The hope that this year’s postseason would provide plenty of close series seemed to have been dashed, for the division round at least, as the Dodgers, Phillies, Rays and Red Sox all took 2-0 leads against their respective opponents heading into the weekend. Being up two-nil is a great position to be in, but then again it only amounts to having two-thirds of the job complete and sometimes that third win can be the hardest to secure.
The National League teams had the first chance to book their places in the NLCS or to stave off elimination last night. The Brewers came through to force their series against the Phillies to game four today. The Cubs lost to the Dodgers, ending their season and stretching their World Series drought to 101 years and counting. Anyone would think they are cursed.
No doubt the north side of Chicago, and Cubs fans around the world, will be trying to make sense of what has just happened. Grandiose theories are all well and good, but basically they’ve just lost three games in a row to a decent Dodgers side. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, we can see that the Cubs were only swept in a three-game series three times during the course of the regular season (at the hands of the Rays, White Sox and Astros). Whether you want to put it down to the team choking in October or simply the law of averages coming into play depends on personal preference. A team doesn’t win ninety-seven games without being able to cope with pressure, so I’m inclined towards the latter position. That won’t make it any easier for Cubs fans to swallow after they had such high hopes that this could finally be their year. The Cubs were swept in the division series against the D-Backs last year and it’s another three and out this time around.
The Dodgers were clearly favourites to wrap up the series after winning the first two at Wrigley. Watching the condensed game footage on MLB.com doesn’t really give you a full sense of the flow of the game, but looking through the box score and the play-by-play as well suggests that the Cubs never really mounted a strong challenge after conceding two runs in the first inning. Hiroki Kuroda held them scoreless over 6.1 innings and, aside from a rally in the eighth, the Dodgers had the game under control. They convincingly won the series by a combined score of 20-6.
While it wasn’t of ‘Rockies’ proportions, the Dodgers entered the postseason on a good run of form (17-8 in September). The return of Rafael Furcal on 24 September after nearly five months on the disabled list has added to the feeling that they are coming good at the right time. L.A. will not fear the Brewers or the Phillies in the NLCS, so there’s every chance that Joe Torre will be managing in another World Series.
I’m sure that will please Hank Steinbrenner.
The odds are still in favour of the Phillies becoming the Dodgers’ opponents, but the Brewers are not dead and buried just yet. If you are going to lose the first two games of a five-game series, the best you can hope for is that you lose them on the road. Although it’s still a deep hole to be stuck in, you can at least prepare yourself psychologically for game three by writing off those losses and believing that you will win your two home games to level the series. The Brewers completed part one last night, but they’ll need a strong outing from Jeff Suppan to take the series back to Philadelphia. They haven’t had one of those for a while (since his victory over the Pirates on 30 August, to be exact) and the Phillies knocked him out of the game after just 3.2 innings the last time he faced them on 14 September.
However, if he can get the better of Joe Blanton today, the Brewers will be able to send CC Sabathia to the mound in the game five decider on Tuesday. He struggled in game two, but the Brewers will hope that pitching off four days’ rest will get their ace back to his dominating best. The Brewers will need nothing less from Sabathia if Cole Hamels pitches as well as he did in game one. We’re getting ahead of ourselves though: that mouth-watering contest will not take place if the Phillies prevail in game four. British fans can follow the game in the early evening, as first pitch is scheduled for 18.07 BST.
The Rays-White Sox game is also being played at a convenient time: 21.07 BST. Matt Garza should get the start for the Rays, looking to make it yet another first for the organization by getting to the Championship Series for the first time in their short history. John Danks is the man charged to bring an end, or at least a temporary reprieve, to the misery sweeping over Chicago right now (pun unashamedly intended). The Cell has been host to what have amounted to two sudden death victories for the White Sox over the past week. They need two more to take the series back to Tampa and they don’t have to look far to know what it will feel like if they are unable to make that happen.
Game three of the Angels-Red Sox series will be the live game on Five tonight and will be previewed in more detail later today.