The ALCS and NLCS are in full swing and I'm still left wondering what the heck happened to the Angels and Cubs, who had the two best records in the regular season but played the division series much like the way the Rays played most of this decade. I'm chalking the Cubs up to the weight of history, which has proved to be far too much for them to handle over nine straight playoff losses dating to the 2003 NLCS collapse against the Marlins.
Seriously now, should the Cubs just disband? Lovely quaint neighborhood. Historic old ballpark. But it looks like they are never, ever going to get to a World Series -- let alone win one. The Rays, Rangers, Mariners and Nationals/Expos are the only franchises not to get to the Fall Classic and the Rays are working on that this week. Every other team has been to at least one since 1979. The Cubs, of course, haven't had a sniff of the action since 1945.
As for the Angels, they were a colossal disappointment in yet another thumping at the hands of the Red Sox. They're becoming the Braves of this decade, as in they get to October and then do nothing.
There were a lot of folks, this corner included, thinking a Freeway Series between the Angels and Dodgers was very possible. Since the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn in 1958 and the Angels were born in 1961, the teams had made the playoffs together just one other time (2004) and both were division series losers that year.
The Sox handled the Angels in the postseason in '04 and '07 but this was going to be different. Los Angeles was a 100-game winner for the first time in its history and had gone 8-1 against Boston in the regular season but was dispatched in four games.
Now comes some serious offseason retooling. The Angels can't simply bring everybody back and make another run at it because they have a lot of decisions to make.
Francisco Rodriguez is almost certain to take his 62 saves somewhere else for the biggest contract ever offered to a closer. And although the Mets say it's unlikely they would go to the $15 million a year level, don't they have to be in that sweepstakes as they move into a new ballpark and in the wake of what's happened the last two years?
Jose Arredondo appears ready to move from a setup slot to inherit K-Rod's role. Maybe that solves the closer issue. But what about making a play to keep Mark Teixeira, who seems to be indicating he's more of an East Coast guy? What about Vladimir Guerrero's $15 million option (slam dunk)? What about Garret Anderson's $14 million option (maybe not)? What about the $9 million John Lackey is owed (yep)?
The Angels simply didn't hit in their ALDS when they needed to. Lackey, who nearly threw a no-hitter in Fenway Park during the regular season, wasn't nearly the ace that Jon Lester was for the Red Sox. Even K-Rod was a flop, allowing the back-breaking home run to J.D. Drew in the ninth inning of Game Two.
"We lost to a team that's not better than us," insisted Lackey. "We are a better team than they are."
Didn't show on the field. Mike Scioscia has done a brilliant job managing a franchise with very little postseason tradition, save for a couple of years in the '80s. But since winning that World Series in 2002, Scioscia's teams have flopped three times in the division series and once in the ALCS (to the White Sox in 2005).
I'm not a big fan of small ball in the American League but that's what Scioscia has been trying to play. It certainly worked during the regular season but an ill-fated squeeze attempt in the ninth inning of Game Four is what the Angels are going to spend all winter remembering.
With the potential go-ahead run on third, and a trip home for Game Five possibly hanging in the balance, shouldn't Erick Aybar have been swinging away?
Who was one of Scioscia's key guys in the dugout in 2002 when he won it all? Bench coach Joe Maddon, who's spending his time this week trying to lead the Rays to the most improbable World Series berth since the '69 Mets. Seems like Maddon has certainly been missed.
Surgery for Pronk?
Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro said last week that designated hitter Travis Hafner's postseason physical on his shoulder did not go well and the team is now pondering the possibility of surgery. Ya think?
Hafner was a shell of himself all season. Day after day, swing after swing, it was pretty obvious to anyone watching the Tribe that he was in pain. He finally went on the disabled list and tried the rehab route. That landed him on a rehab stint with the Bisons where he hit over .300 but was clearly not the Pronk that was one of the most feared power hitters in the AL.
Hafner's stint here was patently ridiculous at times. He only served as the designated hitter and couldn't play in back-to-back games because of the shoulder. Only once in a while would he make any solid contact, whether it was in batting practice or in a game.
The Indians, however, feel a healthy Hafner and a healthy Victor Martinez can help them make a quick turnaround in 2009. With all the injuries and poor play they had, as well as the trades of CC Sabathia, Casey Blake and Paul Byrd, Cleveland still finished 81-81 and just 7 1/2 games out in the AL Central.
But after coming within a win of getting to the World Series last year, the Tribe was expecting a whole lot more this time and it didn't happen.
"To characterize the season as anything other than disappointing would be disingenuous," Shapiro said at his end-of-season media gathering. "To talk to [the media] in an empty ballpark, while other teams are still playing, with the expectations we had coming into the year, is disappointing."
M's look at Bernazard
Former big league infielder Tony Bernazard has emerged as one of the candidates for the Mariners' vacant GM job. Bernazard is currently the top aide to Mets GM Omar Minaya and is keenly involved with the team's minor league operations as well, so his reach could impact Buffalo next season if he stays.
Bernazard, of course, is most known this season for being widely cited by the New York media as the key in-house player in the June firing of Willie Randolph as Mets manager. Don't know if those are the kind of shenanigans that would help you get a GM job.
Bosox to Sarasota
Florida spring training travelers, keep this in mind: The Red Sox are actively talking to Sarasota about a move there in 2011 from their current home in Fort Myers, where the minor leaguers are housed a few miles away. That's a situation most big league teams are trying to get away from, and they're angling for their cities to build them new complexes or they're threatening to leave.
Also, don't forget you can't see the Indians next year in Winter Haven, Fla. -- their spring home since 1993. They're going to Goodyear, Ariz., and, in fact, are already staging their annual fall instructional league there. If you want to check out the Bisons, the Mets are on the East Coast in Port St. Lucie, Fla.