Monday, Oct. 6 at noon ET

Baseball Postseason

Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 6, 2008; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Chico Harlan was online Monday, Oct. 6 at noon ET to take your questions and comments about the first round of baseball's postseason.

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.


Chico Harlan: Thanks for joining our mid-day baseball chat. Should I be feeling bad that I fell asleep after the 11th inning in Sox-Angels game? All questions are fair game here, but if you have any specifics about 12th inning strategies at Fenway, I might be drawing blanks.


Cap Lounge: Simple question: Does TB have the guts to pull this off? CHW has a few veterans and a manager who seems to know how to light a fire under his players.

Chico Harlan: Absolutely the Rays have the guts to pull this off. I know the difference between the regular season and the playoffs is immeasurable, but if any team proved its fortitude before the start of October, it was Tampa. That team, even in June, was in uncharted territory, facing constant scrutiny, constant national speculation that they wouldn't hold up. The games they played down the stretch to pull the division away from Boston weren't playoff games, obviously, but they came awful close. That's why I don't necessarily buy the Tampa-isn't-tested theory. The Rays were tested all season.

That said, Chicago is a scary bunch. Especially at The Cell. You gotta believe the White Sox have the edge in today's pitching match-up (Floyd v Sonnanstine), and if it goes back to the Trop for Gm 5, anything can happen.


Cleveland Park: Torre had a dicey job keeping the benched veterans and their young replacements together, while Pinella's team unraveled. Yet nary a word has been heard critical of Sweet Lou whose teams have folded two-years running.

True, a manager puts the players on the field but he can't make them catch or hit. But still, isn't it the Manager's job to keep the team psychologically in the game?

Soriano couldn't handle the spotlight of New York, and has a demonstrated inability to handle the Post Season, yet Lou stuck with him. Yet another questionable move?

Chico Harlan: Last question first: You gotta stick with Soriano. I'm sorry, but some players deserve faith. Sure, he struggled this postseason and doesn't have the best October track record, but really, that's a compilation of 150 or so at bats dating back to 2001. Tough to gauge too much from that, I believe.

As for Lou... I'm sure he'll take plenty of heat in Chicago for this. And it's not necessarily a matter of strategy. It's more his personality that leaves him susceptible to criticism. You can debate what kind of demeanor best works for managing a team in October, but when tensions and pressures are already high, does it really help to have a manager who is... well, boiling with intensity?

Chicago players this year often said that Piniella did a good job insulating his guys from the 100-years talk. But clearly, come October, all the pressures caught up with them. They were a different team.


Capitol Hill: Kudos to the Dodgers, but isn't it fair to say that the Dodgers beat the Cubs in game 3, and the Cubs beat themselves in games 1 and 2 with walks and errors? Not to mention some of the worst plate umpiring I've seen since Eric Gregg (Soriano did not swing at the last pitch of game 3). Phillies in 5, yes?

Chico Harlan: Maybe the Cubs-beat-themselves argument works with game one, where Dempster had such difficulty with the walks and was eventually burned. But let's not short-change the Dodgers here. They jumped all over the Cubs in Gm 2, and would have won even if the infield work from Chicago had been flawless.

As for Phillies in 5? Nah, I think the series goes longer. And ends differently. I'll say Dodgers in 6.


Cleveland/Washington, DC: Hi, Chico. I'm hoping you'll consider a Nationals question as well, even though it may be quite awhile before they're in the playoffs!

I'm a college sophomore here from Cleveland, and a strong Indians fan. I also root for the Nationals and enjoy the opportunity to see NL teams as well.

My question is to what extent Manny Acta was consulted or had input into the firing of his coaches. In Cleveland, Eric Wedge has complete control over that part of the operation. He just fired the bullpen coach, a likeable, well-regarded man who had been with the organization for 44 years! Sort of as if the Orioles' manager had fired Elrod Hendricks, I'm told by the locals. I gather this full autonomy is not usual unless one person is both the coach and GM, which is rare. How does it play out in Washington?

Thanks for your chats and enjoy the rest of the playoffs.

Chico Harlan: The coach-firings were not a Manny Acta move. Acta, until the end, was convinced that he had a fine group of coaches around him. The front office felt differently, and made the decision -- or at least drove the decision. According to Jim Bowden, Acta will have a strong say on the hiring of replacements, as he should have. But does Acta have autonomy? Clearly not. Among those fired were two of Acta's best friends and most loyal assistants, Tim Tolman and Ricky Aponte. Manny was very pained when they were forced to leave. An interesting situation, for sure... Let's say this: Manny has fewer true allies around him than he did last week.


Washington, DC:"Guts to pull this off"?

Sheesh, why not just ask if they can summon enough wizards and potions to win? The team with the most talent wins, not the one with the most heart, guts, courage ...

Sports is not a morality play.

Chico Harlan: Agreed that morality has nothing to do with it, DC. But I think "guts" are more a reference to mentality than morality. And I gotta believe that a team's mental approach is half the battle in the postseason. If the team with the most talent always wins, the Cubs would still be playing.


Washington DC: So, does the Angels victory last night break the curse they seemed to have from the Red Sox and set the stage for a three-straight comeback?

Chico Harlan: Can't see the Angels coming all the way back, frankly. The 2-0 hole is just too deep. I believe teams that 32 teams, entering the year, had fallen behind 2-0 in Division series, and just five had come back. If the Angels win tonight, the momentum certainly swings back to their side, but the Sox are too deep and too October tested to let such a good edge slide away. Lester closes out the series tonight, I think.


Chicago: Are you still out here in the Windy City? Hope you've enjoyed our fair town even if the baseball has been lacking.

Anyway, my question is about TV coverage. Yesterday, baseball's games were all on TBS. The NFL countered, of course, with games on CBS, Fox and NBC. Is TBS too much of a niche channel for this sort of thing? Is baseball hiding its product from the public just when it needs people tuning in? Thanks.

Chico Harlan: Interesting question, Chicago. TBS, I believe, has exclusive rights to broadcast the Division round... but for the LCS and the World Series, Fox will be stepping in, raising the profile. Certainly when you compare a day of TBS baseball with the blanketing of televised football, the NFL looks like the clear winner. Sure, everybody with a basic cable package can watch games on TBS, but I agree -- certain fans lose out for the Division Series. Baseball can do better.

And yeah, I'm still in the Windy City. One of my favorite spots. Too bad it's looking improbable that I can remain here for the LCS.


Indianapolis: As a Phillies phan, I am interested in how you see the matchup with them and the Dodgers. I have to be honest, I think the teams are evenly matched, but with the on/off hitting of the Phils, I'd give the edge to the Dodgers at this point.

Chico Harlan: The Dodgers' pitching is so on-point right now, I gotta give the edge in that category squarely to LA. Through those three first-round games against the Cubs, the Dodgers allowed three runs. Derek Lowe is pitching as well as anybody in baseball right now; Billingsley is just starting to touch his potential; Kuroda is another sub-4.00 ERA guy who improved drastically as the season went on.

The Phillies can out-slug anybody, yes, even a team with Manny, but as we even saw against Milwaukee, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley can't be counted on every game. A few blasts from those guys might steal a game or two in this series, but I give LA the edge because of consistency. It will be coming at you with good arms every night. I'm not sure the Philadelphia rotation, beyond Hamels, can match that.


Arlington: If the Red Sox win it all, are they a dynasty? Three World Series in five years is pretty impressive today. And no, I'm not a Red Sox fan.

Chico Harlan: Wow, good question. They're right on the border of the dynasty debate if they win. A half-decade, three championships -- that makes a strong case. Of course at this point, "dynasty" is such a loaded word. The Celtics were a dynasty. The UCLA Bruins teams were a dynasty. We're talking a decade of uninterrupted dominance.

So now, I think the question becomes this: Because sports -- all leagues, really -- have greater parody, greater competition top-to-bottom, must we loosen our definition of a dynasty? Most pundits in my field will generally drop the dynasty term when a team has won four championships in six years.

But three in five? I'll still saying No. Especially because the Yanks won four WS in five years (96-2000), and made it to the WS in 2001, too.


Rockville, Md.: Seems like everywhere I look, stories are being written about Manny and the Dodgers, CC and the Brewers, the Rays storybook season, the Red Sox and Angels. By contrast there doesn't seem to be as much attention given to the Phillies. Why is that?

Chico Harlan: Are you talking nationally? If that is indeed a trend, I can think of one reason. If you were going to rank-order the first-round match-ups by appeal, the Phils-Brewers would probably have ranked last. So, a lot of the national columnists chose to stay in Chicago and write about the Cubs, or cruise into LA and profile Manny, or stick with Boston and write about whatever is going in the Nation. The Phillies -- in part because of their opponent -- might have gotten overlooked. Those who did latch on to the Phillies-Brewers series probably saw a short shelf life for the Milwaukee-based stories and focused on CC. I feel quite confident that you'll be getting your fill of Phillies coverage quite soon.


Will Manny Be Manny In Fenway Again?: I think the potential "oh boy" story line of the postseason is the possibility that Manny Ramirez will return to Fenway Park for the World Series -- but in a Dodgers uniform.

What do you think?

Chico Harlan: Would be an incredible storyline. Almost as awesome as the Jason Bay-comes-back-to-PNC Park-for-the-2009 WS storyline.


from the $10 seats: So, can the Red Sox win it all with Josh Beckett pitching 9 hit games like last night?

Chico Harlan: No, I'm saying. The Sox, as they're close to showing, can escape a short series without Beckett at his best. But they won't win two seven-game series without some heavy lifting from their ace.


Bethesda, MD: Chico, Avoiding Nats questions...

Just as you did, I ended up closing my eyes after 11 last night. Just FYI, I had actually watched most of all three games. Midnight is a joke. Is there any chance that Bud the Dumb will get the point?

Chico Harlan: I Bud's defense... that game went, like, 5:13 last night. There's no accounting for that. The commish deserves no blame when an extra inning contest interferes with a proper bedtime.

But I will say this -- the WS games start too late. It's a common complaint, and I echo it. 7:05 starts work for the regular season, and should be used as the standard for postseason games, too -- especially on days when you have just one game, like in the WS. That way, the meat of the game appears in prime time, and it's over by 10:30 or so.


Wisdom Of The Ages: Chico Harlan wrote: "If the team with the most talent always wins, the Cubs would still be playing."

As your sportswriting predecessor Damon Runyon once observed, "The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong. But that's the way to bet."

Which is why I'm hoping I get to see a postseason game at Nationals Park before I retire, but not counting on it.

Chico Harlan: I'll end today's chat with that comment. Thanks for all of the questions. I'll add one addendum to Runyon's wisdom: Bet on the swiftest and the strongest, unless the Cubs qualify as either one.


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