today's main discussion (a preview of the AL West) is directly below. 3 of the 4 round 1 series have concluded --- the 1888, 1996, and 2000 teams have all advanced to round 2. that leaves just 1 game on the slate tonight, Game 6 of the 2002 v 2005 series. summary is after the jump; if you just want the box, here it is.
As this series enters the home stretch, let me ask you a question: which of these teams do you think was better? I'll take the '02 team. While they didn't have a Cy Young pitcher on their staff, I think the top 3 pitchers as a group (Morris-Williams-Finley) were better in 2002 than they were in 2004 (Carp-Mulder-Suppan). The '02 team was better at 3d base (Rolen v Abe Nunez), shortstop (Renteria v Eckstein) and in center (healthy 33-year-old Edmonds v sore-shouldered 35-year-old Edmonds), and in my opinion the bullpen was better as well. While the 2005 team won more games, they played in a much weaker league --- no other NL team won more than 90 games that year, whereas four NL teams (including St. Louis) won 95 or more games in 2002, and a fifth team won 92.
The teams trade dugouts for the final two games, and Tony '02 stacks his lineup with right-handers vs Mulder; Marrero's in left, Perez is in right, Albert's at first, and Tino and JD are on the bench. The rest of the Game 6 lineups:
|Fernando Vina, 2b||David Eckstein, ss|
|Edgar Renteria, ss||Larry Walker, rf|
|Albert Pujols, 1b||Albert Pujols, 1b|
|Jim Edmonds, cf||Jim Edmonds, cf|
|Scott Rolen, 3b||Reggie Sanders, lf|
|Eduardo Perez, rf||Scott Rolen, 3b|
|Eli Marrero, lf||Mark Grudzielanek, 2b|
|Mike Matheny, c||Yadier Molina, c|
|Woody Williams, p||Chris Carpenter, p|
Facing elimination, 2002 wastes no time getting on the board: Edgar doubles, Albert singles, and it's quickly 1-0. But the 2005s open the bottom half with three consecutive singles off Woody to load the bases for Edmonds, Sanders, and Rolen. A monstrous rally seems in the offing, but very little comes of it --- just 1 run, on a force out by Sanders. That could be costly for the '05s; nice going, Woody.
'02 retakes the lead in the 3d inning, tallying once on a force play by Rolen, but they miss a chance to fatten the lead when Marrero strikes out with 2 on and 2 out. Williams gets into trouble again in the bottom half of the frame, letting the first two men reach (via walk and single) ahead of Pujols and Edmonds. But he retires Pujols on a pop to right and Edmonds on a pop to first; Rolen's up, and Woody appears to be just about out of it . . . . . and then he leaves the game. Frustrating limitation of the simulator; it regards Williams as "tired" after about 50 pitches, because he only threw 103 innings in 2002. For the 5th game in a row, the 2002 starting pitcher goes 3 innings or less; Sim Tony waves in Luther Hackman (whom I wouldn't want pitching for me in a Game 6 no matter the score), and he promptly gives up hits to Sanders and sore-shouldered Rolen. The 2002s are down 4-2 and in trouble.
Marrero drops a flyball an inning later, leading to an unearned run and a 5-2 lead for 2005. The 2002s get one back in the 6th on Matheny's RBI triple (???), but El Hombre '05 answers with a two-run bomb; the score is 7-3, and 2002 is down to 9 outs. They prey upon a tiring Mulder in the top of the 7th, plating a run with nobody out, but Tavarez comes in to face the heart of the order and tames it easily (groundout for Albert, strikeouts for Edmonds and Rolen). The 2002s keep plugging, putting the first two men on leading off the 8th to bring the tying run to the plate with nobody out. Matheny pops up for the first out; Tino pinch-hits in an RBI spot and grounds out to 2d. A run scores on the play, but the other runner gets stranded; it's 7-5 heading into the 9th inning.
Renteria leads off the frame with a single against Isringhausen, reaching base for the 5th time today (3 hits, 2 walks). It's the 3d consecutive inning (and 5th overall) in which the 2002s have put the leadoff man on. Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen all have a chance to tie it up with just one swing. Albert lofts it to left-center, but the ball dies; one out. Edmonds chases a pitch in the dirt and strikes out; Renteria hasn't moved, and the '05s are an out away from a series win. In steps Rolen; he chases a fastball up, but it's a cutter --- runs in on his hands. Scotty pops it up back of 3d, and his 2005 doppelganger camps underneath. That's the series. The '05s have prevailed, 4 games to 2.
The '02s, here as in real life, are left with a bunch of "what ifs." What if the simulator didn't keep yanking 2002's starter in the 3d inning? What if Chuck Finley had been available for the 2002 rotation? The outcome might have been different. . . . . as it is, the 2005s have won and will move on play the 1943 Cardinals in round 2.