The 162-game marathon that is the Major League Baseball regular season ended this weekend. Remaining are eight teams that look to extend their seasons deep into October. That journey begins Tuesday, with the start of the Division Series.
In the American League, the Minnesota Twins face the Oakland Athletics in the opening round, while the New York Yankees will play the AL Wild Card champion Detroit Tigers. National League match-ups will feature the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the New York Mets, as well as the St. Louis Cardinals versus the San Diego Padres, a rematch of last year’s division series. Only three teams – the Cardinals, Padres and Yankees – are making return trips to the postseason.
When Manager Joe Torre fills out his lineup card for Game 1, it will feature nine hitters that have all made All-Star appearances in their career, two former MVP’s and a 2006 MVP hopeful in shortstop Derek Jeter, as well as two players who finished in the top three in the AL batting title race this season. The Yankees have all the offensive weapons to pound their way past the Tigers. Detroit has been scuffling lately, as they slowly relinquished the AL Central division lead and finished up their regular season with a sweep at the hands of the lowly Kansas City Royals. The Tigers lack the kind of lights-out pitcher to slow down the powerful Yankee offense. Rookie sensation Justin Verlander has put together a great year, but, like many Tigers, has no postseason experience. New York owned Detroit in regular season match-ups this year, going 5-2. This series has the potential to be the most lopsided of the entire playoffs.
The other playoff series in the American League is pretty evenly matched. The Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins both present strong pitching staffs that are complimented by excellent bullpens. It’s simple. Whoever receives better starting pitching performances wins this series. Given the fact that this year’s Cy Young award favorite Johan Santana will be starting two of the games for the Twins, it should give them the slight upper hand. Additionally, the Twins hold home field advantage in the series. Given the parity of these teams, this series has great potential to go the full five games.
In the National League, the marquee match-up is between the Dodgers and Mets. New York has been the best team in the NL all-season, while Los Angeles really turned it on in the second half of the year. The Mets boast a powerful lineup full of sluggers. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have the edge when it comes to pitching, due in large part to the midseason acquisition of veteran Greg Maddux. Derek Lowe was brilliant for the Los Angeles during their pennant drive, and receives the ball for Game 1. In Game 2, Maddux is slated to pitch against former teammate Tom Glavine. Glavine and the rest of the Mets’ pitching staff will have to step up in a big way after learning last week they would be without the services of ace Pedro Martinez for the entire postseason, out with a torn rotator cuff.
After going into a freefall the last few weeks of the season, which nearly cost them a trip to the postseason, the Cardinals look to turn things around during the playoffs. They run up against the streaking Padres, who are out for redemption after being swept by St. Louis in the 2005 Division Series. Unlike last year, the Padres will hold home field advantage in the series and present a pitching rotation that appears more formidable than that of the Cards. There is not much strength in the St. Louis pitching staff behind Chris Carpenter, and even he looked shaky in his past two outings. In addition, they are without veteran closer Jason Isringhausen, which means they will be forced to use the erratic Braden Looper to close out games. The Padres pitching staff appears more stable, anchored by staff ace Jake Peavy, Chris Young and veteran David Wells, who is rich in playoff experience. In late innings, they also have new all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman coming out of the bullpen. Quality relief pitching usually proves to be an essential factor in the postseason, and this year the Cardinals may not have enough of it. San Diego took the season series from the Cardinals, 4-2, and should be the considered favorites heading into this series.