I love this time of year. It cools down, the leaves change colors, and we got some of the most exciting baseball ever.
As a die hard baseball fan (yes, I'll take baseball over football every time) this is better than Christmas for me. With most of the brackets set except for a few, here is what I want to see from each team when baseball's biggest spotlight is on them.
Dealing with the Devil—Just Rays Now
Man, has this team been a great story. After years of being the butt of every baseball joke, an injection of youth gave the Tampa Bay Rays a playoff spot for the first time in 10 years. This team has been doing everything right so it's hard to say what I want to see from them.
It will be interesting to see how they fare in the postseason, but I really want to see who comes out to hold the leads. Percival recently had an epidural so I wouldn't expect to see too much of him. To me, that's risky. David Price has been solid and so has Dan Wheeler so it'll be interesting to see who gets the ball to protect the late inning leads.
Two in a Row?
Is it just me, or is something up with the Red Sox? They don't seem to have that feeling that they can repeat. Maybe it's the loss of Schilling or getting rid of Manny, but something tells me this Boston team can't pull it off. On the flip side, they have lost some of their best players and were still able to clinch a playoff spot.
When the question is asked what I'll be watching for, the list goes on. Will J.D. Drew be back and will he still be as clutch? Will getting rid of Manny hurt them (they won their last two rings with him)? Can David Ortiz get over the wrist problem.
Nonetheless, it all comes down to one man—Josh Beckett. He's had trouble this year. Beckett has been one of the most dangerous pitchers in the playoffs, but can he get over what has been troubling him this year to give the BoSox two rings in two years?
Who Will Crack First?
It's still a toss up in the Central. Yes, it's a lot less exciting if Chicago beats Minnesota once out of three times, but that Central title is anyone's for the taking. Regardless of who gets the playoff berth I have the same questions about each team—the bullpen.
Both teams' pens have flaws. Chicago's is a bit better at holding leads than the Twins, but both could be better. It will be interesting to see (regardless of which team makes it) whose pen can knuckle down and hold leads. Expect the starters to go a bit deeper? That is exactly what I am thinking.
Quick side note: I want the ChiSox to get the title for one selfish reason—Ozzie Guillen. He blew up at his pitcher the other night and he lost the game. Does the yelling and screaming work? Not on every player. Let me tell you this, if the Sox do make it to the postseason he will be priceless.
Rings to Go with the Halos
I think the Angels are everyone's pick right now as AL Champs. Yes, they are scary good and almost everything with them is near perfect. For a team that can have the most potent offense in the league, however, they don't score that much.
The bats switch from hot to cold way too often and they rely too much on K-Rod and their other relievers. To allow one guy 60-some save opportunities will come back to bite you. I'm looking to see if the Angels can do something with their swings to take the pressure of the pen.
Another Batch of Curse Busters
What isn't there to love about the Cubs this year? They have rolled through all of their obstacles this year. They addressed their rotation issues by acquiring Rich Harden. They're corner men Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have been the greatest strengths of a talented and balanced lineup.
All of the talent on this team makes them the most invulnerable NL team on the brackets.
What I want to see is basically the same as the two teams above—the bullpen. There has been a lot of mileage put on them, mostly coming from injuries. If they can get rested and 100 percent healthy, these guys could be the NL champs.
You know, Manny Ramirez is one weird guy. Weird, crazy, maybe childish, but he is an amazing hitter. After helping the Red Sox, or leading, to two World Series wins he is on the verge of doing the same for the Dodgers. It's like he attracts rings. It's still anyone's game in the West with Arizona catching up, but right now it's LA heading to October.
This team has been a revolving door for prospects and injured players all year long. My thing to look for—how these guys operate all together. I know it isn't a great point, but they have young players and seasoned veterans on the team. As a whole, I want to see how the Dodgers work together.
Capitalizing on a Collapse
New rule for the Phillies—pretend every month is September. They were fluttering in second place most of the year then sweeping the Brewers and the Mets hitting a bad patch put them back in the lead. These guys know when to get hot. The bullpen has a few hiccups but is mostly solid.
What to look for—the offense. These guys either smack it out of the park or have trouble scoring. They need to manufacture runs better or their postseason trip will be cut short again.
The wild card is still up for grabs. The Mets lost their southpaw Billy Wagner and their bullpen got exposed. New York pretty much handed the NL East title to Philly with blown save after blown save.
If the Mets can get the berth, I want to see how the bullpen can handle the playoffs. Yes, I've said almost the same for both Chicago teams, the Angels, and the Twins. This is different. Those bullpens are good.
The Mets' is flawed beyond repair right now. Their starters are going to have to go deep into games to hold the lead.
As far as Milwaukee goes, it all rests on Sabathia. I guarantee if they could start C.C. every night they would. The Brewers are going to start Sabathia on short periods of rest, that could burn him out and make him useless again in the postseason. The offense and other starting pitchers need to get their act together and step up.