I could type about offense, pitching, and defense until my fingers bleed. I’d rather talk about something that matters far more in October: Swagger.
Swagger is pitching on three days rest. Swagger is the Jeter flip. Swagger is the bloody sock.
These rankings aren’t about talent. Lincecum has talent, Longoria has talent, Greinke has talent.
They’re all playing golf right now.
This is about heart and guts and everything else that it takes to win consistently in October.
1. Boston Red Sox
Boston is filled with veterans who know how to win. The clubhouse may not always be hunky-dory, but winning is winning and the Red Sox do a lot of it.
Even perennial choke-artists like J.D. Drew have come to Boston and suddenly found their swagger, as Drew did in Game Six of the epic 2007 ALCS.
Lil' Papi may have lost his bat speed, but he (probably) hasn’t lost his swagger. The staff has question marks, but Josh Beckett is one of the best postseason pitchers of his generation.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Swagger isn’t always flashy. Sometimes it’s just a bunch of classy professionals with a habit of winning lots of playoffs games.
St. Louis has plenty of chemistry, and its superstar Pujols has proven time and time again he can handle the pressure.
There is only one major problem on a team with very few. While Chris Carpenter has shown tremendous swagger over the years (Game Three of 2006 World Series), the other horse, Adam Wainwright, is unproven.
He may have been unhittable during the Cards’ 2006 run, but keep in mind he was a closer back then. The young ace has actually never started a playoff game.
If the Cards do go deep into the playoffs and pitching runs thin, don’t forget about John Smoltz. He just barely made the postseason roster, but he also happens to be one of the best big-game pitchers of all time.
3. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are a young, hungry team with plenty of swagger and a 2007 playoff run under their belts. Other than the Twins, the Rockies had the roughest road to playoffs this season.
Sometimes this can wear a team down, but in Colorado’s case it was character-building. The Rockies played in more extra extra-inning games than any other major league team in 2009.
And if a 14th inning walk-off grand slam (August 24, Ryan Spilborghs against the Giants) isn’t swagger, I don’t know what is.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
The team that won last year’s World Series has remained relatively untouched. Ryan Howard hits big home runs and Jimmy Rollins talks trash then backs it up.
Even so, there may not be a player in baseball with less swagger than Brad Lidge. Albert Pujols mentally broke him in the 2005 NLCS, and it seems that Lidge never fully recovered.
The defending champs have a glaring hole at the position where swagger counts the most.
Give the Phillies front office thier swagger dues for the late season signing of Pedro Martinez. Pedro has had a long career filled with swagger, and his best work came in the 1999 ALDS against the Indians.
An injured Pedro pitched six no-hit innings in relief throwing nothing but curveballs.
5. Minnesota Twins
Sure, Tuesday night’s thriller may have exhausted the bullpen, but the Twins are the only 2009 team already playoff tested.
But even though it might be tempting to get excited about the Twins, history paints a slightly different picture. September wins can carry over to October (2007 Rockies), but they don’t have to (2006 Dodgers).
Hot teams don’t necessarily have swagger. Only time will tell with the untested Twins.
On this team, the swagger starts and ends in the outfield. Everything about Juan Pierre, from his high socks to his small-ball style, embodies swagger. The only reason Juan doesn’t start is because he plays behind the best hitter in baseball.
Manny’s 2008 postseason was one of the most dominant ever. We will just have to wait and see if Manny did it with swagger, or another word that starts with s.
Andre Ethier had an astonishing six walk-offs in 2009, but it remains to be seen whether he can hit like that in the playoffs. He finished the 2008 postseason hitting under the Mendoza line, and his .297 OBP wasn’t much better.
7. New York Yankees
Of all the playoff teams, the Yanks may be the toughest one to figure out. They have one of the kings of swagger (Derek Jeter), but also one of the queens (Alex Rodriguez).
Their ace CC Sabathia showed tremendous swagger during last year’s stretch run. He turned in brilliant outing after brilliant outing, often on short rest.
Unfortunately, his playoff record of late is considerably less appealing. Late-season games matter, especially in the middle of a wild card race. However, eventually all that regular season success must translate to the postseason.
8. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels postseason record against the Red Sox speaks for itself. In 2004 and 2007 they got swept by the Sox in the first rounds. 2008 wasn’t much better, as they lost three games to one.
The Angels certainly have quite a bit of talent, but they are going to need to find some swagger fast if they want to advance.