September 29, 2011
Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports): In order to write all of this, I needed to step away from my TV and computer, take a deep breath, and sleep for a while. The excitement of last night was almost too much for my fragile heart to bear, so the time away to clear my head was necessary.
I find myself repeating, “What just happened??” in my head. What happened last night was unfathomable. Not only were there two teams in each league tied for the Wild Card, but both teams that had been leading, suffered epic failures along the way. Go back to September 1, and the Boston Red Sox held a 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Atlanta Braves held an 8.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams chances of reaching the postseason were over 99%. Nobody could have actually predicted seriously at that time, that both the Cards and Rays would win the Wild Card on the final day of the regular season. Especially not the way that the AL Wild Card was eventually decided.
The Rays started David Price against the Yankees. Sounded promising enough, until Price gave up 6 runs in 4 innings. The game was pretty much over with the score at 7-0 in the Rays’ half of the 8th inning. 3 runs plated in the bottom of the 8th, then Evan Longoria took over the game. A 3-run home run put them within one run, and Tropicana Field exploded. Then with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, Rays manager Joe Maddon made one of the gutsiest calls I have ever seen: pinch hit with Dan Johnson. Johnson was 9 for 90 this season. He hadn’t gotten a hit since April. He had 36 hits since 2008. With one swing of the bat, the pandemonium levels in Florida had never been so high. Then, as if he hadn’t done enough already, Longoria blasted another home run, this one of the walk-off variety that would vault the Rays to the postseason.
What hasn’t been said about Boston and their collapse? It has been covered by so many people from so many angles. You could blame the whole organization from top to bottom, and you wouldn’t be wrong. What happened was an epic collapse, capped off by a 2 out rally by the Baltimore Orioles of all teams in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 162. The Orioles had nothing to play for but pride, and the love of the game. Robert Andino’s walk-off single to win the ball game will be remembered by Boston fans for years to come.
Hunter Pence hit a bloop-ish 120 ft infield single to win it for the Phillies over the Braves. In the 13th inning. After Craig Kimbrel, the super rookie, blew a lead in the 9th inning. The game saw the Phillies march out nine pitchers and the Braves used 8, including Scott Linebrink, who eventually gave up the winning run in the 13th.
Chris Carpenter twirled a gem for the Cardinals, a 2 hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and 1 walk against the Astros. This performance sealed at the very least a one-game playoff game against the Braves had they won.
Wow what a night.
Now onto LDS matchups:
Rays vs. Rangers
The Rays come in with unlimited momentum, and a pitching staff that is so deep, that manager Joe Maddon is having a difficult time naming the starter for game 1. While Matt Moore seems to be the obvious choice to me, Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis could be viable options as well.** James Shields would have to go on short rest, and Price pitched last night, so one of the other three will be chosen to go against C.J. Wilson and a Rangers offense that is ready to take on all comers. Shields will go game 2 and Price go the 3rd. Beyond that is a toss-up. For the Rangers, Wilson will go Game 1, Derek Holland game 2, and still undetermined the rest of the way.
Adrian Beltre had a phenomenal September, earning AL Player of the month, and Mike Napoli has been dominant all year, bashing home runs all over the field. Michael Young worked his way into the MVP race after a tumultuous offseason that saw him switch positions yet again. Josh Hamilton is as dangerous as ever, and Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are still hitting home runs at a high rate. Kinsler actually became only the third 2nd baseman to join the 30-30 club, with 32 HR and 30 SB. The Rays may not have the prodigious bombers that the Rangers have, but they have athletic, smart ballplayers that never say die. They ultimately seem like a team of destiny, and I will not discount the fact that they may have the best manager in all of baseball at the helm.
** Note: Matt Moore has been named the starter for game 1.
Rays in 4
Yankees vs. Tigers
So the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, and the Tigers have the 10th, about $100,000 between them. Should be easy, right? Yankees should take this series in 3 games. Wrong. Detroit has one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball in 2011 in Justin Verlander, who should win the Cy Young vote unanimously. He should also garner serious MVP interest. Against him will be CC Sabathia, who has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball the last 7 or 8 years. Doug Fister was brought in to shore up a shaky Tigers rotation, and with Max Scherzer, the Tigers look like they have a pretty decent chance. Behind Sabathia will be rookie Ivan Nova, who I am not sold on, and after him is Freddy Garcia, who is having a fine year, but is nowhere near the pitcher he used to be.
Robinson Cano has been his usual stellar self playing 2nd base for the Yankees, but there were a lot of subpar seasons by other Yankees. Derek Jeter was better than last year, A-Rod was almost nonexistent for a lot of the season, and aside from Curtis Granderson, the lineup struggled to find consistency. The Posada soap opera continues, but giving Jesus Montero more at bats needs to happen. The kid can swing it. The Tigers have another MVP candidate in Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez has been stellar, and they have a young kid behind the plate named Alex Avila who could be in line for a Silver Slugger award. The Tigers are younger, and hungrier to win, but the Yankees have more overall talent. Even if their roster is aging, and this one should go down to the final out.
Tigers in 5
Diamondbacks vs. Brewers
The two best managers in the NL this year; Kirk Gibson of the DBacks and Ron Roenicke of the Brewers square off in this ultimately tight series. Arizona did it this year with a cast of relative nobodies and no real superstar other than Justin Upton. The Brewers have Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Zack Greinke, John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez. They have star power up and down the lineup and rotation, and they have a great fan base.
Ian Kennedy may be a Cy Young candidate, but the Brewers have more depth in their rotation. Yovani Gallardo will oppose him in game 1, followed by Shaun Marcum and Greinke, who will be opposed by Josh Collmenter and Daniel Hudson. The Brewers also have the dominant back-end of the bullpen in K-Rod and John Axford, who was 46 for 48 in save opportunities.
Brewers in 5
Prince Fielder just missed his 11th straight season of .300/ 30 HR/ 100RBI. He hit .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI. The cards are not just a one trick pony, however, as Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina have been stellar all season long. If they can get solid contributions from their secondary players they could make the series interesting. The Phillies, like the Brewers, have tremendous star power in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Not to mention one of the best deals of the year in Hunter Pence. They have a veteran presence filled with guys who have been to the postseason five years in a row, and have the ability to hit any team’s pitching.
If you ask anyone who knows anything about baseball what team has the best pitching, the unanimous decision would go to the Phillies. The 4 Aces look to lock up Philly’s second World Series in the last 4 seasons. Led by Roy Halladay, or Cliff Lee, or Cole Hamels, every team in the postseason should be scared. It is not very often that a team could have 3 pitchers in the top 5 for the Cy Young Award, but it could happen this year. Roy Oswalt will pitch game 4 if necessary. Tony La Russa has decided to open the series with veteran Kyle Lohse, which seems asinine. Edwin Jackson will go Game 2 and Chris Carpenter game 3. Jaime Garcia, who could be their most talented pitcher, will throw game 4 if necessary.
Phillies in 4
All 4 series should play pretty close, and the series I am most excited to watch is Arizona vs. Milwaukee. If Game 162 was any indication of what is to come of the postseason this year, then everyone needs to grab their popcorn and beverages, get bunkered down, and get ready for a long, gruelling, exciting month of baseball.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***
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