Who ya got?
The two ALCS participants could be decided tonight, with the A's and Tigers squaring off at 5 p.m. ET from Detroit, and the Red Sox and Rays going to battle at 8:30 p.m. in Tampa Bay. In both games, the away teams have the 2-1 series leads, making this game a must-win for, really, all four teams.
On the other side of things, the Cardinals tied their series with the Pirates in the NLDS thanks to a magical game by three low 20-year-old guys and a two-run homerun by Matt Holliday. Now, the two teams will meet in St. Louis for a winner-take-all fifth game that will surely be a good one.
Laying out those games, let's look at the numbers and situations and try (if at all possible) to make sense of things and pick who is the logical winner of all three series.
A's vs. Tigers: This series was far more pitcher dominated than arguably anyone would have expected through the first two games. In Game One, Bartolo Colon and Max Scherzer pitched deep into the game and only gave up three and two runs, respectively, with the Tigers winning 3-2. The second game was an even better pitcher's dual, with Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander going scoreless and a no-out, bases loaded single by the A's Stephen Vogt providing the only run of the game. Yesterday's Game Three finally saw some offensive output, as the A's hammered three homers in rout to a 6-3 victory after both benches cleared in the bottom of the ninth because of senseless jawing.
Game Four this evening is sure to be filled with high tempers and plenty of emotion, as both teams view this as a must-win game. Obviously, the Tigers have to win, because losing means their season is done. For the A's, they don't want to have to play a fifth game, even though it would be at Oakland, because that means facing off against perennial Cy Young winner Max Scherzer again.
After the offensive output that finally came out in Game Three, it appears that the A's have finally found their bats and are rolling a bit. However, Miggy Cabrera has been held in check thusfar by Oakland's pitching-- only batting .250 in the three games-- and you know he will come out ready to put a charge into one. The Tigers will be sending out right-hander Doug Fister, who sports a fancy 1.71 ERA in five career postseason starts, but he got rocked by the A's on Aug. 28 to the tune of seven runs on 13 hits in a 14-4 Tigers loss. The A's will counter with right-handed Dan Straily, who pitched well down the stretch, going 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his last six starts during the playoff push.
Based on the pitching matchups and the situation at hand, my gut tells me to go with the A's tonight. Straily is another one of those guys the A's have that no one knows about, and that could serve him well. The Tigers won't know exactly what to expect from the young righty, and he could be problematic for them. Oakland's recent power serge in the third game bodes well for them going into this one, and I expect them to get a few runs on the board early and hang on with that good bullpen. A's win the series, 3-1.
Red Sox vs. Rays: Boston looked poised to glide through this series after the first two games, in which they demoralized Rays pitching by scoring 12 runs in the first game, eight off of 17-game winner Matt Moore, and seven in the second, all off of ace David Price. The third game proved the Rays aren't ready to roll over and die yet, though, as they kept the game close and were able to steal the win thanks to a walk-off, pinch hit homerun by Jose Lobaton in the bottom of the ninth. That game-winner came off of Koji Uehara, who was arguably the best reliever in the major's this season.
Going into tonight's game, the Rays are riding some momentum for the first time in the series, and their rock in the lineup, Evan Longoria, finally erupted in Game Three, blasting a homerun and driving in three runs. They will need more than just Longoria tonight, though, as they may need to score more than the five runs they won game three with. Jeremy Hellickson will get the start for the Rays, and he was downright awful in the last part of the regular season, only winning one of his last 10 starts and sporting a 7.53 ERA.
He was also the loser of Game Four of the ALCS last year, when the Rays were eliminated by the Texas Rangers. Facing him will be Boston's Jake Peavy, who bounced back well this year to post a 12-5 record, although having a reasonably high 4.17 ERA. Peavy hasn't started a postseason game in seven years, and has not fared well in his previous outings, with a 12.10 ERA in two outings with the San Diego Padres.
This one could be a very high scoring affair, with both offenses looking to capitalize on shaky starters. The bullpens could be the saving grace for one of these teams tonight, and based off of bullpen skill and depth, I have to give the nod to the Red Sox, who I think will end the series and the Rays season. Hellickson has shown he doesn't pitch well in win-or-go-home games, and the Red Sox are smashing the cover off the ball at the moment. Red Sox take the series, 3-1.
Cardinals vs. Pirates: The final Division Series game will be played tomorrow night, in primetime at 8 p.m. ET from St. Louis. This series has been full of just about everything, from high scoring to nearly no-hitters. The Cards walloped the Bucs in Game One, sporting a seven-run third inning in route to a 9-1 victory.
Then, it was the Pirates' turn to do the hitting, as they took Game Two by a 7-1 score. Pittsburgh carried that momentum into the third game, and seemed to have an answer every time the Cardinals tried to steal the game, winning 5-3. Game Four was one of those games that you are used to seeing from the Comeback Cardinals, as they used a stirring one-hitter by 22-year-old phenom Michael Wacha to take the close one, 2-1.
Tomorrow's Game Five will surely be one of those postseason thrillers, as both teams have plenty to play for. The Pirates haven't been in the postseason for 20 years, and in no way want their ride to end. The Cards came into this postseason sporting the best record in the NL, and losing to a division foe in the NLDS will just be unacceptable to this storied franchise. Both teams have the timely hitters, MVP candidates and Cy Young hopefuls, and both teams are ready to send their rivals home.
St. Louis will send Cy Young candidate and Game One winner Adam Wainwright to the hill Wednesday. He allowed just one run on three hits in the 9-1 victory, striking out nine while not allowing a walk. He has proven why he is the ace of this staff all season long, and short of Chris Carpenter there is no one the Cardinals would rather have on the bump for this game. He will be countered by rookie sensation Garrett Cole. Fittingly, another rookie will pitch in a big game in this series. The Cards had been the ones to show their youth so far, with plenty of lower-20's guys coming up big in Game Three. Cole dominated the Cardinals' lineup in Game Two, which was also played in St. Louis. He went six innings, allowing just two hits while giving up one run. That performance was good enough for Pittsburgh to choose him over veteran A.J. Burnett for the fifth and final game.
If Game Five is anything like Game Four, expect this one to be heart-wrenching for fans of both teams. St. Louis will be rocking just like Pittsburgh was for games three and four, and both pitchers will have to keep a level head in this pressure-packed situation. That is why I like the Cardinals to come away with the victory, and move on to face the Dodgers in the Championship series. Playing on the road in a Game Five will be too much for the Pirates to overcome in their first trip back to the postseason, but I expect them to go down fighting to the end. Watch out for extras in this one. Cardinals will win the series, 3-2.