It is the beginning of October, which means baseball fans can once again rejoice that another grueling (and historic) season has ended and the playoffs are just around the corner. For those of you not on a first name basis with Barry, Ichiro and Roger, here’s a little of what you missed over the last five months and what you have to look forward to in October.
Old men river
There are about 702 reasons why Barry Bonds is hands down the best ball player of the modern era, perhaps of all time. The man is a machine, BALCO accusations or not. It’s not only his absurd numbers and production – it is his flair for the dramatic, whether it’s his acrimonious sound bites or plunking a homer deep into McCovey Cove. Barry is a killer and no one wanted to see him in the post season. Well, no team anyway.
The Rocket, Roger Clemons, is another ageless wonder that had a stellar year and somehow willed his team back into the Wildcard race and into another postseason. His 18-4 record and 2.98 ERA are just cause for a NL Cy Young award and perhaps even more appealing, a shot at another Series ring.
Greg Maddox won’t be competing for a championship this month; however, he did pick up win number 300 on the way to a 16-11 record with the Chicago Cubs.
The Mariners said goodbye this year to their franchise player and arguably the class act in baseball, Edgar Martinez. Martinez played 18 years with the M’s and piled up career numbers of 2247 hits, 1261 RBI and a lifetime batting average of .312. In other words, even though Edgar “only” has 309 home runs, there is a good chance he may still get into the Hall of Fame
Japanese work ethic
The clich퀌� applies here. You had to be spending the last couple of months living under a rock (or in the Ondine for that matter) to not have some kind of clue as to what Ichiro Suzuki has accomplished this year. Ichiro broke the single season record for hits last weekend and finished the season with 262 hits, breaking the 84-year-old record, owned by George Sisler, by 5 hits. What makes Ichiro’s achievement even more stunning is the fact that he drew only 49 walks over 161 games. Ichiro was the only bright spot for the Mariners, who fired manager Bob Melvin on Monday as he saw the M’s lose 99 games under his watch.
Job not done
Though these stories and too many others captivated baseball fans all season long, there is still a championship to be decided and Series rings to hand out. Here now is a look at the match ups for this week.
This division series is going to be a dogfight to say the least. The St. Louis Cardinals boast baseball’s best regular season record and three of the top five NL MVP candidates hitting in the middle of their lineup. It would not be a poor choice to bet on the Cards as early Series winners, but Eric Gagne and the rest of the Dodgers will do their best to slow this powerhouse down. The wise money, however, is on St. Louis, also the baseball capital of the world.
Both of these teams were left for dead at various points in the season and now they meet head on. The Braves were supposed to miss the playoffs and become cellar dwellers after losing marquee names such as Gary Sheffield and Greg Maddox. Instead they have earned their 13th-straight division title and their bullpen is one of the best in the Majors. The Astros were also counted down and out until they won 37 of their last 47 games and snuck into the playoffs, edging both the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants.
Being from New England, I have a vested interest in the success of the Red Sox. The series starts on the road to Boston, where their offense has bogged down at times. Still, they have two guys with dorky names and huge arms called Curt and Pedro. Curt and Pedro can throw some heat and will most likely overwhelm the streaking Angels.
Speaking of the Yankees, the Evil Empire is up to its old October tricks as they move ponderously into the playoffs. Though this version of the Yankees lacks the dominant pitching of past teams, they still have plenty of offense in Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez to make up for that fault. All they have to do to win is put some runs up and wait for Mariano Rivera to shut the door in the ninth inning.