Mets in the driver seat

    Baseball’s division series are all wrapped up, and so far the fall classic has provided a few sweeps, upsets and surprisingly few nail-biters.

    Easily the biggest shock this October has been Detroit’s upset of the heavily favored New York Yankees. The Tigers, who three years ago lost 119 games, overcame a game one defeat in the Bronx and sent the Yanks packing after winning the next three.

    Detroit’s pitching staff, led by Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman, stifled the Yankees’ big bats. In game three, Tigers pitchers, who this year turned in the lowest ERA in the league, held the Yankees hitless in 18 tries while runners were on base. No major league team has ever failed in so many attempts.

    The distinction was especially dubious for a team boasting baseball’s highest payroll and most feared lineup. Yankee boss George Steinbrenner was characteristically upset, and rumors began swirling immediately after the series about the future of Yankee Manager Joe Torre. In the post-game press conference Torre appeared to be holding back tears, indicating perhaps his feeling that the day might be his last in Yankee pinstripes. Despite Torre’s regret, New York’s collapse could not sit squarely on the shoulders of its manager.

    Alex Rodriguez, the league’s highest-paid player and shakiest performer under pressure, got one hit in 14 at-bats (.073 avg). Other marquee Yanks Jason Giambi (1 for 8), Gary Sheffield (1-12), Robinson Cano (2-15) and Hideki Matsui (4-16), were equally culpable.

    "Plain and simple, [Detroit] dominated us," Rodriguez said in a statement to ESPN that is likely to further exasperate Steinbrenner. "It’s not like we lost by one or two runs. They actually kicked our ass."

    In the other American league match-up, the Oakland A’s got their first postseason series win in 16 years by sweeping the Minnesota Twins. And much like their soon-to-be ALCS opponents Detroit, the Athletics won on the backs of strong pitching. Oakland’s wicked starting slingers, led by Barry Zito, finished the series with a 2.33 ERA. Over the course of the entire series the A’s never trailed Minnesota.

    The Twins, meanwhile, continued their sorry string of postseason performance with a fourth consecutive playoff series loss. In those games, the Twins are 3 and 13.

    Barry Zito is chiseled in to start against Detroit’s Nate Robertson as the ALCS kicks off Tuesday in Oakland. The two teams are quite evenly matched, and the series figures to be a pitching duel. Detroit took the season series, 5-4, and it looks as if the ALCS will be just as close.

    In the NLCS, the New York Mets will play host to St. Louis.

    The Mets swept their Division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but unlike their American League counterparts, the Mets did it with offense. The laundry list of Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Paul Lo Duca, Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green and Endy Chavez all finished the series with at least a batting average above .333.

    New York’s grizzled vet and former Atlanta star Tom Glavine put in a strong performance, and in their absence, Mets pitchers Pedro Martinez and El Duque were hardly missed.

    In the other National League series, Tony LaRusa and his St. Louis Cardinals knocked off the San Diego Padres in four games. The Padres were left with a strong sense of deja vu, as the Cardinals eliminated them last year as well. But the similarities St. Louis and their fans are feeling end there. Unlike seasons past, the Cardinals limped into the playoffs, dispatching the Padres in less-than-convincing fashion.

    Still, starting pitcher Chris Carpenter was strong for St. Louis, taking the team on his back for wins in games one and four. Offensively, Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Ronnie Belliard came through for St. Louis, but if the Cardinals hope to have any chance when the NLCS begins Wednesday, some of their other bats are going to have to step up.

    With the Mets’ offensive performance already dominant, if Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes emerge from their postseason slumps the ‘other’ team from New York will become downright scary. The Mets should topple the shaky Cardinals in the NLCS and then give Steinbrenner something to get really angry about as they bring the first championship to the Big Apple since the Bronx Bombers in 2000.