MLB playoff update
While we haven’t had the usual cool-off that October traditionally brings, one thing has remained a constant for this month: Playoff baseball.
In one National League Division Series, the Arizona Diamondbacks easily took care of the Chicago Cubs with a three-game sweep. Led by Eric Byrnes, the personification of hustle, the D-backs won the National League West this season, despite constant pressure from the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.
Arizona’s pitching, led by Brandon Webb and a solid bullpen, held the high-payroll Cubs to just six runs over the three games. Webb earned the victory in the first game with a 3-1 decision despite a solid outing from Chicago ace Carlos Zambrano.
In game two, the Diamond-backs scored four runs early and never looked back, taking the game 8-4.
Game three started, quite literally, with a bang, as ’Zona’s rookie centerfielder Chris Young smacked a leadoff home run on the first pitch of the game. Playoff-tested Livan Hernandez shut down the Cubbies all day, allowing just one run over six innings.
The Snakes trailed for only one-half inning in the entire series.
After hitting .500 with two home runs and four RBIs, ’Zona shortstop Stephen Drew is my MVP. The Diamondbacks’ bullpen did not allow a run in 8.1 innings.
The other Division Series featured the hometown Philadelphia Phillies against the red-hot Colorado Rockies. The Phils had a poor showing in their first playoff berth in 14 years, as they were swept by the Rocks. Going back to the regular season, Colorado has won 17 of its last 18 games and will take on Arizona in the NLCS.
Game one was marked by a dominant performance from Colorado starter Jeff Francis, who struck out eight and allowed two runs in six innings to win 4-2.
Only in game two did the offenses come alive, as neither starter lasted long. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel pulled rookie Kyle Kendrick with the bases loaded for Kyle Lohse, who promptly allowed a grand slam to Kaz Matsui. The Fightin’s could not come back, and fell 10-5.
Game three was another pitchers’ duel, as 45-year-old Jamie Moyer and 23-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez pitched great. The Phils’ J.C. Romero allowed a run in the eighth, and Rockies closer Manny Corpas slammed the door on Philly’s season.
Ryan Howard struck out looking in the ninth inning of each game, easily earning Least Valuable Player. Having hit .417 with six RBIs, Matsui wins my MVP.
In the American League, the Boston Red Sox continued their winning ways with an impressive sweep of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Halos finished the season with obvious flaws, as they had only one powerful bat in their lineup (Vladimir Guerrero) and a plethora of injuries.
Game one saw Josh Beckett best John Lackey en route to a 4-0 shutout of the Angels. Beckett retired 19 batters in a row at one point, striking out eight to record his second consecutive postseason shutout.
Game two ended with a walk-off home run by Manny Ramirez. After a rough start from Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Boston bullpen tossed 4.1 hitless innings to keep the game locked up until Ramirez’s bomb.
Game three was never in doubt for the BoSox. With Curt Schilling tossing seven scoreless innings and the offense piling on the runs, the team completed the sweep with a 9-1 win. Providing a spark, David Ortiz and Ramirez went back-to-back off Jered Weaver in the fourth.
Big Papi was once again near-perfect in October, hitting .714 (5-7) with two homers, three RBIs and five runs, despite being walked six times. He’s the no-doubt-about-it MVP of this series.
The Cleveland Indians were the only victors not to sweep, but were still able to vanquish the New York Yankees in four games.
In game one, the Indians took the series lead with a 12-3 spanking behind Cy Young hopeful C.C. Sabathia. The Yankees’ own 19-game-winner, Chien-Ming Wang, got lit up for eight runs in just 4.2 innings.
Kenny Lofton showed he was the lone player on the Tribe with postseason experience by going 3-for-4 with four RBIs.
Game two was a battle between perennial October workhorse Andy Pettitte and Fausto Carmona. They both pitched great, and the game went into extra innings.
Visibly bothered by a serious insect infestation at Jacobs Field, phenom Joba Chamberlain allowed the tying run on a wild pitch in the eighth inning. An enduring image of this postseason will undoubtedly be Chamberlain’s bug-covered neck.
Travis Hafner hit a bases-loaded, walk-off single in the 11th inning to give the Indians a 2-0 series lead.
The Bombers avoided the sweep by taking game three in the Bronx. Showing his age, Roger Clemens lasted just 2.1 innings, putting his team in a 3-0 hole. Battling back, the Yanks got six runs off Jake Westbrook en route to an 8-4 victory.
As a result of another bad start from Wang, game four brought New York’s surprise season to an end. He surrendered a leadoff homer to Grady Sizemore to start a four-run first inning, and did not return. The Tribe never trailed in the game and came away with a 6-4 victory.
Derek Jeter played very un-Jeter-like as he hit just .176 with four strikeouts, three double play ground outs and one RBI. While it would be easy to put the blame on one guy, the entire offense was inept from the get-go.
Lofton’s stats (.375 with two runs and four RBIs) do not begin to tell the story of what he meant to this series. His experience propelled the Tribe into the ALCS and will be an integral part of this team’s fate against the October-tested Boston Red Sox.
The NLCS will begin this Thursday when the Diamondbacks host the Rockies at Chase Field in Phoenix. The ALCS opener will pit the two Cy Young favorites, Beckett and Sabathia, against each other at Fenway Park in Boston.
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