BASEBALL'S PLAYOFF PREVIEW
October 1, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
MLB Playoffs Begin Monday
by David Bane
Eleven teams begin their quest to put their finger prints on “The Commissioner’s Trophy”. Major League Baseball’s top prize awarded to the World Series Champion. The sixth team in the American League is due to a tie between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. Both teams finished the regular season with a win and identical 91-71 records forcing a wild-card tiebreaker game. Cleveland will host the winner as the Indians poured it on down the stretch winning their last ten games.
Two things we know for sure is there will be no repeat champion as the San Francisco Giants stumbled to a fourth place finish in the NL West after winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. Also conspicuous by their absence is the New York Yankees who missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years. Meanwhile the Yankees biggest rival the Boston Red Sox were busy completing an amazing turnaround. After a last place finish in the AL East a season ago, the Red Sox bounced back to tie with St. Louis for the best record in baseball with 97 wins.
In Pittsburgh the drought is finally over for long-suffering Pirate fans. It’s been 21 years since the Pirates have hosted a playoff game. They also broke a string of 20 straight losing seasons along the way. Francisco Liriano takes the mound against Cincinnati in the NL wild-card play in game. Liriano posted the best home record in baseball with an 11-1 mark, but was 0-3 against the Reds this season. Reds and Pirates fans will remember four playoff battles during the 1970’s when the “The Big Red Machine” was revving up for consecutive titles. Johnny Cueto gets the ball for the Reds after an injury-plagued season. The winner gets another shot at toppling the Central Division champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Detroit is back in the playoffs after being swept in the World Series last season by the Giants. The Tigers will travel to Oakland for the American League division series with the best hitter in baseball Miguel Cabrera. His 44 homeruns and 137 RBI weren’t Triple Crown worthy like last season but Cabrera did add a batting title with his .344 mark. Justin Verlander had an off year with a 13-12 record but Max Sherczer picked up the slack with an MLB-best 21-3 record. Oakland will counter with a starting pitching staff with five pitchers who had double-digit wins and finished second in the AL in E.R.A. The A’s offense led by Brandon Moss 30 homeruns finished in the top five in MLB in HR’s, runs and RBI’s.
Atlanta is back in the playoffs and will welcome the Dodgers to Turner Field in the NL Division Series. The Braves finished 30 games over .500 (96-66), its best record since 2004. NL West champion Los Angeles was buoyed by a 53-13 stretch of incredible baseball. The Dodgers could have the best pair of starters in the game in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Exciting rookie Yasiel Puig ignited the Dodgers as the 22 year old Cuban finished with 19 HR’s and a .321 averaged in 380 at bats. Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman had his best year of his young career with 108 RBI’s and a .319 batting average.
Early odds have the Red Sox and the Dodgers as co-favorites at 4-1. The Tigers are next at 5/1 followed by the Braves and the Cardinals at 7/1. St. Louis will be without the services of first baseman Allen Craig for the divisional series round with a foot injury and maybe beyond. His absence could slow down the NL’s top scoring team. The Cardinals are the most recent champion in the playoffs with the team’s eleventh World Series championship in 2011. St. Louis and Boston both have a pair of trophies in the past nine seasons. Tampa Bay and Texas are the only teams in this year’s playoffs without a World Series win. The Rays became the 13th expansion franchise in 1995 and made it to the fall classic in 2008 falling to the Phillies 4-1. The Rangers have two World Series appearances both ending in defeat including a heartbreaker to the Cardinals in 2011. Texas was within one strike of winning it all before losing the game and the series 4-3.
Cleveland, one of the best stories in baseball this season, holds the longest championship dry spell last winning in 1948. Pitchers Bob Feller and Satchell Paige were on that Indians roster. Pittsburgh was the best team in baseball in 1979 singing We Are Family along the way. Detroit last won with manager Sparky Anderson in 1984 while Los Angeles has not taken home a title since Kirk Gibson hobbled around the bases to beat the Oakland A’s in 1988. Cincinnati swept the heavily favored A’s in 1990 for its last championship.
New stars will be born in the playoffs and there will be plenty of exciting plays and nail-biting finishes. Will it be a team with a surging offense or a dominating pitching staff that is left standing in the end? I look for the Dodgers and the Cardinals to meet in the NL Championship series and either the Tigers or the Red Sox to represent the American League in the World Series.
It all gets underway Monday with Tampa Bay travelling to Arlington, Texas as left hander David Price tangles with Martin Perez for the right to face Cleveland.