The Reds and Nationals squared off earlier in the season.
Major League Baseball's championship series have begun, but that doesn't stop fans of the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles from pondering what might have been.
After long, storied and magical seasons for each of them, all four teams were eliminated from the postseason after the Division Series.
Unfortunately for all four fanbases, there are to be no more games until 2013.
But what if it was these four who advanced in place of their conquerors? After all, each of the four series went to Game 5, so it's not as if this is an outlandish thought.
For one thing, it certainly wouldn't be the "same 'ol thing." The St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants have all visited the World Series in the last six years. The Cardinals won in 2011 and 2006; the Giants in 2010; the Yankees in 2009 and the Tigers, though they lost, went to the World Series in 2006 against the Cardinals.
The Athletics haven't been since 1989. The Nationals have never been. The Reds haven't been there for two decades. The Orioles haven't been in over three decades.
Here's a prediction for what it could have looked like.
The Baltimore outfielders celebrate.
The Orioles, cellar-dwellers in the powerhouse AL East for so long, shocked the nation by not only competing for a playoff berth, but by forcing the New York Yankees to win the division in the 162nd game of the season.
Baltimore entered the tournament as a wild card and knocked off the reigning AL champion Texas Rangers in a one-game playoff to advance to the ALDS.
Then they took the Yankees to Game 5.
There's hundreds of scenarios which could have occurred, but for sake of ease, let's be as realistic as possible.
Nate McLouth's controversial hit is ruled a home run—the game is tied 1-1. The Yankees still score their two extra runs, making it 3-1 entering the eighth inning.
Lew Ford still singles and Matt Wieters still scores (3-2). But this time, Robert Andino hits a double, scoring Manny Machado (3-3). McLouth singles in Ford and the Orioles take a 4-3 lead, which remains the final score.
We're talking just two extra hits in the ball game.
Orioles win and move on.
Cincy high fives after a win.
It's been up and down for the Reds for the past 20 years, but the 2012 squad reminded many of the 1990 World Series winning team. Even with a prolonged injury to star first baseman Joey Votto, Cincy thrived and won 97 games.
The Reds lost to the San Francisco Giants, due in large part to the grand slam by NL batting champion Buster Posey.
He's incredibly talented, so let's not take the grand slam away. Instead, let's say in the ninth inning when the Reds were storming back, more damage occurred.
After Ryan Ludwick singles in Zack Cozart and moves Joey Votto to second, Jay Bruce is up.
It wouldn't have surprised many to see Bruce go yard, giving the Reds a 7-6 lead. One swing of the bat and three outs later, the Reds move on to the NLCS.
Coco Crisp hits a walk-off single in Game 4.
With a ragtag group of rookies, no-namers and veterans mostly left for dead, the A's won more games in the second half than any other team. The green and gold capped off the made-for-movies season by winning the AL West crown on the last day of the season with a sweep of the Rangers.
Unlike the two scenarios prior, the A's would need a lot more help to advance.
The Orioles could have won with two at-bats, the Reds with just one. The A's on the other hand, had just four hits all game against Justin Verlander, who pitched a complete game.
Maybe Verlander gets tired, leaves the game and the A's continue their magical trend of comebacks and walk-offs against a shaky Tigers bullpen. That's a lot to ask for though, and putting up six runs in the bottom of the ninth after just four hits would be a major shift in momentum.
That kind of scenario would be in the hands of baseball gods, not a writer with hindsight.
Instead, Austin Jackson just doesn't score on a wild pitch. Ryan Cook doesn't meltdown and pitches like the All-Star he was midseason. Cook doesn't walk Quintin Berry to load the bases or hit Miguel Cabrera to allow a run. Finally, Drew doesn't make a throwing error which allows another run.
All of this and the Tigers still hold a 2-0 lead.
Now the A's can get back to their league-leading walk-off ways. The heart of the order came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, so it's not crazy to think some combination of Stephen Drew, Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith and Josh Reddick ends this game on a high note.
The Nationals hit a walk-off of their own.
Since arriving in 2005, the Nats have never finished above third place in the NL East. In 2012, they took first place and the honors of baseball's best record (98-64). Their patience and homegrown roster paid massive dividends.
This one is the easiest to look back on and point to the keys to victory.
The Nationals hold on to their 7-5 lead in the top of the ninth. Closer Drew Storen, who had a 3-2 count on Yadier Molina with two outs, strikes out the Cardinals catcher.
That's the ball game.
OK, so Molina is extremely talented and takes the walk. David Freese was in the same position, 3-2 count with two outs. Strike him out and the game ends.
We'll stop there for the sake of Washington fans.
Adam Jones slides in to home.
To get to this point, the A's would have to had beaten one of the game's best pitchers, Justin Verlander. The O's had the equally difficult task of beating CC Sabathia.
Let's say they both pull off upsets and advance.
Obviously scores would have to be different to do so, but looking at box scores shows that in five games, the A's and Orioles both allowed six more runs than they scored. Both teams also won or lost by a margin of less than two in all games, with the exception of one large-margined beating.
In layman's terms, they kept it close most of the time.
Game 1 of this fake ALCS would have featured Tommy Milone (13-10, 3.74 ERA) against Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA).
The A's rotation might have consisted of Brett Anderson next, followed by Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin before starting over. Baltimore could have thrown Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel and Miguel Gonzalez next.
Head to head, Oakland won the season with a 5-4 record against Baltimore. The last time they met, in mid-September, the A's won two-of-three.
Further going against the Orioles, the games Baltimore won during the regular season against the A's were against pitchers such as Tyson Ross, Travis Blackley and Dan Straily. None of them are in the rotation anymore.
The fourth win was a blown save by Grant Balfour.
Prediction: Oakland Athletics in seven.
With the better head-to-head record, better home record, home-field advantage and the late-inning magic the A's seem to never run out of, they have just enough of an advantage (as slight as you can get) to overcome one more series.
Danny Espinosa attempts to score.
If these two teams met under the conditions laid out in the slides prior, momentum is a huge factor here.
The Reds would enter the NLCS off a comeback and having shut down the San Francisco Giants after Buster Posey's grand slam. The Nationals would have simply held on to a lead that started large and diminished as the game progressed.
Though the Nationals did own the Reds during the regular season, winning five of seven meetings.
Funny, the NLCS is a best of seven.
One more thing to consider: Those seven games played against each other all took place in April and May.
Outside of playing each other, these two teams are very close to being identical. The Reds had just one less regular-season win than the Nationals. Cincinnati's home record was the same as Washington's.
The series would start in Cincinnati though.
So, the Reds would start with the momentum and at home for two games. They also have one day worth of extra rest.
Pitching-wise, on the Nationals side, this series would likely see Jordan Zimmerman, followed by Edwin Jackson, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler. For the Reds, it'd be Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mat Latos and Mike Leake.
Prediction: Cincinnati Reds in six games.
Momentum goes to the Reds. They start at home and their pitching matchups are aligned better (Arroyo twice, Bailey twice). They also have that extra day. Winning two at home builds the momentum further. The Nationals would have to play from behind the entire series.
It's the Reds in a walk-off!
By this point, there are so many variables that can factor in, it makes predictions like these extremely difficult.
We don't know who folds under the pressure. We don't know who suffers from unfortunate injuries. For instance, no one would have predicted Derek Jeter to break his ankle, but the one move may have changed the entire complexion of the ALCS.
So we're going off the basics.
First, the Cincinnati Reds have home-field advantage. They also have the better overall regular-season record.
The A's have an incredible attitude though. They truly play one game at a time, and they never give up.
The pitching matches up fairly well too. Both teams rank second in their respective divisions in wins by a starting pitcher. Even the offenses rival one another. The A's may very well have hit 23 more home runs, but the Reds struck out 121 times less.
This matchup resembles the A's and Tigers matchup.
The Reds and Tigers both have one dominant ace followed by numerous effective pitchers who can hold their own. Both teams have big-name power bats as well.
Prediction: Cincinnati Reds in five games.
The largest attribute the A's have (or had) was tenacity and late-inning heroics. But they can't win in the postseason on just that, every single time. The magic has to run out at some point. The A's matched up well with the Tigers and lost in Game 5 (of five). They match up very well against the Orioles, but a series against the Reds resembles the ALDS closely.
And don't forget, Cincinnati has home-field advantage as well.