Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages – the Major League Baseball regular season is officially over for 2012. It is now time for the long, hard struggle for a World Series championship. Ten teams will battle it out for more than a month, but only one will be crowned as the best of the best.
East: New York Yankees
Central: Detroit Tigers
West: Oakland Athletics
Wild Card: Baltimore Orioles
Wild Card: Texas Rangers
Wow. What a shocking turn of events the American League postseason picture has been. Congratulations to the Baltimore Orioles for holding onto that hot start and making it into the playoffs. It’s about time someone other than the Yankees or Red Sox got the chance to compete in that division. (I know, the Rays have done it a lot in the last five years, but it’s still impressive when they do.) If anyone expected the Yankees to lose the division this year, they were obviously wrong. I know I thought they’d win, and sure enough, they finished on top (albeit, not by much).
The biggest surprise, however, has to be the A.L. West. The Texas Rangers took a commanding lead of the division in the first two weeks of the season, never relinquished it, and kept everyone else at bay. It seemed pretty clear that they would be making another deep World Series run. Now, while that isn’t out of the picture just yet, everyone expected them to compete as the division winner. But the Athletics were here to shock and awe America. That team played like its life depended on it, especially in the last two months. Which is saying a lot, considering how many great pitchers were traded away last offseason (Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez). For the A’s to sweep the Rangers in the last series of the season, clinch the division, and avoid the one-game Wild Card playoff is a feat the likes of which can be rivaled by no other.
Well, perhaps that’s not true. One feat can certainly rival it, and surpass it in greatness. That would be what was accomplished by Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers. After clinching the division earlier this week, Cabrera was still chasing history, looking for the first batting Triple Crown in 45 years. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the best hitter in baseball. Cabrera hit the Tigers into the postseason for the last two months, and while he looked a little tired by Wednesday night in Kansas City, I expect we’ll see him rest up and be ready to destroy the Tigers’ division series opponent.
East: Washington Nationals
Central: Cincinnati Reds
West: San Francisco Giants
Wild Card: Atlanta Braves
Wild Card: St. Louis Cardinals
First, you know that St. Louis will be looking to repeat from last year as the Wild Card team yet again. It’s a little surprising that they didn’t fare better in the division, but the Reds played great baseball all season (and the Pirates really came into their own this year, which made things extra difficult). So the Cardinals will have to do it the old-fashioned way, yet again.
Bravo for the Washington Nationals. 2012 marks the first division championship for the Nats in franchise history. (I’m not sure if that means just the time they’ve been the Nationals, or also when they were the Montreal Expos, and further back. I’m assuming the latter, because it’s just not a stat worth telling if it’s the former. Then again, these TV people are known for picking the most arbitrary and useless of facts, and blowing them out of proportion.) If their manager is not named the best in baseball for 2012, then someone better have a long, hard talk with the media. And by “talk”, I mean “punch them all in the faces”. Even better is that the Nats had the best record in the league (and baseball), so because of that and the All-Star Game, they’ll have home field advantage through the entirety of the postseason.
It’s great for the Braves that in Chipper Jones’ last season he gets another shot at a World Championship. That’s a good way to go out. As for the Giants, it’s good to see they bounced back nicely from the 2011 slump (after a championship in 2010). For what it’s worth, I was at the Tigers game a couple weeks ago, and a Giants scout was there. I briefly saw the World Series ring (yes, apparently everyone gets a ring when the team wins). It was pretty sweet looking, but I’m not sure I would want to have something that enormous on my hand. But, either way, it was pretty cool.
Now, it’s time to preview our first two postseason games: The Wild Card matchups. For those of you who have been with BVTSB for the start, you may remember that last season I wrote preview and review articles for every Tigers game (with recap articles at different points for all the other teams). That’s not happening this year, mainly because I don’t have that kind of time. But I will be providing previews and recaps of all the series, starting with the Wild Card, and followed by the Division Series matchups tomorrow. So here we go!
American League Wild Card – Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers
This is a very interesting matchup, with an intriguing outcome for the other A.L. teams. Whoever wins here will play New York in the Division Series. If it’s Baltimore, then those two teams tied for the season series, meaning that Baltimore has a legitimate chance of beating the Yankees. (Not to mention a Baltimore win means the heavy favorite to return to the World Series is already out of the playoffs.) If Texas wins, then the two biggest threats (as I see them) for the Tigers are forced to face one another, guaranteeing that one will not be around anymore.
Baltimore has a strong team this season. They’ve proven they can pitch (the bullpen is phenomenal), and the offense has shown that it has what it takes to compete. Texas is Texas. The team is perhaps the most balanced group of individuals in baseball, and they are ready to attack anyone who gets in their way. The thing is, though, that Texas has struggled mightily in the last week, evidenced in no better way than Josh Hamilton’s unforced error in center field in Wednesday’s final regular season game.
Those recent struggles make this game hard to call. While the game is going to be played in Texas (a park that can easily give up six or more home runs in a game), those failures by the Rangers put their morale at a dangerously low level. If this were a five- or seven-game series, I’d have no problem taking the Rangers to win. But I think that right now the O’s want it more, and will play like they want it more. My pick is Baltimore to win the Wild Card playoff.
National League Wild Card – Atlanta Braves vs. St. Louis Cardinals
This matchup, too, is hard to call. Not for the same reason, though. Both of these teams are just fantastic. Either one of them could make a serious play at a World Series crown, and neither one can be counted out until the last out of the last game. Which is good for Washington, because at least one will be going home Friday night. The Braves have been the stronger of the two, so I’m sure the Nats are praying St. Louis comes up big in this game.
The Braves want to make Chipper Jones’ final season one to remember, and that journey starts here. No matter who won what division, the Braves are one of the top three teams in the National League, and want to prove it.
So, there you have it. The Wild Card games are set to play tonight. Watch closely, because now that it’s October, anything can happen. Check back tomorrow morning to get a sneak peek at what to expect when the Division Series begin Saturday evening.