Money can’t buy happiness, and judging from the first round of the MLB playoffs, it can’t buy postseason victories either. But cold hard cash sure does an excellent job of getting teams to October, regardless of how long they stay there.
The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, who shelled out a combined $332 million to players this year, were defeated by the Angels and the White Sox, whose combined payroll of $173 million barely equaled half their opponents’ total.
In the National League, the Killer Bs — Berkman, Biggio, and … Burke — led the $77 million Houston Astros to victory over the $86 million Atlanta Braves. Only the $92 million Cardinals were able to fend off their poorer foes. The San Diego Padres, whose $63 million payroll was the 16th highest of the 30 major league teams, were the most “underprivileged” team to make the playoffs. But before giving Padres GM Kevin Towers too much credit, remember that San Diego’s 82-80 record was only the 14th best in the majors.
Three of the four series-winning teams had lower payrolls than their vanquished foes. So does this mean that Moneyball is back? Has Bud Selig’s revenue sharing plan finally started working? Will Scott Hatteberg be the most sought-after free agent on the market this winter? Not necessarily, not really, and no.
Though Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics almost passed the Angels with a late-season surge, they failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row. In fact, four of the American League’s five richest teams made the playoffs. Among National League teams who made the playoffs, only the Padres’ payroll was in the lower half of MLB payrolls. And Scott Hatteberg hit .256 this season.
In the end, the league championship series may come down to a problem also faced by the Yale student body: not alcoholism, but a lack of sleep.
After winning the longest postseason game in baseball history Sunday night, the Astros must have had to have a few extra mocha-frappo-lattes in order to watch the end of Monday’s ALDS game. But the Angels will be even more exhausted than their NL counterparts. After losing to the Yankees on Sunday, the Halos spent the next 24 hours flying back to California, beating the Yankees, pouring champagne on Francisco Rodriguez’s head and finally flying to the Windy City in the wee hours of the morning. As a result, the Angels will probably spend the first couple games of the ALCS feeling like the 10 groggy Directed Studies students who actually show up at Friday morning lecture.
As a result of their five-game extravaganza with the Yankees, the Angels hobbled into the championship series with Paul Byrd as their Game 1 starter. With Bartolo Colon shelved and Jarrod Washburn questionable, Los Angeles may have to bring John Lackey back on short rest or rely on Ervin Santana to reproduce Monday’s magic in Game 2.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals and the White Sox have had the entire weekend to celebrate, sleep, celebrate some more and prepare for the upcoming series. The Sox will go into the second round of the playoffs with a rotation of Contreras, Buehrle, Garland and Garcia set to face the Angels’ beleaguered corps. St. Louis will send Carpenter, Mulder, Morris and Marquis against Houston’s Oswalt, Pettitte, Clemens, and Backe.
Despite Sunday’s 18-inning classic, the Astros’ rotation is in excellent condition for the championship series. Oswalt and Pettitte will be well rested for their starts, and so will Clemens, once Game 3 rolls around. In fact, the Astros probably have the best one-two-three punch of any pitching staff in the majors. The Clemens-Oswalt-Pettitte triumvirate combined for 50 wins and 540 strikeouts this season. At 2.94, Roy Oswalt’s ERA was the highest of the three. Pettitte has a well-documented track record of outstanding postseason performance, and Clemens is on the short list of the greatest pitchers in history.
The Cardinals also have a strong pitching staff, but their starters are much more hittable than Houston’s. With the exception of ace Chris Carpenter, each of their top four starters gave up more hits than innings pitched in 2005. Even Carpenter is no sure thing — the 21-game winner gave up 22 runs in his last 21.2 regular season innings. St. Louis boasts a formidable lineup anchored by perennial MVP candidate Albert Pujols, sweet-swinging lefty Jim Edmonds and talented but frail Reggie Sanders, who set an NLDS record with 10 RBI in three games. But the Astros have their own trio of sluggers in Berkman, Biggio and Ensberg, and if good pitching beats good hitting any day, look for Houston to win the ALCS in six games and reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
In the American League, look for another team that hasn’t been to the World Series in awhile — the White Sox — to prevail. Although the Angels are probably the better team, their rotation is in disarray after the ALDS. The Halos’ biggest strength is their bullpen, but their late-inning pitchers may not provide much relief because of the intense workload they have shouldered recently. Expect the Sox to win in six games.
So will Chicago finally break its own curse, which dates to 1919 when Chicago threw the Series for $100,000? Will the Pale Hose continue the trend started by Boston last year, when long-suffering Sox teams finally win the World Series? Bud Selig will certainly be happy if they do — the White Sox have the lowest payroll of the four remaining teams. And if Ozzie Guillen can keep Chicago’s magic from fading, the commish may be joining the South Side faithful in celebrating a long-awaited world championship.