Sports Nut

Cocktail Chatter: Baseball Playoffs Edition

How to fake your way through the 2007 postseason.

The Colorado Rockies celebrate

Back by popular demand, it’s the glibbest of guides to the baseball postseason, written especially for the uninformed souls whose baseball acumen is as dull as Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud. Even if you don’t know Ryan Garko from Donnie Darko, we’ll give you enough conversation fodder to keep you from making an ass of yourself at the local watering hole.

American League Division Series: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Red Sox talking points: After missing the playoffs last year, Red Sox ownership spent big money to sign Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka this offseason. Show that you’re not just another stupid gaijin by noting that Dice-K was Irabu-esque (5.19 ERA) after the All-Star break, forcing presumptive Cy Young winner Josh Beckett and ace reliever Jonathan Papelbon to pick up the slack. Also inform your party that no pitching staff in the American League can keep Boston’s patient hitters down—seven regulars have on-base percentages over .360.

Historical context: The late-season slide that allowed the Yankees back into the AL East race reminded many Red Sox fans of 1978, when Yankees shortstop Bucky “F-ing” Dent helped end Boston’s season with a heartbreaking home run in a one-game tiebreaker. George Steinbrenner apparently offered the 55-year-old Dent “Roger Clemens money” to come out of retirement for this year’s stretch run. Negotiations stalled when Dent demanded that Steinbrenner also sign former roommate Paul Lindblad, who is dead.

Conversation starter: “He might not have led the world in walk-off homers this season, but David Ortiz just had his best season ever.”

Conversation stopper: “Andrew Dice Clay would have been about as effective as Dice-K this September. Speaking of which, anyone up for The Adventures of Ford Fairlane?”

Angels talking points: While the John Kruks of the world love the Angels because they know how to play small ball, the rest of us wonder how this team, with an awful bullpen and a lineup filled with Punch and Judy hitters—Reggie Willits, Chone Figgins, the great Maicer Izturis—dominated the AL West. You, however, know that one Vladimir Guerrero makes up for a roster’s worth of good efforteers. (If somebody asks why the amazing Guerrero didn’t win in Montreal, vigorously deny that there was ever an MLB franchise in Montreal.)

Historical context: As the Anaheim Angels, they won the World Series in 2002. As the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, they have a good chance of taking home the 2007 title. The Mighty Ducks of Baseball of Anaheim (Down Los Angeles Way) are looking like strong contenders in 2012.

Conversation starter: “Vlad is a great player, but Garret Anderson’s insane second half drove the Angels into the playoffs.”

Conversation stopper: “My money’s on Criss Angel in the World Series of Magic.”

American League Division Series: Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees

Indians talking points: If the prospect of facing Cleveland starters C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona this week doesn’t scare Yankees fans, it should—with 38 wins, 346 strikeouts, and six complete games between them, Sabathia and Carmona might be the best 1-2 combination in the American League. Also point out that Cleveland’s lineup is strong enough to knock around New York’s shoddy starting pitchers—Grady Sizemore is a five-tool superstar, and Travis Hafner, who had a down year after a ridiculously good 2006, is the AL’s sleeping giant.

Historical context:  Scoffers might say that a 45-save closer has never looked worse than Cleveland’s Joe “5.07 ERA” Borowski. * Shut them down by noting that if you eliminate two bad outings, Borowski’s ERA is below 4.00. If they respond by citing his 12.84 ERA with runners in scoring position, pound your fist into your palm and say, “Who cares how sausages are made? All that matters is that they taste delicious!” Plus, who cares about the closer when you’ve got Carmona and Sabathia, the latter of whom might be the fattest 19-game winner since Fernando Valenzuela. (This could be a good way to segue out of that sausages line.)

Conversation starter: “Going to the playoffs every year is nice and all, but if I’m Kenny Lofton, I’d be pissed that I’m always working on Columbus Day.”

Conversation stopper: “A World Series win would totally stick it to that bitch Rachel Phelps.”

Yankees talking points: Although the Yankees sort of have the best lineup ever, their starting rotation breaks down after Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte—Mike Mussina is old, Philip Hughes is unproven, Kei Igawa is bad, and Roger Clemens has been too busy counting his money to actually earn it. You’re smart enough to realize that a team needs only three good starters in a short playoff series, and you’re confident Clemens will come through in the clutch. Plus, A-Rod, Jeter, Cano, Posada, etc.

Historical context: Sure, they were dead in the water in May. Sure, they were talking about firing Joe Torre in June. Sure, A-Rod was a little distracted on occasion. But if, deep down, you didn’t always know that they were going to be there in the end, then there’s nothing this guide can do to help you.

Conversation starter: Joba Chamberlain: greatest rookie reliever ever, or overrated thanks to a small sample size?”

Conversation stopper: “Doug Mientkiewicz: greatest Mientkiewicz in baseball history, or just the latest in a long line of great baseball Mientkiewiczes?”

National League Division Series: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs

Diamondbacks talking points: Arizona had the best record in the National League despite scoring 712 runs and allowing 732. Most would use this to argue that the D-backs are a fraud, but you think it’s evidence that the team’s lights-out bullpen—anchored by 47-save closer Jose Valverde and setup men Juan Cruz, Brandon Lyon, and Tony Pena—helped the team salvage loads of close games. Of course, when your best hitter is Eric Byrnes, you sort of need a good bullpen. If backed into a corner, point out that slugging rookie Chris “I’m Not the Tall Guy Who Pitches for the Padres” Young is always a threat to hit a homer. If people note that Young struck out 141 times and batted .237, confuse them by asking if they’re referring to the tall guy who pitches for the Padres.

Historical context: Many fashion experts feel that the Diamondbacks’ success can be attributed to the team’s offseason decision to change from a calming purple/teal color scheme to a more robust Sedona red. Many fashion experts also feel that slimming vertical stripes and a sassy green fedora would look great on Bob Wickman.

Conversation starter: “What does it say about the Diamondbacks when Augie Ojeda logs meaningful playing time in September?”

Conversation stopper: “Stubby Clapp wasn’t available?”

Cubs talking points: After spending nearly $300 million in the offseason on various free agents, the Cubs made the postseason for the first time since 2003. Some contrarians will argue that the consistent play of small-time earners like Ryan Theriot, Rich Hill, and Carlos Marmol was the real reason the Cubs made the playoffs. You, on the other hand, are pretty sure that the big money made the difference—make your case by ticking off the September stat lines of contract monsters Alfonso Soriano (14 home runs), Aramis Ramirez (.594 slugging percentage), and in-season signee Carlos Zambrano (4 wins).

Historical context: Cubs fans disagree over which moment turned around Chicago’s season. Did the switch flip when Carlos Zambrano punched Michael Barrett, or was it when Lou Piniella kicked dirt on an umpire? If the Cubs are losing in the sixth inning, cover all of your bases by smashing a potted plant over your friend’s head.

Conversation starter: “If only Felix Pie was as good as the flaky, fruit-filled dessert of the same name.”

Conversation stopper: “You know who had some nice headphones? Steve Bartman.”

National League Division Series: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Colorado Rockies

Phillies talking points: Sure, the Phils were lucky that the Mets choked worse than an overzealous eater in a Heimlich maneuver instructional video. But you can’t give a division away unless somebody’s there to take it. While the Phillies’ starting pitching doesn’t necessarily overwhelm on paper, they’ve got a lineup of bona fide stars—slugger Ryan Howard, MVP candidate Jimmy Rollins, .332-batting Chase Utley —and they play very, very hard (center fielder Aaron Rowand broke his face running into a wall last year). Is that enough to win it all? Why not ask the Mets?

Historical context: This Phillies team bears a striking resemblance to the last squad that made the playoffs in 1993—a lineup filled with freaks and scrappers, an unprepossessing yet effective pitching staff, and a mentally unstable closer. Also, Jim Eisenreich has been wearing a fake moustache and pitching under the name “Adam Eaton” all year long.

Conversation starter: “Cole Hamels is 23 years old, pitched 183 innings this year, and broke down in September? I smell postseason arm surgery!”

Conversation stopper: “Yes, I am wearing a Kevin Stocker jersey. What’s so funny about that?”

Rockies talking points: The 1969 Miracle Mets have nothing on the Ridiculous Rockies, who won 14 of their last 15 games to go from NL West also-ran to wild-card winner. In retrospect, maybe the Rockies’ run shouldn’t be that surprising: They’ve got a great young core of hitters in Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Garrett Atkins, and Brad Hawpe, and an underrated lefty in 17-game winner Jeff Francis. Any team that relies on a scrub like Josh Fogg as its sudden-death go-to starter has serious, serious problems. But with a lineup like this, they’ll stay in every game.

Historical context: Was the Rockies’ September stretch drive the greatest comeback in modern baseball history? It ranks up there with the 1986 Mets beating the Red Sox in Game 6, Dave Dravecky returning from cancer, and the plot of Mr. 3000. Can the momentum be sustained? Well, the ‘87 Mets missed the playoffs, Dave Dravecky lost his arm, and Bernie Mac is playing “Johnny Lunchbox” in a movie called Old Dogs. Enjoy the glory while it lasts, Rockies fans.

Conversation starter: “Manny Corpas’$2 1.96 ERA in 41.1 innings pitched at Coors Field is the greatest feat in Rockies history.”

Conversation stopper: “Chris Iannetta has the greatest legs in Rockies history.”

Correction, Oct. 3, 2007: This piece originally misstated the save total and ERA of Cleveland Indians pitcher Joe Borowski. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)