After all the excitement over the last couple of weeks, it’s hard to believe the best is yet to come in Major League Baseball.
With a regular season comprised of a new home run king, three pennant races that came down to the final weekend, a team that tied the record for most wins in a season, the retirement of two of baseball’s finest, the emergence of a new Japanese phenomenon, Ty Cobb’s run record being shattered and an extended week of play, many of us are asking the same question: how can postseason play possibly be more dramatic?
These eight teams are hoping to add to this historic season as they start the journey to the World Series.
Oakland Athletics vs. New York Yankees
The A’s hope to continue their momentum from the second half of the season, which they finished with an astonishing 67-20 record. Their overall record was the second-best in baseball, trailing only the Seattle Mariners.
The A’s are led by reigning American League Most Valuable Player, Jason Giambi, and they feature a strong supporting cast of Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada and Jermaine Dye. Despite good hitting, the reason the A’s finished the season with the record they did was because of their unparalleled pitching staff. Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito combined for a 56-24 record this season, and the A’s are placing their World Series fate in the arms of this fantastic trio, hoping they will be strong enough to neutralize the power and experience of the Yankee lineup.
The Yankees find themselves in a familiar position this season: another AL East pennant, a lineup overflowing with all-stars, a pitching staff of proven veterans and the entire world rooting against them. As always, the Yankees are the favorites to win the World Series. No matter how the Yankees play in the regular season, they always turn it on come October — it’s inevitable. Roger Clemens is coming off one of his best seasons, and Jeter and Co. are all too familiar with baseball in 40-degree weather. If anyone’s going to beat the Yankees, it will be the A’s, who almost knocked them out of contention in last year’s divisional playoffs (the Yankees won the series’ fifth-and-deciding game). As far as who advances this season — only time will tell.
Cleveland Indians vs. Seattle Mariners
The Cleveland Indians’ season has been a battle between two teams. There’s the team whose explosive lineup erupts for 10 runs a game and whose young pitchers mold together pitching performances good enough to silence the bats of the mighty Seattle Mariners. And then there’s the team that struggles to stay off the disabled list and whose inconsistent pitchers deliver poor start after poor start. The addition of Juan Gonzalez this season has been one of the most influential transactions in baseball, and the inspired play of Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome and Ellis Burks have also proven positive for the Indians as they head into the postseason. The pitching combo of C.C. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon has given the team some confidence in its pitching game, but inconsistency has left ample room for doubt. As the Indians head into tonight’s match-up against the Mariners, the question seems to be which team will show up to play.
The Mariners have been the story of the season. Their regular season record of 116-46 ties them with the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the all-time record of most wins in a season. The emergence of AL batting champion Ichiro Suzuki has shocked the world of baseball, and an MVP-caliber season by Bret Boone has turned numerous heads. They’re making many ask, “Alex Rodriguez who?” Durable starting pitching and a stingy bullpen create difficulty for opponents to get on the board or to stage late-inning comebacks. The last time these two teams met in postseason play was in the 1995 ALCS, where the Indians emerged victorious in the series, 4-2. Will history repeat itself?
Atlanta Braves vs. Houston Astros
The Atlanta Braves, making their seventh consecutive trip to the postseason, hope to capture the World Series crown after a six-year drought.
Leading the charge is power-hitting Chipper Jones, who finished the season with 38 home runs and 102 RBI. Following in Jones’ path are not one or two dominant players but rather a number of role players who have each come up big at different times this season. If the Braves are to make a run at the title, they must get solid starts from the experienced Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Burkett. The Braves, who lack overall dominance, must rely on experience to carry them into late October.
Making their fourth trip to the playoffs in the last five years, the Astros hope to avenge a series of first-round losses and remove the label of a team that can’t get it done in October. Jeff Bagwell, who is hitting .128 in the playoffs, needs to come up big if the Astros are to have a shot at winning the series. Veterans Craig Biggio and Moises Alou must help carry some of the burden as well. The last time these two teams met in post-season play was during the 1997 divisional playoffs, when the Braves swept the Astros in three games.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Diamondbacks feature the most dominant pitching duo in the league, with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. The two have combined to win 43 games this season, and with a three-man rotation in effect from here on out, it will be impossible for a team to beat the Diamondbacks without facing both of these guys. Luis Gonzalez posted an MVP-caliber season, and he leads the charge on offense.
As for the Cardinals, the story of their season has been rookie sensation Albert Pujols, who is a lock for National League Rookie of the Year. Jim Edmonds, Fernando Vina and Placido Polanco head the offensive charge, and the pitching staff pivots around the 22-win season of Matt Morris. After the team came just a few games short of the Series last year, they now hope to give former home-run champ Mark McGwire something to think about as he ponders the possibility of retirement over the off-season.