Friday, September 30, 2011

American League Playoffs Start Today

After the regular reason ended with a bang on Wednesday night, the playoffs are set to begin today.  The four AL teams will face off against each other today, while the NL teams will wait until tomorrow to begin their games.  The Rays, who squeaked into the playoffs on an Evan Longoria walk-off home run on Wednesday, will play the Rangers starting at 5:07 ET in Arlington, Texas.  The Yankees and Tigers will battle in prime time (8:37 ET) at Yankee Stadium.  That should be the game to watch today, as CC Sabathia will go up against Justin Verlander.

Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers, 5:07 ET

Keys for the Rays: Right now Tampa Bay fans are proclaiming "In Matt Moore we trust."  The heralded rookie will start game one for the Rays after a stellar minor league season and a good September call-up.  Moore made his first start on September 22 pitching five innings against the Yankees, giving up no runs on four hits and striking out 11.  In 9.1 big league innings this season, Moore is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 15 strikeouts.  This year's Rangers team is even better than last season and their offense absolutely mashes so Moore will have his hands full.  Can he keep his composure and can the Rays score enough runs to offset the Texas lineup and their ace, C.J. Wilson?

Keys for the Rangers: C.J. Wilson has been better than expected all season and has developed into a legitimate ace.  Luckily for him, the Rangers lineup has been even better than last season.  With additions like Adrian Beltre, Texas has scored 63 more runs than they have this season.  If they can put runs on the board early and rattle rookie Matt Moore, it could be an easy opening game at home for the Rangers.

Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees, 8:37 ET

Keys for the Tigers:  Justin Verlander is making his postseason start since 2006 and he is much more mature than the pitcher who compiled a 5.82 ERA in four starts during the '06 playoffs.  He was only average against the Yankees this season, with two no-decisions and a 4.50 ERA.  If the Tigers want to win the series, Verlander needs to come out firing in game one.  If he can shut down the potent New York lineup, it could signal good things for the Tigers in the ALDS.

Keys for the Yankees: If the Yankees let Verlander settle in it could be a long night, even with CC on the mound.  If Verlander can go deep into the game with a lead, the Tigers can immediately go to the best part of their bullpen, Jose Valverde, who didn't blow a save all season.  Sabathia has been spectacular for most of the season, and Yankee fans should not expect anything less tonight.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wild Card Races Tied

It has been 161 games and nothing has been decided in either wild card race.  The Red Sox managed a win against the Orioles, while the Rays beat the Yankees to stay tied in the AL.  In the NL, the Braves were beaten again by the Phillies and the Cardinals took advantage, besting the Astros 13-6.  Now, everything comes down to game 162.  It has been six months since the beginning of the season, yet the Sox and Rays are deadlocked at 90 wins and the Braves and Cardinals have both accumulated 89.  For all the critics who complain about the length of the MLB season, this shows that every single game is important.

On the last day of the season, both the Sox and the Rays will trot their aces out to the mound in hopes of avoiding a one-game playoff.  Jon Lester, who has lost his last three starts, will look to rebound and shut down the Orioles in the season finale.  David Price will take the mound for the Rays at Tropicana Field, where he has struggled this season (he has a 4-9 record at home in 17 starts).  Both the Braves and Cardinals will also have reliable starters on the last day of the season.  Tim Hudson will hope to keep the Phillies from a franchise-best 102 win, while Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter will hope to continue his success against the Astros (he holds a 2.79 career ERA against Houston).

Tomorrow's Games:

Red Sox at Orioles, 7:05 ET
Key for the Sox: Lester needs to come out strong and deliver a statement on the hill.

Yankees at Rays, 7:10 ET
Key for the Rays: The Rays offense need to provide run support for Price, who has a losing record at home despite a 3.45 ERA at Tropicana Field.

Phillies at Braves, 7:10 ET
Key for the Braves: Atlanta needs their offense to show up to the park.  It has been terrible in the first two games of the series.

Cardinals at Astros, 8:05 ET
Key for the Cardinals: Albert Pujols has been quiet in the series so far, but a big game from him could push the Cardinals to victory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ozzie Guillen Leaving White Sox

Ozzie Guillen's tumultuous tenure with the Chicago White Sox has finally come to an end.  Guillen's contract doesn't expire until after the 2012, but he had publicly stated that he would not return without a contract extension.  He met with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf on Monday and after leaving the meeting with no extension he managed his last game, a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays.  In eight years with the White Sox, Guillen is 678-617.  He led the White Sox to a World Series win in 2005.  Chicago retains the right to be compensated if Guillen takes a new job for the 2012 season.

Guillen is expected to sign a contract with the Marlins to manage next season.  The Marlins are opening a new ballpark, which includes the renaming of the team (Miami Marlins), new uniforms and a new logo.  Guillen was the team's third base coach in 2003, when the Marlins won the World Series.  For the Marlins' sake, hopefully he can get some fans to actually attend games in Miami.  According to sources, Guillen's contract with the Marlins would be for four years.

He could end up being a great fit for Miami (its weird not to say Florida), who has a talented young core that may need a fiery manager to get things going.  As long as he gets Hanley Ramirez to stop underachieving and to mature, the Marlins could be on the right track.  For a city with a large Hispanic population and a team in need of a strong leader, Guillen could be the perfect fit.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wild Card Race Update

Thanks to a three-run homer by Jacoby Ellsbury in the 14th inning, the Red Sox finally won again and managed to keep a game between themselves and the Rays.  After a poor first inning on Sunday night, John Lackey pitched surprisingly well, giving up three earned runs in six innings.  After Chris Dickerson's sacrifice fly scored Brett Gardner in the seventh inning, both teams were held scoreless for six innings until Ellsbury's game-winning shot.  Papelbon pitched well in relief for the Red Sox, throwing 2.1 scoreless innings (which included getting out of Daniel Bard's bases loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth).

The Rays beat the Blue Jays 5-2 on Sunday Afternoon thanks to eight strong innings by Wade Davis.  Their five runs all came on the long ball: B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist hits homers in the first inning, Evan Longoria went deep in the third, and Kelly Shoppach homered in the sixth.  Combined with Boston's doubleheader split, the Rays now sit one game behind the Sox in the AL wild card race, with three games to go.

In the National League, the Braves offense didn't show up the ballpark and Atlanta dropped their second straight game to the Nationals by a score of 3-0.  Ross Detwiler pitched six shutout innings for the Nats, while the Washington offense scored their runs on home runs by Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse.  The Braves' road to the playoffs doesn't get any easier, as they host the Phillies in a three-game set to end the season while nursing a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the wild card.

St. Louis managed to move closer to Atlanta yesterday with a close 3-2 win over the rival Cubs.  Octavio Dotel picked up the win in relief of starter Edwin Jackson, and the Cardinals scored two runs late on home runs by Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal.  The Cards will be on the road in Houston to end the season, and they have a very good chance to overtake the struggling Braves.

Today's games:
Red Sox @ Orioles, 7:05 ET
Yankees @ Rays, 7:10 ET
Phillies @ Braves, 7:10 ET
Cardinals @ Astros, 8:05 ET

Friday, September 23, 2011

Braves and Cardinals Battle for Wild Card

For a season that wasn't supposed to have any exciting playoff races, there are suddenly two close races to watch out for.  The Boston Red Sox have been in a tailspin since the beginning of September and the Tampa Bay Rays have taken advantage to pull within two games in the AL wild card.  The Sox epic collapse has caused people to overlook the mediocre play of the Atlanta Braves in the NL.  Once considered a virtual lock to win the wild card, the Braves have gone 8-13 in the month of September.  Coupled with a resurgence by the St. Louis Cardinals, who have gone 14-6 in September, the NL wild card gap is now only two games.  St. Louis missed a golden opportunity to move within one game yesterday, blowing a 6-2 lead in the ninth inning against the Mets on a night when the Braves were off.

With six games left who is in a better position to win the wild card?  Based on each team's schedule, the edge goes to the Cardinals.  St. Louis will play three games each against the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros, two of the three worst teams in the NL.  Atlanta will play three against the Washington Nationals and three against the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Nationals are 8-2 in their last 10, including a sweep of Philly.  The Phillies have lost six straight but still easily have the best record in the game and may want to capture some momentum before the playoffs start.  Luckily for the Braves, there aren't many games left to make up the two game gap.  However, it would not be surprising to see the Cards run the table while Atlanta falters.  Look for St. Louis to take home the NL wild card.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Can the Red Sox Hold On?

After falling 7-5 tonight to the Orioles, the Red Sox have now lost two of three games so far in the current series and they are now 5-15 in the month of September.  This is the same team that, after starting 0-6, rolled through the middle months of the season.  The Sox looked like possibly the best team in the American League, a title that absolutely no one would reward them with now.  With only seven games remaining, Boston could become the laughing stock of baseball.  Former Boston pitcher Curt Schilling even publicly stated "I don't think they're going to make it."

So why have things gone so wrong?  The list of problems is too long for a team with such a high payroll.  Third baseman Kevin Youkilis is injured.  Left fielder Carl Crawford has underachieved all season.  John Lackey may actually be the single worst starter in baseball (He's lucky the Sox have scored enough runs to get him 12 wins).  Injuries have forced the Sox to start Tim Wakefield 22 times, Andrew Miller 12 times, and Kyle Weiland five times.  Ace Jon Lester hasn't been great down the stretch and neither has set-up man Daniel Bard, who was stellar for a long stretch earlier in the season.  There's more reasons, but you pretty much get the point.  For a team with such high expectations, this would be a classic pre-2004 Red Sox collapse.

With only seven games left, could the Red Sox possibly blow their tiny two game lead?  If there was ever a time for Boston fans to root for the Yankees, the time is now.  The Yankees beat the Rays tonight leaving the gap at two games, but the Sox had better hope that the Evil Empire continues to beat up on Tampa Bay during their remaining five games.  The Rays also play three more games against the Blue Jays, which bodes well for Boston.  However, if the Sox continue to lose to the Orioles and play poorly in New York this weekend, what was shaping up to be a great Sox season could end in disaster.  With how pitiful the pitching has been, the Red Sox will need their prolific offense to carry them to a wild card berth.  The Sox held a nine game lead in the wild card race as recently as September 3, but they are ever so close to one of the worst collapses in the history of the game.