When the idea to follow the Major League Baseball run through October with the Momentum Meter came to me, I had no idea that the sprint would take off quicker than I could put it to type. It’s really not a problem that happens with baseball too often. But even in the first ever Division Series to play out across the maximum 20-game total distance, the rate it all unfolded at was impressive for even an Olympic sprint.
Now halfway through each League Championship series, the ball is still moving as fast as ever on both sides of the plate. For as overall dramatic as each Divisional Series was, the League Championship Series are both pushing along in very different manners. On one side, there’s a shellacking going on in the AL, while the NL games thus far have taken on two very different stories.
However, before moving on to what’s next, let’s take a glance at who is left since the last time the temperature was tested around the playoffs here at TSFJ.
Two of the most monumental underdog runs of recent years left the scene in the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles. Both fought to the very end and squeezed nearly everything that could be squeezed out of their series, but ultimately running into Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia, respectively, in the win-or-go home games was too big of a task. Assets like that are what make for class (and budgetary) differences in the game that even the most inspired storybooks can’t write out.
Over in the NL however, the farewells were even more brutal. The Cincinnati Reds should get the MC Hammer Falloff Award for their effort on the way out. After giving up two runs in two games in San Francisco and coming home needing to win one game, they were a shoe-in for mid-October ball. Instead, they got swept at home by the Giants and got knocked into the offseason in style that only The Pit on Mortal Kombat could accurately display.
In DC, the Nationals made a critical mistake: They put the St. Louis Cardinals’ back to the wall. The Cardinal engineered an incredible final-out comeback in the round’s last game that sent both of the top two seeds in the NL home, at home. Well, at least they didn’t have to go too far.
But moving on, things have changed, and in the first TFSJ Playoff Momentum Meter of the League Championship Series, the last four squads standing are on very different footing headed in to phase two of last round of play before the biggest Interleague series of the year …
4. New York Yankees: The Bronx is burning. Derek Jeter has a broken ankle, Robinson Cano is 0 for his last 23. Overall, they are hitting .205 as a team, and this is all before seeing the aforementioned best pitcher in the world in Detroit today.
What they have to do: Wake up. You can’t count them out because there’s just too much talent and track record to do so, but this is a team that’s beaten up and worn down. They’ve played three extra-innings games in their last five, but they have to steal a win somewhere and get the ball to CC Sabathia in a position where they don’t have to score a lot, because that well is dry.
3. San Francisco Giants: They are the scrappiest team left in the playoffs, and any squad with championship experience and the heart of fighter is a tough match-up. Doesn't hurt to throw two former Cy Young winners in Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito on the road either, where they have been strong.
What they have to do: Play angry still. They've played better ball than the Cardinals for 3/4ths of the series and have proven to be a tough club on the road, obviously, in Cincy. They’ll have to face much stronger match-ups this time around on the mound, but taking at least one in St. Louis gets the series back to Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner in San Francisco.
2. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals have been road warriors since last Wednesday, winning three of the five contests. However, they haven’t gotten a starter into the fifth inning in their last three games either. But they’ve been unshakable and, even in defeat, haven’t seemed out of any of their series yet.
What they have to do: They have to capitalize on three games at home. The Cards were the winningest home team in the National League this year and bring a split series back to this advantage-laded venue. Giving the first two games in Busch to Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright is big.
1. Detroit Tigers: What more could they do? They won game one with a furious comeback in extras and then blanked the Yankees a day later to take a two-game lead. All before they’ve spent a second of the series in Detroit or with Justin Verlander on the mound.
What they’ve got to do: Keep the series in the D. They have to keep punching the Yanks, even while they’re on one knee. They’ve got a huge opportunity to deal the death blow with Verlander taking the mound for game three in Detroit, but the key is Max Scherzer having a strong game four follow-up. That’s either the clinching game behind Verlander’s start or the chance to win a huge game 4 headed into their last game in the series at home.
I'm a firm believer that the closest I've gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I'll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and 'Live From The Cheap Seats'.