That was some perfect Wednesday night, wouldn’t you say? The Cardinals defeat the Astros, guaranteeing them at least one more game–until the Braves lost to the Phillies in extras, eliminating them from the playoffs. In the AL, staked to a 3-2 lead int he seventh after a 1:26 rain delay, Boston’s horrific 7-19 September continued, as they gave up two ninth-inning runs and lost to the Orioles. Now at the mercy of the Rays/Yankees results, New York had all but won the game. A massive 7-0 lead had caused just about the entire Tropicana Field fans to leave–until the comeback. Now 7-3, Evan Longoria’s three-run shot made it just a one-run deficit. Dan Johnson pinch-hitting with two strikes, two outs and no one on the bench. Homerun. Tie game! To the 12th, Longoria at it again. Possibly the new ‘shot heard ’round the world’, a walkoff homerun to left. The Rays are in the postseason–the Red Sox are not. Oh, and by the way? Boston’s finish and Tampa’s finish were just four minutes apart.
Who says the baseball season is too long? On a day when we should’ve seen every game be meaningless, we saw four games battled for two Wild Card spots. The excitement, the results, the anticipation–it was truly a perfect night in baseball.
Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
Game 1: Sep. 30, 8:37 PM ET: J. Verlander vs. C. Sabathia
Game 2: Oct. 1, 8:37 pm ET: D. Fister vs. I. Nova
Game 3: Oct. 1, 8:37 pm ET: F. Garcia vs. M. Scherzer
*Game 4: Oct. 4: C. Sabathia vs. R. Porcello
*Game 5: Oct. 6: J. Verlander vs. I. Nova
Fitting how these two opened the season against each other–Verlander against Sabathia, too.
The key to this series is the Tigers’ rotation. RHP Justin Verlander is the league’s best pitcher, winning the league’s Triple Crown. But are the Tigers deep enough to win? Well, yes. RHP Doug Fister, maybe the greatest trade deadline acquisition in the history of baseball, is 7-0 with a minuscule 0.65 ERA in his past eight starts. If RHP Max Scherzer can stay in control with his slider, curve and changeup, something he’s had problems with this season, then Detroit should prevail.
On the flip side, LHP C.C. Sabathia narrowly missed becoming the first AL pitcher since Roger Clemens (1997-98) to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons, and the first Yankee since Tommy John (1979-80). RHP Ivan Nova, with his plus-sinker, is the only rookie pitcher in the past 65 years to win 12 straight decisions during one season, and the first Yankees rookie to do that since 1939. After that though, the Yankees are a trainwreck. RHP Freddy Garcia is the winner by default–RHP Phil Hughes didn’t pitch enough to warrant trust, RHP Bartolo Colon couldn’t go deep anymore in the second half, and you roll the dice with every single RHP A.J. Burnett start.
In the bullpen, New York is lethal. Why? RHP Mariano Rivera, the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time–42 saves with a 0.71 ERA. Absolutely untouchable. Mixed with RHP Dave Robertson and RHP Rafael Soriano, they’re too deep for the Tigers to contend with. RHP Joaqiun Benoit, LHP Phil Coke and RHP Jose Valverde–who’s converted 50 consecutive save opportunities–are good, but they don’t match the Yankees track record.
1B Miguel Cabrera hit .417 against the Bronx Bombers this season. Together, Cabrera and C Victor Martinez have more walks (154) than strikeouts (140) this season, which is a fantastic stat to have from the meat of your batting order.
C Jesus Montero (ring finger) left Wednesday’s game in the eighth after taking a foul ball off his finger while catching, but X-rays came back negative and he’s is expected to be fine. The 21-year-old will bethe primary DH against left-handers and backup catcher during the playoffs. Meanwhile, Jorge Posada will the primary DH against right-handers. He finished the season with a disappointing .235/.315/.398 batting line, but he had 14 homers and an .814 OPS against right-handed pitching. The Tigers have no lefty starters, so Posada will probably start each game, with Montero coming in to pinch-hit.
3B Alex Rodriguez (knee) expects to be in the starting lineup for Game 1. He was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup for precautionary reasons after feeling a little soreness in his surgically-repaired right knee. “It’s just the turf. Nothing to worry about.” A-Rod, 36, appeared in just 99 games this season due to various injuries, his least games played since 1995 with the Mariners.
C Victor Martinez (big right toe) bruised his toe in Wednesday’s season finale, but expects to be in the starting lineup for Game 1. V-Mart fouled a ball off his toe during his first at-bat and eventually left the game for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. The Tigers’ medical staff had to drill a hole in his toenail to drain the swollen toe, but it shouldn’t impact his availability for Friday. “You’re going to have to kill me to keep me out of the lineup. I’m just DHing, and I’m going to go out there like I’ve been doing the whole season, just go out there and battle and give my best effort.”
Will the Yankees serve some payback for their 2005 loss, or will a double-dose of Verlander be enough?
Pick: Tigers in 5
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers
Game 1: Sep. 30, 5:07 PM ET: M. Moore vs. C. Wilson
Game 2: Oct. 1, 7:07 pm ET: J. Shields vs. D. Holland
Game 3: Oct. 3, 5:07 pm ET: J. Niemann vs. D. Price
*Game 4: Oct. 4: M. Harrison vs. J. Niemann
*Game 5: Oct. 6: J. Shields vs. C. Wilson
A rematch of last season’s ALDS, where the Rangers won Game 5 thanks to then-ace Cliff Lee. The rotation isn’t the same as last year’s, but their bats have improved. On the flip side, Tampa lost their six highest-paid players from last season, as well as their entire bullpen. In fact, they joined the 2005 Marlins as the only teams in history to lose a 15-game winner, a 25-homer man, a 40-save guy and a 40-steal guy in one offseason. Florida remains in shambles, while Tampa has turned a Cinderella finish into a date with Texas.
Matt Moore is dirty. Baseball’s top pitching prospect registered a 2.89 ERA and 15/3 K/BB ratio through his first 9 1/3 major league innings. He struck 11 hitters in his first major league start last Thursday against the Yankees. If he can counter C.J. Wilson in Game 1, Tampa has a legit shot at taking this series.
Evan Longoria, now healthy, is on a roll. With Wednesday’s heroics, he joins Bobby Thomson in 1951 as the only players ever to hit a walk-off home run in the final regular-season game to put their teams in the playoffs. Longo didn’t drive in a run this year until May 7, but still finished with 99 RBIs, making him arguably the most dangerous weapon in the entire series.
There’s no question the Rangers have the better bats in this series–they’re absolutely stacked, with zero holes. Aside from that, they’re dominant at home, batting .296 with a .508 slugging percentage. They finished 3rd in the AL in runs, which speaks volumes given how many injuries they’ve had this season. Hamilton, Napoli, Murphy, Cruz, Andrus, Kinsler, Young. So many big, versatile bats. Defensively, the Rangers have the advantage, and with the acquisitions of RHP Koji Uehara and RHP Mike Adams, their bullpen depth is greater than last season when they lost in the World Series. Finally, Texas gets the nod behind the plate, as Napoli has caught nine shutouts this year alone.
The question is, are the Rays the team of destiny? They’ve won five in a row and enter as the only team ever to come from nine games behind in September and make it to the playoffs. They became the only team in history to earn a postseason berth by overcoming a seven-run deficit in the final regular-season game, and handed the Yankees their first loss since 1953 in a game in which they led by seven runs in the eighth inning or later. None of their offensive stats jump out at you–they’re 8th in the AL in runs, and lost their first six games of the season and didn’t hold a lead in the first 62 innings of the season–but with a rock-solid rotation, they don’t need many runs to win. Speed kills, and that’s something the Rays have a lot of.
With so much momentum, and possibly destiny by their side, can they be stopped?
Pick: Rangers in 5
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Game 1: Oct. 1, 5:07 pm ET: K. Lohse vs. R. Halladay
Game 2: Oct. 2, 8:07 pm ET: E. Jackson vs. C. Lee
Game 3: Oct. 4: C. Hamels vs. C. Carpenter
*Game 4: Oct. 5: R. Oswalt vs. J. Garcia
*Game 5: Oct. 7: K. Lohse vs. R. Halladay
St. Louis came from 8.5 games back in September to win the NL Wild Card, tying the NL record for the biggest September deficit overcome by a team that went to the playoffs. Carpenter threw a gem on Wednesday, and will have to wait until Game 3 to start. The question is, will the series be over by then?
OF Matt Holliday (right middle finger) will be unavailable for Game 1. He was given a cortisone shot on Thursday morning and is hoping to be ready by Game 2, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll play in the series at all.
Bullpen question marks surround the Cards. They have 13 walk-off losses this year, tied for the most in the major leagues. They’ve used four different closers this year, and RHP Jason Motte became the first pitcher since Ralph Beard in 1954 to allow four runs in an inning without allowing a hit. Tony La Russa is arguably the best manager in the game, but with no one to shut the door in the ninth, there’s always a high risk of an implosion.
The Phillies haven’t gotten worse from last year. They’ve added OF Hunter Pence, which essentially adds a bat/speed combo to the lineup, which will only help things. The problem isn’t with the lineup, it’s with the expectations that follow. Anything short of a World Series win will be considered a failed season. With their veterans aging, this team is built to win now, and all the pressure is squarely on their shoulders. Coming off last year’s NLCS loss to the Giants, all eyes are on them to push past that. They’re the only team in major league history to improve its victory total five years in a row, meaning that they continue to improve every year. That said, their window of opportunity is closing. They need to win. Now.
One thing the Cardinals do have that the Phils don’t is momentum–St. Louis is coming off an emotional win over the Astros on Game No. 162, while Philly hasn’t played a significant game in months. Also, the Cards are one of just two teams to finish this season with a winning record against the Phillies. Unfortunately, the big four Philly starters will be too much to overcome–their starters had an ERA of 2.86, the first team with a starters’ ERA under 3.00 since the 1992 Braves. They also almost became the first team since the 1985 Dodgers to have four starting pitchers (at least 20 starts) to have an ERA under 3.00, but rookie RHP Vance Worley, who finished 11-3, will be relegated to bullpen duties. RHP Roy Oswalt looked like a lame duck, but after fixing his back, he’s back to his old tricks again. He has the highest career winning percentage of any active pitcher in the second half of the season, and in September/October. He’s also a lifetime 5-1 in the postseason. Basically, that means there’s once again no holes in this rotation. That spells doom.
Pick: Phillies in 4
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Game 1: Oct. 1, 2:07 pm ET: I. Kennedy vs. Y. Gallardo
Game 2: Oct. 2, 4:37 pm ET: D. Hudson vs. S. Marcum
Game 3: Oct. 4: Z. Greinke vs. J. Saunders
*Game 4: Oct. 5: R. Wolf vs. J. Collmenter
*Game 5: Oct. 7: I. Kennedy vs. Y. Gallardo
No one expected ‘Zona to be here. Hell, they had 97 losses last year, and turned it around to make the postseason this year. Milwaukee is fresh off their first NL Central pennant since 1982.
Simply put, the D’Backs are tough. They don’t look scary–they were 4th in the NL with 731 runs, but didn’t have anyone with 90 RBIs, and only OF Justin Upton had more than 20 homeruns. But, they manage to get guys across home. They were shut out the fewest times (four) by any NL team, had the fewest sacrifice bunts, grounded into the fewest double plays (82; the Cardinals had 169), and had the second-most stolen bases.
By the way, the Brewers’ pitching? Not bad. All eyes are on RHP Zach Greinke, making his first postseason start, but RHP Yovani Gallardo has been an absolute horse. In his last three starts, he pitched 20 1/3 innings, allowed 12 hits, four earned runs, walked three and struck out 36. RHP Shaun Marcum, despite his 6.66 ERA in his last five starts (also giving up five or more runs in three of those starts), remains very consistent and reliable. Then there’s LHP Randy Wolf, who’s very difficult to hit off of when he’s on. Arizona’s pitching depth cannot match what the Brewers have to offer.
On the flip side, RHP Ian Kennedy will be the NL Cy Young tough-luck loser, going 21-4, including 12-1 after the All-Star break. Since the Cy Young became an award in 1956, the only pitcher who won more than 20 games, and lost fewer than five, and didn’t win the Cy Young was Mike Hampton in 1999. Given that he’ll start at least twice in this series, you’ve got to give them a fighting chance to survive.
Looking at the bullpen, and Milwaukee’s is lights-out. With a 1.14 ERA in September, they almost became the first team since the 1978 Angels to finish September with a bullpen ERA under 1.00. RHP John Axford may be the best regular season closer this year, and after some early hiccups, RHP Francisco Rodriguez has stuck out 33 in 29 innings while posting a 1.86 ERA. Edge, Brew Crew.
One thing that sticks out at me is Arizona’s lack of postseason experience. They don’t have one single starter who knows what it takes to make it into late-October and November. Ultimately, the Brewers are too well-rounded. Their arms and bats won’t be matched. Given the Brewers’ insane Miller Park record, giving them home field advantage is like taking an automatic loss.
Pick: Brewers in 4
Here’s the rest of the postseason schedule:
|Game 1||Saturday, Oct. 8||Sunday, Oct. 9|
|Game 2||Sunday, Oct. 9||Monday, Oct. 10|
|Game 3||Tuesday, Oct. 11||Wednesday, Oct. 12|
|Game 4||Wednesday, Oct. 12||Thursday, Oct. 13|
|*Game 5||Thursday, Oct. 13||Friday, Oct. 14|
|*Game 6||Saturday, Oct. 15||Sunday, Oct. 16|
|*Game 7||Sunday, Oct. 16||Monday, Oct. 17|
|Game 1||Wednesday, Oct. 19||NL city|
|Game 2||Thursday, Oct. 20||NL city|
|Game 3||Saturday, Oct. 22||AL city|
|Game 4||Sunday, Oct. 23||AL city|
|*Game 5||Monday, Oct. 24||AL city|
|*Game 6||Wednesday, Oct. 26||NL city|
|*Game 7||Thursday, Oct. 27||NL city|
Tigers’ RHP Justin Verlander won the AL pitching Triple Crown, leading the conference with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 K’s. He also led the league with a 0.92 WHIP, making him all but the guaranteed winner of the AL Cy Young Award.
Dodgers’ OF Matt Kemp helped his MVP case Wednesday, hitting a two-run homer in Los Angeles’ season-ending win over the Diamondbacks. He’ll finish the year with an NL-leading 39 home runs and 126 RBI. His .985 OPS is second only to Brewers’ OF Ryan Braun’s .994 mark. The two should be in for a razor thin vote for the senior circuit’s MVP award.
Tigers’ OF Miguel Cabrera won the AL Batting Title with a .344 average, while Mets’ SS Jose Reyes won the NL Batting Title with a .337 average.
2007-08: 12-3 (80%)
2008-09: 10-5 (67%)
2009-10: 9-6 (60%)
2010-11: 8-7 (53%)
Total: 39/60 = 65%
2007-08: 11-4 (73%)
2008-09: 9-6 (60%)
2009-10: 11-4 (73%)
2010-11: 11-4 (73%)
Total: 42/60 = 70%
2008: 5-2 (71%)
2009: 4-3 (57%)
2010: 3-4 (43%)
Total: 12/21 = 57%
2008-09: 9-2 (82%)
2009-10: 7-4 (64%)
2010-11: 8-3 (73%)
Total: 24/33 = 73%