game. As Joe Morgan said while the Twins celebrated their improbable victory over the A's Sunday, when you get down to a deciding game in a series, you can throw all the comparisons and scouting reports out the window because it just comes down to who executes, who makes good pitches, who gets good swings, and that can be anybody. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays won 55 times this year.

Even trying to predict the outcome of a five-game series is a fool's errand, as this year's wildly entertaining, upset-filled postseason would have proved if it needed proving, which it didn't. Any intelligent baseball fan knows that "anything can happen in a short series" is a cliché as hoary and true as "you can't hit a five-run homer."

It seems to have been forgotten, though, as people have whined about the Yankees winning five pennants and four World Series in the last six years. The Yankees didn't dominate baseball so much as they dominated the playoffs. Considering that all most people remember is who won the championship, dominating the playoffs is no small thing. But because of the postseason's anything-can-happen nature, it's dishonest to use it as a measure of the game's competitiveness, as commissioner Bud Selig and his henchmen have done by demonizing the Yankees' success in their campaign of the last few years to get the Yankees to give more of their money to other teams -- a laudable goal, but not so laudable as to justify the dishonesty.

If Selig really believed his own arguments about how the Yankees have held an unhealthy sway over the game these last six years because they keep winning the championship, he'd be beaming publicly now, saying everything's OK, it's all fixed, because the Yanks got bumped off in the first round. I haven't seen him around, have you?

The Braves have been a fixture in the playoffs for four years longer than the Yankees have, but nobody's accused them of ruining the game's competitive balance because they've had the good taste to lose every year but 1995.

In the first round, though, they've been nearly unbeatable. Since the playoffs expanded in '95, the Braves have won six of their seven first-round series, and none of the teams they've beaten has managed to win two games against them, so the Giants are already in rare air. The Cardinals, who are waiting to meet Monday's winner in the National League Championship Series beginning Wednesday, swept the Braves in 2000. The Braves were also swept in 1969 and 1982, when the NLCS was best-of-five, so this is their first-ever Game 5 in a five-game series, and that's your meaningless stat for the day. I'll bet you a dollar you'll see it on TV Monday night.

The Braves will send Kevin Millwood to the mound Monday against the Giants' Russ Ortiz. Fox's announcers, Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons, were flabbergasted Sunday that Ortiz was in the Giants dugout, that he hadn't flown ahead to Atlanta, as Millwood had, to get a good night's sleep in anticipation of his Game 5 start. Ortiz is a 28-year-old athlete. I think he'll be fine on the adrenaline. Also, ballplayers get to fly in the nice part of the plane. They can actually sleep in the air.

More importantly, Ortiz will be pitching on full rest, while Millwood will be going on short rest, only three days. Though I'm a proponent of a return to the four-man rotation, it's clear that pitchers who have been working all year in a five-man rotation don't fare very well when they switch to three days' rest in the playoffs. Since '95, teams are 10-20 in games in which their starter is working on three days' rest and the opponent's starter is not. That includes the Braves losing Game 4 Sunday with Tom Glavine getting blown out on short rest.

Also, Ortiz has two solid outings and two wins against the Braves this year, including Game 1 of this series, while Millwood had a shaky outing against the Giants in the regular season, but pitched well in beating them in Game 2 of this series.

I said Barry Bonds would have his long-awaited postseason breakthrough this year, and though he's been better than usual -- 3-for-14, two home runs, three RBIs -- he hasn't exactly broken through. But he hasn't looked helpless and all messed up either. And if Andruw Jones hadn't robbed him of a home run in Game 1, he'd be hitting .286 with three homers in four games, which ain't bad.

So like I said, I'm sticking to my pick. Bonds has a big game, Ortiz pitches well, and it's Giants vs. Cardinals in the NLCS.

Of course, only a fool tries to predict the outcome of a single baseball game.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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