Matchups Set For League Championship Series
By Jim Henneman
Taking a look back, and ahead, as baseball's postseason moves into the League Championship Series stage:
There is no question Cliff Lee was the difference between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays -- just as he was the reason why the Yankees and Rays appeared to jostle for the wild card spot.
The Yankees come out the big winners on both fronts. Not only did they extend their mastery over the Minnesota Twinkies to nine straight in the postseason, but the five-game ALDS means they will have to face Lee only once before a potential seventh game of the ALCS. That could be a huge advantage for the Yankees, who will be favored to win in six games or less.
Don't dismiss the Rangers' other lefthander in C.J. Wilson, the likely Game 1 starter because his assortment of pitches can be almost as effective. But, as a former reliever, he doesn't have Lee's staying power, which figures to be a disadvantage in any matchup with CC Sabathia.
If you're looking for an unsung hero in the Rangers' Game 5 win (not that Lee needed much help), look no further than third base coach Dave Anderson. Two of the first three runs came on alert base running on the part of Elvis Andrus and Vladimir Guerrero, and Anderson deserves some credit for keeping both players aware of the situation.
Perhaps Andrus and Guerrero deserve the bulk of the credit, but if Anderson hesitated even briefly on those plays, the first and third runs for the Rangers, wouldn't have happened.
The run between those two can be attributed to nothing more than Nelson Cruz getting away with a stupid gamble while trying to make up for a base he lost by not running out of the batter's box, thereby turning a triple into a double. With two outs, there was no reason for him to attempt a steal of third base, where he was destined to run into the final out of the inning until Kelly Shoppach's throw sailed wildly into left field. He got away with it, but it was a case of two wrongs making a right.
In the end, the Rays played much like they had for most of the last month when their offense sputtered with Evan Longoria on the bench. Except for brief spurts in Texas, the Rays never really found a comfort zone, especially against Lee, the 32-year-old lefty who can expect a $100 million payday as this year's top free agent.
In the National League, what looked like the marquee matchup proved to be little more than a warmup for the Phillies, who easily swept the Reds behind the masterful pitching of Roy (No-No) Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. The Reds were the best hitting team in the NL during the regular season, but they were dismissed more as pretenders than contenders to the Phillies' throne.
The Giants' starting rotation, headed by two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, is almost as dominant the Phillies' and may even be deeper, which could be a factor in a seven-game series. The matchup of Halladay and Lincecum in Game 1 alone will have a hard time living up to its expectations. If you like pitching, this is the series for you. The Giants are capable of an upset here, but the Phillies' lineup appears to be too strong and deep. They should make a third-straight visit to the World Series, thereby qualifying as a dynasty.
What makes the Giants so difficult to figure out is they beat the Atlanta Braves, fielding what might have been the weakest overall lineup ever seen in postseason play. Even with the injuries sustained during the year, it must have been one of the best managerial jobs of his career by Bobby Cox, with the Game 4 loss perhaps his toughest ever.
With the Braves eliminated, however, what won't be missed in the NLCS is constant overuse of the overrated "double switch," which some NL-ers would have you believe is the greatest strategical ploy in baseball. Perhaps because of the patchwork lineup he used, Cox was constantly making moves and even pinch-run for his best hitter, Brian McCann, in each of the last two games.
Despite a solid rotation, and even taking into consideration the loss of closer Billy Wagner which may have cost them a game, the Braves simply didn't belong in the postseason. They were easily the weakest of the eight teams in the tournament.
Posted October 13, 2010