I love October. I love the crisp air. I love the trees changing colors. I love the beginning of football season. But I LOVE the baseball playoffs, and this Division Series round gave all of the reasons why. Heroes were crowned. Stars were branded as goats. Blood pressure was high. Exultation and Agony were in great supply. You really could not ask for more out of four first round series’. To recap the best of each series, we will call on none other than… ME:
Rays v. Rangers –
The Rays were the great story coming in and they opened up the series with a BANG. Matt Moore, who had a whopping 3 appearances in his entire major league career before game 1, pitched 7 scoreless innings en route to a 9-0 opening game win. And then, all of the momentum ended up shifting into a 3 game winning streak for the Rangers. Not many people made much of the Rangers coming into the postseason, but fresh on the heels of last year’s World Series appearance, they showed that they were prepared for the battle. 2 one run games and a two run game took care of the series. There were no performances across all three games that took your breath away for Chuck Norris’ boys, though Beltre’s 3 HR finale was a one game wonder, but they worked as a team and took care of business.
Yankees v. Tigers –
Ahh… here’s the drama. You don’t even get out of the 2nd inning of game one before a huge wrench is thrown into things. A “passing chance” of rain turned into a monsoon and eliminated Justin Verlander & CC Sabathia, 2 of the top 5 pitchers in the American League, from being able to pitch more than 1 game. Then we saw the following:
> The Yankees outscored the Tigers 28-17… and lost the series.
> The best pitcher was… Max Scherzer, the Mizzou Tiger with two different colored eyes.
> Everyone labeled A-Rod a choker again… when basically everyone other than Jorge Posada hit under .260 and even worse with runners in scoring position.
> The Yankees best pitcher was A.J. Burnett.
> Think about that previous one again….
> Career journeyman Delmon Young, known for unrealized potential, realized his potential all in 1 series after being claimed off waivers just prior to the trading deadline
> Jose “Heart Attack” Valverde picked the 5th game of the series to deliver a 1-2-3 inning and end it all for the Yankees.
Was it historic? Well, here’s how SI.com put it (why am I quoting them? I can’t say it any better!): While the Yankees were eliminated in the postseason with a one-run loss at home for the first time since the 1926 World Series against St. Louis, Detroit won an all-or-nothing postseason game for the first time since beating the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1968 Series. (Editor’s note: By the way, the 1926 series ended when Babe Ruth was caught stealing)
Phillies v. Cardinals –
The team that everyone gave the trophy to before the season faced off against the team that was 8 1/2 back of the playoffs on September 5th. The kryptonite element was that St. Louis was the only team in the playoffs with a winning record against the Phillies coming into the series. Things stacked up well for the Phillies in the beginning since Carpenter had to pitch the final regular season game for the Cardinals, so there would be no Halladay/Carpenter matchup. The series went back and forth and surprisingly didn’t give us the first great pitching duel until Game 3 when Cole Hamels and Jaime Garcia went head to head with 6 scoreless innings before the Phillies broke through. But the lasting impression of this series is very simply the final game. Two former teammates. Two friends. Two Cy Young Award winners. Two Aces. We got the Halladay/Carpenter matchup that eveyone wanted. And we ended up with a 1-0 pitchers duel that saw Chris Carpenter pitch a complete game shutout, taking down the heard of the Phillies (Utley, Pence, Howard) in the 9th to seal the deal. Not quite Jack Morris / John Smoltz *wincing at the thought* but a truly special pitcher’s duel.
Diamondbacks v. Brewers –
Ahhh… THE series of the first round of the playoffs. It appeared that this was headed toward a sweep. Gallardo & Greinke took care of business in Milwaukee with help from the power of Fielder & Braun. It was exactly what was expected. But the seemingly perpetually overlooked Diamondbacks had some serious home cooking waiting in Phoenix. 2 games. 2 Grand Slams. 5 Home Runs. 0 close games. Kirk Gibson’s snakes absolutely dominated the games in the desert, which all led up to the final game. Back on the mound we had Gallardo v. Kennedy again. A battle of aces. It was a low scoring affair with tension that was palpable even through the tv screen. (Let me take this quick moment to tip my hat to the fans in Milwaukee… THAT is the atmosphere that a series finale should have. Kudos to you). And just when they had escaped a nightmare in the 8th, the Brewers surprisingly were unable to finish off the DBacks in the 9th as the visitors played fundamentally sound baseball with plenty of risks (A SAFETY SQUEEZE FOR THE TIE!!!) to send this to extra innings. And when defensive replacement Carlos Gomez was standing on 2nd base, I couldn’t help but think about him scoring the winning run for the Twins in Game 163 of 2009. And a minute later Nyjer “I shouldn’t be mic’d on TV” Morgan made it happen again. The roof nearly blew off of Miller Park . It was fantastic.
So what does that leave us with for the League Championship Series’?
Tigers v. Rangers – The Rangers are looking for a trip back to the World Series and a chance at redemption. The Tigers bring this year’s presumed Cy Young winner and possible MVP Justin Verlander to the house the Ryan Express owns for some epic showdowns. Will Detroit have enough offense to hang with Texas? Will Texas be able to overcome 2 or 3 starts from Verlander? My guess right now is that the Rangers punch their tickets. Rangers 4 games to 2.
Brewers v. Cardinals – This is the series that you have to watch. These teams have played each other 19 times already this season. And these teams CANNOT STAND EACH OTHER. They’ve fought with each other. They’ve thrown at each other. And they have star power. Carpenter. Pujols. Holliday. Berkman. Greinke. Fielder. Braun. This is a series that will make an indelible mark on the legacy of more than one of those guys. This one is going the distance and I expect more than one nail biter. I’m going for the sentimental matchup of having two teams that have never won it all facing off in the World Series. Brewers 4 games to 3.
The MLB Playoffs… they’re FAAAAANTASTIC!