By Sam McPherson
This is the busiest weekend of Major League Baseball playoff action, and all four League Division Series will be sorted out — mostly — over the weekend’s games to be played. If NCAA Basketball has its March Madness, this three-day stretch in October is what defines the MLB postseason.
Unlikely heroes, dashed dreams and crazy results litter the landscape of baseball’s largest playoff round, and 2014 will be no different. It’s already proved that, even before a pitch was thrown on Saturday.
At press time, the Baltimore Orioles already have a 2-0 lead on the Detroit Tigers in their best-of-five contest, while the San Francisco Giants continued displaying their postseason magic in taking a 1-0 series lead on the Washington Nationals. The Los Angeles Angels are looking to even up their series with the Kansas City Royals after an extra-innings loss in Game One Thursday, and the marquee matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers is a rematch of last October’s National League Championship Series.
Hang on, because it will be a bumpy weekend!
Detroit Bullpen Woes Surface Again
Both Thursday and Friday in Baltimore, the season-long challenges for the Detroit Tigers relief corps continued. The Orioles scored eight runs in the eighth inning on Thursday to win Game One, 12-3. Oon Friday in Game Two, Baltimore dropped four runs in the eighth inning on the way to a 7-6 victory at home.
Thursday’s game was just a one-run affair, in favor of Baltimore, when former relief darlings Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria combined to surrender six runs while registering just one out between them. Chamberlain, of course, was a member of the 2009 World Series champion New York Yankees, while Soria was once a dominant closer for the Kansas City Royals before injuries derailed his career. The eighth inning was cruel to Detroit once more on Friday, as the Orioles scored four runs to erase a three-run deficit and win the game: again, Chamberlain and Soria combined to give up four runs in the disastrous inning.
Now, the Tigers — who beat the Oakland Athletics in their previous two American League Division Series in 2012 and 2013 — head home to Comerica Park, down 0-2 and needing some magic and spark to keep their dream of Detroit’s first title since 1984 alive. Clearly, they better not give the ball to Chamberlain and Soria, though.
Kansas City Magic Is Alive and Well
The Royals won their second straight postseason game in extra innings on Thursday night, when third baseman Mike Moustakas — who struggled badly in 2014 with a .212 regular-season batting average — homered in the 11th innings to beat the AL’s best team in Game One of their ALDS matchup.
Kansas City is not known for their power bats: the team was dead last in the majors with 95 home runs this year. The Royals like to run, as evidenced by their wild-card game win over the A’s on Tuesday night when they stole a record seven bases.
Then the Royals did it again on Friday night: a home run by Eric Hosmer in the 11th, and suddenly, the “best team in baseball” is in an 0-2 hole. However, the Angels are a veteran team, and they have the fortitude to rebound from the opening losses. But it’s hard to overlook Kansas City’s mojo right now, that’s for sure.
What’s in the San Francisco Water?
Another team that you can never underestimate in October is the San Francisco Giants. They beat the favored Pittsburgh Pirates on the road in the NL wild-card game Wednesday, and behind reclamation project Jake Peavy, they took Game One of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals on Friday afternoon. Peavy was terrible last year for the Boston Red Sox down the stretch and in the playoffs, and after a 1-9 start to this season, he joined the Giants and has turned it around.
Considering the magic S.F. somehow spun with castoffs and retreads like Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Barry Zito and Marco Scutaro in winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, respectively, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Peavy out-dueled Stephen Strasburg in this series opener. But the Giants continue to defy logic and analysis by turning frogs into princes every time they’ve made it to the playoffs this decade.
Kershaw, Wainwright: Who Could Ask for Anything More?
That was the Game One matchup, but the 10-9 final score in the Cardinals’ favor wouldn’t suggest it. The Dodgers needed this one, after St. Louis thumped him in last year’s NLCS, sending the Cards to another World Series and denying L.A. its first Fall Classic appearance since the 1988 affair featuring Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser.
St. Louis needed to beat Kershaw or Zack Greinke at least once in this series to advance, and Wainwright is their best pitcher. Mission accomplished, although not the way it was planned. With the Dodgers holding home-field advantage here, the Cardinals have already stolen the edge they needed to in this series.