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Giambi's Claim that A's Would Have Gone to WS if Best of Seven ALDS Format


Lots of hue and cry today over the inequity of the playoff format where a wild card team gets Games Three and Four of the opening best of 5 series at home, and only plays one fewer home games than their division-winning opponents. Never mind the fact that on several occasions that wild card team has had a better record than at least one or more of the division winners.

So various alternatives are tried out, including a "play-in" series involving 2 WCs in each league, a best of 5 where the division winner gets either the first 4, or all 5 games at home, and the extension to a best of seven format. Former A's 1Bman (twice now) Jason Giambi is quoted as saying that with the depth of the A's starting pitching in the early 2000s such a shift (the 7 game  opening series) would have meant a WS in Oakland. Presumably he means more than just the two playoff series he participated in, 2000 and 2001. So let's take a good hard look at all four of the postseasons involving the Big Three.

The first point that jumps out at you is that it was a Big Playoiff Three only once, in 2001. That vaunted starting pitching depth Giambi references was true in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. Mulder missed both the 2000 ALDS in his rookie season and the 2003 ALDS due to injury. Hudson was rendered mainly ineffective in both 2002 and 2003 by injury, the latter either caused or exacerbated by a late night barroom brawl in Boston.

In 2000, due to the Mulder injury and Hudson pitching the season-ending clincher vs. Texas, the A's rotation was headed by Gil Heredia (who won Game One and lost after an early KO in Game Five), followed by Kevin Appier (who lost Game Two to Andy Pettite), Tim Hudson (who lost Game Three in the Bronx to El Duque) and Barry Zito (who won Game Four in New York) The Yankees were forced into a 3 man rotation with a horribly ineffective David Cone as their 4th starter and a mediocre Denny Neagle as their 5th. They used Roger Clemens going for the kill in Game Four and then Andy Pettite in the decider back in Oakland the next night, both on three days rest.

Would New York have rolled the dice this way in a 7 game series? I doubt it, given that Clemens would then have had to come back again on 3 days rest in Game 7 back in NY. This was a different Roger Clemens than the version that steroids helped bring back to prominence later in the decade. I think New York would have sacrificed Game Four with Cone or Neagle (a game the A's won anyway) would still have beaten Heredia (though perhaps not to a TLong misplayed "sunball" in the first inning) in Game Five in New York, and then would have been up 3-2 going back to Oakland with Pettite and El Duque set to finish the A's off. vs. Appier and Hudson. These were the two time defending champs, mind you. I think in all likelihood the series ends in Six with Pettite besting Appier again. But who knows?

In 2001 the Yanks had the same trio of starters plus Mike Mussina, while the A's were substituting Cory Lidle for Appier. If you recall the 9/11 attacks caused a one-week delay in the season, which allowed the top teams to set their playoff rotations well in advance. The A's-- a 100 win wild card team-- elected to have Mulder and Hudson open up in the Bronx, followed by Zito and Lidle. Obviously there is no reason to think that series would have been any different through Game Four, when El Duque and the Yanks pounded Lidle and the A's and Jermaine Dye busted his leg. Without Dye the A's lost back in New York-- Mulder losing to Clemens. I do believe that was a winnable game if it had been played in Oakland, and since it wasn't a clinching game (couldn't resist this one) the A's might very well have won. Then Dyeless could they have won once in New York (Hudson v. Pettite and Zito v. Mussina)?

I think it would have been the best bet in all these scenarios, but I also hasten to add that the Mariners would have become clear favorites facing an A's team in the ALCS without Jermaine Dye. And given the problems that Hudson would go on to face in each of the next two postseasons, one has to wonder just how effective he would have been against Seattle. And we'll never know if Cory Lidle (RIP) could have overcome his scab status and earned the team's trust by winning a big game vs. the Mariners.

For those two realities doomed the A's in 2002. Hudson was hurt and the A's lost both games he started, in part because of his own insistence, backed up by Mulder and Zito, that they shift to a 3 man rotation and leave Lidle out of the mix, despite Lidle's great close to the season including a long scoreless inning stretch. In a best of 7 that was split in Oakland, do the A's win Game Five in Minny with Mulder? The same game they lost in Oakland??  Probably not. They would then have to win both Games Six and Seven returning home with Zito on short rest for the first time in his career (and remember he was the CY winner that wasn't selected to pitch in Games One or Two in order to avoid ths very short-rest situation) and a less than optimum Hudson on short rest again. I think Lidle would have been in the mix somewhere but I'm not sure it would have made a difference.

Forget 2003 with no Mulder and, then, curiously, no Hudson either. The Sox were the better team and would have ground the A's down in a 7 game series.

I guess I'm saying Giambi's claim is doubtful, except perhaps in 2001 and even then I don't think the A's get past Seattle, who after all did win 116 games though they would lose to the Yankees.

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