We tuned in looking for October baseball and some September college football broke out. Thursday was beatdown day in the playoffs, with the Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks all winning handily.
This kind of thing can turn around in the space of one inning -- Wednesday was pitcher's duel day, after all -- but so far the National League playoffs are looking like a double wipeout, with the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies headed for an early exit.
The Diamondbacks, that team that got outscored during the regular season, are looking like a juggernaut after following up Wednesday's close win with an 8-4 pounding of the Cubs that was more lopsided than that score sounds for most of the game, though Chicago mounted a minor threat in the ninth inning.
It might be necessary to consider the opponent, to entertain the possibility that the Cubs really are representative of their weak division. Then again it might be wise to consider that the Cubs haven't had a crack at Arizona's third starter, Livan Hernandez, who posted a 6.67 ERA in five September starts without really raising any eyebrows, if you know what I mean. They'll get him at Wrigley Field Saturday. Rich Hill, a lefty who turned in a fine season, will throw for Chicago.
The Phillies and Rockies pounded on each other early Thursday, Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday hitting homers in the top of the first inning and Jimmy Rollins answering with his own in the bottom half, then a two-run triple in the second for a 3-2 Phillies lead. But Kaz Matsui, of all people, turned the game around with a grand slam in the fourth inning and the Rockies cruised, 10-5.
Now the Phillies have to go to Denver and win twice just to get back home. Philly came into the postseason hot, having won 13 of 17. The Rockies are still hot. They've won 16 of 17. It's getting to the point where it's hard to imagine them losing a game.
The New York Yankees finally got their postseason started, and they did it with a bang, leadoff hitter Johnny Damon greeting C.C. Sabathia with a home run. But Chien-Ming Wang couldn't control his sinker and the Indians jumped on him for eight runs on the way to a 12-3 clubbing.
Sabathia, a Cy Young candidate, wasn't sharp, walking six, but he managed to hold the Yanks to three runs in five innings before the trio of Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt combined to toss four innings of one hit, shutout relief with no walks and six strikeouts. Starting pitching was supposed to be the Indians' advantage coming in, but Thursday the bats and bullpen dominated for Cleveland.
It'll be Fausto Carmona against Andy Pettitte in Game 2 Friday. Pettitte got hammered in his last start of the season by the Baltimore Orioles. Carmona, a 19-game winner, had a 1.78 ERA in five September starts.
The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels, who had a much-needed day off Thursday, will play Game 2 of their series at Fenway Park Friday. Daisuke Matsuzaka makes his U.S. postseason debut against Kelvim Escobar.
We've had a day of pitcher's duels and a day of poundings. If we don't get a day of at least one of the Game 1 losers getting a win Friday, there could be a lot of empty space in the baseball schedule next week.
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Ripken gets A-Rod right [PERMALINK]
Maybe I've been too hard on Cal Ripken Jr. this week, saying he's been OK on the TBS studio show but hasn't offered any particular insights it takes an all-time great ironman player to offer.
Before Thursday's games, he, Ernie Johnson and Frank Thomas were talking about Alex Rodriguez and the pressure on him in these playoffs because of his past postseason failures. Ripken talked about how he used to calm himself down in pressure situations -- basically, by lying to himself that it was just another game.
Then he said, "You know, Alex does have the ability to carry an offensive team, but if you think about it, early in the season, no one got off to a hotter start than Alex did, and the Yankees got off to a bad start. So this series is not going to be determined by Alex's success or not success."
This isn't saying much, but that's one of the smartest things anybody's said about Alex Rodriguez in the national media all year.
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NFL Week 5 [PERMALINK]
We've had the first firing in the history of the Panel o' Experts.
Joe Theismann, erstwhile picker of Washington no matter what, has been let go at last by ESPN -- he'd been in limbo since being kicked off of "Monday Night Football" during the offseason -- which means he's not publicly picking games anymore.
So he's out. It's nothing personal, but we're not running a charity around here.
This column could have taken the opportunity to shrink the swelling ranks of the Panel o' Experts, but has instead seized upon the chance to lard yet more experts onto the groaning barge in service of the idea that the more the merrier. And also the more experts, the more likely someone other than this column will finish last.
I've added three of the experts from the USA Today panel, which I didn't know existed before it was mentioned in a blog post that I found while ego surfing because it also mentioned me. At the suggestion of USA Today writer Beau Dure, the three are Jeff Zillgitt, who writes a picks column, and veteran writers Jarrett Bell and Larry Weisman.
Props to Dure for not suggesting the three experts with the highest scores to that point, which was two weeks ago. Zillgitt has gotten hot since then and is now tied with Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports for the lead with a 41-21 record.
Here are the Week 5 picks, which follow October Rules, a limit of two sentences per game blurb. The picks of my kids, Buster and Daisy, the game-pickinest 4-year-old and the coin-flippinest 2-year-old east of the Farallones, are included by popular -- which is to say one or two people's -- demand. Winners in caps.
Sunday early games
Miami (0-4) at HOUSTON (2-2)
Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas is expected to return from injury and Texans receiver Andre Johnson is not. Won't make any difference.
JACKSONVILLE (2-1) at Kansas City (2-2)
Is it possible I underestimated the Chiefs, who are playing pretty good defense these days, when I said early this year that they'd be lousy? Nah, but I'm always willing to admit I can't figure the Jags out.
Kids: Kansas City
CLEVELAND (2-2) at New England (4-0)
By a 3-2 vote of the executive committee, the International What the Heck Society has ruled that it's early enough in the season for the Browns to be eligible as a What the Heck Pick of the week despite their .500 record.
Kids: New England (16.5-point favorite)
Carolina (2-2) at NEW ORLEANS (0-3)
If the Saints are going to stage a comeback, it's going to have to start here. Don't know if they'll make it back, but they will get that start.
Daisy: New Orleans
N.Y. Jets (1-3) at N.Y. GIANTS (2-2)
I have to believe it will dawn on Jets coach Eric Mangini to double-team Osi Umenyiora sometime before he gets his sixth sack. What I don't believe is that Chad Pennington will be able to do much with all those extra milliseconds Donovan McNabb didn't have last week.
Seattle (3-1) at PITTSBURGH (3-1)
Could it be I was premature in anointing the Steelers the third wheel in the big three, along with the Patriots and Colts, before they laid an egg in Phoenix last week? Nah, but maybe I underestimated the Seahawks just a little bit -- nah.
Kids: Pittsburgh (6-point favorite)
ARIZONA (2-2) at St. Louis (0-4)
Rams quarterback Marc Bulger's banged up, so Gus Frerotte will replace him, and as soon as the Cardinals blitzers start pouring through the Rams line, he'll see why Bulger's banged up. The Kurt Warner half of the Cardinals quarterback platoon ought to get a nice hand.
Buster: St. Louis
Atlanta (1-3) at TENNESSEE (2-1)
The Titans tend to play poorly after a big win like their Monday night victory in New Orleans before last week's bye. Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington rarely puts together back-to-back good games, and he had one last week against the Texans, so something's gotta give.
Kids: Tennessee (8-point favorite)
Detroit (3-1) at WASHINGTON (2-1)
Are you buying this from the Lions? Fun, but, yeah, me neither.
Sunday late games
Tampa Bay (3-1) at INDIANAPOLIS (4-0)
Bad time for the Bucs to lose Cadillac Williams and Luke Petitgou, but also a bad time for the Colts to lose Marvin Harrison, Bob Sanders and Joseph Addai, all of whom coach Tony Dungy says he's not counting on to play. Not that there would be a good time for any of that. Don't discount the Bucs' chances to win with defense and a little Jeff Garcia magic, but I think Peyton Manning will still have just enough weapons to pull it out, and yeah I know this is the third sentence, but I borrowed one from the Cleveland-New England game.
Kids: Indianapolis (10-point favorite)
BALTIMORE (2-2) at San Francisco (2-2)
Both teams are limping on offense, but the 49ers are in a whole different league on that score. The prediction here is that the higher-scoring defense wins, overshadowing the exciting Trent Dilfer vs. his old Super Bowl team thing.
Buster: San Francisco
San Diego (1-3) at DENVER (2-2)
The most entertaining show in the NFL is getting to be the weekly frustrated, head-shaking LaDainian Tomlinson news conference. This week's should be a little happier for him, less fun for the rest of us, after he runs roughshod over the weak Broncos run defense -- but that's not the way it's going to go.
Buster: San Diego
Sunday night game
Chicago (1-3) at GREEN BAY (4-0)
Remember in Week 1 when the Bears played the Chargers and we all thought, "Hey, great game"? We were bamboozled -- bamboozled, friends! -- and a rejuvenated Brett Favre and a bruising Packers defense will send the reeling Bears to a 1-4 record that's just as legitimately bad as San Diego's.
Buster: Green Bay
Monday night game
DALLAS (4-0) at Buffalo (1-3)
A plenty-good What the Heck candidate. But I think the Cowboys are going to stumble once in this easy part of the schedule, so even though I don't think this will be that time, it just wouldn't be right to take this one over Cleveland-New England.
Kids: Dallas (10-point favorite)
Season record: 37-25
Last week: 6-8
What the Heck Picks: 0-4
Odds that the Panel o' Experts will fire this column before the year's out: 3-1
Previous column: Did Piniella scuttle Game 1 for Cubs?
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