Saturday, October 13, 2012

Unfortunate Order Is Restored to MLB Postseason

The League Championship series have been set with the Tigers taking on the Yankees for the AL crown, and the Giants and Cardinals chasing the pennant in the NL.  All of the headlines entering the postseason have been erased with a very familiar four teams still remaining, taking away from what has been one of the best playoffs in recent years.

The four teams remaining are very capable of playing good baseball, so the games should prove to be just as entertaining.  But think about everything we had heading into October and how it has panned out so far.

The Atlanta Braves made the first Wild Card spot in the NL, hoping to go the distance for third baseman Chipper Jones, in his final season with the club.  Jones earned a World Series ring in 1995, but in a season where he was honored at nearly every park he went to, this would have been the ultimate icing on the cake for a first-ballot Hall of Fame career.  The Braves were bounced after a very questionable call in the Wild Card play-in game to the defending champion Cardinals.

The Oakland A's erased a 13-game deficit from July 1 to take the AL West crown.  A team that hasn't been relevant since 2006 was surging ahead of the Angels and right on the heels of the AL Champion Rangers.  Josh Reddick acting like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Grant Balfour "Ragefest," a pitching staff that impressed time and time again even though the average fan couldn't name more than two members.  They were the ultimate underdog story, the second-coming of Moneyball.  Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, George Kottaras and Josh Reddick were all former Red Sox players, so that even gave them a little momentum back east.  After a stunning 3-run comeback in Game 4, they got crushed by ace Justin Verlander and the Tigers in Game 5, leaving the craziest fans in baseball sitting at home til next April.

The Baltimore Orioles went 69-93 last season.  In 2012 they flipped it around, coming out of nowhere to finish inches behind the Yankees in the AL East at 93-69.  Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been referred to as Fenway and Yankee Stadium South when those teams visited, with the hometown fans usually getting drowned out by the opposition.  For Game 1 of the Division Series, every seat was filled with an orange shirt waving an orange towel, chanting "Seven Nation Army" like they do across the street at M&T Bank Stadium.  The team hadn't made the postseason since 1997, and with a collection of young talent backed by veterans like Jim Thome you couldn't help but root for them against the Evil Empire.

Finally, the Nationals.  A team that received more criticism than congratulations.  General manager Mike Rizzo made the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg because of a strict innings count he put on the starter to begin the season, which unnecessarily riled up competing GMs.  Other young stars like Jordan Zimmermann and Bryce Harper mixed with the veterans Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche gave the Baltimore-Washington area more reason to gear up for the postseason.  The Nats had the best record in the league, and blew a 6-0 lead to fall 9-7 to the Cardinals Saturday night, cutting the franchise's first playoff appearance since 1981 short.

Now, baseball is right back where it always has been, where four of the bigger market teams remain.  With the except of 2008, the Yankees have been in the postseason every year since 1995.  The Tigers have a marketing machine in Miguel Cabrera after he won the Triple Crown, and have already finished off the Yankees' season twice since 2006.  The Cardinals have won two World Series since 2006, and are the least interesting team to watch.  As for the Giants, well they're the best of a bad situation in the NL West, and after losing Melky Cabrera to a steroids suspension, they have proved to everyone their offense is still a force to be reckoned with.

Best case scenario is Tigers and Giants in the World Series with the Tigers capturing glory.  The ALCS starts Saturday night at 8 p.m.

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