The Division Series followed a breathless end to the regular season, but we had no reason to fear that it would be a let-down in comparison.
Fans of the teams involved would probably prefer a simple sequence of series sweeps; however the rest of us crave a postseason full of drama and excitement, series that go the distance, see-sawing and providing a rollercoaster of emotions, games being decided by the narrowest of margins.
It’s a lot to ask for and we hold onto these expectations knowing that they can’t always be met. Yet sometimes we get lucky and if the Division Series round is anything to go by, we could be in for a classic postseason.
Consider the following:
- Three of the four series went to a Game Five decider
- All four deciding games were won by a single run
- The two favourites were knocked out
Phillies and Yankees fans won’t appreciate the final item on the list, but it has made the rest of the postseason all the more unpredictable for the rest of us.
Philadelphia came into the year with an impressive track record and a starting rotation that had many debating whether it was one of the greatest of all time. The Yankees are the Yankees. For once, they didn’t make a big splash over the offseason, but their sky-high payroll was testament to the star power and experience they possess.
Somewhere amid the annual burying of A-Rod, there was an air of disdain among some New York commentators about the Tigers’ cheek: how dare Detroit defeat the mighty Yankees. Similarly, you could look at the Cardinals and question what right they have to deny the Phillies the World Series berth that their roster and regular season performance indicated they deserved.
Well, that’s playoff baseball for you. It’s cruel when you’re on the losing side of it; glorious when you’re not.
It leaves us with two fascinating Championship Series to look forward to and four teams all offering strong reasons to win your support.
Let’s start with the Cardinals. Only the Yankees have won more World Series than the Red Birds, their most recent triumph coming in 2006, so they are hardly newcomers to all this. But they did lose their best starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, for the year to Tommy John surgery before a pitch had been thrown and have played the year knowing that it could be their last with the great Albert Pujols. They were outsiders for a playoff spot before an 18-8 September and a final day victory pushed them past the slumping Braves.
Their opponents in the National League Championship Series looked like being postseason contenders from day one of the season and the excitement surrounding the team has built ever since. The Milwaukee Brewers have never won a World Series, have only made one previous appearance in the Fall Classic (in 1982 when they were the American League representatives and lost to the Cardinals 4-3) and had only made the playoffs once since (2008) prior to their 2011 success.
The Texas Rangers have everything going for them. They made it to the World Series last year (defeated 4-1 by the Giants), won 96 games during the regular season and on paper have a well-balanced roster that can beat you with the bat or with pitching. However, like the Brewers they have never won a World Series and that’s a big historic hurdle to jump over.
And then there are the Tigers. Four times a World Series winner, they appeared in the 2006 edition of the Fall Classic (losing to those Cardinals 4-1), but that was their only previous postseason outing since 1987.
We’ve had nine different World Series winners over the last ten years. The Cardinals are the only team who could stop that from becoming ten teams in eleven years and even if they did it would still be quite a story considering the difficulties they have faced, not least of which being the Phillies in the Division Series.
They overcame that formidable challenge and could well overcome two more. Still, you could make the same argument for the other three teams too.
And that’s what should make the Championship Series stage so exciting. With the two big guns out, all four teams will think they have a great chance to win it all. First they’ve got to get there and finding out which two make it should be every bit as enjoyable as the Fall Classic.