For the first time in the history of the current playoff system, all four division series went to five games. No one could break away from the other team, shut it down, and move on. The Tigers, the Yankees, the Giants, and the Cardinals all went the distance, and the best of the best are moving onto the Championship Series this weekend. Who will come out on top? Let’s find out.
ALCS – Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
2011 ALDS: Round 2. Last year, these two teams went to five games, with the Tigers coming out on top in Game 5. This year, there are a couple extra potential games to play, and the stakes are even higher. With a World Series berth on the line, it’ll all depend on which team comes to play in every game.
The Yankees are, obviously, one of the best teams in the game. People hate that they can just buy a championship-caliber team (I’m one of those people), but if you just take a beat, you realize that there’s a reason this is always a championship-caliber team. These players have done everything right, have become standouts at their respective positions, and there’s at least one team in the game that is willing to reward them mightily for it. Now, while millions of dollars may be a bit excessive (I can’t imagine playing 162 baseball games is harder work than toiling 10 hours/day in a steel mill, and no one pays those people a much more-earned million dollars), they’re still some of the best at what they do, and deserve to be rewarded. The team will play tough the entire series, especially if A-Rod gets going again.
You can’t do much better than what Justin Verlander did in Game 5. His complete game shutout is only trumped by Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS from 2010. Too bad for both teams that the Verlander-Sabathia matchup won’t happen until at least Game 3 (to be held in Detroit). I expect that Miguel Cabrera will find his groove as well, and Prince Fielder will be aided by that short porch in right field. You can’t keep the big guys quiet forever. Eventually, they will come to life. The Yankees better hope it doesn’t happen multiple times, or happen at the worst possible moments.
This is a tough series to call, because, obviously, both teams have their strengths and weaknesses that balance the whole series out. It may come down to home field advantage, or how the rotations line up. For the Tigers, Verlander, Sanchez, and Fister will make the three consecutive starts in Detroit. There’s very little reason to think that they couldn’t win at least two of those games (forcing the Yankees to win three of four at home). Of course, the Yanks will face fly ball pitcher Max Scherzer twice (potentially) at home, which one could see as two easy wins for the Bronx Bombers. Assuming that New York takes those two versus Scherzer, and the Tigers win two of three at home, Game 1 could very well be the turning point. The Tigers will start Doug Fister in that game, and he’s back to being 2011 ALDS Fister, who owned the Yankees. If the Tigers take that game, we’re looking at a 3-3 series heading into Game 7, which should feature – you guessed it – Verlander vs. Sabathia again. It’ll go to the wire, but I’m going to pick the Tigers to squeeze out the victory late in Game 7.
NLCS – St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants
The Giants suffered a serious setback last year while trying to defend their world championship from 2010. But it looks like the ship has been righted, and even without Melky Cabrera it’s a strong team. Matt Cain threw a perfect game, Buster Posey won the batting title, and Tim Lincecum is starting to look like that back-to-back Cy Young winner again. Everything seems to be coming up roses for the Giants, and they’ll hope to continue that into the championship series.
After an extremely controversial Wild Card game, the St. Louis Cardinals have managed to overcome the red-hot Nationals for its second straight berth in the Championship Series as the Wild Card team. The Cardinals have proven time and again that Pujols was not the lifeblood of this team that everyone assumed he was. Just think: If Pujols had been willing to consider a smaller offer to stay in St. Louis, he could be playing October baseball right now. Oops. The Cardinals played fantastic baseball, and came up with big hits when it mattered most. The most important came in Game 5 of the NLDS with two outs in the top of the ninth, when they scored four runs to take the lead and the game. It was some clutch hitting that could prove deadly for the Giants in the NLCS.
The Cards and Giants are two teams with mountains of postseason experience, and I really think this series is going to come down to who starts with “home field advantage”. That would be the Giants – and I believe they’ll lose. The way these championship series are set up always strikes me as benefitting the team without “home field advantage”. After all, if you have that “advantage”, you only play two games at home before heading to the other team’s park. If you’re that initial road team, all you have to do is split those first two games, then you have home field advantage for three straight days. That’s a lot of energy in your favor. This energy will be working in the Cardinals’ favor, and that will be the difference. Cardinals win in six, and head back to the World Series for the second consecutive year.