The MLB Divisional round was a little different this year.
There was no restriction on which teams could play each other based on divisional affiliation. And the higher seeded teams actually began each series on the road for two games, before completing the series at their stadium for three games, if necessary.
No different than years past, however, were the interest, intrigue and intensity the divisional round generated around the baseball world.
As it draws to a close on Friday, here are 12 things we learned from the MLB divisional rounds.
The St. Louis Cardinals have not lost anything this postseason with the departure of future Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa, who retired last year after winning his second World Series title with the Cardinals and third overall.
The Cardinals filled LaRussa's void during the offseason with first-time manager Mike Matheny, a former Cardinals player.
All Matheny did is steer the Cardinals to an 88-74 record and a birth in the postseason as the second NL Wild Card, and they promptly defeated the 93-win Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card round. Now, MLB's youngest manager has the Cardinals still defending their World Series title against the MLB-best 98-win Washington Nationals, led by Davey Johnson, MLB's oldest manager.
The rookie manager has held his own and, under his guidance, the Cardinals remain dangerous in the underdog role.
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit must have accrued some good karma this regular season, because the baseball gods are smiling on him this postseason.
Benoit hung a pitch to Brandon Moss in Game 1 of the ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland Athletics, who just got under it and flied out to deep right field in the eighth inning. The blast would have tied the game, but instead Detroit went on to win Game 1.
In Game 2, Benoit blew his save opportunity only to see Detroit come back and win, going up 2-0 on the way back to Oakland.
And in Game 4, Benoit again faced Brandon Moss in a crucial situation, this time with the tying runs on base. But of course, Benoit was able to escape the jam.
Coco Crisp was involved in several major plays of the ALDS between his Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers.
In Game 2, he botched a dying fly ball to center field hit by Miguel Cabrera. One run scored, and the Tigers would go on to win.
In Game 3, he robbed a second inning home run off the bat of Prince Fielder, which would have tied the game at the time. The A’s won 2-0, staving off elimination.
And in Game 4, still facing elimination, Crisp drove in the winning run in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the ninth, forcing a Game 5.
Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson converted 51-of-54 save opportunities to lead MLB with 51 saves.
But two of those three blown saves came against the New York Yankees.
And the Yankees have roughed up JJ during the ALDS between the long-time AL East rivals.
In Game 1, Johnson took the loss as he gave up a home run and four earned runs as the Yankees scored five runs in the top of the ninth to break the tie and win 7-2.
JJ righted himself in Game 2, earning the save as the Orioles tied the series at a game apiece. But he couldn’t keep the Yanks at bay in Game 3. Pinch-hitting DH Raul Ibanez hit the first of his two dramatic home runs against Johnson, tying the score at two in the bottom of the ninth as Johnson blew the save.
Johnson again had to save face the next night, shutting down the Yankees in the bottom of the 13th to preserve the Game 4 victory and preserve Baltimore's chances at advancing to the ALCS.
Brian Wilson was injured very early this season, and was lost for the year. Giants fans worried their bullpen would not be the same without the Bearded One.
Never fear, Bay Area baseball buffs. The Giants' new closer situation is just fine thank you. And Sergio Romo (pictured) confirmed it against the Cincinnati Reds.
Romo saw an inning of work in Game 2, which was well in hand for the Reds by the time he entered. But he turned the tide of the series in Game 3. Sergio retired all six batters he faced in order in the ninth and tenth innings, earning the win as the Giants kept the Reds from sweeping.
And then in Game 5, Romo earned a four-out save, helping the San Francisco Giants become the first National League team to win an LDS series after being down 0-2.
Earlier in his career with the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez had well documented struggles in the postseason.
In the 2005 playoffs, he went 2-for-15 with no home runs, no RBI and five strikeouts.
In 2006, he was 1-for-14 with no home runs, no RBI and four strikeouts.
In 2009, he finally broke out, going 19-for-52 with six home runs and 18 RBI as the Yankees won their first World Series title since 2000.
But so far in the ALDS between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, A-Rod has returned to his old struggling ways.
Through Game 4, he is 2-for-16 with no homers, none driven in and nine strikeouts. He was booed at Yankee Stadium during Game 3, and was even pinch hit for in the ninth inning by eventual hero Raul Ibanez, trailing by a run.
Joey Votto has not been the same since returning from his injury earlier this season.
Votto came back to the Reds on September 5 after suffering torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee. From that point on through the end of the regular season, he had no home runs and seven RBI.
His power outage continued into the postseason.
Despite hitting for a good average at .389 in the NLDS against the San Francisco, Votto still lacked power. Not only did he his homerless streak continue, but he also had no extra base hits and no RBI.
If there was any lingering doubt about the ability of Justin Verlander to win a big game, it has now vanished completely.
The Detroit Tigers ace won Games 1 and 5 as the Tigers held off the tenacious Oakland Athletics. Verlander surrendered one earned run in 16.0 innings pitched for a microscopic 0.56 ERA, and hurled 22 strikeouts to set the ALDS strikeout record.
Justin became the first Detroit pitcher since Jack Morris in the 1984 World Series to win two games in a single postseason series. Verlander also became the first Tigers pitcher since Morris in the '84 Series to pitch a complete game shutout in the deciding game of a postseason series.
Which is appropriate, of course, because no one ever had any doubts about Jack Morris' ability to win a big game.
The Baltimore Orioles are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997. So Baltimore baseball fans understandably have some pent-up postseason passion.
The crowd for Game 1 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees was somewhat subdued after the long rain delay.
But the Game 2 crowd was electric.
Craig Sager of TBS measured the volume of the crowd at 120 decibels on his sound pressure gauge. Sager, who usually covers the NBA for the Turner Family of networks, said it was even louder than the Thunderdome, the notoriously loud home arena of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In case you had not heard, Stephen Strasburg was shutdown by the Washington Nationals. It was a very controversial decision but even Strasburg himself is more accepting of it.
Yet this story is still the main topic of discussion surrounding the Washington Nationals. While covering Games 1 and 2 for TBS, David Aldridge did not one, but two sideline reports on Strasburg's recovery from Tommy John surgery.
First comparing it to that of St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, then comparing it to that of Washington Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann. And as soon as Edwin Jackson struggled early in his Game 3, the MLB Network cameras focused on Stephen Strasburg and Bob Costas again began asking what-ifs.
But the quick-to-speculate national media was so intent on fanning the flames of dissent that they failed to cover several other prominent storylines surrounding the Washington Nationals this postseason.
The Nats have the best record in baseball. They are managed by potential Hall of Famer Davey Johnson, the oldest manager in baseball who returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1997. And, the Nats qualified for the playoffs for the first time in the team's history since it moved to Washington in 2005, for the first time in franchise history since 1979 and for the first time in the city's history since 1933.
You're right, nothing of interest here.
Everyone in baseball was pretty sure they knew how important Johnny Cueto was to the Cincinnati Reds, but it became painfully obvious once he was gone. Only eight pitches into Game 1, Cincinnati's ace was removed due to back spasms (pictured). He never returned to the series against the San Francisco Giants, and the Reds were never the same.
At first, it did not affect the Reds. They won Game 1, by using a combination of their bullpen and probable Game 3 starter Mat Latos. They even won Game 2, on the strength of seven shutout innings by Bronson Arroyo.
But the ripple effects started to show in Game 3, as they were up 2-0 with a chance to sweep at home. They were actually under more pressure to win than the Giants, who were facing elimination. If the Reds advanced, they could deal with the uncertainty caused by Cueto's injury in the NLCS. But if they lost, they would be staring that uncertainty in the face, knowing they could not pencil in their ace for a big game start.
The Reds' reliable bullpen failed them in extra innings of Game 3, despite an outstanding start from Homer Bailey. And San Francisco jumped all over them in Game 4, setting up a decisive Game 5. Dusty Baker had saved Mat Latos for Game 5 instead of using him in Game 4, but it didn't matter because he wasn't good even with an extra days rest. The Reds lost Game 5, were swept at home and became the first National League team to blow a 2-0 lead in the LDS.
OK, so we already knew this.
But it sure is fun to have this baseball truism reinforced to us four times in five days:
Sunday October 7, ALDS Oakland @ Detroit Game 2: Don Kelly's situational hitting nets a game-winning sacrifice fly, pushing Oakland to the brink.
Wednesday October 10, ALDS Baltimore @ New York Game 3: Raul Ibanez crushes his second of two pinch-hit home runs, this one to win the game in the 12th.
Wednesday October 10, ALDS Detroit @ Oakland Game 4: Coco Crisp keeps the A's alive with a game-winning RBI single.
Thursday Otcober 11, NLDS St. Louis @ Washington Game 4: Jayson Werth (pictured, airborne) guarantees more playoff baseball in the District with a rocket into the Cardinals bullpen.
What a wild week of wonderful walk-off wins.