In a season where the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles were fit to be tied in head-to-head competition, it's a good thing there's a postseason set up to show who is the best team after all. Baltimore and New York split 18 games this season and were neck-and-neck in the standings through September.
Starting tonight at Camden Yards, the Orioles and Yankees square off for what promises to be a thrilling best-of-five divisional series matchup between two of the most powerful teams in baseball.
The clubs meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1996, when a local kid by the name of Jeffrey Maier may have forever altered the course of Yankees' history.
The final regular season series of the season, for each team, allowed the Yankees some breathing room when they clinched the AL East division title.
The Yankees and Orioles are very similar teams in certain respects, though one striking difference is the experience factor, an advantage the Yankees decidedly have.
The Bronx Bombers and "Bashing Birds" finished 1-2 in the majors in home runs. Each team has quality—but not great starting pitching and very strong late-inning bullpens. The Yankees and Orioles have speedy, powerful centerfielders and several veteran sluggers that can go yard from either side of the plate.
Yet very few teams in baseball have the championship pedigree and veteran experience that the Yankees do, and the Orioles are no exception. That was good enough for the Yankees to hold Baltimore off down the stretch, and it may make the difference in this series.
The fact is, Baltimore doesn't have a starter quite like CC Sabathia, and they don't have anyone with a semblance of the big-game chops and savvy of Andy Pettitte. Even Hiroki Kuroda, on paper, is likely a better starter than any pitcher on Baltimore. He won't start until Game 3 for New York.
The Orioles, however, have played with a determination and momentum that few teams have matched over the last several months. They've stumped the sabermetricians with their paltry plus-7 run differential, lack of superstar players and seemingly mediocre starting pitchers.
In professional sports, winning is the name of the game, and style points are for the the top play highlight reels. As the famous Oakland Raiders' owner Al Davis once said, "Just win baby."
What has not been easily identifiable to those watching on television or looking at the box scores each night is the particular verve and vibe that this Orioles team has going. Sitting in the stands at Oriole Park in early September, during a heated four-game series with the Yankees, you could sense a feeling in the air.
A feeling that only seems evident with winning teams on the verge of something special. Maybe not this year but maybe the building of something. Just like the Wild Card 1995 New York Yankees.
The Yankees will walk into a lion's den tomorrow evening, albeit one that they're very familiar with and where they're quite comfortable playing. New York finished 6-3 at Camden Yards this season—results right in line with their performance there in recent years—and it's no surprise, since the ballpark suits their powerful home run style.
The long ball, like quality starting pitching, are among the biggest keys in this ALDS for the Yankees. The Yankees may also benefit from facing Jason Hammel in Game 1, a pitcher who hasn't taken the mound in nearly a month.
In the end, experience, as well as the Yankee pitchers' ability to keep Baltimore in the yard, and of course, the Bombers' timely hitting with men on base, should go a long way toward deciding which club advances to the ALCS.
Here are the five most important keys for the Yankees if they hope to advance to the next round.