Saturday, October 13, 2012

And now, there are four......

The Beltway Series ain't happening yet.

There ain't gonna be a Bay Bridge Series II, either.

The League Championship Series begin on Saturday night with the AL East champion NY Yankees facing the Central division champion Detroit Tigers, the team that ousted the Bombers in the Division Series a year ago. Over in the National League, it will be a meeting of the last two World Series champs, as the defending titlists, the St. Louis Cardinals, will meet NL West champion San Francisco.

All four Division series went the maximum five games, with plenty of drama to be had. Detroit defeated Oakland behind their ace, Justin Verlander, in Thursday's finale. The Yankees' CC Sabathia matched Verlander's effort with interest, hurling a complete game as New York eliminated Baltimore, 3-1, in the early game on Friday night. Washington, the top seed in the NL, squandered a 6-0 lead and saw St. Louis stage a furious comeback late, ousting the Nationals, 9-7. Say this for the Nationals & Orioles. They will return, and there one day could be a Beltway Series.

San Francisco spotted Cincinnati a 2-0 lead in games, and swept the Reds in Cincinnati, with Buster Posey putting the exclamation point in Thursday's deciding game with a grand slam off Mat Latos. The road team won all 5 games in the series, which makes it imperative that the Giants maintain the home field advantage they've just earned.

Let's take a closer look.

ALCS: Detroit at New York: As mentioned earlier, the Tigers eliminated the Yankees in the LDS last year, and did so also in 2006, only to lose to St. Louis in the World Series. Last year, the Tigers fell to Texas in the LCS, as the Yankees did in 2010. While it hasn't been officially announced as of this writing, it's likely the Yankees will have comeback kid Andy Pettite on the hill for Saturday's opener, as there is no rest for the weary Bombers, whose anemic bats eventually have to come to life, knowing they won't see Justin Verlander until game 3 on Tuesday.

For Detroit, the impetus is also on waking up the offense, and provide some backup for Prince Fielder and Triple Crown champ Miguel Cabrera, surrounded as they are by a no-name lineup. The Yankees already have to deal with the media bringing up Alex Rodriguez's continuing postseason failures. Just when they thought A-Rod got that monkey off his back 3 years ago, it's latched itself on again, but it's a team-wide malady at the plate. Shoot, a lot of the big stars weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard these last few days in either league.

It will come down to the bullpens, particularly the closers. Detroit's Jose Valverde or New York's Rafael Soriano will have the most pressure on them, more so on Soriano since he is filling in for the injured Mariano Rivera. This will go six, with the Yankees moving on to the Series.

NLCS: St. Louis at San Francisco: With apologies to Fox, we present the Ex-Mets Factor. Angel Pagan & Carlos Beltran were teammates at the start of the 2011 season. Now, they're on opposite sides playing for a berth in the World Series. Beltran finished 2011 in San Francisco, and signed with St. Louis as a free agent (no thanks to his agent, Scott "20 Mule Team" Boras), so the Giants got Pagan in a trade with the Mets, and it looks like they got the better of the deal at this point, though that could change once Zack Wheeler debuts in New York, which might be as early as next year.

Beltran provided the power bat that the Cardinals lost when Albert Pujols went West to the Angels as a free agent, and is firmly entrenched as a #2 hitter, batting in front of Matt Holliday. Pagan leads off for the Giants, but outside of Pablo Sandoval & Buster Posey, the Giants don't scare a lot of people offensively (contrary to their football namesakes in New York). Aside from swapping out Pujols for Beltran in the free agent market, St. Louis returns virtually the same crew that won it all last year, seeking to become the first NL team to win back-to-back Series since the Reds did it all the way back in 1975-6. The Yankees were the last team to repeat, having turned that trick from 1998-2000. The Giants may have found a solution to Tim Lincecum's problems by having him come out of the bullpen, picking up a win in game 4 vs. Cincinnati. However, with the Cardinals' penchant for late-inning magic, not even "The Freak" may be able to stop them from a return trip to the Fall Classic and a chance to win their 3rd title in 7 years. The pick is St. Louis in 7.

Check back here in about a week for a World Series prediction.

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