October 04, 2005

Fred's Playoff Preview: Release 3.0

Loyal readers of my work (Hi, Mom!) will recall that the Gala Playoff Preview has been a Mediocre Fred tradition since the dawn of recorded time (or at least since 2003, which amounts to the same thing to your average young person). And this year is no exception, particularly since my blog partner has made his picks known (though the record will reflect that he has chosen to pick only one round at a time, whereas I do my playoff picks in one fell swoop, because I am a real man).

My picks are particularly worthy of note because, in 2004, I ran the table. I picked the winner of each playoff series correctly, right up to the Red Sox' historic upset of the Yankees and subsequent defeat of the Cardinals to claim their first world title in 86 years. That's right, I called it. You can look it up. Furthermore, in 2003 I correctly predicted that the Yankees would lose a hard-fought Series. (Of course, I predicted that they would lose it to the Giants. Never mind.) As you can see, I'm a seer worthy of old Nostradamus himself. In fact, it is my hope that my legend will grow to the point that, long after I'm dead, whenever some unusual event occurs, people with too much time on their hands will "discover" inscrutable verses I supposedly wrote centuries before and claim I predicted whatever it is. Ah, fame...

But you shouldn't just listen to me because I'm obviously a clairvoyant capable of seeing the future with near-photographic clarity. You can also count on the fact that, as in years past, I promise to stay as far away from any observable statistic, metric, or fact of any kind in making my picks. As usual, I will instead rely on hunches, suppositions, distortions, and sarcasm.

And as usual, you can rely on my complete agnosticism in making these picks, because, as stated in Rule 43, Section c of the official Major League Baseball Rulebook, "No team favored by Mediocre Fred shall ever make the playoffs during his lifetime." This year, my beloved Nationals and my still-well-liked Brewers finished with identical 81-81 records. (Had the Brewers won one more game, they'd have finished with a winning record for the first time in 14 years, and bedlam would have broken loose in Milwaukee. Tap water would have been replaced with beer, the conga lines would have stretched from the Bradley Center all the way out to Brookfield, and the mayor would have declared the months of October and November official city holidays, October for drinking and November for sleeping off the hangover. Oh, what a party it would have been.) Meanwhile, every team in the playoffs has an adherent among my circle of family and friends. My Dad has now taken to calling himself a "long-suffering Yankee fan," with a sort of endearing arrogance that would be grounds for justifiable homicide were he not family. My front-running sister loved the Braves throughout the '90s, until she went to college in New Hampshire and adopted the Red Sox just in time to dance in the victory parade. She shares her Red Sox loyalty with my good friend The Mad Prophet, who has been suspiciously quiet since last October. The Smart Lady still roots (marginally) for the Astros. My blog partner has a well-known soft spot for the Padres. (Pads in 5 over the Cards? You're letting love cloud your better judgment, buddy.) One of my good pals in college was a White Sox fan. My two favorite fascists over at the Pearly Gates blog are Angels fans. And while I'm not personally acquainted with any Cardinals fans, I always wished I could have been Dizzy Dean. So, as always, no matter which team I pick, someone I care about won't be speaking to me when it's all said and done.

With the preamble out of the way, herewith I present:

Mediocre Fred's Exclusive Guide to the Playoffs 2005


St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres

Last year, when the Cardinals played the Dodgers, I turned the forecasting over to my mom, who picked the Cardinals because she liked their uniforms. Since this worked so well last time, I decided to return to the source. As before, I presented pictures of the Cardinals' and Padres' home and road uniforms to her, and the following conversation ensued:

MF: So, Mom, who do you pick?
MOM: Definitely the ones in red. The dark blue ones are too subdued. Red is a power color.
MF: All right, thanks.
MOM: (pointing at picture of Padres' road unis) Something's wrong with your printer, honey. The gray on this one looks weird.
MF: That's not gray, mom. That's the actual color.
MOM: You mean they look that way on purpose?
MF: Yes, Mom. They call it "sand."
MOM: Looks to me like the forgot to wash them for a couple weeks. Put me down for the red ones, definitely.
MF: Okay, we're going with the Cardinals.
MOM: Speaking of cardinals, they've been hogging the bird feeder again. They're so obnoxious, always crowding out the other birds.
MF: Well, gee, look at the time! Thanks, Mom, but I have to-
MOM: They're almost as bad as the starlings. I hate starlings! They look like little flying oil slicks. They're ugly, and they always-

A rather lengthy discussion of the current demographic of my parents' bird-feeder community ensued, but as it did not concern baseball in the slightest I will spare the reader what I wish I could have spared myself.

Nonetheless, Mom has spoken. Next year, I think I'm going to let her make all the picks.

PICK: Cardinals in 4

Atlanta Braves vs. Houston Astros

I am grateful to the Astros for holding off the late-charging Phillies in the wild-card race, largely because it allows me to reuse last year's paragraph:

Do I have to pick a winner here? I don't like either team. The Braves' jaded, cell-phoning fan base doesn't deserve another playoff win. Meanwhile, the Astros' stadium, with its cheap hill-and-flagpole gimmick in centerfield and that gaudy, tacky train, deserves to be the site of the next above-ground nuclear bomb test. I'd like to get both out of the playoffs as soon as possible. Hrmpf.

Since the annoyance factor is even, I'm going with Garner. Phil Garner, that is, the man who took over a slumbering, sagging team at the All-Star Break and guided them into the promised land. This is a particularly happy experience for me, because I remember Garner's miracle work running the Brewers for a decade. Turning water into wine? You call that a miracle? Keeping the Crew on the periphery of contention for so many years is tantamount to making wine out of elephant urine. It ended badly, though, and after he left everyone assumed Garner couldn't manage. His next gig came at the helm of the Tigers, and we all know how that turned out. It's vindicated to see Garner leading a team with actual talent and proving once and for all that, as Lefty Driesell liked to say, "Ah can coach." This pick's for you, Scrap Iron.

PICK: Astros in 5

Everything here remains true, including my praise of Phil Garner for leading the Astros to a strong second-half performance, although it is worth noting that this year's sagging and uninspired first-half performance was captained by, um, Phil Garner. But don't confuse me with the facts; I've made up my mind. Damned if I'm going to think of something new and clever to say about two teams that, frankly, I can't stand.

PICK: Astros in 5


Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago White Sox (aka Get Your Sox Off!)

Hey, kids! Are you as sick to death of the Red Sox as I am? Doesn't their fan base's excessive gloating and smugness, the media fawning, and the slowly dawning realization that the Sawx are basically the Yankees with a more colorful backstory make you wish you could take back all the nice things you wished for them in 2004? It's amazing how quickly they morphed from Feel-Good Story of the Century to Evil Empire North. The recent Patriot dynasty hasn't helped... the recent run of luck has made Bostonians pretty damned arrogant. (Had John Kerry been elected president, we might have been so smothered in New England insufferability that I would have been forced to leave the country. And I liked Kerry.) Plus, the whole "lifting of the Curse" bit has left a generation of hack sportswriters utterly without material, and God knows what peril that might place the country in.

Fortunately, I thought ahead of the curve on this, and after last year's World Series, I unveiled our new standard-bearers of fate, the White Sox, featuring the Curse of Cicotte (aka Weaver's Whammy). The hack sportswriters are slowly starting to come around on this, although they seem to have a hard time agreeing on who should be the curse's official mascot. Among others, I've heard Cicotte, Weaver, Charlie Comiskey, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Chick Gandil. Chick Gandil? That rat? Perish the thought! Nonetheless, I want the credit I'm due when T-shirts sporting Buck Weaver's face start popping up all over Chicagoland.

In the meantime, let's pick the Pale Hose here, in the interest of furthering the mythology I've worked so hard to father. Also, the Massholes deserve a taste of the real world. (I'm not normally inclined to schadenfreude, but I admit a Red Sox playoff flop followed by a nice 6-10 Pats stinkbomb would bring a smile to my face.)

PICK: White Sox in 4

New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or the Grater Orange County Vicinity, or The Artists Formerly Known as the California Angels

I wish I had something funny to say here, but I pretty much shot my wad with the location joke, which has been done to death anyhow. I was going to point out how screamingly hilarious it is that the Angels have a world title of more recent vintage than the Yankees, but that got me thinking about the larger cosmic joke at work here. Consider, if you will, the teams that have won the World Series since the Yankees last won, way back at the end of last century:

2001: Arizona Diamondbacks
2002: Anaheim Angels (back when men were men and Orange County was Orange County)
2003: Florida Marlins
2004: Boston Red Sox

Look at that... two teams that still have that new-franchise smell, one suburban team with a perennial identity crisis and a notoriously blase fan base, and the Yanks' mortal enemy. Ain't that a kick in the head? Based on the current trend line, it would be just perfect for the Padres to take home the crown this year. (Wouldn't the Yankees seethe then? An 82-80 team with their grubby hands all over the trophy once posessed by Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Luis Sojo and other immortals? Hell in a handbasket, I tell you.)

But for now, since experience supposedly makes the difference in the playoffs, I'll go with the team that has the more recent world title to its name. (Hahahahahahaha!)

PICK: Angels in 5


St. Louis Cardinals vs. Houston Astros

This is the NLCS matchup I picked last year, too, and this is what I wrote then:

Boy, tough pick. The Cards have the best record in baseball, which is actually a bad omen (in the last 15 years, only once has the team with the best record won the Series). And Scrap Iron, he's a good manager. And Roger Clemens... well, if you don't think he's hungry for another shot at Series glory, you're crazy. That's what he came out of retirement for, after all.

But if the Astros win, that means we'll be treated to three World Series games in that carnival fun house of a ballpark, and that I simply will not stand for.

PICK: Cardinals in 6

Word for word, this holds true. Except that this year, an Astros win would mean four World Series games at The House That Ringling Brothers Built, a thought that's nauseous even to type.

PICK: Cardinals in 6


Angels vs. Chicago White Sox

(Side note: Wouldn't it be fun to have an ALCS between the Angels and Orioles, two teams that are loath to mention the actual city they play in? They could advertise the series on the side of milk cartons. "Have You Seen These Teams?")

As a side note, let me point out that, due to a rather heated interleague series earlier this year, there are those who now view the Angels and the Nationals as rival teams. The enmity definitely appears to be deeper on Anaheim's side. Angels fans often seem quite passionate in their hatred of my hometown club; if you so much as whisper the word "Nationals" in an Angel fan's direction, you can expect a 20-minute spittle-flecked tirade involving Brendan Donnelly, Mike Scioscia, and the ancestry and manhood of Jose Guillen and Frank Robinson. It's rather astonishing to see such passion from Angels fans, who have customarily only gotten that worked up when one stubborn section refused to participate in The Wave, or when the security guard takes their beach balls away. It's also somewhat pointless, as the Angels and Nationals will, in all likelihood, be unable to continue their blood feud for at least three years, given the interleague rotation.

Nonetheless, if the Angels fans want to get their jollies and/or some sort of macho trip by despising the Nationals, I'm happy to play along. Angels fans are so cute when they're angry. And in that spirit, I hearby predict a ChiSox sweep, touching off a violent rally in Anaheim, culminating in the Rally Monkey being hanged from the control tower at John Wayne Airport.

PICK: White Sox in 4


St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago White Sox

Ah, now we're talking. A good, old-fashioned World Series featuring two Heartland teams with long and storied histories, both of whom once employed Harry Caray. Who could ask for anything more?

(Of course, all the above means the ratings for said Series will hover around those for the Emergency Broadcast System, and the network suits will lobby MLB heavily to make damn sure the Yanks and/or Sawx make the Series in 2006, or it will be broadcast on tape delay on the Oxygen Network.)

I was tempted to pick the White Sox, but then I stopped myself. After all, if I accomplish nothing else here, I am determined to set myself up at the epicenter of the myth-generation machine that surrounds a good curse, producing a merchandising avalanche that will make me comfortable enough to retire at age 30 and start plotting my campaign to be a Senator from Illinois. (So what if I don't live there? If it's good enough for Alan Keyes...) But none of my dreams will be possible if the ChiSox win it this year. I mean, what good is a curse if it's broken before the public at large has a chance to be swept up in it?

Therefore, here's my forecast... the White Sox surge to a 3-1 series lead with a chance to clinch in the distinctly uncozy confines of Corporate Sellout Field, formerly Comiskey Park. (Note to traditionalists: If Charlie Comiskey were alive today, he would have sold the naming rights to the park in a heartbeat, money-grubbing skinflint that he was.) Mark Buehrle will be cruising along in Game 5 with, let's say, a 6-0 lead. Maybe he'll even be fashioning a no-hitter. Wait, let's make it a perfect game. With two outs and Pujols at bat, Buehrle will feel a pop in his shoulder as he unleashes a flat slider which Pujols golfs into the right-field stands to bust up the perfecto. Buehrle, it will be discovered later, has torn his labrum and will never throw another pitch in the majors. Meantime, the White Sox will try to limp home, but Bobby Jenks will give up a walk-off grand slam to Reggie Sanders in the bottom of the ninth. On the plane ride to St. Louis, Paul Konerko will wander back to the john and trip over the drink cart, blowing out ligaments in his knee and ending his season. Facing two games in the Red Sea with their cleanup hitter gone, the ChiSox will fold like a cheap card table. During the course of an 11-run sixth inning that will seal Game 7 for St. Louis, if you put your ear to the wind, you might hear the faint echoes of Ring Larder's voice singing, "I'm forever blowing ball games..." After the series, the White Sox will threaten to move to Tampa Bay for old time's sake, only to be reminded that there is already a team there.

PICK: Cardinals in 7

Posted by Mediocre Fred at October 4, 2005 12:53 PM | TrackBack

Fred, are you seriously picking AGAINST my beloved Padres? I mean, I know she's your Mom and all, but it's the PADRES! Everyone loves the Padres! Even in those hideous "sand" uniforms.

Posted by: ensie at October 5, 2005 08:10 PM

Ensie dearest, it's nothing personal against the Padres. I tend to be kindly disposed toward them. But you have to understand the power of Mom. She is all-knowing and all-seeing. I dare not go against her picks. Even if she never sees this blog entry, she will find out, somehow, and her vengeance will be great. Besides, I didn't sit through her whole rambling bird-feeder rant in order to ignore her advice.

(Note to my other readers: You probably thought I was kidding about my picks alienating me from friends and family. It was no joke! The slings and arrows I suffer for You, The Reader...)

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at October 5, 2005 08:34 PM
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