The Cincinnati Reds have been a dark-horse pick by a lot of fans for a few years and the team put it all together in 2010. Dusty Baker is now taking his third National League team into the playoffs.
Will this be the year he gets that ring?
The Reds offense, led by slugger Joey Votto and lead-off hitter Brandon Phillips, gets to face the toughest staff in the postseason in the Philadelphia Phillies.
If momentum is the next day's starting pitcher then I love the Phillies' momentum when they can throw out Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
The Reds are also a great story in that they were in the NL Central where the St. Louis Cardinals were prohibitive favorites. At the start of the season, I thought that there would be no way the Cards would not make the playoffs. Tony LaRussa dealt with a myriad of injuries and at the end of the season. They looked more like an old team than a title contender.
The Atlanta Braves are also a very nice story. They led the NL East over the Phillies for a good portion of the season until the Phils finally overtook them in September. Bobby Cox is back in the postseason in his final year as the Braves manager.
The collapse of the San Diego Padres was a real surprise in the last quarter of the MLB season. A team with a limited payroll that actually picked up some bats for their meek offense in July simply fell apart down the stretch. They did survive a 10-game losing streak with the lead but that skid allowed the San Francisco Giants to make up a lot of ground.
The Giants and the Padres look like the same team: loaded with pitching but lacking in offense. Will the Giants get enough offense to get past the Braves in the NLDS?
It looks like the Braves and Phillies will meet in the NLCS. In 1993, the Phillies shocked the Braves in the NLCS so will the tables be turned 17 years later?
Why not? Look for the Braves to go on a magical run.
The American League was supposed to be dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox again. That has not been the case as Boston suffered through a horrible season of injuries. At a critical time of the season, the Yankees have big questions about their pitching.
CC Sabathia looks like a Cy Young winner but after that the Yankees might be in trouble. I am not going to worry about Mariano Rivera so if the Yankees do have late leads, they still have the hammer to close out the games.
The thing is, will they have late leads? The Twins are going to go without Justin Morneau but they have been without him since early July and they still played the best baseball in the fourth quarter of the season.
Morneau has been out with a concussion for three months. It really makes me fret for the NFL players who sit out a week after they suffer the same injury. I applaud the Twins and Morneau for putting safety first and the story worked out as the Twins are back in the playoffs.
But they have never beat the Yankees in the playoffs.
The Texas Rangers are back in the postseason for the first time since 1999. This is a franchise that has never won a playoff series and they get matched up with the Tampa Bay Rays. It is all about timing and Josh Hamilton's injury could not have been at a worse time. This is a fun Ranger team that has a chance to make some noise and they have their best player returning from a rib injury.
No one ever said that life was fair.
Still, I like the Rangers to get past the Rays as Tampa Bay has no home-field advantage to speak of. They had to give away 20,000 tickets to "sell out" their moribund stadium after they clinched a playoff berth. Their catwalk also cost them a game this season and the rules have been modified to account for that quirk of Tropicana Field.
Now, the Yankees also have always beaten the Rangers in the playoffs but this is not the same Rangers team. I think that they will find a way to get past the Yankees as long as they don't trail late in the game.
Josh Hamilton was the AL MVP but he won't win it due to his late-season injury. I do expect him to have a huge impact in what will be a magical run by the Rangers.
I am a real sentimental guy and that makes it tough for me to go against Atlanta. I look for the Braves to finish off their magical season with a World Series win over the Texas Rangers.
Let's now take one final look at the issue of parity in the MLB. 16 out of the 30 teams were at .500 or better. That is a very good sign of the health of the game. The Reds and Giants returning to the playoffs is also a good sign as well as the Padres staying in the race until the last day of the season.
The run of the Tampa Bay Rays is sadly coming to an end after this postseason. I do realize they have prospects aplenty in their farm system but losing the likes of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena will have them in a temporary decline. Joe Maddon is a great manager and I hope he can keep this thing rolling in Tampa Bay.
The best farm system in baseball belongs to the Kansas City Royals. That means that the Royals might have a window opening soon to be relevant again. As a Cleveland fan, I do enjoy those windows and understand that we have to suffer through seasons like 2010 to get to those windows.
As a baseball fan, I sure wish that the windows for small market teams could stay open longer.