After watching several more hours of playoff baseball a couple of thoughts occurred to me: 1) The Yankees and the Orioles may be playing the best out of two months, not best out of five games; and 2) Haven’t the Cardinals been in the same playoff battle for a year?
Why am I not surprised that the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles are tied 1-1 in their playoff series following Baltimore’s 3-2 win Monday night. This little set, now headed to Yankee Stadium for up to three games, seems to be the continuation of the entire month of September. During September one minute the Yankees led, the next the Orioles led, the next the teams were tied. It seems likely, that just as at the end of the regular season, the team that loses this matchup will be the one that runs out of time.
There is nothing new in the head-t0-head matchup, but the independent observer can’t help but shake his head and wonder how Baltimore can cope with the Yankees’ regular batting order. The Yankees have the strongest position-player lineup this year. The Orioles might have the weakest in terms of hitting production. Yet here we are again, Yankees big names against Orioles no names and it’s still even.
Maybe the Orioles are simply hungrier. When you examine the Yankees’ lineup up close, you might half think that it’s the roster for an Old Timers game, not a playoff game. Monday night, New York started Andy Pettitte on the mound and while he was great, he is also 40. Shortstop Derek Jeter is 38. Left-fielder Ichiro Suzuki turns 39 in a couple of weeks. Alex Rodriguez is 37. But we really didn’t see any old-age slippage. Heck, Suzuki made the play of the game on the basepaths with a fake out at the plate of Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters. Who knew that Ichiro took up gymnastics after the Mariners let him go?
The only member of the Orioles’ senior citizen club is 42-year-old designated hitter Jim Thome. He is surrounded by some fairly anonymous players, none of whom have the track record of the Yankees’ old-timers. Each of those guys will have a case made for entry into the Hall of Fame. But Baltimore’s rookie pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen from Taiwan, out-thought all of them during his stint. This series has all of the earmarks of going five games. The Yankees will probably prevail. The Orioles have done enough over the last six months that triumph in the series would not be completely shocking on paper. But face it, if Baltimore eliminates the Yankees we’ll still feel that way.
Meanwhile, over in the other league, the scrappy Cardinals might well handle the 98-win Nationals. Last year the Cardinals lived on the edge from the last day of the regular season to the last day of the World Series. They didn’t get into the playoffs until the last second and kept surviving close calls to claim the world championship.
This year the Cardinals began the season without superstar Albert Pujols (gone to the Angels) or long-time manager Tony La Russa (gone to retirement). Rookie manager Mike Matheny and signee Carlos Beltran provided just enough help for St. Louis to grab the new second wild-card playoff spot. Thus far they have eliminated the Atlanta Braves and stand 1-1 with the Nationals after a Monday night 12-4 win.
The defending world champs are underdogs, but with their poise and persistence it is not difficult to imagine them besting the young, Stephen Strasburg-less Nationals in five games.