Wake me up when September ends

How's that for a self-portrait? This is what I look like -- for the most part -- especially after my first baseball season back in the STATS end of the business. After all, look at the circles under the eyes. Those, my friends, are homegrown.

And thanks to the Goddess In Training (she's almost got it down now) in Kansas for the site that let me create myself.

Baseball's regular season, mercifully, is over. No more turning around 15 previews in just a couple hours on a Friday night. No more whining from Cubs and White Sox fans -- yes, I said whining -- about how poor their teams play.

This is funny only because it illustrates the reasons for their consternation ... the White Sox post back-to-back 90-win seasons for the first time in more than 40 years, and it's considered a failure because they didn't get back to the World Series. To quote a coach from another sport: "You play ... to win ... THE GAME!" So, going 33-40 after the All-Star break, and trying to hold off a determined Minnesota team while waiting for the three-run homer each time doesn't help much.

ChiSox fans learned something this season ... winning it all one year doesn't entitle you to a return performance. Don't start turning into Yankees fans.

As for the Cubs, and their NL-worst 96-loss season, the bloodletting has just begun.

Minutes after beating Colorado in the season finale, CEO Andy MacPhail quit after 12 years. He helped the Twins to unlikely World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, but was unable to bring that success south. While the South Siders ended an 88-year championship drought a year ago, a World Series hasn't been played at Clark and Addison since 1945, and the Cubs haven't won one in 98 years.

In a matter of hours, the Cubs probably will announce the end of Dusty Baker's four-season stint as manager. While with the Cubs, he was four games under .500 at 322-326, but that's not enough to save his job. Even if he was winning more, they've had just to much too overcome, especially this year: injuries to Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Derrek Lee ... an abysmal pitching staff, most of whom still should have been with the minors.

Assuming Baker is not back, here are five other managers that I think will be shown the door: Joe Girardi in Florida, Buddy Bell in Kansas City, Clint Hurdle in Colorado, Ned Yost in Milwaukee and Eric Wedge in Cleveland. I didn't add Washington's Frank Robinson to the list because the Nationals officially announced Saturday that he would not be coming back.

Girardi -- as good a motivator as he is to have kept the Marlins in the wild card race until the final week of the season -- will never be able to co-exist with owner Jeffrey Loria, especially after essentially telling his boss where to go during a game. I expect Girardi to be guiding the Cubs in '07.

Bell was forced to leave the team last week after a cancerous growth was discovered on a tonsil. Kansas City ended up losing 100 games for the third year in a row, and though they have plenty of good prospects in the pipeline, there is no way this team will be able to contend until 2009-10 at the soonest.

Hurdle, Yost and Wedge will be held accountable for underachieving seasons. Two others who may be asked to leave the island are Texas' Buck Showalter (regardless of the contract that runs until '09) and Arizona's Bob Melvin.

And now, the first-round series in the American League ...

1. Minnesota vs. Oakland. This will be one all baseball fans should watch. If you've never seen players like Justin Morneau, Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Huston Street, consider this your introduction. These are not the uber-stars you'll see on a team like the Yankees.

Oakland has had it pretty easy for much of the season. Having the Los Angeles Angels, Texas and Seattle was good was 34 wins in the division. Minnesota looked dead in the water in May -- trailing first-place Detroit by 12 1/2 games. On Aug. 7, the Twins were still 10 1/2 back, but chipped away (and took advantage of the Tigers' late-season swoon, but more on that later) and head into the postseason as division champs ... which means they don't have to face the Yankees in the first round.

Santana rarely loses in the Metrodome, and seeing that he starts Game 1 there Tuesday, I have no reason to think he's going to start now. Minnesota also was 5-1 this season at home against Oakland. Twins in four.

2. Detroit vs. New York Yankees. The Tigers were baseball's darlings for much of the season. Two years after a 119-loss season, and now under Lucky Strike spokesman Jim Leyland, Detroit was running away from the pack. On Aug. 7, the Tigers were an unfathomable 40 games over .500 at 76-36, and had a double-digit lead in the AL Central.

By the end of the season, they were a wild card thanks to a 19-31 fade. Five losing streaks of at least three games, including a five-game slide to end the season gets them a date with the Yankees instead of an easier opponent in Oakland.

Time for your minutiae: Tigers' pitchers had a 4.21 ERA, blew seven of 13 save opportunities and had a .279 opponent batting average over the final 50 games. Compare that to 3.68 ERA, converting 40 of 49 save chances and a .246 OBA. At the plate, the Tigers batted .281 through Aug. 7, but saw that drop 20 points with the fade.

Getting swept by Kansas City in the final series of the year doesn't help when you're next facing one of the most potent lineups, one through nine, in baseball. Randy Johnson's back injury and Mariano Rivera's tender elbow are concerns, but when you have the ability to mash the ball like the Yankees can, they won't have a problem winning games 12-7 so long as they're on the winning side.

Matsui and Sheffield are healthy again after wrist surgeries. Cano established himself as a hitter. They added another offensive weapon in Abreu, allowing Sheffield to move to first and keep Giambi's bat in the lineup. Jeter has done this before.

New York had only two three-game losing streaks in the second half of the season, and still has a pretty big chip on their shoulder after what the hated Red Sox did to them in 2004. The Yankees also took three of four in Detroit in May and June when the Tigers were on their amazing run. One thing about New Yorkers ... you're not going to intimidate them much. Yankees in three.

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