Times baseball reporter Larry Stone — who correctly predicted the winners of all seven postseason series a year ago — says the Tigers will win it all.
For MLB, the gauntlet has been thrown: Can its postseason possibly live up to the drama, thrills and pathos of the season’s final day?
Because if it does, the next month will be a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions.
No, I’m not including the Mariners’ yawn-inducing 2-0 loss to the A’s on Wednesday in that description of the gripping Game 162s. While that game, and another bleak Seattle season, was droning to a finish, some off-the-charts action was going down, simultaneously, in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Atlanta, while in Houston, the Cardinals waited and watched, champagne goggles at hand.
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And I’m also excluding the fine fans in Atlanta and Boston, who — once they pull the covers off their heads and come out of their rooms — will no doubt yell something to the effect of, “I’ll stick your pathos where the sun don’t shine.”
But for the rest of us, it was a magical night, a feast of baseball consumption that we can only hope was a precursor to a magical October. Because frankly, it’s been awhile since baseball sustained a compelling postseason that maximized its capacity to dazzle and delight.
Sure, there have been great moments and compelling series. Only the hardest of hearts didn’t lift when the Red Sox, White Sox and Giants ended long championship droughts. Nevertheless, the World Series, of late, have tended to be duds. None have gone the full seven games since 2002, and six of the eight Fall Classics since then have lasted four or five games.
Those doldrums will end this year, I predict. This is going to be one of those Octobers when baseball nudges King Football into the periphery of our sporting attention.
Why should you listen to me? Not to gloat — OK, precisely to gloat — I nailed all seven series, up to and including the Giants’ triumph over the Rangers in the World Series, in last year’s playoff preview column, if you’ll recall. And if you don’t recall, I’m commissioning a documentary, just to keep the memory alive.
So I’ve got credibility (at least temporarily), which I’m going to put on the line and probably squander with this year’s bold prediction: the 2011 World Series champions will be … the Detroit Tigers. Over the Milwaukee Brewers. In seven giddy games.
The Tigers, after all, have the hottest pitcher in the free world, the ace of aces, upon whose back they will jump and let him carry them all the way to a pigpile at Miller Park after the last out of the final game.
But enough about Doug Fister. That other guy in the Detroit rotation, Justin Verlander, ain’t bad either.
The Tigers’ biggest challenge might be the first one — their division series matchup against the Yankees. Everyone knows about the Yankees’ mighty offense, which produced a major-league-leading 222 homers and 867 runs, more than any American League team except, giggle, the Red Sox.
But the Tigers have a potent offense of their own, led by batting champion and slugger extraordinaire, Miguel Cabrera. And while the Yankees rotation is heavily CC Sabathia-centric (and you need a surveyor to find the center of that big man), the Tigers have co-aces in Verlander and Fister. They also have the bullpen back-end that might well be the match of the Yankees’ strong unit, with closer Jose Valverde (49 for 49 in saves) to counter the legend that is Mariano Rivera.
By the time this one is over, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman will be answering similar questions to the ones being currently hurled at their Boston brethren: How could such a high-paid, talented unit have such an unseemly demise? Tigers in five.
The other American League division series, Tampa Bay vs. Texas, is a rematch of last year’s first-rounder, won by the Rangers in five games. But that Rangers team had Cliff Lee winning the first and final game; this time around, Lee is wearing Philly red, and the Rays are riding the craziest wave of momentum this side of St. Louis.
The Rangers have plenty of left-handed pitching prowess even without Lee, and GM Jon Daniels did great in-season work in strengthening the setup relief. Adrian Beltre is coming off a monster September, and the Rangers are playoff-tested after winning last year’s pennant. None of which will matter: The Rays still think they’re the team of destiny, and they won’t find out otherwise until the next round. Rays in four.
The Brewers find themselves opening against a Diamondbacks team that many of us can’t quite believe is still playing. Their reversal from 97 losses a year ago to 94 wins in 2011 should be a beacon of hope to every Mariners fan, and a testament to a great managerial job by Kirk Gibson.
Gibson knows a thing or two about postseason miracles, but after three games, he won’t believe what he just saw: A Brewers sweep. For all their conspicuous power, led by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, Milwaukee was actually outscored by 10 runs by the Diamondbacks, who have a bona fide superstar of their own in Justin Upton. But I’m picking the Brewers based on their pitching, no disrespect to Ian Kennedy or J.J. Putz. I like the depth of their rotation and the back end of their bullpen more than Arizona’s. Brewers in three.
That brings us to the co-team of destiny, the Cardinals, who waited until September to renew Tony La Russa’s genius card. They aren’t exactly the Little Team That Could, either. It might surprise you to learn that the Cardinals scored more runs than any other National League team.
Unfortunately for them, even Big Mo (but not necessarily Big Albert) will be neutralized by a Phillies rotation that can send out an ace every night. The Cardinals’ ability to match that arm power was lost during spring training when Adam Wainwright went down. I’ll take the Phillies in four.
The ALCS between Detroit and Tampa Bay will be when the Rays’ magic runs out. David Price’s rough start on Wednesday — five runs in four innings — has to be a little ominous for them. Jeremy Hellickson had a great rookie season, but he’s a rookie. Matt Moore has an electric arm, with 15 strikeouts in 9-1/3 innings. But he’s pitched only 9-1/3 innings. The Tigers have experience in all the right places. Tigers in seven.
The Brewers took two of three from the Phillies in April in Philadelphia. The Phillies took three of four from the Brewers in September in Milwaukee. On paper, you’d give the Phillies the edge in every series for four reasons: Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt. But Greinke, Gallardo, Marcum and Wolf ain’t bad. Consider this: Fielder is 6 for 8 with six RBI in his career off Lee, and 6 for 13 against Halladay, while Braun is 9 for 17 with three homers off Oswalt. The big guys will be the difference. Brewers in seven.
Detroit vs. Milwaukee might not be Fox’s dream matchup, but both teams will be hungry for a title. The Tigers haven’t won it all since 1984, having lost their most recent World Series in five games to the Cardinals in 2006. The Brewers have only been there once, losing in seven games, also to the Cardinals, in 1982.
In the end, the Tigers are just too strong in too many areas, and they have the X factor at the top of their rotation. Verlander is this year’s Orel Hershiser of ’88 vintage, capable of winning two games each series, no questions asked. And Fister is suddenly Mickey Lolich incarnate; a season in which he spent four months dreaming of run support in Seattle will end with a championship ring.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org