A Dodger Fan Guide to Rooting in the Playoffs


It is now… *checks watch*… 186 days until Opening Day 2012. And while we might all be anxious to see what the Dodger lineup will look like when the team takes the field in early April, there’s still a whole lot of baseball to be played in 2011. But in the seven hours or so before C.J. Wilson throws the first pitch of the playoffs against Tampa Bay (starting Matt Moore, a decision that – right or wrong – I just can’t get over because of the sheer bravado involved), Dodger fans have a decision to make: who are we pulling for to win the title this year?

First, the good news: it can’t be the Giants again. As someone (and I forget who, so sorry) noted on Twitter during Wednesday night’s wildness, “we don’t have to deal with Brian Wilson this October, so that means we’re all winners.” Truer words were never spoken. Even if they weren’t spoken, but rather Tweeted, and then paraphrased by me.

At ESPN, Jim Caple attempts to measure a team’s “Rootability Index” through a complex series of criteria, but sometimes it’s more fun to be subjective. Let’s look at the competitors through Dodger-tinged glasses, from most offensive to least.

Absolutely No Way In Hell Division

Philadelphia Phillies

Like I even need to explain why, right? The Phillies not only have a recent championship and two recent NL pennants, they crushed the Dodger postseason dreams in both ’08 and ’09 in the most brutal ways possible. That alone disqualifies them from consideration. Plus who among us doesn’t find Shane Victorino to be insufferable? Besides, it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the collection of rotation aces they’ve put together from a fan point of view, but I do like the idea that simply having a roster like that doesn’t automatically equal victory.

Oh, and everyone from Philadelphia is a horrible, soulless subhuman. So there’s that.

Chances of Me Rooting For Them Are Roughly Equal to Eugenio Velez Getting a Hit Division

New York Yankees

Unlike most of you, I’m guessing, I don’t despise the Yankees. Yes, they have the most money, and they can be obnoxious at times, but they’re run by smart people and I don’t see the point in rooting against them just for the sake of it. On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea how you can claim to be an impartial fan and actually root for the Yankees. It’s not like they need more people on the bandwagon or are desperately in need of a recent championship, though considering their rotation is C.C. Sabathia and not a whole lot else, it’d be interesting to see them pull it off. Still, a whole lot of things would have to go terribly wrong for me to start pulling for the Yankees in the playoffs.

If you’re not a Yankee fan and you’re rooting for them this October, you’re dead inside.

Arizona Diamondbacks

To be honest, I don’t hate the Diamondbacks either – most of them. Their worst-to-first run this year has been a great story for the game, and I’m glad to see Kirk Gibson & Kevin Towers having success as manager and GM, two guys I’ve always admired. Even their roster is mostly inoffensive, and toiling away in the desert means that megastar Justin Upton is woefully underappreciated on a national scale. If they win the NL pennant, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world (unless you’re a television executive, which, who cares.)

Yet there are a few problems with rooting for the Snakes from a Dodger fan point of view. First of all, they are a division rival, so that’s hard to cheer for, and they already have a World Series championship despite being in just their 14th season. They’re also the team that collected Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, and Sean Burroughs at various points this year, leading to untold levels of “grit” and “scrap” like the world has never seen before. That’s not a notion of victory that I want to reinforce.

But most of all? Gerardo Parra. Screw Gerardo Parra.

St. Louis Cardinals

Tony LaRussa manages the Cardinals. Ryan Theriot plays for the Cardinals. With apologies to Rafael Furcal, absolutely not.

Good Teams From Places I’m Glad I Don’t Live Division

Texas Rangers

Rooting for Texas holds some appeal, if only because they were in financial straits nearly as dire as the Dodgers and have been one of the best teams in baseball despite it. Jon Daniels is the kind of GM I wish the Dodgers had, and he’s one of the few who can say that he snookered Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos by stealing Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco on the back-end of the Vernon Wells trade last winter.

That said, they were in the World Series just a year ago, and I like variety. Besides, if Michael Young is hilariously already receiving MVP support for what was a good-but-not-great season, just imagine what it’ll be like if he’s flashing a ring.

Detroit Tigers

Other than the teams who are facing the Tigers, if you’re rooting against Detroit, you hate America, freedom, and puppies. How could you not want to give some amount of joy to that barren region? Yes, the Tigers were in the World Series just five years ago, but they haven’t actually won one since Gibson and Jack Morris were rolling over the Burger King Padres nearly 30 years ago, and Justin Verlander is an absolute joy to watch.

On the other hand, Brad Penny would get a ring too. I’m not sure I can abide by that.

Jumping on the Bandwagon Division

Tampa Bay Rays

The funny thing about the Rays is, they’ve already been one of the best stories in baseball for years. Coming from the depths of the “Devil Rays” era, they’ve already been to a World Series (2008) and won a division title (2010) – hell, they’ve already had a book written about them. They could have done just about nothing else and still had their recent clubs be memorable, but no, they had to top that this season by ditching Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and their entire bullpen, falling nine games out of the Wild Card in early September, fighting back to tie on the last day before being down 7-0 in the 8th inning against the Yankees… only to tie the game on a homer by Dan Johnson and his .108 average and win it on an Evan Longoria walkoff, his second of the game, almost simultaneously to the Orioles coming back to topple the mighty Red Sox.

You’re going to root against that team? Really? Hey, their fans may not support them, so you might as well, though slight demerits for the team that turned fringe players (Danys Baez & Lance Carter) into a few years of just-above-replacement performance from Edwin Jackson (2.2 rWAR with Tampa) into Matthew Joyce (matching 132 OPS+ scores the last two years) at the expense of the Dodgers.

But while I’d be quite happy seeing them come out of the AL, I can’t quite root for them to take the whole thing just yet, because there’s still the…

“One Brat to Unite Them All” Division

Milwaukee Brewers

I am trying, and failing, to think of a single reason to root against Milwaukee this postseason. Despite being in a small market, they have outstanding fans who consistently support the team. They have arguably the best owner in baseball, one who is willing to reinvest in the club, and one who I’ve already hoped would come rescue the Dodgers. They might have a small window, because of their very risky (and very entertaining) strategy to go “all-in” this year on the Zack Greinke & Shaun Marcum trades, in addition to Prince Fielder‘s impending free agency. (To clarify, because I’ve seen this before, that doesn’t mean they’re losing 98 games in 2012, just that there’s little left coming from the farm and Prince is likely to be elsewhere.) Their closer, John Axford, has a wicked mustache and comes out to obscure Swedish hardcore, rather than the generic butt-rock so many closers use today, and one of his set-up men is our old favorite Takashi Saito. They have Nyjer Morgan, who – while loved and hated by many – has created a gentlemanly Twitter alter-ego, Tony Plush, which is so ridiculous that it’s amazing.

Like Arizona, they’re led by a former Dodger, Ron Roenicke, and none of the three-headed ace crew of Greinke / Marcum / Yovani Gallardo threw more innings than old friend Randy Wolf. Hell, they also have Matt Kemp‘s main competition for the MVP in Ryan Braun, and it’s hard to even root against him because Braun has had such an absolutely MVP-quality season himself.

So… I guess I’m rooting for the 30th largest market (i.e., the smallest) to face the 26th largest market in the World Series. Oh, television people are going to love me.

Hot Off the Presses, Here’s Your Playoff Roster

Before we get to the pitching staffs, the NLDS roster has just been announced moments ago (it’s all over, but I saw it on Tony Jackson’s blog first, and I’ve edited it for formatting):

PITCHERS
Beimel, Billingsley, Broxton, Kershaw, Kuroda, Park, Lowe, Saito, Troncoso, Maddux, Wade

CATCHERS
Ardoin, Martin

INFIELDERS
Berroa, Blake, DeWitt, Furcal, Garciaparra, Kent, Loney, Ozuna

OUTFIELDERS
Ethier, Kemp, Pierre, Ramirez

Only one big surprise for me, and that’s Ramon Troncoso making it over Scott Proctor, because in 8 games since his return he’s allowed only a .250 OBP and a 2.57 ERA. But according to Jackson, Proctor’s still not healthy enough to warm up more than once in a game, and Torre wanted someone who can do that.

Not a big surprise to see Pablo Ozuna make it, because as I said the other day…

You know, I was all ready to go into an epic rant about how bad Ozuna is and how much I’d rather see Young on the roster… but I just can’t. Contrary to what I had thought, Ozuna’s not just an infielder who’d made an emergency appearance in the outfield – he’s made 63 career appearances out there. And while I do think Ozuna is a big zero at the plate (career OPS+ of 76, and only 66 for LA), Young hasn’t been much better this year, with only a 71 OPS+. Now don’t get me wrong, because we’re still huge fans of Young’s around here (check out his crazy minor league stats in a post we made on him in June) and I think a huge reason for his lack of productivity is his sporadic at best playing time. But the playoffs are no time to work out the hitting kinks, and clearly he’s not a plus with the glove.

On to the pitching staffs for the NLDS, but before I break down Cubs vs. Dodgers specifically, I have to point this out. You know how they say “good pitching beats good hitting?” Well, I don’t know who the hell they are, but they couldn’t be more right.

NL ERA ranks, 2008
1) Dodgers 3.68
2) Brewers 3.85
3) Cubs 3.87
4) Phillies 3.88

So… you’re saying that if you want to make the playoffs, you have to have solid pitching? A novel idea, sir!

Starters
Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)
Chad Billingsley (16-10, 3.14 ERA, 1.34 WHIP)
Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)
Greg Maddux (8-13, 4.22 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)

Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)
Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.91 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)
Rich Harden (10-2, 2.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP)
Ted Lilly (17-9, 4.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)

Even Ken Rosenthal recognizes the dominance of the Dodgers starting staff, saying that he can almost see the following happening:

Game 1: The hottest pitcher in the baseball — Dodgers righty Derek Lowe — silences the howling masses at Wrigley.

Game 2: Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano freaks out.

Game 3: Dodgers righty Hiroki Kuroda continues his late-season surge and season-long excellence at Dodger Stadium.

Of course, Rosenthal later backs down and predicts Cubs in 5, but he’s not entirely wrong. Lowe has been out of his mind good lately (more on this in tomorrow’s Game 1 preview), Kuroda and Billingsley have both been excellent over the last month or so, and Zambrano has been awful since his no-hitter on September 14th, giving up 13 earned runs in just 6.1 innings over two starts. So often it’s not about who has the better rotation, but who has the hotter rotation. That said, Rich Harden has been utterly dominant since his arrival in Chicago from Oakland, and if each team decides to use a 4th starter in Game 4 rather than bringing back the Game 1 starter, Ted Lilly is a big advantage over Greg Maddux.

So what you have here is two excellent rotations, each rightfully considered a strength of their team. The Cubs probably have more talent, but the Dodgers might have momentum. Really, I think both sides are going to get good work from these groups, so the edge really depends on Carlos Zambrano. If he’s as good as he’s been for the last several years, that’s a huge boost to Chicago – but if he can’t turn it around from how bad he’s been lately, that pushes the meter towards Los Angeles.

Advantage: Cubs – but only if Zambrano’s healthy and effective

Relievers
R Takashi Saito (4-4, 2.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 18/22 saves)
R Jonathan Broxton (3-5, 3.13 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 14/22 saves)
L Joe Beimel (5-1, 2.02 ERA, 1.45 WHIP)
R Chan Ho Park (4-4, 3.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
R Cory Wade (2-1, 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP)
R Ramon Troncoso (1-1, 4.26 ERA, 1.28 WHIP)
L Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 4.26 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)

R Kerry Wood (5-4, 3.26 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 34/40 saves)
R Carlos Marmol (2-4, 2.68 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 7/9 saves)
R Bobby Howry (7-5, 5.35 ERA, 1.46 WHIP)
L Neal Cotts (0-2, 4.29 ERA, 1.43 WHIP)
L Sean Marshall (3-5, 3.86 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)
R Michael Wuertz (1-1, 3.53 ERA, 1.43 WHIP)
R Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 2.28 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

While the Cubs relievers finished a mediocre 8th in the NL with a 4.10 ERA, the Dodgers managed to place second with a 3.33 mark. Worse, the Cubs’ pen has struggled mightly in September – check Kerry Wood’s 6.75 ERA and Neal Cotts’ 8.10. Even Samardzija was lousy with a 5.40 ERA. In fact, the only Cub reliever to show any effectiveness in the last month is Carlos Marmol, who struck out more than a man per inning with a 2.84 ERA in September.

The Dodgers pen has been excellent all year long, but they’re not without their own question marks. The loss of Hong-Chih Kuo (who had been a revelation with 96 K in 80 IP and a 2.14 ERA) is really going to hurt, and the reliability of Takashi Saito is still uncertain after his return from an elbow injury. That said, this is a good, solid group. Cory Wade and Joe Beimel have been solid all year, and Kershaw should add some juice in the middle innings if needed.

Advantage: Dodgers

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

1,012 – 1,012

Yesterday I pointed out that the Dodgers and Cubs have been around (in various incarnations) since the 19th century, yet had never once played each other in the playoffs. I thought for sure that this was going to be the most interesting stat about the upcoming playoff series… and leave it to the Chicago Tribune to completely blow me out of the water:

The Cubs and Dodgers have played each other 2,024 times since their first game in Brooklyn in 1890, splitting the all-time series 1,012-1,012.

Are you kidding me? How is that remotely possible? An exact .500 split over 118 years? Someone call NASA, because I need to know the odds on this one. How about a bajillionty to one?

Anyway, we’ve got two off days left before the first Dodgers playoff matchup in the short history of this blog. You really think we’re not going to milk it for all it’s worth? Break it down. Today we’ll look at the offenses, tomorrow the pitching staffs. Trust me, Dodger fans, tomorrow will be more fun.

Catcher
Russell Martin (.280/.395/.396 13hr 69rbi)
Geovany Soto (.285/.364/.504 23hr 86rbi)

Fantastic. There’s about 27 major league teams that couldn’t come close to competing with the Dodgers in terms of catching quality, and we’re playing one of the very few that not only can, but might have a claim on being superior. Great start! To put Soto’s .504 SLG into perspective, Cult Hero Andre Ethier’s is .510. On the plus side, Martin is coming in hot (1.011 OPS over the last two weeks) while Soto has hit just .227 over the same span – and Soto’s only gotten into two games since September 20th due to a sore left hand, neither of which he was able to make it all nine innings in. In reserve, both teams have entrants in the International Fraternity of Backup Catchers (Danny Ardoin and Henry Blanco) who each hope get exactly zero at-bats.
Advantage: Cubs, if Soto’s healthy

First Base
James Loney (.289/.338/.434 13hr 90rbi)
Derrek Lee (.291/.361/.461 20hr 90rbi)

Chalk up another one for the Cubbies. Loney somehow ended up as the Dodgers’ leading RBI man despite an eternally unexciting season, but Lee’s been one of the best first basemen in baseball for quite a while now, and Loney hasn’t quite passed him just yet. That said, expect Nomar Garciparra to get the start against lefty Ted Lilly. Nomar’s pasted lefties with a 1.067 OPS so far, and nailed homers in each of his last two starts against southpaws.
Advantage: Cubs

Second Base
Blake DeWitt (.264/.344/.383 9hr 52rbi)
Mark DeRosa (.285/.376/.481 21hr 87rbi)

We’re going with DeWitt here because while Jeff Kent is almost certainly going to be on the playoff roster, it’s doubtful he’s going to be healthy enough to man second base for nine innings. I am, however, calling BS on that stat line for DeWitt, because it includes his death spiral of June and July before getting sent down. Since his return on August 28th, he’s been much better with a 284/.402/.443 line – very comparable to DeRosa’s. The Cubbies second sacker – a stalwart of my fantasy team due to his pop and multi-positional eligibility – missed the last four games with an injured left calf, but according to the Chicago Sun-Times, it sounds like he’ll be ready to go on Wednesday.
Advantage: Cubs, if DeRosa’s healthy

Shortstop
Rafael Furcal (.357/.439/.573 5hr 16rbi)
Ryan Theriot (.307/.387/.359 1hr 38rbi)

I am very very tenuously predicting that Furcal’s going to get the start in Game 1. He’s looked okay since returning from back surgery, even though it was only three starts, and collected two hits in his last game. If he’s not, then the Dodgers will be forced to turn to Angel Berroa, who - for all the talk of his “resurgence” – is still only hitting .240/.329/.360 over the last month. By which I mean, “eeeccch.” As for Theriot, I have to admit I was surprised when I looked up his stats. Does this team have anyone who can’t hit? I’m tempted to give the Cubs the advantage here anyway just because of the uncertainty over Furcal, but what the hell:
Advantage: Dodgers, if Furcal’s healthy

Third Base
Casey Blake (.274/.345/.463 20hr 81rbi)
Aramis Ramirez (.289/.380/.518 27hr 111rbi)

Hey, remember that time I hated the Casey Blake deal? Well, it’s not getting better. Blake’s OPS+ has dropped from 116 in Cleveland before the deal to 97 in Los Angeles, and he’s put up a dreadful .220/.297/.415 over the last month. Hey, that was definitely worth giving up minor league MVP Carlos Santana for! Ramirez, meanwhile, ended up with the 4th highest VORP of all MLB 3B, behind only Chipper Jones, David Wright, and Alex Rodriguez. Hmm, I wonder how this one’s going to go.
Advantage: Holy Cow! Cubs win!

Left Field
Manny Ramirez (.332/.430/.601 37hr 121rbi)
Alfonso Soriano (.280/.344/.532 29hr 75rbi)

How good has Manny been since coming west? Well, let’s see. Soriano is an excellent hitter, who finished 11th in VORP among MLB left fielders, and that’s even with missing some time due to injury. Manny finished 3rd in that category – but I’m just talking about Dodger Manny. Manny’s NL season started August 1st, and he was still the 3rd best outfielder over the course of a full season. Boston Manny was 8th, by the way. Look, you don’t need me to tell you how good Manny is. Just get a seat out on Waveland Avenue when he’s up and enjoy the show.
Advantage: Manny being Manny!

Center Field
Matt Kemp (.290/.340/.459 18hr 76rbi)
Jim Edmonds (.256/.369/.568 19hr 49rbi)

The Corpse of Jim Edmonds made a pretty admirable comeback after being all but dumped by San Diego earlier in the season, and I hate to say it but… I might have to call it for the Cubs, as unbelievable as that would have sounded a few months ago. I mean, the numbers don’t lie – Kemp’s OPS over the last month is .750, while Edmonds’ is .929. Crap. That’s not even close, although Kemp’s 35 stolen bases do help him out.
Advantage. Cubs. I guess.

Right Field
Andre Ethier (.305/.375/.510 20hr 77rbi)
Kosuke Fukudome (.257/.359/.379 10hr 58rbi)

I’m putting Fukudome here because he has the most starts in RF over the season, but it sure sounds like he’s not actually going to be the man out there. Now that I look at the lineups, it seems that lately DeRosa has been their RF while Mike Fontenot holds down second base. This doesn’t really change the rankings any, since I’d still give second to the Cubs no matter which of DeRosa/Fontenot plays and since no Cubs RF is going to take down Andre Ethier. Look, you think Manny has been hot? Do not underestimate a man who over the last month has a line of .462/.557/.629 for an otherworldly 1.249, which is actually better than Manny’s over the same time period.
Advantage: Dodgers

Bench
Neither team has announced their playoff rosters yet, so I’m kind of guessing on these here, especially the Cubs. In fact, I’m just going to take the top five prospective bench guys for each team.

C Danny Ardoin (.235/.278/.314 1hr 4rbi)
1B/SS/3B Nomar Garciaparra (.264/.326/.466 8hr 28rbi)
2B/1B Jeff Kent (.280/.327/.418 12hr 59rbi)
LF/CF Juan Pierre (.238/.327/.328 1hr 28rbi 40sb)
SS/2B Angel Berroa (.230/.304/.310 1hr 16rbi)

C Henry Blanco (.222/.325/.392 3hr 12rbi)
2B Mike Fontenot (.305/.395/.514 9hr 40rbi)
SS/2B Ronny Cedeno (.269/.328/.352 2hr 28rbi)
LF/CF/RF Reed Johnson (.303/.358/.420 6hr 50rbi)
1B/LF/RF Daryle Ward (.216/.319/.402 4hr 17rbi)

As I said before, it’s likely that Fontenot ends up in the starting lineup with DeRosa either in right or injured, but all that does is further weaken a bench that can’t compete with the group the Dodgers have. Kent and Nomar have been your standard declining injury-prone veterans for more than a little while now, but as weapons off the bench they can be more than effective, and Nomar’s positional flexibility could prove extremely useful. Plus, there’s Juan Pierre, and you know how much I despise him as an everyday outfielder, but off the bench in a pinch-running role he’s a valuable weapon to have – think Dave Roberts in 2004 for Boston. The Cubs have old friends Blanco and Ward, neither of whom have done much this year, and if – as seems likely – Fontenot isn’t here, then that means either Johnson or Fukudome (if he makes the roster) is their man bat off the bench, and that just can’t compare to what the Dodgers can bring.
Advantage: Dodgers, notwithstanding the fact that this bench makes about $25 million more than the Cubs reserves do.

Final tally
Cubs 5 (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, CF)
Dodgers 4 (SS, LF, RF, bench)

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

I’ve Never Cared So Little About a Loss

Despite making Jake Peavy throw over 50 pitches in the 5th inning, the Dodgers were unable to beat back the Padres, as each of the LA pitchers allowed at least one… ah hell, who cares!

PARTY!!!

I’ve never seen a Dodgers game with an atmosphere like that – it was like watching spring training, except with 50,000 people as opposed to 5,000. As it just so happened to be the last regular season home game of the season, Joe Torre really put a flourish on it with his lineup choices. Not only did we get to see Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent start up the middle together for the first time in over four months, but the whole “send a guy out to his position, but replace him before the inning starts” idea – thus allowing the fans to give standing ovations to guys like Kent, Furcal, and Manny – was electrifying.

Now obviously there was quite the party after the game, and I’m not going to recap that all here, since that’s already been done pretty well across the Dodger web (Sons of Steve Garvey, as usual, comes up with the best pictures, and Andrew Kamenetzy from the LA Times’ Blue Notes blog was in the middle of the chaos). Although I will point out that Joe Beimel in his custom Dodgers robe, complete with uniform number, is probably one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

So now it’s off to San Francisco for three of the least meaningful games you’ll ever see, hopefully populated by heavy doses of Delwyn Young, Chin-Lung Hu, Jason Repko, and the like. And can we please get A.J. Ellis an at-bat? He’s caught in two games, but has yet to see the plate. You never know if he gets another chance in the bigs, so don’t let him go out like this. Free A.J. Ellis! More important, however, than anything that happens up by the Bay this weekend is how things shake out for the other two NL playoff spots, since there’s still three different opponents that the Dodgers could face - Chicago, New York, or Philadelphia.

Now all along, I’ve been saying “Let’s go Mets!” simply because their bullpen is a completely abysmal house of horrors, and I’d still like to see them in the first round. But I’ve now realized that there’s something way more important to cheer for this weekend, and it’s not any one team in particular: it’s time. Think about it – the Cubs have known they’d be in for weeks, and have been able to adjust their rotation accordingly. The Dodgers, now that they’ve clinched, have rearranged their staff so that Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley can pitch Games 1 & 2 on normal rest (extra rest, actually, for Chad). But the Mets, Phillies, and Brewers still need to claw for every last game, and if they should be forced to extend this through the weekend, all three have their aces lined up for what would likely be a do-or-die game on Sunday: Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, and CC Sabathia respectively. Forget Milwaukee, since there’s no way LA can play them, but what that effectively means is that neither the Mets or Phillies would have their ace available for Game 1, which would also make it more difficult to bring him back for a second start should the series go to four or five games. Who would you rather be facing in Game 1 as Shea Stadium rocks with the cheers of its final season: Johan Santana… or Mike Pelfrey?

So sure, root for the Mets. Root for the Brewers to collapse. But more than anything, root for the battle to go as long as possible. And hey, even though it’ll ruin my weekend, I don’t care: root for rain. It’s been raining in New York City all day, and it’s expected to last through the weekend. How great would it be to play a Mets team that just had to run through their top starters and most of their bullpen in a do-or-die Monday doubleheader?

It’s going to be an exciting weekend, folks. It’s really nice to have finished this off early and relax while watching prospective opponents kill each other just to get in.

* One other thing to discuss, and I hate to be a downer, but I can’t let this go by. What the hell is up with this?

The locker of Brad Penny was empty Thursday and Penny himself was nowhere to be seen.

The Dodgers’ opening-day starter, Penny was placed on the 60-day disabled list Wednesday to open up a spot on the 40-man roster for Furcal. Penny is ineligible for postseason play.

Torre said he had no idea about Penny’s whereabouts.

“I didn’t get a chance to say hello or goodbye,” Torre said. “He was here yesterday and he disappeared. I didn’t ask him to leave.”

General Manager Ned Colletti said he spoke Wednesday to Penny’s agent, Greg Genske, but refused to divulge the nature of their conversation. Genske did not return voice messages.

Penny, who has a $9.25-million option for next season that could be bought out for $2 million, said this month that he was disappointed that the Dodgers refused to extend his contract this spring.

Sounds like we’ve seen the last of him, but what a way to do it. Who clears out their locker on the day the team – of which you are the most senior member of – wins the division? I was still considering the possibility of picking up his option next year, which is really only a $7 million decision thanks to the buy-out. But if he’s just going to bail on the team during the playoff run, and not even tell anyone at that, then no thanks.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg