Now that the dust has settled and the premonitions of three way ties are out the window, we finally have eight teams set in stone. Eight deserving teams at that.
Tampa Bay Vs. Texas
America’s newest sweetheart, the Tampa Bay Rays, come storming into the playoffs and will face of against the defending AL Champs. Riding adrenaline, solid pitching, and timely hitting, the Rays may be able to sustain this streak deep into the playoffs. With that being said, Texas offense is a tall task for any pitching staff. Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli all crushed 30+ homeruns this season. Considering the rest of this lineup consists of: Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, and Nelson Cruz, there is no way anyone can shutout this lineup on a nightly basis. This will be a hell of a series. For the Rays, Desmond Jennings needs to regain form after a miserable homestand. As for Texas, their offense will come, their pitching needs to above average – for the first round at least.
Arizona Vs. Milwaukee
The Diamondbacks sure proved a lot of people wrong this season. Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy would be household names if they were in a major market, but that’s neither here nor there. Milwaukee finally put together a full season of solid baseball, and made the playoffs without a CC Sabathia acquisition. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have carried this offense in the absence of Ricky Weeks. The Brewers have homefield advantage, and that may prove to be the deciding factore in this series. The D’Backs will need Upton to put the offense on his back and they would need Kennedy to win two in order to steal this series. Milwaukee needs to do what they do best, win at home behind Prince and Braun.
Detroit Vs. New York
Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have been two of the best players in the league for a few years now. This year, they finally had major help around them. Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, and Jose Valverde have all been major contributors for the Tigers this season. Then, they acquired Doug Fister and Delmon Young at the deadline and have turned this team into a serious contender. The Yankees have been the best team in baseball, forever. If for nothing else, this series will determine who made out better in the Austin Jackson-Curtis Granderson trade. The Sabathia-Verlander matchup(s) is (are) what playoff baseball is all about. The winners of these duels will be the winners of the series.
St. Louis Vs. Philadelphia
Well, at least one of the World Series favorites made it to the dance. Somehow, an Adam Wainwright-less Cardinals team surged into the playoffs, and should be pitching Chris Carpenter for their first home game. It is not impossible for the Cards to overcome the 102 win Phillies in this series. Even in his worst staristical season, Albert Pujols was still able to rebound from a horrific start and horrific injury to slug 37 homers and 99 RBI. The Cardinals have firepower, but Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels should be enough to stiffle the Cards’ offense at least two out of every three games. Wainwright would have made this a heavyweight bout.
Texas in Four
Texas’ offense will overwhelm Tampa’s pitch. Their lineup is the deepest in the league and I don’t know how much longer Evan Longoria can keep up this heroic stretch. Alexi Ogando, C.J. Wilson, Mike Adams, and Neftali Feliz should be enough to keep Tampa’s lineup in check. The way David Price has pitched recently does not bode well for Tampa against this offense. A New York team who put forth zero effort just hung seven on Price, I can’ wait to see what a hungry Rangers team can do. James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson are going to have to dominate their games in order for the Rays to have a chance in this series. Especially since they are sending out rookie Matt Moore for Game 1. Moore will be making his second career start after dazzling the Yankees in the Bronx for his first. But, after never winning a single playoff series until last season, the Rangers should be heading back to the ALCS for the second year in a row.
Detroit in Five
I feel like Detroit is perceived to be a one trick pony. The Justin Verlander Show as it were. Their lineup is deep and their bullpen is consistent. Oh yeah, they still have Verlander and Cabrera. This is not a team you want to see in a short series. Doug Fister and Max Sherzer should win at least one game between the two of them, and I expect Verlander to win both of his starts. Other than Sabathia and their bullpen, I still don’t know if the Yankees have a strong enough rotation to compete in a short series. Burnett has already lost his spot in the rotation, which was an easy call for Girardi, but have the Yankees exhausted all they could out of Garcia, Colon, and Nova? It remains to be seen, if the Yankees can’t beat Verlander, I don’t know if their offense is strong enough to counter their pitching. If Detroit’s offense wasn’t as strong, I wouldn’t feel comfortable picking them. But considering the pieces they have in their lineup, with Fister as their number two, this Tigers team should be heading to the Ballpark at Arlington for a chance to get back to the World Series.
Brewers in Four
Milwaukee has been the best home field team in the league this season. That should buy them the first round against arguably the thinnest team in the second season. Zach Greinke, Yovanni Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum are now to be considered among the best rotations in the league. Arizona has been a fun story all season long. They usurped the Giants atop the NL West after writers (such as myself) pegged them for last in their division. Upton and Kennedy have each had quiet, dominant seasons and truly made believers in Zona. Daniel Hudson had a great first full season in the rotation after being acquired last season from Chicago for Edwin Jackson. But, the Brewers simply have one too many weapons and one too many advantages to be overcome in the first round. To counter Upton, the Brewers have Braun and Fielder. To counter Kennedy and Hudson, the Brewers have Greinke, Gallardo and Marcum. Milwaukee also gets to play at home, where races between sausages take place while mascots enjoy superfluous rides down giant yellow slides, striking fear into opponets nationwide. Quite the home field advantage, indeed.
Phillies in Four
And finally, the pre-season favorite Phillies are here to try and become the second team to two titles in this millenium. (As are the Yankees, and D’Backs, and Cardinals). As much as I want to go against the grain and pick St. Louis, logic simply will not allow it. Halladay, Hamels, and Lee are too difficult to matchup against on a nightly basis. Carpenter wont be able to pitch until Game 3 at the earliest and that may be the game St. Louis steals, at home. While Philly’s offense has the propensity to be anemic, the insertion of Hunter Pence into the lineup has paid dividends and could be the player that puts them over the top. While this offense has gone cold before, the Phillies still have Howard, Victorino, Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. If they can get it together behind their rotation for a month, there is no reason this team shouldn’t be hosting Game 1 in both the NLCS and World Series. Unless… their bullpen is not up for the task. Albert Pujols already has some late game post-season heroics on his resume against Brad Lidge. If the Phills hand him the ball with a minimal lead, the Cardinals offense can do major damage with their backs against the walls. Matt Holliday is going to have to be the All Star they signed this series in order to make it to the next round.
Could this year be the sequal to Philadelphia-Tampa? Will Pujols and Verlander meet for the five year anniversary of the last Detroit-St. Louis World Series? Or will the Yankees and Diamondbacks celebrate their 10 year anniversary? (Sans Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Luis Gonzalez, of course). Who knows. But after the past week of action, America’s past-time is in the middle of a serious swing upward, without the help of major markets like LA, Boston, or Chicago.