NLCS, ALCS are tight, which is becoming the norm in the postseason
Both the Los Angeles Dodgers, facing a must-win game, and the Detroit Tigers, facing a need-to-win game, rebounded with victories on Wednesday in League Championship Series play. If you have been watching baseball for the past three years you cannot be surprised. We are guaranteed that both the NLCS and ALCS will go at least six games -- this after we saw 18 out of the maximum 20 games in the Division Series round. Baseball has too much parity these days to have a quick series.
The lines between Los Angeles and St. Louis and Detroit and Boston are razor thin in each case. The Cardinals lead the Dodgers three games to two while the Dodgers lead in runs, 13-12. The Tigers and Red Sox are tied at two games each while the Tigers lead in runs, 13-10.
When the World Series ends, stories will be written about how the winning team had championship timbre or some kind of "destiny" that guided them. Said one general manager, "The winning narrative will be written backward only after the series is over, which is total garbage."
Added Oakland GM Billy Beane, "The Cardinals barely made the playoffs two years ago and won the World Series. I'm pretty sure that wasn't their business plan -- to make it in on the last day and run right through the playoffs. Anything can happen."
Games turn on a play here or a pitch there seemingly more than since the ball was dead. Once you accept the fact that the postseason is not a coronation of the best team over a seven-month period but is simply about the excitement and drama of tournament baseball you can accept these series for what they are: extravagant coin flips. Such unpredictability never has been more in play than in these recent years as Bud Selig's path to parity has yielded intended results.
You can see the results in how often we get more long postseason series. Check out how these past three postseasons are yielding an increasing number of games and competitive series than the three postseasons before them:
* Losing team with 1 or 0 wins
The drama is in place. The NLCS gives us a blockbuster pitching matchup Friday night in St. Louis for Game 6: The best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw of Los Angeles, against the breakout pitcher of the postseason, Michael Wacha of St. Louis. Kershaw is 25 years old and has a 0.47 ERA this postseason. Wacha is 22 years old and has a 0.64 ERA this postseason. They already have given us a 1-0 duel, which went Wacha's way.
Boston and Detroit tonight stage their own reprise of a 1-0 duel: the Game 1 staring contest between Jon Lester and Anibal Sanchez, which was won by Sanchez. As the Cardinals discovered last year (losing three straight possible NLCS clinchers against the Giants) and yesterday (losing another possible NLCS clincher against the Dodgers), it is very difficult to close out a series quickly these days.
The first time this season that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had a victory in hand to protect he used Fernando Salas, 28, and Edward Mujica, 29, to set up closer Mitchell Boggs, 29, who had replaced injured closer Jason Motte, 31.
If Matheny has a lead to protect for an NLCS victory tomorrow or Saturday that will put St. Louis in the World Series, he will likely ask rookies Kevin Siegrist, 24, and Carlos Martinez, 22, to set up rookie closer Trevor Rosenthal, 23. The remaking of the Cardinals bullpen on the fly, most of which occurred late in the season (Rosenthal recorded his first save Sept. 23), and with an emphasis on youth, is one of the more remarkable aspects of St. Louis' season. The Cardinals have put the most important portions of the most important games in the hands of young pitchers. Experience is overrated when you have pure swing-and-miss stuff.
Martinez and Rosenthal have thrown 7⅔ innings in the NLCS without allowing a run while striking out one-third of the batters they faced (eight of 24). Here's what is most impressive about what they are bringing to the mound: Of the 95 pitches they have thrown in this series, 68 of them, or 72 percent, have been clocked between 97 and 101 miles per hour.
. . . Comeback Day in the LCS, in which both trailing teams picked up wins.
• Carlos Beltran has never played in a World Series. He has played seven games with three different teams in which a win would have put him in the World Series. His teams have lost all seven games by a combined score of 40-12. He gets an eighth try tomorrow.
• Dodgers starter Zack Greinke threw pitches at 19 different speeds in Game 5, down from 22 different speeds in Game 1, but he showed mettle in holding the game down until he found the touch on his pitches. Seven of the first 13 batters to face him reached base, but none of the next 13 did. He allowed only four flyball outs among the 21 outs he recorded.
• Batters against Greinke with the bases loaded over the past three years are hitting .136 (6-for-44) after his escape act in the first inning yesterday.
• File it away: The Cardinals took some good swings against Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen in a non-save situation in the ninth.
• Did you see the ball jump off the bat of Xander Bogaerts in his one at-bat in Game 4, a double to the wall in rightfield? Bogaerts has stardom written all over him. It must be tempting for Boston manager John Farrell to give the kid a start after watching Stephen Drew (.077, no extra-base hits) continue to struggle.
• With David Freese scuffling, the lower third of the St. Louis order presents little challenge to Dodgers pitchers. The 7-8-9 hitters in the Cardinals' lineup are hitting .143 (6-for-42) with three RBIs. Freese becomes a key player in providing depth to the lineup.
• Adrian Gonzalez has become much more of a pull-power hitter as he ages. Those home runs to leftfield just don't happen anymore. Gonzalez hit 15 opposite field homers in 2009. He hit none this year. His two home runs in Game 5 were both crushed to rightfield.
• Tigers DH Victor Martinez is reaffirming himself as one of the best pure hitters in baseball. Martinez is a tough out who uses the whole field from both sides of the plate and is a high-contact hitter. On June 28, shaking off rust after knee surgery, Martinez was hitting .225. Since then, including the postseason, Martinez is batting .376. With an injured Miguel Cabrera unable to provide much power and Prince Fielder still lost in a funk in which he cannot pull or drive the ball, Martinez has become Detroit's most dangerous hitter.