And, now, the real fun begins.
The regular season is over for Major League Baseball. We are down to 10 teams as the playoff chase begins with the new 1-game Wild Card playoff round, which essentially is a play-in game to reach the final eight. Let's take a look at the field.
Wild Card round: Baltimore at Texas. For Ron Washington & the Rangers to reach the World Series for a 3rd straight year---they would be the first AL club since---who else?---the Yankees to pull off this feat---they have to go as a wild card after losing the AL West to Oakland on Wednesday. On Friday, they send Japan's Yu Darvish to the hill against the upstart Baltimore Orioles, who dropped two of three to Tampa Bay, enabling the Yankees to win the AL East.
Baltimore's been a nice little feel-good story all season, mirroring the rise of their neighbors across the Potomac, the Washington Nationals. In fact, I'd not be surprised to see Buck Showalter cop Manager of the Year honors in the AL (see below) while Davey Johnson does the same in the NL. It's been 15 years since the O's were last in the post-season, and at that time, they lost to eventual AL champ Cleveland. The bad news is that regardless of who wins on Friday, the Yankees await on Sunday in the Division Series.
The Rangers have run the gauntlet two years running, and I can't see them going one-&-done.
Texas vs. New York: It used to be that the Rangers would roll over and play dead for the Bombers, but not anymore. They eliminated the Yankees two years ago en route to the World Series, for example. Offensively, it is almost a perfect match. Pitching, however, is a different story. The Yanks have question marks outside of CC Sabathia & Hiroki Kuroda, as Ivan Nova & Phil Hughes faded in the stretch. I'd not be too surprised if Derek Lowe and/or Freddy Garcia were promoted from the bullpen for a spot start, as I don't think rookie David Phelps is ready to accept this mission. The Rangers have Darvish, and traded for Ryan Dempster in July. It's going to come down to the bullpens during this series, but, sorry to say, there will not be a 3rd trip to the Series for the Rangers. Pick--Yankees in six.
Detroit vs. Oakland: You've heard all the cliches already about Oakland slipping in the back door to take the West on the final day of the regular season. Supposedly, we never saw it coming. We expected Detroit to dominate the Central, but they had to rally to overtake Chicago in the final month. It wasn't that easy. Oakland has 5 rookie starters, including Tom Milone, who came over from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Detroit has Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Doug Fister, who came of age a year ago. Detroit also has Triple Crown winner and likely MVP Miguel Cabrera to complement Prince Fielder. Enough said. Pick---Tigers in five.
ALCS: Yankees over Detroit in six.
Wild Card round: St. Louis at Atlanta. Most folks picked the Cardinals to win the Central. I picked Atlanta to take the East and end Philadelphia's 5 year run at the top. Well, I was half right. I also correctly picked Cincinnati to win the Central, so I did know something after all....! Atlanta has won 23 straight games started by Kris Medlen, a converted reliever who takes the hill on Friday night. That no longer means anything in the post-season, but this is Chipper Jones' farewell tour, and the Braves would like to send him out a winner. Of course, they tried doing that for Bobby Cox 2 years ago, and that didn't work.......! I can't see the defending champs advancing here.......
Division Series: Washington vs. Atlanta: The one thing that will prevent the Nationals from advancing is their hare-brained idea of shutting down Stephen Strasburg for the season last month, just to protect his arm from future injury. This move will come back to bite Washington on its collective tuchis. Trust me. Pick---Atlanta in five.
Cincinnati vs. San Francisco: The Reds get manager Dusty Baker back just in time for the playoffs. The Giants, looking for their 2nd title in 3 years, have to hope Tim Lincecum can find his lost form in time. Right now, the "Freak" is just another pitcher, and that's bad news for San Francisco. Offensively, the teams are about even, but if it comes down to the bullpens, well, the edge goes to the Reds. Pick---Cincinnati in six.
NLCS: Atlanta over Cincinnati in seven.
World Series: Atlanta avenges past Series losses to the Yankees and takes it in six.
Of course, I could be wrong, but we'll see.......