If you subscribe to MLB tv.com, (sorry for the plug), like I do, you have seen a heck of a lot of baseball this season and if you don’t have a favorite, (I follow the Pirates but that got too painful after July), you’ve seen most of the thirty teams in action at one point or another. If this year’s September action is any indication, we should be in for some memorable, knock down drag out games this October come playoff time.
Predictions are always dicey no matter how one sided a series might seem on paper so I won’t get into any of that, (save to say if the Braves make it there should be the usual quick exit sorry), with many teams having just enough similar weaknesses and strengths to make the games ones to remember.
We will have teams where fundamentals and attention to detail will be crucial. We will have teams who can simply over power the opposition with strong, seemingly unbeatable starting pitching and/or homerun power, and we will have teams who will need someone who will take us by surprise and become the unsuspected star of one series or another.
Injuries, as always, whether revealed or not will, of course, play a role and the health of a Josh Hamilton or Jimmy Rollins might be a key for the Rangers and Phillies. It is a long season and most players must endure various nagging aches and pains and come playoff time, grin and bear it.
Experience, as in any sport , often plays a key role, especially with young teams and especially on managers and closers. Experience teaches a player to take what is given and not try and force an issue and carry the team by himself. Managers must be adaptable and play who is hot and not stubbornly stick with something which isn’t working. Yet they must avoid the temptation to panic and stray away from what got them to the playoffs in the first place. A delicate balancing act between two very different scenarios. The regular season mentality of being satisfied with winning two of three often doesn’t work in the playoffs but changing your entire philosophy if you are down two games might not work either. Hindsight, as the baseball media will seldom mention, is indeed twenty-twenty.
The Rays and Yankees have been bashing each other all season long which should set the tone for the playoffs, not only between themselves if they face each other, but for the other series as well. Both teams have radically different styles and approaches based on their personnel, yet both teams are successful and have matched up well. Tampa Bay rely on execution , pitching and defense for the most part with Longoria and Pena hitting home runs. New York can make mistakes and overcome through their homerun power, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera. Both methods seem to work equally well and make for an exciting matchup.
Minnesota win season after season with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and a cast of no name players, no insult intended. This year, they won their division without Morneau for much of the season, and one of the best closers in baseball, Joe Nathan, for the entire season. They managed to turn Matt Capps into a reliable closer and brought starter Francisco Liriano back from the dead. The Twins will have to play perfect baseball to advance but they have shown they are more than capable.
The Texas Rangers surprised all of baseball easily winning the West. The team rallied around manager Ron Washington who was almost shown the door early in the season and kept Vlad Guerro healthy all season when many thought he was done. Texas is another team with a no name pitching staff where no one is a star but no one is mediocre. However, the Rangers rely on Guerro, Hamilton and Young to carry the team and they must stay healthy and hot.
The National League seems to have the more traditional type of teams, more old school and more conservative. These teams are a more what you see is what you get and they are less likely to surprise than their American League counterparts.
The Phillies, if they advance, are going to move on with the oldest philosophy in baseball-tremendous starting pitching, speed, power, and experience. This is a veteran team who shouldn’t panic, (unless Brad Lidge has another meltdown), and everyone knows their role on the team. Charlie Manuel likes to write the same lineup card for every game and knows his personnel and how they respond to tough situations. The Phillies are the Yankees of the National League in plying style and philosophy.
Atlanta, (making an assumption here), have been here fifteen times, under Bobby Cox, but have only reached the World Series three times, winning only once. Lately, their exit has been swift and ugly. There seems little to indicate any change this year, really, what has changed? Subtract Chipper Jones from their lineup and the going just gets tougher for them. However, emotion can play a big part of a playoff series and with this being the final season for Cox, and with Jones maybe not coming back, (although he is determined to give it one more season next year), a win one for Bobby attitude might be enough to overcome their shortcomings.
Cincinnati won the division this year with Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and a player who always seems to get his new team in the playoffs, Orlando Cabrera. The Reds have an infield which hit for power, and an outfield which didn’t, the opposite of most division winning teams. They have two rookie starters who few knew about and who managed to overcome the shortcomings of their veteran starters and a Cuban rookie who throws 105 mph. I don’t really know what Dusty Baker contributed to the Reds season but whatever it was, it worked.
The San Francisco Giants have Tim Lincecum, who remembered that he was one of the best in baseball after a rough middle of the season, a catcher with the coolest name in baseball who carried the team after his call up mid season, a closer who would make any manager nervous but gets the job done, and a beautiful ballpark. The Giants are a team which must play very solid fundamental baseball to win but often don’t yet they win anyway. Who can take their eyes off of them in crucial games?
It will be fun watching the 2010 playoffs I can guarantee you that. Unless the Phillies and Yankees simply over power everyone else. Nah, even that might be fun.