MLB: Power Ranking the 5 Best Matchups We Could See in October

Matt Goldberg@@tipofgoldbergCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2010

MLB: Power Ranking the 5 Best Matchups We Could See in October

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    Of all the major team sports, baseball is, uniquely, a game of great matchups and showdowns. Mostly, it’s a game of individual showdowns within the construct of team ball.

    While postseason baseball already brings us to the edge of our seats, there are certain pitcher versus batter showdowns that take us out of our seats altogether.

    Think about it:  When an Albert Pujols is in the batter’s box versus a Roy Halladay, he doesn’t have an offensive lineman blocking for him or a power forward setting a vicious screen so he can get a free look.  It’s top batter versus ace pitcher—one of the quintessential beautiful truths of our national pastime.

    And then there is the allure of the great starting pitching matchup—a mano-a-mano  so compelling that fellow major leaguers would pay top money just to be in the stands. (Of course, they can afford it more than you or I, but you get the point).

    We have team-versus-team rivalries, heightened by fan bases that just don’t like one another.  We may not see Yankees-Sox this October, but the Yankees and Rays are already building a great rivalry. 

    What about players or managers facing their former teams?  Just last year, many fans were looking forward to seeing longtime Yankees icon Joe Torre managing against the dynasty he helped to create in the Bronx.  Oh yeah, it also would have been the first World Series battle between the Dodgers and Yankees since 1981.

    If it weren’t for the Phillies successfully defending their NL title, we would have seen that.

    With all this drama as our backdrop, let us preview the 5 Best Matchups We Could See in October.

    Will Mr.Yankee, Derek Jeter, make our Top 5?   Stay tuned.

What We Probably Will Not See

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    The following showdowns would have been quite intriguing, but it says here that they won’t materialize in October, 2010:

    Manny and the White Sox v. the Red Sox:  The White Sox are still in the thick of things in the AL Central, and the Red Sox have played admirably despite their combined 143,000 player-games on Injured Reserve.  But the Red Sox are a long way from overtaking the Yankees or the Rays, so, Manny in Fenway—with Ozzie Guillen stoking the fires—will just have to wait.

    Jason Heyward (born 8/9/89) v. Jamie Moyer (born 11/18/62):  It’s not often you get an almost 27 year age difference between two contemporary players, but here is one for you.  And they may very well have met in the postseason were it not for Moyer’s left elbow injury.  Not to worry:  Heyward  is just beginning what promises to be an amazing career as a five-tool player, and Moyer? Don’t be shocked if he’s back in 2011 at age 48 (and-a-half.)

    Albert Pujols v.Roy Halladay:  Well, it says here that Halladay—arguably baseball’s top pitcher—will see the playoffs for the first time this October.  But, he is unlikely to face the game’s top hitter in Pujols.  Yes, the Cards may find a way to recover from their late August collapse, and they may also find a way to both beat other than the Reds and sneak into the playoffs.  They may, but it says here that they won’t. 

    Don’t feel bad:  there’s always next year, and we do have 5 Great, Intriguing Matchups That (more realistically) Could Happen this October.

5. Cinderella Team (The Reds) v. Cinderella Team (The Padres)

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    Okay, television network executives won’t be popping champagne corks if these two small-market teams meet in the NLCS, but we’re talking about the game itself, right?

    When we last saw the San Diego Padres in the postseason, it was 2006, and they were losing the NLDS to the Cardinals in four games.  The Reds?  They have not been in the playoffs since 1995—when they were dismantled in four straight games by the Braves.

    So why the buzz?  These are two young teams with some quality young arms that could be contending for titles for many years to come. And what of their contrasting styles?

    The Reds try to beat you 10-9 in that Great American Bandbox they  call home.  The Padres?  Seemingly, whiffle balls leave Yellowstone Park more often than baseballs reach the bleachers of PETCO Fly Ball Cemetery.

    So who will get home field advantage, and will little ball beat “big ball” for the (potential) right to advance to the World Series?

    And while we're at it, we may get treated to a great showdown of first basemen and MVP candidates:  Joey Votto (pictured) of the Reds versus Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres.

    (I realize that I as I post this,  the Padres have seemingly lost their glass cleats and are turning into pumpkins.  But if the season ended right now, they'd be in, and one thinks they'll regain their footing.)

    Don’t fret, network execs:  I, and real baseball fans, will certainly be watching.

4. Bobby Cox: Destiny Versus Legacy

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    The 69 year-old skipper, who  seemingly has been in Atlanta since the days of General Sherman,  has filled out the lineup card for close to 2500 regular season victories and many more wins in the playoffs.

    World Series titles have been more elusive, of course, as Atlanta has only won the whole enchilada once during his 25 years there (Cox also managed four years in Toronto).

    So, is he already in the Hall of Fame?  There’s a good chance, but another World Championship—or at least another World Series appearance—would look good on the old resume.  Yes, he has won four Manager of the Year awards, and he’s been to the Fall Classic four times, but even so.

    Could he get there this year?  The Braves may not be the odds-on favorites, but one would be quite foolish to count them out.  They seem to have a little mojo working, and they would like to send the veteran manager out on top. 

    Indeed, no other team in baseball has pulled off as many dramatic comeback victories in 2010.  How many? Well, even more last inning comebacks than Bobby Cox ejections in 2010.

    Find out if he is destined to win it all in his last year as Braves manager.

3. CC v. C Lee: Once and Future (?) Teammates and Aces

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    Carsten Charles Sabathia and Clifton Phifer (Cliff) Lee were teammates and buddies in Cleveland who happened to capture the 2007 and 2008 Cy Young awards, respectively, before continuing their excellence with new teams.

    Sabathia has, of course, found a home with the Yankees, helping them to their 27th World Championship last year, and looking to be a lock for his first 20-plus win season—and a second Cy Young award—in 2010.

    Cliff Lee has hit a temporary rough patch with the Rangers—whether it’s due to the rigors of pitching in Texas, uncertainty over his next stop, or a back injury.  But make no mistake: If even reasonably healthy, he will be a beast in the playoffs as he was last year.

    In 5 postseason starts, Lee was 4-0 with an ERA of 1.56 and a WHIP of 0.82.  And if you saw how oblivious he was to pitching under pressure, he was even better and more coolly dominant that that amazing stat line would indicate.

    For a (natural) quick parody of Lee's Game One cool, check this out:

    Last year, the two southpaws met in Game One of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, and Lee got the best of him, pitching a 6-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and no walks.  Sabathia wasn’t bad, yielding only four hits (two were solo shots by Chase Utley) and two earned runs in 7 innings.  Sabathia won his Game Four start and Lee won again in Game 5, but they only met that once.

    So, what will happen when the AL West champion Rangers and the AL East champ (or possibly wild card winner) Yankees meet in Game One?  We know which two pitchers will get the ball and friends (and possibly 2011 teammates) or not, we’ll be watching these two terrific lefties go at it!

2. The Phenom (Chapman) v. Utley, Howard, and the Phillies

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    This has been a great year for pitcher’s debuts in the NL alone.  We only got to see 12 starts and 68 innings from Steven Strasburg—but with 92 k’s and only 17 walks, we’re dying to see more of him. But not to worry: The next Next Great Arm is here, and will be pitching for Cincinnati this October.

    Who exactly is Aroldis Chapman?  Well, the 22 year-old Cuban Comet has only been in the bigs since August 31, and, well, this guy throws some serious smoke.

    It is said that he can throw a 105 mph fastball, and supposedly his curve is 95, his change-up is 90 and his knuckleball is 80-plus.  Oh, and he can change the oil in his car while driving down the highway at 65 mph.   It’s nice to have extra long arms.

    Chapman presents a powerful x-factor (Weapon X if you will) for the Reds to have in reserve, and he may take on the same type of role that late-season call-up David Price took in the 2008 postseason.  Price came out of the bullpen five times, won a  big game versus the Red Sox and had a 1.53 ERA.

    Chapman may assume an even larger role for the Reds and this will be absolute must-see tv when he comes into, say, the 8th inning of a tied NLCS Game 7 in Philadelphia to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and the meat of the two-time defending (NL) champs vaunted lineup.

    Pure power versus two of the best, most battle-tested hitters in the National League.  Game on!

1. Power Team 1 (Yankees) v. Power Team 1-A (Rays)

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    New York and Tampa have been fighting it out all season for supremacy in the AL East, and indeed, they have the top two records in baseball.

    In one corner is the Yankees— the most successful franchise in American sports history, a team that has been to 40 World Series, winning a mere 27 of them.

    And in the other corner is a franchise that has only been established for 13 years and been to one Fall Classic, which they lost.

    But is "Yanks, 27, Rays 0" relevant?  One can easily make a case that these are the top two teams in the game, and they are the likely ALCS matchup. 

    Some points to consider:

    • The Rays won the AL in 2008 and advanced to the World Series, losing in six games to the Phillies.  The Yankees won the AL in 2009, eventually defeating the Phillies in six.  They’re on a collision course for the AL title this year, with a good chance that the Phils will be waiting for the winner.
    • Currently, the Rays have a 6-5 head-to-head record with their famous rival.  With seven more September meetings to come, and so much at stake, there will be a lot of familiarity and contempt between the two teams heading into the ALCS.
    • There will be some great individual comparisons on display, including a matchup of great closers:  Mariano Rivera has been, well, Rivera-like again this year, saving 28 out of 30 opportunities with a ridiculous 1.11 Era and a WHIP of 0.78.  His younger counterpart,  Rafael Soriano, is leading the league in saves with 40 (only two blown saves) and an ERA and WHIP almost as low as the old master’s.
    • There’s a great contrast at third base between the aloof superstar Alex Rodriguez (a down year but he’s still driven in 98 runs in only 113 games) and emerging superstar Evan Longoria, who is putting up very solid numbers as the emotional heart-and-soul of his franchise.

    Two great teams and division rivals playing for all the marbles:  the essence of October baseball!

Now, It's Your Turn!!

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    So...did you catch any mistakes?

    What, or who, have I missed in my Top 5?

    Do you envision any other great October story lines that are likely to happen?

    What else has you stoked?

     Feel free to share your comments below!