I will be distracted for a while. The playoffs are beginning!
[UPDATE, 11:40 a.m. PDT: So much for the Padres-could-win scenario (described below): 8 runs off Peavy. What a statement by the Redbirds!]
This was one of the most exciting final weekends of baseball’s regular season in many yearsâ€”especially in the American League. We did not get the 3-way tie that I was rooting for (on the principle that more baseball is always better than less, and also because the competition being worn out while the Angels clinched early is a self-evidently good thing). But we did get three 95-win teams (and one with 99) in the AL, so the playoffs should be tense. The Indians, who came from far behind and just over a week ago led the wild card race and threatened the White Sox for the Central lead, suddenly in the last week forgot how to score, but still wound up with 93 wins and just missed out.
But before the AL gets underway, first up is the NL West winner, the Padres, with their 82-80 record, facing the St. Louis Cardinals, 100-62. Six teams in the NL finished with a better record than the Padres, and three of them (the Phillies, who were eliminated from the wild card race on the final day, and the Marlins and Mets) are not going to the playoffs. On the last day of the season, the Brewers (19 games behind St. Louis in the Central) and the Nationals (9 out in the East) lost their games to finish at .500, while the Padres won to finish with a bare-winning record. The .500 was quite an achievement for the perennially bad Brerwers and ex-Expos.
Despite finishing with 18 fewer wins that the Cardinals, the Padres actually have a chance. They got the luck of the draw in the playoff schedule. Every year there is one series that has two days off in the first five days. And this year that is the Padres. That means they can start Jake Peavy, one of the best pitchers in the league, in Games 1 and 4â€”if they can get a win out of one other pitcher’s start in Game 2 or 3. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ number 1 pitcher, Chris Carpenter, had a terrible finish (0-1 with a 9.14 ERA in his last four starts). If Peavy is on, the Padres could steal this. If not, they can probably forget it.
During the regular season, the Cardinals won 6 and lost 4 of their head-to-head match-ups with the Padres. However, three of the Padres’ 4 wins came in May, the one month when the Padres actually looked like a team that would belong in the playoffs. The Cardinals actually outscored the Padres in those ten games by a combined 43-11. Yes, 43-11. But two of those games were blowouts, 15-5 and 11-3, in games started by pitchers who are not currently with the Padres. The other games were quite close, including three decided by one run.
I like the Cardinals. They start their lineup with two of my favorite (ex-) Angels: David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds. And Edmonds gave the Cardinals a quick 1-0 lead by hitting a home run off Peavy in the first. (Right on Jim E.!)
Speaking of the Angels, by sweeping their season-ending series, and thanks to the Red Sox winning 2 of 3 against the Yankees, the team from Los Angeles/Anaheim won the home-field advantage in the first round against the Yankees. This could be important: The Yankees were a whopping 53-28 at The House that Ruth Built, but a pedestrian 42-39 on the road. That series starts at 5:00 PDT today. Keeping the fingers crossed. This Angels team is not as good as the 2002 team, and it could really go either way.
In between, we get the battle of the Sox starting this afternoon. I’m torn on that one. I have always liked the Red Sox, but would like to see someone new advance. More importantly, if the Angels should advance to the next round, I think they match up better against the White Sox than the Red ones. But that is getting way too far ahead of ourselves. But I will say that I really, really hope not to have another rematch of the Yankees and Red Sox in the ALCS, notwithstanding how spectacular that match-up was the last two years.
Tomorrow begins the rematch of the Astros and Braves, who should be quite evenly matched. The Astros were 89-73 and thus deserving wild card winners despite being 11 games behind their division winner, St. Louis. The Braves were 90-72 and have won 14 straight titles (though not in 14 straight years, as one hears said sometimes: in 1994, due the players’ strike, there was no champion and the Braves were actually trailing the Expos when the season was suspended in August).