King Kaufman's Sports Daily

ALCS: Tigers' Game 1 win is bad news for the A's on many fronts. Plus: NLCS preview -- Mets in 5.

Published October 11, 2006 4:00PM (EDT)

Yankees update: Joe Torre to manage next year. Brian Cashman says Alex Rodriguez not on the trading block. Randy Johnson likely to have back surgery, Jason Giambi wrist surgery.

Sorry. Union rules. Have to start with the Yankees at least twice a week.

The Detroit Tigers whomping up on the Oakland A's 5-1 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series Tuesday night in Oakland was bad news for the A's on a lot of fronts, of course. It's never a grand idea to lose Game 1; it's even less grand when you lose it at home and it's ungrand in a special tingly way when you score only one run while leaving 437 runners on base and hitting into two or three double plays per inning.

Or even when you leave nine on and hit into four double plays, which the A's did Tuesday.

But none of those fronts are fronter than this: The Game 1 pitching matchup, Detroit's Nate Robertson vs. Oakland's Barry Zito, was the only one in the first four games in which the A's had a pretty clear advantage. Oakland will counter sensational rookie Justin Verlander by sending highly unpredictable Esteban Loaiza in Game 2 Wednesday night.

Verlander scuffled down the stretch, as rookie pitchers, unaccustomed to September baseball, are wont to do. His ERA after the All-Star break was 4.54, a run and a half higher than his prebreak mark and hardly the stuff of Rookies of the Year in a year when great rookie pitchers were having to rent the VFW hall to hold a meeting.

He has turned things around a bit in his last two starts, following two shellings with just-good-enough outings at Kansas City and in Game 2 of the first round in New York, both wins. But he hasn't reached the seventh inning since three weeks before you knew who Mark Foley was.

Loaiza can be dynamite, as he was during a five-game stretch in August and September when he went 4-0 with an 0.47 ERA, averaging seven and two-thirds innings per start. Or he can be wet slop, as he has been in his five starts since, going 2-2 with a 6.21 and an average of five and two-thirds innings per start. And that includes two good starts and a decent but short playoff outing.

Games 3 and 4 in Detroit will pit Oakland's Rich Harden and Dan Haren against Detroit's Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman. An argument could be made for either side in either game, which we won't go over here. The point is Zito over Robertson was the A's best bet in the first four, starting pitching-wise. And Loaiza over Verlander is the worst.

Not to fall into the trap of projecting the results of one ballgame into eternity, the sportswriter habit of saying that what's happening right now is the way it's always going to be, but it would be a grand idea and then some for the A's to find a way to win Game 2.

National League Championship Series preview [PERMALINK]

We turn our attention now to the prime-time LCS, the one that features the St. Louis Cardinals.

Oh and also a team from that town on the East Coast, sorta near Trenton. The one that dominated the National League all year. Does anybody remember their name? Can't seem to find any coverage.

Following abject failure in predicting the results of the first round, this column has returned to the modern, quick-hitting, dynamic and, if I may say so, downright snazzy boldface format that debuted in 2005 to much fanfare.

And it's already working. Whom did I predict would be an unlikely hero for Detroit? Brandon Inge. And who was the hero of Detroit's Game 1 victory?

Don't even say Nate Robertson! Inge had a walk, a single, a double and a homer.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Mets

Credentials: The Cardinals avoided what would have been one of the worst late-season belly-flops in major league history, hanging on to win the Central Division with 83 wins. They did this with one reliable starter, Chris Carpenter, who's likely to win his second straight Cy Young Award.

Then they walked through the San Diego Padres in the divisional round, looking a lot more like the pre-World Series 2004 Cardinals than the current version. Still, sluggers Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds are both hurting and have been ineffective, leaving the Cardinals to look to people like journeyman Juan Encarnacion to pick up the slack, and hoping that Chris Duncan's cover-your-eyes work in left field won't cancel out his significant contributions with the lumber.

The Mets ran away and hid from the rest of the National League East before the summer really got going, and the one notable thing about the league all season was that there weren't any good teams in it except the New York Mets. New York, coasting since Flag Day, was third in the league in both scoring and ERA.

In the first round they swept the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were fourth in the league in both categories and who on paper looked to be almost as good as the Mets at the end of the year. That's why they don't play 'em on paper, which in this case isn't good for the Mets. On paper, the Cardinals don't belong on the same field.

The Cardinals will win 'cause: Chris Carpenter pitches two Cy Young-worthy games, Albert Pujols does his thing, and someone else, maybe more like three or four someones else, steps up offensively.

Actually, the Cardinals will win 'cause, and only 'cause, the postseason is a crapshoot.

The Mets will win 'cause: They are the vastly superior team, even with Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez injured and a starting staff that consists of Tom Glavine and a fair amount of praying, which as it happens there's plenty of time to do when Steve Trachsel is p i t.  c h.  i n.  g.

Also 'cause the bullpen behind those starters is excellent and deep and the lineup is packed with good lefty and switch-hitters -- Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and, if he's able to play, Cliff Floyd, plus Shawn Green and Jose Valentin if you're into that sort of thing, and 'cause most of the Cardinals pitching staff couldn't get left-handed hitters out if their World Series check depended on it, which it does.

And I haven't even mentioned David Wright.

Which reminds me: David Wright.

Unlikely heroes: Juan Encarnacion, St. Louis. Steve Trachsel, New ... Yor ...



Random boldface factoid: One of the few teams ever to make the postseason with a worse record than the Cardinals posted this year was the 1973 Mets, who won the old N.L. East by going 82-79. Just as the Central Division was so bad this year that the Cardinals were able to win comfortably enough at 83-78 that they didn't have to make up a rained-out game, the Mets were able to win the East in '73 without playing a game that had been postponed.

The .500 team the '73 Mets beat by a game and a half? The Cardinals. The Mets stunned the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs, then lost the World Series in seven games to the Oakland A's.

Prediction: Mets in 5.

Previous column: 119 losses. We get it

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