The Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals punched their 2011 MLB Postseason tickets on the final day of the regular season on Wednesday night. St. Louis got in because of the Philadelphia Phillies playing their starters in a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves. After the Boston Red Sox choked against the Baltimore Orioles, Evan Longoria launched a home run that sent Tampa Bay to the playoffs.
If Wednesday was a sign of things to come we are in for a real treat in October. Here is a preview of each matchup, keys to the series and predictions.
Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
Game 1: Verlander (24-5) vs. Sabathia (19-8)
Game 2: Fister (11-13) vs. Nova (16-4)
Game 3: Scherzer (15-9) vs. Garcia (12-8)
New York and their faulty pitching rotation won 97 games in 2011. Just thinking about that number is astonishing given their names on their pitching staff. Aside from C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees have used Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, two guys who were great 10 years ago. A.J. Burnett was unable to return to form going 11-11 with an ERA of 5.15.
Ivan Nova is 16-4 on the season with a 3.70 ERA. He is going to be the difference maker. Once Sabathia goes in Game 1, the Yankees don't have confidence in any guy who follows.
Detroit has a great chance – just like any other American League team – of making a postseason run given their manager Jim Leyland's managerial history.
Leyland has been there before. He knows that pitching and "small ball" is what wins playoff games.
There hasn't been a pitcher in Major League Baseball that has been as good as Justin Verlander. He will get the ball twice in this series unless there is a sweep.
These two people will have a huge impact on the outcome of the series.
Key to Series
Who will receive the best performance from their No. 2 or No. 3 starters? Both are suspect at best. Whoever receives that will win the series.
New York Yankees in five games.
Tampa Bay vs. Texas Rangers
Game 1: Moore (1-0) vs. Wilson (16-7)
Game 2: Shields (16-12) vs. Holland (16-5)
Tampa Bay capped off one of the most incredible nights of baseball you will ever see. They have been on fire since July 27 when they were 53-50. The Rays have gone on a 38-21 run since that time and all the credit should go to manager Joe Maddon. He hasn't allowed his team to get down in the dumps and sulk away a chance for history.
They describe themselves as "grinders" and they have grinded their way back into championship contention.
Texas has one of the best lineups in the postseason. Health will always be an issue, so maintaining their health will be of the highest importance.
C.J. Wilson has had another great campaign posting a 2.94 ERA with a 16-7 record. Pitching was a big factor in how the Rangers made it to the World Series in 2010. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and the rest of their staff will have to play big once again.
Key to Series
Pitching wins games. Cliff Lee isn't there in Texas anymore so the rotation will need to be great as a whole. Whoever receives the best starting pitching will win the series.
Tampa Bay is riding high after their historic comeback. Most people believe that they are out of gas, but I think they are ready to make a run.
Rays win in five games.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Game 1: Lohse (14-8) vs. Halladay (19-6)
Game 2: Jackson (12-9) vs. Lee (17-8)
Game 3: Carpenter (11-9) vs. Hamels (14-9)
St. Louis pulled off an incredible comeback in the standings to catch the Atlanta Braves. They received quality pitching in the month of September and that allowed them to make a run.
Their offense is extremely underrated too. Albert Pujols leads the way, but Lance Berkman is having a bounce-back season with 31 home runs and 91 RBI.
Philadelphia has a "dream team" of starters in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Their pitching staff alone should be able to take them deep into the playoffs.
However, their demise in 2010 wasn't because of their pitching it was because of their absent offense. Hunter Pence came over at the trade deadline and his addition will be the one that gets the Phillies over the top. He brings consistency and 100 percent effort every time he touches the field.
Key to Series
If the Phillies can stay healthy they should be able to win the series. Also, the Cardinals bullpen has been atrocious in 2011 and that will be a factor if they have a lead late.
Philadelphia wins in four games.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Game 1: Gallardo (17-10) vs. Kennedy (21-4)
Game 2: Marcum (13-7) vs. Hudson (16-12)
Game 3: Greinke (16-6) vs. TBD
Arizona has had an incredible season under new skipper Kirk Gibson. The team has fed off his energy and implemented that into their style of play.
Ian Kennedy has won 21 games in 2011. He should get more consideration for NL MVP because where would they be without him? He has set the tone all year long with his 2.88 ERA. But, that's why there is a CY Young Award winner every year and Kennedy will win it in 2011.
Milwaukee has put all their eggs in one basket this year. Prince Fielder will become a free agent after 2011 so they wanted to take one last crack at winning a championship with the big guy.
In doing so, they brought over Zach Greinke from the Kansas City Royals. Greinke (16-6) gives the Brewers another top-end starter to go along with Yovani Gallardo. Having another guy to depend upon from a starting pitcher standpoint will be crucial for postseason success.
Key to Series
Will Arizona be able to slug it out with Milwaukee at Miller Park? The Brewers have been an unbelievable home team in 2011.
Arizona has the team chemistry to pull off the upset, but the Brewers have the better team collectively and home field advantage.
Milwaukee wins in four games.
World Series Prediction
Philadelphia Phillies defeat New York Yankees in seven games.