Well, that was fun. And alternately depressing
We are literally only two days into October, and already I’m 0 for 2. Someone recently described the Wild Card round as a coin-flip, which only serves to make me feel a little bit better about my record. Then I remember that, at the end of the day, I’m able to write about baseball every week, and that there’s only more where this came from. And that makes me feel a great deal better.
I’m slightly revamping how these columns are going to function going forward: I’m going to spend less time talking about what I think is going to happen and how certain strengths and weaknesses are going to play out. Predicting sports is about as accurate a science as meteorology. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I feel is my strength, which is reacting to what we’ve seen and trying to figure out exactly what it all means. Which works out well, because we’ve had a doozy of a Wild Card round this year.
There were two teams in the playoffs this year with relatively similar stories: the Pirates and the Royals. Last year, the Pirates went a ways towards exorcising their demons of twenty years past. This year, it’s apparently the Royals’ turn. On Tuesday night, I ran to the nearest bar I could find as soon as they started coming back in the 8th inning (I was in rehearsal for the first 7.5 innings), dragging along a few Second City cohorts. When cheering for a team, I hold little back – I’ve been routinely called out in Chicago sports bars for getting too emotional during sports playoffs, and this night was no exception. With every feeble bunt, I yelled out a little louder in
drunken outrage. It might have been enough to drive the table behind me from their table. I dunno, I really can’t be sure. I was too busy watching one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen in person on television (I’d rank Game Six of the 2011 World Series higher, but I only caught the last two innings of that one.) Watching the Royals triumph in the bottom of the 12th inning against all odds was hypnotic, and all-consuming. I even got called out on Twitter for not knowing enough about baseball strategy:
Let’s just say I had a field day with that guy.
Meanwhile, last night’s affair was a different story. Madison Bumgarner pitched a stellar game, throwing a 4-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts. (Unfortunately for the Giants, he’s now not available for their first few games against the Nationals – a curse/intentional drawback of not winning your division, as their best pitcher must ride pine while a fading Tim Hudson and unpredictable Jake Peavy eat up innings.) However, my heart was pining for the Pirates, whom I legitimately thought had a better shot. If you can’t muster more than four hits, sadly, you probably aren’t going to win many games. PNC was quickly silenced by a Brandon Crawford grand slam (the first ever hit by a shortstop in the postseason), which took one of the Pirates’ best weapons away before a rally could be mustered. Now the Bucs sit at home, while the Giants hope that their recent trend of winning championships in even-numbered years holds true in 2014.
At the very least, this screenshot happened:
It’s fantastic that the Royals are advancing. They are unquestionably the best narrative in this year’s postseason, and play a style of ball weird enough (last in the majors in walks and homers, but third in batting average and fourth in stolen bases) to keep any casual fan interested. (Although their bunting will doom them if they don’t hold up more. SERIOUSLY, NED YOST, STOP GIVING AWAY OUTS. YOUR TEAM IS AMAZING ON THE BASE PATHS. WHY NOT TRY MORE STOLEN BASES? YOU HAD SEVEN ON TUESDAY NIGHT, CLEARLY DEREK NORRIS CANNOT THROW OUT BASE RUNNERS. STOP. BUNTING.) At the same time, the Bucs are gone, and with them, one of baseball’s most recognizable stars in Andrew McCutchen, a budding icon in a sport that desperately needs them following the tarnish of the Steroid Era.
I mentioned earlier trying to figure out the meaning of everything. Here’s what we know: Pittsburgh is settling in for a long winter after a flashback to a score that happened all too often during the twenty years of decrepitude in which the franchise was immersed; Oakland settles into another off-season of questions over where they went wrong and how much longer Billy Beane’s Grand Experiment can function; across the bay, San Francisco looks to bring home further glory, glory that in many ways reflects what it means to be from that city than any other sports franchise that it lays claim to; and Kansas City basks in the sunshine of a return to relevance, awash for the moment in the sheer joy of competing upon baseball’s grandest stage. Even though, for seven of the eight teams remaining, the moment is fleeting, the fact that it happened at all provides hope to thousands upon thousands, not just in Kansas City or San Francisco, but scattered like a diaspora across the globe.
Onto the matchups:
American League Division Series
Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
My heart wants the Royals to carry on at least as far as the ALCS. However, if James Shields is getting battered around by the A’s, and if Yordano Ventura’s psyche isn’t sufficiently recovered, I don’t see Ned-Yost ball triumphing over the Murderer’s Row of Trout, Pujols, and Kendrick at the heart of the Angels lineup.
The pick: Angels in four
Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles
Buck Showalter is the semi-consensual pick as the most crafty of managers remaining in the postseason. Baltimore is one of the best power-hitting teams in the league, living and dying by the home run. Their bullpen is absurdly dominant. However, the Tigers have one of the three best rotations of playoff pitchers remaining (the others are probably meeting in the NLCS), their lineup is sufficient to overcome Baltimore’s bevvy of pitchers, and Miguel Cabrera is hungry for a ring.
The Pick: Tigers in five
National League Division Series
San Francisco Giants at Washington Nationals
The Nationals are another great story, a team that’s built itself up through clever drafting, key free agent signings, and a healthy dose of talent and gumption. (Also insightful sabermetrical analysis, but after watching Ned Yost
brainfart stumble his way into the Divisional Series, who really needs statistics?) They’re hot. Jordan Zimmerman is coming off of throwing the franchise’s first no-hitter. The Giants are good, and have a history of rallying in key moments. This year, I don’t think it’ll be enough, though we should have a great series on our hands.
The Pick: Nationals in five
St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw Kershaw Kershaw. When you’re pitching Kershaw twice in a series against a team that doesn’t hit for much power already, you’re facing an uphill battle. Add in Zach Greinke for one game, and you have three games set up right there. (Although Kershaw/Wainwright has the makings on paper of a fantastic pitcher’s duel, though LA’s hot lineup should do the trick)
Also, Clayton Kershaw.
The pick: Dodgers in four