World Series warms up to Arizona

October 23, 2001 8:38 AM
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The bracket for the World Series is one half set as we go to press and by the time you are reading this the Yankees may have eliminated Seattle in five games to join Arizona in the 2001 World Series which will begin this Saturday night in the desert.

Arizona used their pair of aces, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, to defeat Atlanta in the NLCS four games to one. Johnson pitched the series clincher Sunday night and with the World Series not beginning until this weekend manager Bob Brenly can set up his rotation any way he would like, be it Johnson and Schilling or Schilling and Johnson in the opening two games.

Whichever order Brenly decides upon, the American League representative will be in for a challenging Series. The Yankees played Seattle in game five of the ALCS at home on Monday night, leading the Mariners three games to one and being a solid favorite to advance to challenge the Diamondbacks. Should this be the World Series matchup that materializes it will be the most formidable challenge the Yankees will have faced in the current stretch of titles that has seen them win three straight and four of five.

The duo of Schilling and Johnson is much more formidable than Atlanta’s Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Even in their prime Maddux and Glavine were more finesse and control pitchers, whereas both Johnson and Schilling are overpowering. It’s possible for Schilling and Johnson to combine for five of seven possible starts if they go on three days’ rest or if rain causes an interruption and extension of play. Weather could be a factor in New York, with several games scheduled to be played in November.

For the Yankees to win the series they will most likely have to win at least one and probably two of the starts made by Johnson and Schilling. The Yanks have a capable rotation of their own with Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte plus the post season savvy Orlando Hernandez. El Duque was effective in a start against the A’s in the ALDS but was in very poor form in his start against Seattle in game three.

The Yankees’ chances against Arizona are enhanced if they defeated Seattle in five games which would mean Mussina would be able to start one of the first two games rather than be used in game six in Seattle. New York’s huge edge is in the bullpen, especially in closer Mariano Rivera. It can be argued that Rivera in the best postseason pitcher in the history of baseball.

It’s always hard to draw comparisons between starters and relievers but few starters have been as dominant throughout their post season careers as has been Rivera. He’s been overpowering and virtually unhittable. He’s capable of going two innings if necessary and the Yanks have had great setup men during their stretch of World Series success.

The Yankees are expected to be slight favorites over Arizona and it would be hard to go against New York given their ability, proven time and time again, to make the big defensive play, get the timely hit or get the needed pitching performance when needed. We need look no further back then a week or so ago when the Yankees lost their first two games at home against Oakland in the ALDS only to rally and win three straight and advance to face Seattle in the ALCS. Despite having to face Schilling and Johnson as many as five times, the Yanks will find a way to win and the projection in a New York vs. Arizona series is for the Yankees to win in six games.

As to playing the individual games, the best play throughout the series will be on the UNDER. Neither team has been hitting the ball especially well during the post season and have been facing some pretty strong pitching. In 10 playoff games Arizona has scored more than five runs just once and have been held to three runs or less in seven of the games. Four times they scored just a single run in their two series against St. Louis and Atlanta.

The numbers are quite similar for New York. In nine Playoff games through Sunday the Yanks have scored more than five runs just once and have been held to three runs or less in six of the nine games. The UNDER should cash in a majority of the games played and is worth considering in every game. The best side plays would be to take the Yankees as underdogs against both Schilling and Johnson and to play Arizona as an underdog against Hernandez.

Should Seattle rally to somehow win three straight games and defeat the Yankees in seven games it will be hard to see how a very tired Mariners’ team would fare well in the first two games against Arizona, facing Schilling and Johnson.

Seattle has been the best team in baseball all season but were already forced to the limit in defeating Cleveland in five games in the ALDS and would have again been taken to the limit in defeating the Yankees. Seattle does not have the same quality starting pitching as New York and thus would be more likely to have to go to the bullpen earlier. Although Seattle has had a solid bullpen all season, and Arizona’s is considered a weakness, Seattle’s edge in that area is diminished since the Diamondbacks pen is likely to be fresher after not being needed much when Schilling and Johnson start.

The Over is more likely to occur in an Arizona vs. Seattle series should Arizona face New York but once again it must be noted that Seattle’s bats have been cold in the Playoffs. Through nine games Seattle has scored more than five runs just twice and have been held to a pair of runs or less in five games. But keep in mind that Seattle’s Brett Boone, who struggled early in the Playoffs, started to heat up in the middle of the series against New York.

The most attractive games to be played OVER would be those not involving Schilling or Johnson and whenever Jamie Moyer and Freddie Garcia do not start for Seattle. The projection for the Series is for Arizona to win in six games with the best side plays to be on Seattle in games started by Moyer or Garcia and on Arizona in any game in which they are an underdog unless the D’backs face either Moyer or Garcia.