Sports U.S.

An October Like No Other

(The Verge)- In a record setting year for the LDS, anything is possible on the ten-team roller coaster ride that has been this MLB postseason. Because of the new playoff format instituted by Major League Baseball, two extra teams were added to the madness; those teams being the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles. During any other season, the playoffs would have only included the Yankees, Tigers, and Athletics from the American League; the Nationals, Giants, and Reds from the National League; and the Rangers/Braves as wild card winners. However, because baseball decided to include two extra wild card contenders that would play the wild card winners in a do-or-die game, drama has ensued. In those wild-card “play-in games,” both the Orioles and Cardinals pulled off upsets; giving them yet another chance at advancing deeper into October. These teams would have never had the opportunity that they have been presented with in any other year. And they are making the most of it.

Justin Verlander has carried the Tigers into the ALCS thanks to his 22 strikeouts in two victories against the Oakland Athletics.

Now, let’s get to the record setting year for the LDS. These baseball playoffs mark the first time that all four LDS series went to a decisive Game 5. What more could the fans want than four do-or-die games in two nights? So far, two of those games have been decided. The San Francisco Giants came back from a 2-0 series deficit to beat the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds. This marked the first time that the Reds ever blew a 2-0 series lead in an LDS. In this epic collapse, they managed to lose three straight games at home where they held a 50-31 record this season. The critical blow in this game came off the bat of Giants’ catcher Buster Posey who launched a 400+ foot shot off the second deck in left field. Posey now lives among names such as Yogi Berra and Eddie Perez as the only catchers to hit a grand slam in postseason history.
On the other side of the bracket, the Detroit Tigers were finally able to fend off the feisty Oakland Athletics despite a three run rally the night before to extend the series. Justin Verlander was the catalyst yet again, tossing a complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts in the clinching victory. Verlander now holds the LDS record with 22 strikeouts in a series. At this point Verlander looks nearly unhittable and should be a major obstacle for the next opponent; especially since his velocity on his fastball actually increases throughout the game.
If yesterday’s drama wasn’t enough for baseball fans, then they can look forward to the other two Game 5’s tonight. These matchups include the Orioles vs. Yankees, and the Nationals vs. Cardinals. Let’s start with the latter.
Coming off a walk-off home run from Jayson Werth last night (See the Drama Here), the Nationals will send their 20-game winner Gio Gonzalez to the mound to face the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright. What’s so intriguing about this matchup is the effect that Stephen Strasburg could have had in the series if he had been able to pitch for Washington. Although Gonzalez was able to win Game 1 (which Strasburg would have presumably started), the Nationals would have taken comfort in Strasburg taking the mound if a decisive Game 5 were to occur. For those of you who may not know, Strasburg was shut down late in the regular season by the Nationals organization in order to protect his golden arm coming off a Tommy-John surgery from last season. Many Washington fans, however, disputed the decision; and have a point. If the Nationals wanted to limit the amount of innings that Strasburg pitched this year, they should have given him ample time to rest while the Nationals held a comfortable lead in the division. Because the lead was large enough where a collapse seemed unlikely, Strasburg would have then been available to pitch in the postseason. Think the Nationals organization is regretting their decision tonight? I do.
Swisher has been just as bad as Alex Rodriguez, yet seems to be given a lot of slack from normally unforgiving fans in the Bronx (photo courtesy of Bleacher Report).

How ‘bout them Yankees? Perhaps the most talked-about series so far, the Yankees and Orioles will finally settle who moves on tonight in the Bronx. I have just received word that Alex Rodriguez will not be in the starting lineup tonight. Big surprise. Rodriguez is 4-34 in the last two playoff series with the Yankees including a 1-17 slump with runners in scoring position. Last night, all Rodriguez had to do was put the ball in play with the potential go ahead runs on 2nd and 3rd with one out; but he swung and missed all three pitches he hacked at. That brings me to my next issue. Why are fans so hard on only A-Rod these days? What about Nick Swisher? Curtis Granderson? Nick Swisher, in his career with the Yankees in the postseason is 18-115, including a 2-15 slump this year. Curtis Granderson is 1-16 with nine strikeouts this postseason as well. It’s clearly not exclusively A-Rod who is hurting the Yankees. He is still getting all the blame though despite a better career batting average than Nick Swisher in the postseason.
The Orioles on the other hand, are scratching and clawing at every opportunity they get. They faced elimination in the wild card playoff; they faced elimination last night, and have come away with wins both times. Their “never say die” attitude and clutch bullpen, featuring frisbee throwing Darren O’Day, has given them an advantage in clutch games. The most intriguing stat about the Yankees/Orioles matchups this year is that they are 11-11 against each other. It is only fitting that it come down to one final game to see who lives another day.
Clearly, this years’ Wild Card and LDS series’ have provided even casual baseball fans with countless amounts of thrills, heart-breakers, walk-offs, and yes; controversies (Sorry Braves Fans). Tonight should be no different.