Looking Ahead To The Baseball Playoffs
Now that the regular season has mercifully ended for fans of the local nine - the historically offensively inept Seattle Mariners, who finished the season scoring the fewest runs (in either league) since the advent of the Designated Hitter - Mariner fans can now come out of hiding, uncover their eyes, and actually look forward to some good baseball that the postseason inevitably brings.
The surprisingly overachieving Twins face the wild-card Yankees, whose pitching has faltered down the stretch, while the no-longer young and upstart Tampa Bay Rays square off against Texas in the first round of AL play, with the Twins and Rays holding home field advantage in the short series.
The National League finds the wild-card Atlanta Braves starring in the role of sentiment's darling, as Manager Bobby Cox will be hanging up his spikes at the end of the season. They face Western Division survivor San Francisco. The Cincinnati Reds, the best of the Central Division's sorry lot, are the sacrificial lambs being served up to the bordering-on-a-dynasty Phillies.
While it's hard for me to find any team to root for this year, that doesn't mean I won't be watching with keen interest. The tension and drama that playoff baseball produces is unmatched in all of sport, for my money. Throw in the inevitability of an unsung hero and the possibility of a scarred-for-life goat, not to mention the chance of seeing a performance of historical significance, and I, for one, can't wait.
If forced to pick one team to root for, I'll have to begin by employing the age-old Process of Elimination.
It goes without saying that any right thinking person, when faced with these aforementioned eight teams, would pick the Yankees as the team he would least like to see win (yet another) World Series.
Only those with the softest spot in their hearts for the most unlikely of underdogs could pull for either Texas or Cincy.
Tampa Bay needs to get it done now or never, as the financial realities of their young team coming of high-salary-age, coupled with low revenues generated by their poorly located ballpark, threaten their ability to keep their great core players together.
Philly is the favorite to win it all with their trio of great starting pitchers, Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt, and mix of solid steady veterans with plenty of playoff experience. They'll be a tough out.
The one other team I will root against (besides the damn Yankees, of course) are the Giants. As a boy growing up a Dodger fan, a certain enmity toward the team of Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda, et al, was impressed upon me. Riding in the car with my dad when the day's scores from around the league came on the radio, whenever the Giants lost my dad would turn to me and ironically note 'isn't that a shame'?. While my allegiance to the Dodgers has cooled over the years in favor of the Puget Sound nine (through thick and mostly thin), I can still honestly say that I don't care who beats the Giants.
Minnesota seems to make the playoffs every year, quietly so with a bunch of guys named Joe. Quick, name two of their starting pitchers or a pair of position players (outside of Mauer and the of-late concussed Morneau). It's hard not to like them, though, as they play the game the right way on the field without breaking the bank off of it. Besides, the specter of late October-early November outdoor baseball being played in the Twin Cities' sub-freezing temps wound send a chill up the spine of Commissioner Selig (if he had one), which would, in turn, put a smile on my face.
I've always had a fondness for Bobby Cox, for the least of baseball-related reasons - he bears a strong facial resemblance to my dear and late Uncle Bob. He has a gruff exterior (no kidding, say the umpires who ejected him a record number of times) that soon gives way to a smile, a necessity for going though life, regardless of one's occupation. His perennial division champion Braves have played in a lot of tough October luck, and he's due to have a few bounces go his way after winning just the one World Series in 1995.
So here's a call for a Minnesota - Atlanta World Series, a rematch of their classic 1991 seven-gamer from Bobby Cox' first full season managing the Braves.
And wouldn't it be nice if the Braves wound up on top this time, and for Cox to get tossed in his final game?
There's no question about it.