The Rays and Red Sox took care of business Monday night, leaving us with two complete Championship Series and the next step of October — the final act before the World Series.
B.J. Upton set the tone at U.S. Cellular Field with two homers, the second one blasted right into the teeth of that famous Chicago wind, and Andy Sonnanstine and the bullpen did enough for the Rays to clinch.
In Boston, two plays helped the Red Sox close out their fourth American League Championship Series appearance in the last six years. The first was catcher Jason Varitek’s clutch putout of Reggie Willits in the top of the ninth on a botched squeeze bunt attempt by Erick Aybar.
The second was the game-winner off the bat of rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie that sent Fenway into another frenzy.
Now we get to analyze the next round in detail and prepare for what might be 14 games to decide who’s going to meet in the Fall Classic. Here are my first impressions and predictions:
ALCS: BOSTON VS. TAMPA BAY
As October-tested as the Red Sox are, I think the Rays had to be rooting for them last night. Not only does Tampa Bay now get home-field advantage in this series — the Rays, who had the best home record in baseball this season, wouldn’t have had it against the Angels — but they catch a banged-up Sox team, and those injuries are going to show up a lot more in a seven-game set than they would in five. The Rays handled the Sox well this year and have the pitching and defense to more than hang in there against the resilient defending champs. My prediction: Rays in six.
NLCS: LOS ANGELES VS. PHILADELPHIA
Take whatever you thought about the Dodgers before the Manny trade and chuck it out the window along with that leftover pepperoni calzone from Adrian and Phil’s Pizzeria. (Make sure the calzone lands in the dumpster, of course). This is an entirely different Dodgers team that has been galvanized and re-energized with the presence of that huge bat in the middle of the lineup, and their torrid September and sweep of the Cubs in the first round showed that. Nothing against the Phillies, who are loaded offensively and play well at home, but I’ve got to give a big pitching advantage to the boys in blue, and a big pitching advantage usually gets it done this time of year. My prediction: Dodgers in five.
Now it’s your turn. Let me see your predictions for both Series. We’ve got two days to talk it all over.
I hope you all stayed up late to watch that epic game between the Red Sox and Angels. L.A. finally showed why they had the best record in baseball, breaking their winless streak against the Sox and getting one more shot in Fenway Park as they try to take that American League Division Series back to Anaheim.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day the White Sox did the same thing in their home park. Here’s a quick recap:
WHITE SOX 5, RAYS 3
Rays starter Matt Garza is young, talented and very emotional, and we saw that yesterday. We also saw that the White Sox are no joke. This is a team that won it all only three years ago and a team that’s always tough to beat at home. Monday’s game brings a lot of intrigue, as the Rays need to show they can win on the road when it counts. We all know how good they are at the Trop, but can they bring it at the Cell? And the White Sox, well, they’re just trying to stay alive. And they’re good at that.
ANGELS 5, RED SOX 4 (12)
Wow. What else can you say? There was so much going on that you could write a whole blog about this game alone. This series just got a lot more interesting, too. The Red Sox look banged up, with J.D. Drew, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell all playing hurt, but that 2-1 series lead and another game at Fenway make them seem a lot healthier in a hurry. The Angels just want to win one and get another shot at home. A rested and revenge-minded John Lackey should help.
How are your predictions turning out? What will the AL Championship Series look like?
Tell me what you think.
The Red Sox continue to show why they’ve won two of the last four World Series titles. They flat-out know how to get it done in October, and if you didn’t believe they could win it all this year, all you had to do was watch them last night. On to Friday’s games…
RED SOX 7, ANGELS 5
The guy they got for Manny, Jason Bay, puts them on top right away with an early homer, and then J.D. Drew breaks a tie with a two-run blast off K-Rod in the ninth! In other words, the Red Sox can taste another title, and going up 2-0 on the road against the team with the best record in baseball is pretty impressive in my book. The Angels have to be wondering what’s going on, losing their Major League-record 11th straight October game against the Sox. Fenway and a possible early clincher awaits …
RAYS 6, WHITE SOX 2
The tone-setting homer by Akinori Iwamura, the lockdown bullpen, the late insurance runs. It was a textbook October victory for the hometown Rays at the Trop, leading them to another 2-0 series lead heading back to Chicago. Can you believe how poised this young team seems? It’s like they’ve been playing in the postseason for years.
The weekend will be wild, with all four series possibly ending early in sweeps. Let me know who you think will get it done right away and who you think has the goods to pull off a stunner and take three straight.
You know I’ll be watching.
Thursday’s Division Series games once again blew my mind. You want October amazement? You got it yesterday, big-time. Let’s recap the games.
DODGERS 10, CUBS 3
I don’t remember the last time I heard Wrigley Field so quiet, and for long-suffering Cubs fans, this was a tough one to swallow. The Dodgers offense has come to play, and for the second straight night, they got great pitching, too. In Game 2, it was Chad Billingsley dealing. But enough about the Dodgers. What about the Cubbies? The best record in the National League and they lose two in a row at home? Unreal. But remember, folks. Strange things happen in October. The Yankees went down 2-0 at home in 2001 and came back and beat the A’s in their Division Series. It can happen.
PHILLIES 5, BREWERS 2
This one was all about Shane Victorino’s grand slam, and maybe about a team finally finding its postseason groove after getting swept in the first round last year. The Phils left for Milwaukee on a serious high point and can you blame them? They did something that hardly anyone could do down the stretch — beat CC Sabathia — and now have huge numbers in their favor. Teams with a 2-0 lead in NL Division Series have won their last 16.
RAYS 6, WHITE SOX 4
And how about those Rays? Experts claimed they didn’t have enough talent to make it to October, and they shot that down. Critics said they didn’t have the experience to make it all the way through October. Well, maybe they don’t, but they certainly didn’t look intimidated yesterday in improving their league-best home record. And who did a huge portion of the damage? The probable AL Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, who looked about as ready for the postseason as anyone ever has in his first crack at it.
It’s starting to get crazy in these series, and I’m watching every inning. Now I want to hear from you. What was your favorite Thursday moment? Did any team make a major statement? Will the Cubs rally? How far can the Rays go?
I’m all ears.
Three Division Series Game 1s yesterday and already more than a few surprises. And isn’t that typical of October?
Let’s go game by game.
PHILLIES 3, BREWERS 1
It isn’t surprising that Cole Hamels dealt the way he did, but the Brewers, particularly Yovani Gallardo, showed a lot of poise for a young team that has practically no postseason experience to speak of. If the Brew Crew can clean up a few mistakes, this might become a very competitive series very quickly — especially when CC gets his say. Here’s Chase Utley’s big hit in the third inning.
DODGERS 7, CUBS 2
Now I didn’t expect this one. Who would have thought the best team in the National League would go down at home in Game 1 in the 100th anniversary year of their last World Series title? But James Loney had the big hit, the grand slam in the fifth inning, Manny and Russell Martin homered later, and that was all she wrote. The Cubs will have to regroup in a hurry tonight, but their big horse, the Big Z, is on the hill, so Cubs Nation has to be feeling good about that.
RED SOX 4, ANGELS 1
The Angels had the best record in all of baseball this year and were at home with their ace, John Lackey, in Game 1, but the same old same old happened again — the Red Sox beat them in October. This time it was lefty Jon Lester giving the Angels hitters fits and the newest member of the defending world champs’ outfield doing most of the damage.
Almost too much to blog about, but I want to hear your thoughts. What was the best moment of the first day of October baseball in 2008?
And what’s going to happen tonight as the Rays-White Sox series starts and two other series continue?
Let me know.
We’re here, and the Postseason is ready to roll. I hope you all watched the White Sox come up big with that 1-0 win over the Twins like I did.
It was cool to see them celebrating. Fortunately for them, they’ve got an extra day to prepare for Thursday’s Game 1 in St. Pete!
Three Division Series games today to kick it off, and I can’t wait to see what happens and what memories are made. Here are some quick blog thoughts on each one.
Brewers at Phillies
Tough call here, but the Phightin’ Phils came up huge down the stretch to take the division from the Mets, and I don’t know if you have noticed what Ryan Howard’s been doing for the last month, but you’ll probably find out in this series. Philadelphia is a great baseball town and they haven’t tasted World Series champagne since 1980. They’re hungry and I expect them to come out aggressive.
Dodgers at Cubs
Does anyone have higher expectations this season than Cubs Nation? It’s been exactly 100 years since the Cubbies won it all, and their fans have heard enough about curses and billy goats. They’ve also had to watch as the Red Sox won in 2004 for the first time since 1918 and the crosstown rival White Sox took it the next year for the first time since 1917. With the pitching, the defense and the hitting that led them to dominate the NL this year, the Wrigley faithful have to think this is the year.
Red Sox at Angels
The Angels got swept out of the first round by the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, and the Red Sox won the World Series both years. This season might be different, with the Angels winning 100 games for the first time in franchise history and owning the best record in the Majors. Great pitching matchup tonight with the Angels’ John Lackey going up against the Red Sox’s no-hitter man, Jon Lester.
Three games and all kinds of memories to be made. Now I want to hear your thoughts. What will happen tonight in each game? What are your predictions for these three series?
Let me know.
Today there’s a lot of baseball to watch and a lot of important moments to witness as we head into October, full speed ahead.
Grab some snacks, put on that seat belt and have fun. This is what we’ve been waiting for.
Seven teams are waiting.
October is waiting.
And tonight, everybody will be watching as the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox fight it out for the eighth and final spot in this year’s postseason.
Nothing gets me more excited than a tiebreaker. We’ve only seen four one-game tiebreakers in American League history, and, at this point, it’s tough to say which team is going to come out on top.
Tonight’s game is not just a battle for the playoffs. It’s a battle of two of the American League’s best young guns — Chicago lefty John Danks and Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn.
Isn’t it amazing the way two teams can be so close to one another all year, playing each other 18 times during the regular season, but we still need to see one more as the rest of baseball watches?
That’s called excitement.
And these two franchises have proven over the last several years that they’re worthy contenders for the World Series. The Twins seem like they’re always in it, despite a low payroll. And the White Sox won it all just three years ago.
Tonight’s game also features two of the craftiest managers in baseball going head-to-head. I’m sure Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire and Chicago’s Ozzie Guillen will make their mark on this one in the strategy department.
Seven teams are waiting.
October is waiting.
The tight pennant races are getting tighter, and I’m feeling the intensity every night as the Twins and White Sox battle it out for the last Postseason spots in the American League. I’m sure you are, too.
Meanwhile, as the Mets and Brewers try to keep the pace in the National League, the Mets are set on prolonging the life of that charming 44-year-old ballpark in Queens called Shea Stadium that’s going to make way for the new Citi Field next year.
What does it all mean? It means we’ve got less than a week to go until October, and the first five teams that have clinched as I write this are waiting along with the rest of us to see how it’s all going to shake out.
And those teams still have so many unanswered questions, too.
Can the Dodgers keep up the excitement and ride the hot bat of their newest star all the way through October?
Can a healthy Evan Longoria help the Rays continue to prove the doubters wrong?
Do the Red Sox have another magical run in them?
Is it THE year on the North Side?
Or will the team with the best record in baseball live up to its billing?
Vote in the poll and let me know how you think it will all play out. The good news is we won’t have to wait very long to see what happens.
There’s five days left in August, which means there’s five days to September, a.k.a. official crunch time in the big leagues — and the time when my fingers start sweating just a little bit more as I type away at this blog. The heat hasn’t just been turned up on my desk. It’s all around the Majors, and I can’t decide which is the craziest pennant race.
You can’t tell me you’re not checking out in the National League East every night. The Mets and Phillies are duking it out for the second straight year, and the boys from Queens are looking to reverse the September slide that knocked them out last year. Guys like Mike Pelfrey are stepping up big-time at the right time, which means Shea might stay open for an extra month — October.
Out West, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are in a serious scuffle, and I’m telling you, this one ain’t over by a longshot, but the D-backs have pulled ahead a little bit in the last week, and it doesn’t hurt when guys like my man Chris Young are getting their groove on at the right time.
Flip a coin in the AL Central. For real. This one is off the hook. The White Sox have been there most of the year because of guys like Carlos Quentin going off, but man, those Twins are tough to shake! You’ve got to give it to an organization that keeps the talent flowing in from the farm system year in and year out. Check out their new guy Denard Span – beating the Angels last week – how do they keep finding these guys?!
Who’s going to win these races? I have no clue. No idea. But that’s the great thing.
I’ve got all of September to figure it out, and it starts in five days.