Now that we have settled who the best 8 teams are by playing 162 games, let's decide between those 8 teams in roughly 16 games. Sweet, dude.
Say what you will about last night’s baseball shaningans, but it may have been the most exciting single night of regular season baseball ever. Tim Kurkjian, ESPN’s father time of baseball, was awestruck and immediately waxed eloquence about what an unbelievable night it had been. For on this night, baseball romantics had their wildest dreams. 2011 Chris Carpenter looked like 2009 Chris Carpenter, Craig Kimbrel blew his 5th(!) save in the last 20 days, Jonathon Papelbon made the 9th inning a metaphor of Boston’s entire season, and some dude named Dan Johnson capped an unfathomable comeback with a two-strike, two-out, line drive home-run that was his first beany since April 8th.
But - deep breaths - now a new season starts. Forget what teams did in the previous 162 (yes, even Phillies fans, the other 162 actually don’t mean anything anymore) and gear up for the playoffs, where small mistakes cannot be hidden by 161 other games. Prognosticating is a guess at best, so I won’t do it – truly anything can happen in these short series: the team with the best regular season record has only won the World Series twice in the last 10 years (Congrats, 2009 Yankees and 2007 Red Sox – so, hold onto your hearts Phillies fans and don't act surprised if you don't win).
Let’s take a look at the Division Series match-ups.
New York vs. Detroit
Detroit is the team that nobody wants to play in the playoffs. They played well in September (20-6), they have the best pitcher in all of baseball (apologies Halladay fans, Verlander’s stats res ipsa loceteur and he pitches in the tougher pitcher's league), and they have a formidable line up. But, not so fast my friends, the Yankees may be their worst match up. While they did decide to take the last few days of the season off (much to Boston’s chagrin), they played good September baseball, they have a stud ace with CC (who can at least come close to matching up with Verlander), and they have the only lineup in the 2011 playoffs that is better than Detroit’s.
Texas vs. Tampa Bay
Well, as everyone expected a month ago, we have a Texas/Tampa playoffs series. Not. Texas comes in with a confident, consistent, pitching staff that can lean on experience from last year. They were 19-6 in September and have the deepest pitching staff in the American League playoffs, going comfortably 4, or even 5, deep. And, despite popular belief, Tampa did not play amazingly well (just solid) in September (going 17-10) (Boston just played that bad). They do have a solid pitching staff, but there is a reason why they were 9 games out of the playoffs going into the month. In the end, their pitching staffs will probably offset one another and whoever decides to hit well, wins.
Philadelphia vs. St. Louis
Philadelphia has the best pitching staff that baseball has seen in maybe 50+ years (someone look up the 1954 Indians), but their hitting is pedestrian at best. St. Louis played well in September (18-8), including winning 3 of 4 against a Phillies team that had nothing to play for. Having to use Chris Carpenter on Wednesday in order to get into the playoffs may end up being better for St. Louis. He avoids going up against Halladay, and may still be able to make two starts in the series (3 days rest for a Game 2 Sunday and then 4 days for a Game 5 Friday). If the Phillies offense remains, as it has for much of the season, mostly dormant, this one could have “upset city, babay" written all over it.
Milwaukee vs. Arizona
Two upstart teams meet in what will easily be the least watched division series - I am pretty sure that more people care about Wisconsin/Nebraska this Saturday than they do about the Brewers this week. Milwaukee won their division on what was an unbelievable last week of July and month of August, but September, just as it does everywhere else (weather joke!), cooled things down. Their line up is stout with Braun, Fielder, and Hart and with Greinke and Gallardo making the letter G look cool again for the first time since Gigli, the Brewers are nothing to take lightly. Arizona will be leaning on two stars, Upton and Kennedy. Kennedy and Hudson match up well against the G-babys of Milwaukee, but Upton will have to be preternatural in order to help the D-backs match the output of the Brewer’s bats.
Let the madness begin, enjoy the postseason, and here's to hoping that you don't see too many Craig Sager suits.