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New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins, 4 PM ET (Game 4)

With Johan Santana at home (provided he's healthy), the Twins should have an edge today. But if the Twins are behind after the 7th it's likely to be all over, as I expect Rivera to come in and get the 6-out save. I'm pulling for the Twins to win and take their chances in Yankee Stadium. It would be great to see the Yankees lose the series in their home ballpark.

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OK, I'm back. What did I miss?

By way of explanation for my absence, it's been a very tough week. The courageous Mrs. Coach had three operations on her left eye. Monday, it was scleral buckle surgery to reattach her retina. Tuesday morning, even a layman like me could tell it hadn't gone perfectly. They had to inject (yes, a needle in the eye; yes, she was awake) a gas bubble to reposition everything, then do it again to relieve the pressure because they had put in too much. On Wednesday, still not satisfied, the doctors decided on a laser procedure, which fortunately, seems to be working, though it may be weeks or even months before we know how effectively.

Meanwhile, I've been crippled by back pain, which often flares up in times of stress. We spent a lot of time in bed this week -- it wasn't as much fun as it sounds -- while our kids and our friends looked after us. I was able to watch quite a bit of baseball, but couldn't sit up to write about it. Robert has done a magnificent job with the playoff previews, and I hope to be an active participant in those threads today. First, I have a few questions about what's happened so far, and what might happen today, if anyone has answers.
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Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics, 7:30 PM ET (game 3)

Here's one for armchair managers. Do you start the lefthander Ted Lilly in Fenway Park against a potent Boston lineup, or do you go with the inexperienced fireballer Rich Harden? Personally, I don't think experience (or lack thereof) is as important as going with the pitcher who's best equiped to succeed in a given environment: I would have gone with Harden.

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Wow. It doesn't get much better than that. So said Cristian, in his post commenting on the brilliant Game 1 between Boston and Oakland. The quesion is, does it get any better than that?

In a series of articles that will run through the playoffs, I'll pay tribute to the history of postseason baseball. Stay tuned for the Ten Greatest Division Series Games Of All-Time; The Twenty-Five Greatest Championship Series Games of All-Time; and the Fifty Greatest World Series Games of All-Time.

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Atlanta Braves at Chicago Cubs, 4 PM ET (Game 4)

Russ Ortiz against Matt Clement is the most favourable pitching match-up for the Braves in this series. Even if the Braves win, Mike Hampton against Kerry Wood isn't a matchup Bobby Cox should like. When the Braves chose Hampton to start game 2 instead of Maddux, it decreased the number of potential righthanded starters the Cubs will have to face this series.

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New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins, 1 PM ET (Game 3)

Since Robert hasn't posted a thread for the New York/Minnesota game, here's one.

Florida Marlins at San Francisco Giants, 1 PM ET (Game 4)

This is what I wrote earlier today:

Felipe Alou is taking the biggest gamble today - he's starting Jason Schmidt on 3 days' rest in Florida. The Giants have to win both of the next game, so the conventional thinking would have started Jerome Williams in game 4 today and saved Jason Schmidt for game 5. Two factors Alou might have considered.

1) Starting Schmidt today allows a little more flexibility in regard to the game 5 starter. It could be Williams or Ponson on 3-days rest. If whichever one he chooses struggles, he can quickly bring in the other guy.

2) He wants to maximize the edge in game 4 because he figures game 5 will be the easier one to win. The home crowd, and last at bat will help the Giants' chances in game 5. He may be worried that Jerome Williams, a rookie, will be bothered by the hostile crowd in Florida in his first post-season start.

Scratch that. The Giants will start Jerome Williams.

Jack McKeon wouldn't mind things either way. He would have had the edge against either Williams or Ponson with Josh Beckett pitching. Now, the Marlins have a better shot at winning it at home and the Florida ace will be well rested for game 1 of the NLCS.

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Atlanta Braves at Chicago Cubs, 8 PM ET (Game 3)

We've had so many great pitching matchups these playoffs, and this is right up there with the best. Greg Maddux is a shadow of his former self - but that shadow is still capable of shutting down the opposition. Here's an in-game contest - predict the number of pitches Mark Prior will throw tonight: my guess is 127.

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San Francisco Giants at Florida Marlins, 4 PM ET (Game 3)

I think Alou took Ponson out a bit early in game 2. The bullpen couldn't do the job and the scene now shifts to Florida The Marlins will face a left for the first and only time in this series, which they must take advantage of. With righthanders Jerome Williams and the seemingly invincible Jason Schmidt to pitch games 4 and 5, this game is more important for Florida than for San Francisco.

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Once again, if you have a serious interest in the minor leagues, bookmark Baseball America on your browser; and if you have some cash to spare, consider getting an online subscription too. There's lots of good stuff in there, especially around Draft Day in June.

At the moment, subscribers are getting BA's Top 20 prospects in each minor league. Naturally I won't be reproducing the analyses, but I can tell you that in the International League, Kevin Cash, Gabe Gross and Jason Arnold rank 15th, 16th and 20th; BA says they need to improve their hitting, power and command, respectively, to become impact players in the majors. In the Eastern League, Alexis Rios ranked 2nd, followed by Gil Quiroz (4th), Dustin McGowan (5th) and David Bush (a somewhat suprising 19th). BA simply raves about McGowan, saying that he needs only better command of his pitches to become a bona fide ace. 2005-07 could be a lot of fun in Toronto.
More than a few interesting Jays items in this brief post-season wrap-up. Chris Woodward, as expected, will have to show a lot next spring to remain the starting shortstop, thanks to his "concentration lapses." I have some trouble imagining how my mind could wander if I was playing shortstop in the major freakin' leagues. But anyway, Woody says "he knows what he has to do now," which is nice for him, and with Mike Bordick all but retired, shortstop wil be his to lose. But keep an eye on Jimmy Alvarez and Jorge Sequea next March all the same.

Elsewhere comes the slightly surprising news that JP expects to bring back both Greg Myers and Frank Catalanotto. I can see the reasoning behind Crash -- the team will need a left-handed mentor and platoon mate for Kevin Cash, and he evidently was a good presence -- but you should probably expect a 2004 batting line more in line with his post-All-Star '03: .252/.286/.412. For his part, Cat should still be a productive hitter -- his OBP and BB/K actually improved in the second half, while his power went way down. The question is, how many ABs will he get? Vernon is a lock in center, but the Jays will give Reed Johnson, Bobby Kielty and Gabe Gross a lot of playing time in '04. Frank may end up starting just 4-5 days a week and only against righties, whom he battered at a .318/.368/.501 rate this season. Wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Also, JP says Eric Hinske played very hurt.

Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees, 8 PM ET (game 2)

The Yankees should be feeling very motivated to put on a solid show after their fielding gaffes in game 1. The Twins do not have very good numbers against lefthanders and Brad Radke will have to be careful not to groove his pitches. The home team is as a heavy a favourite as there's been so far in the playoffs.

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Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics, 4 PM ET (game 2)

I couldn't keep my eyes open past 1 AM ET, so I missed the latter innings of this game. Some of what I wrote yesterday came true: the game was decided by the bullpens, the Sox did manage to elevate the ball, and the A's were very patient.

One thing that I did not foresee was the lack of confidence the Sox had in their bullpen, which precipitated leaving Pedro on the mound to face two tough lefthanders even as his pitch count climbed towards 130. Time will tell if his effort has an impact on his next start (assuming the series goes that long).

Today, the Athletics have the edge. Lefthander Barry Zito will attempt to neutralize some of Boston's potent lefthanded bats. Tim Wakefield is an enigma - I don't expect a lot of success for him against a team as disciplined as the A's.

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