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Red Sox, Cardinals In Good Position To Win Division Series

October 8, 2013

For openers, the American and National League Division Series were listless affairs, with five of the first eight games qualifying as genuine laughers, but a sense of urgency changed things in a hurry, bringing some excitement as well as controversy into play.

That sense of urgency certainly applies to Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, whose job is still said to be in jeopardy despite his team's late run to the NL West division title. And the end result of his team's Game 4 matchup with the Atlanta Braves Oct. 7 might have come within a botched bunt of producing the ultimate upset, or what has lovingly become known as the reverse lock.

When Mattingly sent one of his two aces, Clayton Kershaw, while the Braves were starting ex-Oriole Freddy Garcia, with Zack Greinke in reserve for Game 5 just in case, he created one of the biggest mismatches of this, or any other, postseason. What transpired for the Braves was sheer torture, as Garcia not only matched Kershaw for six innings, but actually was in line to be the winning pitcher until things unraveled. Juan Uribe became the hero for the Dodgers, but only after he failed to execute a sacrifice bunt following Yasiel Puig's leadoff double in the eighth inning.

Uribe got off the hook with his game-winning blast, which put Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez squarely on the spot. He left Craig Kimbrel, the best closer in the game now that the Yankees' Mariano Rivera has retired, stewing in the bullpen rather than opt for a potential two-inning save. A multi-inning save would've been appropriate for what has turned out to be a throwback postseason to date.

Mattingly moved Kershaw up to work Game 4 on three days of rest, just as Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle will do with Gerrit Cole during a fifth-game showdown against the St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright Oct. 9. It's probably a strategy to be considered by Detroit manager Jim Leyland, whose team has been lethargic while losing two of three to the no-name Oakland A's and stands on the brink of elimination.

While filled with sufficient drama, the Oct. 7 games were marked by some poor defensive play,  with the Dodgers gift wrapping the two unearned runs charged to Kershaw in his six innings of work, and some misjudgments in the infield by the Red Sox setting the stage for Tampa Bay's 4-3 win, which prevented a three-game sweep. 

Among the favored teams, the Red Sox remain in the best position, with a game in hand plus home-field advantage for a possible fifth game. The Tigers, meanwhile, are playing like a team on life support rather than a team destined for the World Series.

The Pittsburgh-St. Louis pairing was the most intense, with Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who had gone 8.2 innings before allowing a hit during his last start of the regular season, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning before Pedro Alvarez homered. One of the many wunderkinds making a mark this postseason, Wacha has allowed a grand total of two hits and one run in his last 16.1 innings.

With Wainwright waiting in the wings, the Cardinals appear to be in a good position, but if the first two games of this series are an indication, the fifth-game showdown will not be one for the faint of heart. Wainwright, during Game 1, and Cole, during Game 2, both allowed only one run during easy wins. This time, they will go head to head during a winner-take-all duel between a wily veteran and raw rookie -- and the perennially contending Cardinals and a Pirates team desperate to wipe out 21 years of frustration.

It shapes up as must see, which hopefully will set the tone for October.