It’s time. After 6+ months of regular season battle, the time has come for October baseball (hopefully, TBS won’t torture us with a 2010-version of Frank TV promotions or Dane Cook “There’s only One October!” campaigns). So after 162 games, we’re down to 8 teams. In the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies take the stage as overwhelming favorites against the Cincinnati Reds, and the San Francisco Giants play host to the Atlanta Braves, where both teams made the postseason on the last day of the regular season.
In the American League, the defending champs, the New York Yankees led by Derek Jee-tah, travel to Minnesota to play the Twins, who are hosting their first postseason series in their new digs, Target Field. It’s quite a step up from playing inside the Metrodome, and it should be interesting to see those frigid Minnesota temperatures at some point in this postseason. The last division series squares off the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s right; the Texas Rangers are in the playoffs for the first time this millennium – last time was all the way back in the 20th century (1999).
Reds v. Phillies
The Phillies are on fire. After dominating the National League in September, the Phils storm into the playoffs as the World Series favorite. Led by the H2O trio at the top of the pitching staff (Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels), they look unbeatable at the moment. The key might lie in the hands of Brad Lidge, who underwent a year and a half of rock bottom after his perfect 2008 campaign. After starting off 2010 on the wrong foot, #54 played incredibly over the final 2 months of the season. Good for him. Meanwhile, the Reds are a great story. Joey Votto deserves to be the NL MVP of 2010, and with Edison Volquez finishing the season on a good note (4 straight quality starts) after coming back from Tommy John Surgery in July, they could make some noise. Key player to watch: Jay Bruce OF. Bruce has been lighting it up over the last two months, and we shall see if he can continue this hot streak into the playoffs.
Phillies in 3.
Both of these teams waited until the last day of the regular season to get into the playoffs, and now that they’re here, they’ll try and continue their days of playing baseball against one another. The Braves have been a great home team all season during Bobby Cox’s last year as manager. The Giants were powered by the top of their rotation down the stretch, most notably SP Tim Lincecum. Key players to watch: The top 2 rookies in the NL – C Buster Posey of SF and OF Jason Heyward of ATL. Very impressive rookies that should be the cornerstones of their franchises over the next decade.
Giants in 5.
Twins v. Yankees
The Yankees are the defending champs. They have all the experience in the world. The Twins are missing former AL MVP Justin Morneau for the duration of the playoffs. Common sense says the Yankees win, but I sense something special in the Twin cities this year. With a new ballpark and an energized fan base, they seem destined to at least make it out of the first round. Home field advantage, which the Twins own in this series, could be the deciding factor. Key player to watch: Delmon Young (112 RBI this season).
Twins in 5.
Game one should highlight the best pitching matchup of the first round – Cliff Lee of TEX against David Price of TB. These two stud aces have the ability of shutting down the opposition, so expect a low scoring game 1. The Rays’ Evan Longoria limped through the last week of the season, so stay alert on his status. While the Rangers would love to get the first postseason series victory in franchise history (they have only won one postseason game in history!), I have a hard time seeing that happen. Josh Hamilton (who was drafted #1 overall by Tampa Bay in ’99) tore up the league during the summer, but has been hampered by a rib injury over the last month of the season. Tampa looks poised to capitalize on their AL East winning season. Key player to watch: SP CJ Wilson of TEX (15-8 3.35 era)
Rays in 4.
So what do you think? How wrong are my predictions? Who are you pulling for? Which players are going to light it up? Who’s going to shrink under the spotlight?