“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”—Rogers Hornsby
The field is now officially set. The Chicago White Sox, forced to make-up a rain out on Monday night against the Detroit Tigers, then faced the Minnesota Twins in a 1 game playoff for a trip to Tampa Bay to face the Rays. The South Siders were victorious, setting up the first time in 102 years both Chicago teams are in the postseason.
Don’t tell me to save the drama for your mama, because the American League is hemmoraging with it. Here’s a look at the field.
Chicago White Sox versus Tampa Bay Rays
I find this to be the most compelling series of the entire Division Series, National and American League. Young against old, experience against inexperience, tradition against naivete. The White Sox were forced to the ends of the earth to get here, and they’ve demonstrated that they’re clutch. With veterans Jim Thome, Ken Griffey Jr., Jermaine Dye, and Paul Konerko leading the way, this is a team with the experience necessary to weather the storm. Nevermind that the White Sox are considered Chicago’s second team; they’ve got the bats, the playoff experience (remember 2005?), and the home field support to make a run.
But there’s no story without conflict, and in this case, conflict takes the form of the Tampa Bay Rays, the hapless losers who tasted nothing but defeat and last or second-to-last place for over a decade. But someone put something in their cereal this off season. Maybe it was the new personnel brought in. Maybe it was the removal of “Devil” from their name. But these kids learned how to pitch, hit, and run. Watch out for Rays pitchers James Shields and Scott Kazmir, the best 1-2 punch in the American League. With a good bullpen and a young lineup that won’t wait for their opportunities, the Tampa Bay Rays are the team to beat. And after one season, I still cannot 100% believe it.
ULOT X Factor: BJ Upton and Evan Longoria. Someone needs to be the offensive rock in the Rays lineup, or they won’t stand a chance against the White Sox bats. Upton just finished his second year of MLB service, Longoria his first. Who will step up?
Bold Prediction: Rays in 5. Tampa pitching and timely hitting will neutralize the storybook White Sox season. Sorry South Siders, there’s always the Cubs bandwagon to jump on.
Boston Red Sox versus Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
If the Chicago-Tampa series is the most compelling, this one is the least. Yes, the Red Sox are in the postseason once again, and yes, the Angels won the hapless (read: pathetic) AL West. But both teams have become an American League cliche in October, teams you expect to be there but not with any gusto or drama. The Red Sox used up all their drama in 2004 against the Yankees, the Angels in 2002 against the Giants. But if you like mediocre baseball, rally monkeys held by indifferent Orange County fans, and Red Sox fans with no Manny to brand as “Manny”, then this is the series for you.
The Angels won the AL West a month ago and have kept winning since. Their rotation is solid and their lineup is now fearsome with Mark Texeria protecting Vladimir Guerrero in the middle. But being from California, I know how dangerous (and annoying) the Angels really can be. If they need a run, they’ll do anything short of adultery to get a run home. They’ll squeeze, bunt, sac-fly, steal a base, butcher boy, or any other trick in the book to get a run on the board. If they get into a situation where they can win the game with a run, Boston will be in trouble.
Speaking of trouble in Boston, the Red Sox are nowhere near the 2004 or 2007 World Champion level. Where’s Manny Ramirez? Yes, he’s an ass hole, and yes, his antics were distracting. But the Boston media is also full of distracting ass holes, and nobody sent them to Los Angeles. But the Red Sox did, and in the process lost the cornerstone of their offense. The Red Sox recent postseason success is largely due to the intangibles of Fenway Park and the Red Sox nation. But it’s all gone now, and deflated Sox fans will soon have to grab a seat next to their Yankee counterparts and collectively wonder how it is that the Tampa Bay Rays won the AL East this year.
ULOT X Factor: Francisco Rodriguez. The best closer in the game, he turns a 9 inning game into an 8 inning one. If he’s in, don’t expect the game to go on much longer.
Bold Prediction: Angels in 4. And I know Red Sox fans will probably be wicked peeved and want to spit in my chowdah, but get real. This obviously isn’t your year, but if it makes you feel any better, it really wasn’t the Yankees’ year.