The leaves are starting to fall off the trees. It is bearable to wear pants and a light jacket. The colleges are filled again and the summer interns have left the area. These signs can only mean that fall is here, October baseball will begin soon, and the chase for the World Series is on.
I know football season is in full effect and the Redskins have somehow managed to hit the ground running (I still think they will hit the wall eventually), but for the moment, it’s time to take a step back from our fantasy leagues and prepare for the second half of baseball season. Sure they play a grueling 162 game schedule from April till now that seems endless, but as the players all say every year, October baseball (playoff baseball) is a different and harder season. Every inning matters, every pitching change is scrutinized and regular players turn into crunch time heroes in the blink of an eye.
While I write this, the last two playoffs teams, the wild cards in each league, have not been decided, but barring anything too catastrophic for the current leaders, let’s just say Boston and Atlanta clinch and the field is set as is. So to get Borderstan ready, I thought I’d break down the teams and let you know what it will take for them to go all the way.
- AL East Winner: New York Yankees. Will Win If: Scoring runs has never been a problem for the pinstripes, but pitching can be. A 3rd starter hasn’t been picked but they will go far if their middle relief can give the ball to the best closer in the game (Mariano Rivera) with the lead.
- AL Central Winner: Detroit Tigers. Will Win If: If there were any year to give the MVP to a pitcher, this would be it based on how dominant Justin Verlander has been. The question will be can they get quality starts from the rest of the rotation. A little more hitting in the bottom of the order could go a long way from taking the burden off Cabrera to carry them.
- AL West Winner: Texas Rangers. Will Win If: The defending American League champions are still loaded with potent bats and can score runs from anywhere in the line-up. The pitching staff was supposed to miss a beat but has shown they can win big games. Defense and their bullpen will decide if they can do it again in the American League.
- AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox. Will Win If: The Red Sox will be limping into the playoffs but this team knows how to play in October. They need to tighten up their defense and get their ace pitching to be aces again. This is a team that is talented on paper, and that no one wants to face come playoffs.
- NL East Winner: Philadelphia Phillies. Will Win If: The best pitching in the league torched the National League this year. That combined with great hitting makes the Phillies the team to beat in the National League. If they don’t at least make the World Series, it’s a bust.
- NL Central Winner: Milwaukee Brewers. Will Win If: Someone other than their 1-2 punch of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder need to show up. Five other players on the team hit double digit home runs in 2011 and those players will need to support their two MVPs if the Brewers want to make a run at their first World Series Title.
- NL West Winner: Arizona Diamondbacks. Will Win If: Their inexperienced rotation will need to pitch well beyond their years. The Diamondbacks top 3 starters (Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter) have just over 5 full years of big league experience combined, and the senior member of the staff, Joe Saunders, has no wins in 3 career postseason starts. These pitchers will need to grow up fast if the D-backs want to make noise in October.
- NL Wild Card Winner: Atlanta Braves. Will Win If: Ain’t gonna happen. There. I said it.
UPDATE: Both Wild Card teams I picked had monumental collapses and will not be going to the postseason. My plan to jinx the Red Sox at the expense of my own writing worked and the Tampa Bay Rays won in the A.L., while the St. Louis Cardinals moved past the Braves in the N.L. Wednesday was easily one of the most exciting nights of baseball in a long while. What a game!
Hopefully this postseason is filled with lots of game 7s, walk off home-runs and maybe even a bench clearing brawl. Enjoy October everyone!
Specials thanks to A.C.S. for help with this post. Hopefully one day he is bloggin’ too.