The 2010 MLB Playoffs are only just underway—each NLDS series is only one game old—and we've got both drama and storylines. Rarely has the first six games of a baseball playoff season been so eventful.
As we head into this weekend's games, here's a look at the storylines that have begun to develop. Some teams are doing the opposite of what we expected, while Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees are doing exactly what we expected.
Let's have a look.
The shock and awe that some baseball fans are expressing because the New York Yankees are handling the Minnesota Twins on the road in Minneapolis is, to me, an over-reaction.
Look, there are three divisions in the American League; while the AL West is generally competitive and the AL Central usually features two to three punching bags, the AL East regularly features two or three of the best teams in baseball.
In 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees battled it out for the best record in the AL East, and had to get through each, plus Boston, Toronto, and a hard-charging Baltimore Orioles team to do it.
That the loser of that contest had to take the Wild Card and start the playoffs on the road did not make the Yankees anything less than the second-best team in the AL. That they are handling the Minnesota Twins should come as a surprise to no one.
Two other factors:
1, NEVER discount the impact of the "playing important games down the stretch" phenomenon; the team that has to play important games down the stretch regularly does well in the playoffs. It is why we've had so many Wild Card teams go to the World Series;
2. When you have an over-achieving team whose success is hard to figure (Minnesota) and an under-achieving team whose superstars don't seem to be performing to their full potential (New York), you can often end up with playoff combustion.
Everything I just said about the Yankees-Twins series should go double for the Rays and Rangers, and yet somehow none of it is true for this series.
The Rays played just as many important games down the stretch as New York, while the Rangers had their division clinched, essentially, in June. The Rays play in the same hardcore division as the Yankees, while the Rangers play in a division in which they were the only team that showed up in 2010.
Throw in another factor: the Rays were 17 games over .500 at home this year, while the Rangers were three games under .500 on the road.
Nothing explains what has happened to the Rays other than this: the Rangers have just gone out and beaten the Rays. Plain and simple.
And, with the two ALDS series heading into Game 3 this weekend, no home team has won a game.
So, do you think the Cincinnati Reds are glad they're done with the ace of the Philadelphia Phillies' staff?
Take a look at the September/October ERA splits for Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt:
Halladay: 5-0, 3.44 ERA
Hamels: 4-1, 1.82 ERA
Oswalt: 4-0, 1.31 ERA
Hey Cincinnati, you just got no-hit by the Phillies third-hottest starting pitcher.
Good luck in Game 2.
It is appropriate that Tim Lincecum's San Francisco Giants beat an Atlanta Braves team that featured Kyle Farnsworth on Thursday night.
Farnsworth has always had a nasty fastball. No, wait, I take that back; Farnsworth has always had a fast fastball.
My recollection of watching Kyle Farnsworth pitch is of watching a guy throw 99-to-100 mph fastballs that regularly make contact with opposing players' bats. In my mind, Farnsworth is the poster-child for the notion that a fast fastball, in and of itself, will not make you a successful pitcher.
Tim Lincecum, on the other hand, absolutely baffled the Braves on Thursday with a fastball that did not, in the three innings I watched, climb above 92 mph. And yet, the Braves couldn't catch up to it, couldn't find it, and most importantly, couldn't hit it.
Rick Ankiel was Lincecum's 11th strikeout victim last night (out of 14 in a complete game shutout), and one would have thought the ball was going 125 mph. His swings were so behind, and missed so badly, he looked completely overwhelmed by a guy who was pitching slower than Ankiel himself probably could right now.
And that, Kyle Farnsworth, is called pitching.
Simply put, Ron Gardenhire is going to have to manage the game better. Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano were each left in one inning too long, and the Twins have a bullpen loaded with good arms.
The Twins also did a poor job of situational hitting in the first two games of the series.
No secret here; the playoffs are all about pitching and defense, sure, but a team must score some runs. The Rays have eight hits and one run in the series so far, and guess what: headed back to Texas, the Rangers bats are only going to get more lethal.
If the Rays can't put four or more runs up on the board at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday, this series will be over.
In his career against the Philadelphia Phillies, Game 2 starter Bronson Arroyo is 1-5 with a 5.54 ERA in eight games.
In his career at Citizens Bank Park, Arroyo is 0-1 with a 10.38 ERA in his only start.
On the season, Arroyo allows left-handed hitters a .285 batting average, as opposed to .185 for righties.
Is there any chance Arroyo doesn't get walloped on Friday night?
On June 10th of this season, Travis Wood faced off against Roy Halladay at Citizens Bank Park and threw a nine-inning shutout. He was perfect into the ninth inning, and ended up allowing only a hit while striking out eight on only 109 pitches.
Because Halladay was also on, though, and shut out the Reds himself for nine innings, the game went extras and the Phils ultimately won.
Back in Philadelphia on Wednesday, with Halladay on the mound for the Phils, Dusty Baker went with Edinson Volquez as his Game 1 starter instead of Wood. Volquez's outing, to say the least, was a disaster: 1.2 innings, four hits, two walks, four earned runs.
Then Baker brought in Wood, and he held the Phils to one hit and one walk through three and a third before being lifted for a pinch hitter.
Hind sight is 20/20, and much has been made of Volquez's awesome September, but can I point out that his September came against Pittsburgh, Arizona, Milwaukee, and Houston?
The Atlanta Braves made the playoffs as the Wild Card. Starting a short series on the road, the Braves elected to go with Derek Lowe as their Game 1 starter.
It actually worked out okay—if you'd told Bobby Cox that his Game 1 starter was going to allow only a single run, he would have taken it.
And there is a chance that Cox wanted to save his best arms for the games he has the best chance of winning, back in Atlanta.
But still. Derek Lowe?
Coming into the 2010 Major League Baseball playoffs, there was only one team I was afraid of from the perspective of a Philadelphia Phillies fan: the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants pitching staff had a September/October team ERA of 1.91! That has to be some sort of modern era record. Also, keep in mind that this number includes the season-ending series against the Padres, during which the Gents gave up 10 runs in three games.
Nobody would want their hitters to face these guys, particularly not a Phillies fanbase that remembers all too well how chilly the Phillies bats got at times this summer.
But now, with the way things have played out in the early going, there is another team that the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans need to be afraid of.
Only one team in the playoffs right now is capable of haunting the Phillies with the ghosts of their postseason heroes past.
And suddenly, the Phillies seem to be on a collision course with that team, and that player.
I don't even want to say it out loud.