October 2006

Records Could Fall In Fall Classic

ReggieThe numbers never lie, and neither does history.

Born from these truths was "Mr. October," the nickname attributed to former A’s and Yankees great Reggie Jackson for his World Series heroics. And solidified from them was the legend of Babe Ruth, who set the precedent for Jackson by becoming the first (and second) man to smash three home runs in a single World Series game.

Of course, baseball’s most famous stage has often served as a breeding ground for the unlikeliest of heroes.

This year’s Fall Classic between the Tigers and the Cardinals will inevitably serve as a platform for the stars to shine, and for the unheralded to stake their claim to history.

HatcherIn 1990, Billy Hatcher rose from relative obscurity to record seven consecutive hits en route to a .750 average — both Fall Classic records — in leading the Reds to an improbable sweep of the heavily favored Athletics.

Who, if anyone, will deliver this October’s surprise act? Perhaps Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, who carries a staggering .471 postseason average into the World Series.

LarsenMany of us have heard of Yankees right-hander Don Larsen’s no-hitter (and perfect game) against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, but few of us recall Mets southpaw Jerry Koosman’s no-hit bid against the Orioles in 1969. Koosman was the last pitcher to hurl six or more no-hit innings in the World Series.

But is Koosman’s spot in the record books in jeopardy? Could Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman become the latest man to carry a no-hitter into the seventh inning? Given his performance in Game 4 of Detroit’s American League Division Series against the Yankees, it’s a viable possibility. The 23-year-old stud baffled the offensively stacked Bronx Bombers with five frames of perfect ball before losing his no-hit bid in the sixth inning of Detroit’s series-clinching win.

Bondermania aside, Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter is a bona fide threat to hurl a no-no. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner didn’t disappoint during the regular season, tossing three shutouts and a pair of two-hitters for the Redbirds.

RogersFive years ago, then-Diamondback Randy Johnson became the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout, at 38 years, 1 month and 18 days, on his way to World Series co-MVP honors. This year’s Fall Classic features a 41-year-old southpaw with a legitimate shot at besting Johnson’s feat: Detroit’s Kenny Rogers.

Rogers has been nothing short of impeccable in the postseason. After blanking the Yankees over 7 2/3 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS, the crafty off-speeder stymied the A’s with 7 1/3 shutout frames in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series.

Will Rogers go the distance and make World Series history? Only time will tell.

RuthAs previously mentioned, Jackson and Ruth share the single-game World Series home run record. In spite of his ailing right hamstring, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols has the power to challenge that legendary mark, having delivered a pair of three-homer games in the regular season.

A simple review of the past goes a long way in understanding the future of the World Series, in which stories are told largely by the numbers. Which heroes will emerge this October? Stay tuned.

The Fantasy Folly Awards: Catchers & Infielders

Folly_1At the end of every baseball season, fantasy leaguers will remind you time and again about the brilliant waiver-wire pickups and trades that spurred them to the top of the standings.

How they had the uncanny foresight to pick up Batting Champ From Nowhere Freddy Sanchez in mid-April, deal blue chipper-turned-benchwarmer Morgan Ensberg in early June and swap All-Star Game starter Brad Penny in mid-July in anticipation of his second-half slide.

Indeed, the Monday Morning Shortstop knows no wrong.

But in fantasy reality, hindsight might be 20-20, but foresight often isn?t. And for every brilliant move, there?s at least one act of foolishness. Hence the impetus for the inaugural MLB.com Fantasy Folly Awards, a rare platform in which admitting mistakes is not only encouraged — it?s celebrated.

And so, with our trusty MLB.com Fantasy Preview close at hand, let?s take a fond look back — position by position — at the most laughable preseason predictions of 2006. A review of the best of the worst infielder and catcher previews follows.

Tex_1First base

Mark Teixeira, Texas Rangers
MLB.com Fantasy Preview Ranking: 2

Heading into 2006, the writing was on the wall: ?.315, 50 homers and 150 RBIs are conceivable.? Unfortunately, we were talking about Mark Teixeira, not Ryan Howard. Oh well. Thanks to the enduring struggles of Morgan Ensberg, the first half?s biggest bust didn?t end up being the season?s biggest disappointment — at least not according to our ?Real Fantasy Awards.? Regardless, Teixeira was most unworthy of the No. 2 ranking at the perennially stacked first-base position, finishing an unspectacular campaign with a .282 average 33 homers and 110 RBIs — hardly becoming of ?one of the best power hitters in baseball.?

Second base

Jorge Cantu, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
MLB.com Fantasy Preview Ranking: 7

CantupointWhat do Jorge Cantu and Chase Utley have in common? As we were quick to point out in our preview, they both enjoyed nifty breakout campaigns in 2005. But you don?t need us to tell you that the parallels stopped there in 2006. ?This season should bring more of the same in the power department (30 homers is a possibility),? we surmised last offseason. ?With Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford in front of Cantu in the lineup, there’s a chance his RBI and run totals will increase, and his batting average could inch upward as he doesn’t strike out much.? Well, as it turned out, Cantu?s average dropped 37 points, all the way down to .249, and his RBI (117 vs. 62) and home run totals (24 vs. 12) were decimated — along with the reputation of a certain group of so-called fantasy experts.

Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians
MLB.com Fantasy Preview Ranking: 8

Peralta1?Can you believe the Indians actually used to play Alex Cora over this guy?? we rhetorically asked our readers prior to the season, adding, ?Thirty homers and 100 RBIs are not out of the question.? After all, ?this guy? had just hit .292 with 24 dingers and 78 RBIs at a mere 23 years of age. But ?these guys? found out just how quickly ?this guy? can become ?that guy,? as Jhonny Peralta followed up his glorious breakout campaign with a pedestrian .257 average, 13 homers and 68 RBIs.

Carlos Guillen, Detroit Tigers
MLB.com Fantasy Preview Ranking: 19

GuillenHeading into 2006, we dubbed Carlos Guillen a ?mystery,? and just to prove it, we totally botched his fantasy prediction. ?He’ll never duplicate 2004 again,? we surmised, ?so let someone else roll the dice.? Hopefully, you were someone else, as Guillen batted .320 with 20 steals, 19 homers, 41 doubles, 100 runs scored and a .919 OPS, essentially matching his aforementioned breakout campaign stat for stat.

Bill Hall, Milwaukee Brewers
MLB.com Fantasy Preview Ranking: 21

Hallhr2We said he was just another Juan Uribe, a versatile infielder with ?shaky plate discipline? on the heels of an anomalous breakout season. Whoops. But things really got embarrassing when we took the comparison too far. ?Uribe’s weak plate discipline that resulted in across-the-board decline should be an ominous portent for Hall,? we predicted. ?A repeat of 2005 would be a shock.? In the end, though, the only real shock was the fallacy of our premise, as Hall followed up his career year with — what else? — a career year, notching career highs in homers (35), runs scored (101), RBIs (85), on-base percentage (.345) and slugging percentage (.553) ? in spite of his still-shaky plate discipline.

Third base

Joe Crede, Chicago White Sox
MLB.com Fantasy Preview Ranking: 22

Crede?Don?t go crazy over the postseason!? we warned heading into 2006. ?Crede?s not a star.? But we didn?t stop there. ?If you are looking for a breakout candidate,? we advised, ?there are better ones than Crede.? In one sense, we were right; there actually were better hot-corner-eligible breakout candidates than Crede, from utilitymen like Bill Hall and Michael Cuddyer to purebreds like Ryan Zimmerman. But in another, much more pertinent sense, we were dead wrong, as Crede established career highs in every major statistical category en route to an All-Star-caliber breakout campaign.

Catcher

Javy Lopez, Baltimore Orioles & Boston Red Sox
MLB.com Fantasy Preview Ranking: 5

Jlo_2It?s common knowledge that Jennifer Lopez isn?t the only ?J-Lo? with a career on the decline, but for whatever reason, we didn?t get the memo. ?Lopez is in a much more desirable situation in 2006, as the acquisition of Ramon Hernandez means he will spend a lot of time as a designated hitter and maybe even play some first base,? we conjectured prior to the season. ?If the change keeps him fresh and he can avoid injury, Lopez could easily slug 25 homers and knock in 80 runs.? Of course, a healthy Lopez played virtually no first base and minimally at designated hitter and catcher with the Orioles, hitting .265 with eight homers and 31 RBIs before being shipped to the Red Sox, with whom he batted .190 with no homers and four RBIs as a full-time part timer leading up to his release in early September.