After what must have felt like the typical marathon to reach the post-season, for two teams it must have felt like sprint to just reach their respective League Division Series. For the first time this year, the playoffs were expanded to include an additional Wild Card team from both leagues, having the top two go head-to-head for a winner take all earning a trip to the division series.
Earlier Friday evening the St. Louis Cardinals escaped – literally ran off the diamond when the last out was recorded – with a win over the Atlanta Braves as a controversial infield fly prevented what could have been a big inning for the braves to get back in or even tie the game late in the eighth. Infield miscues killed Atlanta and it’s disappointing that this is Chipper Jones’ swan song. The Cardinals for the second straight year take away an opportunity for the Braves to make an appearance in the divisional round.
Later, the two-time American League Champions, Texas Rangers, had to host the Baltimore Orioles after they let the West crown slip through their hands. The Orioles pitching was able to shutdown the number one offense in the majors to just one run and let their bullpen take care of the rest after a superb outing from Joe Saunders. Texas was my spring training team to win it all, which goes to prove you can never predict who will win over the course of a full season.
Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers
Detroit has Triple Crown winner and more than likely AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and defending AL MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander going for them. Everyone predicted Detroit would run away with the AL Central, but instead it was a fierce battle with the Chicago White Sox lasting 160 games. Along with Prince Fielder another great power, it’s hard to go against the Tigers. But Oakland was five games under .500 and 13 games out of first on June 30. They won their last six including a sweep in the final series of the regular season against the Texas Rangers to claim the AL West title. If you base anything on picking teams in the playoffs, go with the hot team and that’s the A’s.
Athletics in 5
New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles
In the final month of the season it appeared and ended up being a coin flip on which of these teams would win the AL East. A New York loss and Baltimore win on the 162nd game would’ve forced a one-game playoff for the division. New York has the power lineup but no pitching. Baltimore is the best team in the majors at winning one-run games and that’s what the playoffs are about: being able to hold a tight lead throughout a game. I think Baltimore’s offense will give them enough to hand the ball over to their bullpen where they’ll continue their stellar success.
Orioles in 4
Both teams won their divisions on the same day, though San Francisco’s was a little less celebrated being on the west coast. In my opinion this is the best series of the four. With Melky Cabrera ruled out completely from any post-season action because of his failed drug test and Joey Votto putting up his offensive numbers for the Reds, every inning in this series will have drama. The Reds have a great rotation with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and recent no-hit pitcher Homer Bailey. But the Giants pack a slightly better rotation with perfect-game winner Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum. Even without All-Star MVP Cabrera in the line-up the Giants won the West easily and will make another trip for a pennant.
Giants in 4
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals
For the second straight year the Cardinals reached the playoffs as the Wild Card winner with the same drama they used last year en-route to their 11th championship. Like the Athletics, the Cardinals are hot and the defending champs. They have a solid rotation and lineup from top to bottom. But without Albert Pujols, the Cardinals are going to struggle against the Nationals’ rotation. They’ll throw Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Zimmermann to start the series and will probably throw Ross Detwiler for game three. In addition, their lineup is a lot faster and dangerous than St. Louis’ so a sweep is not out of the question here.
Nationals in 4
Here’s the complete LDS schedule:
Oakland at Detroit (Sat. 5:07 PM CST)
Oakland at Detroit (Sun. 11:07AM CST)
Detroit at Oakland (Tue. 8:07 PM CST)
*Detroit at Oakland (Wed. TBD)
*Detroit at Oakland (Thu. TBD)
New York at (Sun. 5:15 PM CST)
New York at (Mon. 7:07 PM CST)
at New York (Wed. TBD)
*at New York (Thu. TBD)
*at New York (Fri. TBD)
Cincinnati at San Francisco (Sat. 8:37 PM CST)
Cincinnati at San Francisco (Sun. 8:37 PM CST)
San Francisco at Cincinnati (Tue. 4:37 PM CST)
*San Francisco at Cincinnati (Wed. TBD)
*San Francisco at Cincinnati (Thu. TBD)
Washington at St. Louis (Sun. 2:07 PM CST)
Washington at St. Louis (Mon. 3:37 PM CST)
St. Louis at Washington (Wed. TBD)
*St. Louis at Washington (Thu. TBD)
*St. Louis at Washington (Fri. TBD)
*=denotes if necessary; all games best of five
Follow on Twitter: @midwayMars