The MLB playoffs are in full swing and thus far, baseball fans have not been disappointed. We have seen our share of great pitching performances, clutch hitting and high drama. Last Friday, baseball held its first ever wild card playoff games. In both the National and American Leagues, these games had their desired effect: to demonstrate the importance and value of winning your respective division. I’ve liked this idea since Major League Baseball first proposed it because of that very fact. Teams can no longer bank on slipping into the playoffs as a wild card, which forces them to play harder down the stretch. This unmistakably leads to a higher level of competition in the regular season, something baseball has been lacking at times.
The National League Wild Card Game featured the Atlanta Braves and the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. Though Atlanta was six games ahead of St. Louis in the standings, as third baseman Chipper Jones said, “anything can happen” in a one game playoff. And that’s exactly what occurred in this game. A few errors and a questionable infield fly rule call later, Atlanta had been eliminated from playoff contention despite their superior record. St Louis advanced to play the number one seeded Washington Nationals.
In a drastic turn of events, the Texas Rangers fell from the heights of the American League playoff picture to losing out on their division to the upstart Oakland Athletics. After their embarrassing collapse, Texas was forced to host a one game playoff against the surging Baltimore Orioles (who had barely failed to catch the New York Yankees in the AL East). To complete their fall, Texas was eliminated by the Birds on their home field and the two-time defending American League Champions were sent packing. Baltimore advanced to play their division rivals the Yankees in the first round.
(4) St. Louis Cardinals vs. (1) Washington Nationals
The Nationals have undoubtedly done a great job building their team over the past few years and this season their work finally paid dividends. Traditional stars like Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche teamed up with exciting young players like Steven Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper. Along with a great supporting cast, this team was built for success. Despite falling behind 2-1 in Game 1, Washington’s pitching kept the team in the game and in the eighth inning, pinch hitter Tyler Moore finally broke through, hitting a two-out, two-run single, which put the Nats up for good. Washington holds a 1-0 series lead after taking Game 1 in St. Louis.
(4) Baltimore Orioles vs. (1) New York Yankees
“In Buck We Trust” was the slogan all year for Baltimore, a team seemingly put together with sticks and glue. Fiery manager Buck Showalter put together an impressive season and squeezed every last bit of effort from his players, some of which have underperformed in the past. This series represents a chance at revenge for the O’s, who only narrowly missed coming back from ten games back of New York to win their division. Yanks ace CC Sabathia took on the Orioles’ Jason Hammel, one of the O’s pleasant surprises, in Game 1. Despite an impressive effort by Hammel, Sabathia outdueled him, pitching 82/3 innings of two-run ball, keeping the Orioles explosive offense in check. In the top of the 9th, New York finally broke the 2-2 tie on a clutch homerun by catcher Russell Martin. The Yankees went on to add four more runs that inning, en route to winning the game 7-2. The Yankees lead the series 1-0 going into Game 2 on Monday night in Baltimore.
(3) San Francisco Giants vs. (2) Cincinnati Reds
Both of these teams derive their success from stellar starting pitching. That fact became a problem for the Reds when their ace Johnny Cueto went down with a back injury after facing just one batter in Game 1 (the first pitcher ever to do that in a postseason game). Though this seemed like disaster, Cincinnati did not panic. Starter Mat Latos pitched four strong innings and the Reds took Game 1 in San Francisco 5-2. Game 2 was not so close. The Reds’ Bronson Arroyo pitched a gem, shutting down the Giants and giving up just one hit over seven scoreless innings. The Reds pounded Giants pitching all night en route to a 9-0 victory. The Giants travel to Cincinnati in a 2-0 hole, needing three straight road victories to advance.
(3) Detroit Tigers vs. (2) Oakland Athletics
After winning the AL West in dramatic fashion, I expected a better showing from the A’s in this series. Despite starting Game 1 with a bang, a leadoff homerun against Detroit ace Justin Verlander, Oakland’s offense was held in check for the remainder of the game, getting only three more hits and falling to the Tigers 3-1. Game 1 starter Jarrod Parker took the loss after surrendering three runs in 61/3 innings. Game 2 was a back and forth affair and looked like a game that Oakland usually wins with their propensity for late-game drama. However, in this one, it was not to be. After a homerun by Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick to take the lead in the top of the eighth, Detroit tied the game at four on a wild pitch by Oakland reliever Ryan Cook. The Tigers then rallied in the bottom of the ninth, winning finally on a sacrifice fly by Don Kelly. Despite the Tigers’ 2-0 lead in this series, I wouldn’t count out the crafty A’s just yet. They certainly have the ability to string together a few good games, especially at home with the clutch pitching they’ve been getting all year from their young staff. The A’s have yet to announce a starter for Game 3 but they know they’ll be facing Anibal Sanchez on the other side for the Tigers.