Major League Baseball is down to the final four as the Dodgers and Cardinals moved on and will meet in the NLCS, while the Tigers earned a date with the Red Sox in the ALCS. In my opinion and with no disrespect to any of the teams who are no longer playing, the best four teams are left standing. Sure, the Braves held the best record in the NL for much of the year, but the Dodgers and Cards were arguably in stronger divisions, particularly the Cards who battled held off both the Pirates and Reds to win the NL Central and claim the best record in the NL. The same can be said for the Tigers who technically finished 3 games behind the Tigers for 2nd best overall record in the AL, but top-to-bottom are a more fearsome and stronger team.
The Cardinals and Dodgers should be a NLCS great match up. I’d have a hard time choosing a team to come out on top if I had to place a significant wager on the series, it’s that close. They are evenly matched, yet are polar opposites in many ways. The Cards have built their team from the ground up, with more than half of their roster coming up through their farm system, while the Dodgers have wheeled-and-dealed their way to their roster, leveraging free agency and the trade market. Most notably, the blockbuster deal with the Red Sox in 2012 that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to LA. The NLCS series may come down to match ups. The Dodgers are filled with big name stars and the Cards have a group of workman-like players who, for the most part, fly under the radar. Both teams have solid starting rotations, with a slight edge to the Cards who are deeper, 1 through 4 but the Dodgers have their two aces, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw lined up to pitch games 1 and 2. Not to mention that those 2 would also be lined up to pitch games 6 & 7 on normal rest if the series goes that far, which I believe it will. Having said that, the Cards pitching overall and their strong defense will keep them in most games and that can easily offset a Greinke or Kershaw throwing against the Card’s third or fourth starter if the Cards keep the game close early and can get into the Dodgers bullpen. The keys to the series could come down to which team comes up with just one more timely hit than the other. The sadist in me would love to see a Dodgers-Red Sox match up in the World Series just to hear how loudly that Red Sox Nation greets (as in heckles) the departed trio of Crawford, Gonzalez and the injured Beckett. But my baseball intellect tells me it will be the Cardinals as they outlast the Dodgers in series that may very well become an instant classic, 4 games to 3!
As for the ALCS, much like the NLCS, these two teams are fairly evenly matched and the series will likely go 6 or 7 games. On paper, the Tigers have a deeper overall rotation, 1 through 4, but Boston’s 3rd and 4th pitchers, John Lackey and Jake Peavey, are both former aces that certainly “know how to pitch” and know how to pitch on the big stage. One advantage the Red Sox hope to exploit will be that they will have their top two pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, going in games 1 and 2 (and 6 & 7), while the white-hot Justin Verlander will not make a start until game 3. Still, every starting pitcher on both teams is fully capable of pitching shutdown baseball at any time; so, there are no ‘gimmies’ in this series, matchup-wise. If Miguel Cabrera can get back to being close his stratospheric hitting prowess in this series and Jhonny Peralta and Prince Fielder get hot behind him, the Tigers very tough to beat. Meanwhile, the Red Sox must do what they do best in order to win and that is to work the pitch count, grinding out at bats. No team in baseball saw more pitches than the Red Sox and their tendency to work counts and driving up pitch counts is one of their main hallmarks that they must continue to employ. When they get on base, they can also put a lot of pressure on the Detroit defense with their speed. I think the difference will be the Red Sox ability to get to and exploit the Tigers bullpen and to take advantage of the Tigers defense over the course of the Series; No surprise here, Red Sox in 6 games!
Jimmy will be playing baseball at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown during Columbus Day weekend, where, in 2011, he realized a dream of playing on the same team as his son, Trevor (seen above making a diving catch in CF at Cooperstown).