I think we've arrived at the point where Tampa Bay should no longer be considered a great story. We get the picture at this point, from worst to first, the classic tale of the little guy.
Let's start taking Tampa Bay seriously as a team that isn't a great story, but rather a great team. That's simply what they are at this point in the season, one of the best of the best. They are no longer a story, but a reality that the entire MLB has to wake up to.
One team that knows exactly what I'm talking about is the team the Rays are facing in the ALCS, Boston. After going toe to toe with Tampa all season long, the two are getting ready for a bitter battle to decide the AL's best team.
The fight...oh the fight...we remember all about James Shields and Coco Crisp getting into a tussle a few months ago. It was more than just a benches-clearing brawl when you look back on it. That moment was more than retaliation or two teams having an issue.
No, that moment was the exact point in time when Tampa Bay told not just Boston, but the world that they were no longer the doormat of the American League East. Times have changed, the new era is upon us and Tampa wasn't going to take it lying down.
Now, the two teams collide here in the playoffs in their leagues final barrier before the World Series.
How fitting is that?
With this series between Boston and Tampa Bay getting underway tonight, the Phillies took an early advantage in the National League over the Dodgers.
NLCS Game Two: Los Angeles (Billingsley) @ Philadelphia (Myers)
I believe, since home field really played a big part in the season series, that Philadelphia had the most to lose in Game One. Add into the fact that probably the best pitcher for both teams was starting for them, Philadelphia needed this win more than Los Angeles.
Derek Lowe was brilliant for five innings, until running into an error by Rafael Furcal. Lowe lost his strike zone command, gave up a blast to Chase Utley, and let Pat Burrell follow up with a home run of his own to take the lead.
That's all Cole Hamels would need as he continues to mature into Philadelphia's rock solid ace and a viable postseason pitcher.
Today, Chad Billingsley tries to even things up for the Dodgers in Game Two. Billingsley was solid in Game Two of the Dodgers' NLDS matchup against the Cubs. This is a long series and the Dodgers still have some home games, so it isn't crucial for the Dodgers to win this one, but you wonder if Billingsley will handle that pressure.
Brett Myers toes the rubber for the Phillies and the pressure has to be off. Philadelphia has a lead and that could benefit Myers in a big way. An emotional pitcher, Myers can keep himself in check with the knowledge that his team is ahead in this race.
I don't see either pitcher putting up a bad performance however. This is a game that could see both pitchers go about six innings and turn it over the bullpen. We all know the bullpens are stacked, which would really make it interesting.
I think Chase Utley is coming on, which is a great sign for Philadelphia, which is why I'm going with them in Game Two.
ALCS Game One: Boston (Matsuzaka) @ Tampa Bay (Shields)
"Big Game" James Shields is at it once again and he's the perfect option to set the tone for Tampa Bay. Being one of those players in the middle of the scuffle months ago, we know he has some fire in his belly and will be eager to pitch well.
On the other side is Daisuke Matsuzaka, coming off a shaky performance against the Angels. He allowed just three runs, but eight hits and three walks got him to that point. That is bad news for Boston if he repeats that, Tampa can run.
I'd expect Tampa to do just that if Matsuzaka gives them the opportunities.
I failed to pick Tampa Bay in any game they played against Chicago. It went against my better judgment and the fact that I had Chicago put me in a large hole.
However, I really like Tampa Bay in this game particularly. Shields pitched better than Matsuzaka did in their first games and let's not forget where this series is starting.
That's right, in Tampa where Boston had trouble winning games.
Jason Bay is the player everyone should have their eyes on for Boston, but I think B.J. Upton is getting hot at the right time, and Tampa is primed to win the first game of this series.