The most intriguing matchups of the division series:
Verlander and Gonzalez may well turn out to be the Cy Young winners in their respective leagues for their work in 2012, just one thing they have in common. They both have overpowering stuff, and each of them is a high-energy, caffeinated personality -- they talk fast, they think fast. It's a part of what drives them.
But this trait also can be problematic, especially in the very early stages of big games, because their frenetic nature can become an issue as they try to maintain control of the baseball. Roger Clemens had the exact same issue in his career: In the postseason, he tended to overthrow and struggle with his command in the early innings. Verlander started the All-Star Game this year and got hammered, after having mixed results in the postseason last year.
Once Verlander gets settled into the flow of a game, there's nobody better -- but how many pitches will it take for him to get to that point? Will Oakland be able to do damage early? Will Gonzalez fill the bases with walks and constantly get behind in the strike zone?
2. Bruce Bochy versus Joey Votto
The Reds' first baseman has not hit for a lot of power since coming off the disabled list, but, even with his knee issue lingering, Votto still is the most dangerous hitter in the Cincinnati lineup -- and Bochy undoubtedly will veer around him in big spots. The Giants have a couple of veteran lefty relievers who will face Votto time and again in this series. Votto's numbers against Jeremy Affeldt: 1-for-5, with three strikeouts and two walks. His numbers against Javier Lopez: 0-for-5, with two strikeouts.
3. Buck Showalter versus Robinson Cano
It's impossible to overstate just how well Cano is swinging the bat lately: He has 24 hits in his past 40 at-bats, in a span of nine games, and he's hitting everything, in every part of the strike zone -- breaking balls, fastballs, up or down, inside or outside; he acknowledged in conversation the other day that he had never gone through a stretch like this.
Showalter will not give him the chance to do nearly as much damage as he's been doing; rather, you will see the Orioles' pitchers choose to go after guys who are not swinging like Babe Ruth. On the last day of the season, Nick Swisher batted behind Cano, to provide more protection, and it might be that Joe Girardi will stick with this because if he hits Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira behind Cano, the second baseman will get pitched around almost every time. Teixeira is still looking for his timing since coming off the disabled list, and Rodriguez has had difficulty against good fastballs of late. (Swisher, like Verlander and Gonzalez, has his own adrenaline to conquer: In his six postseason series with the Yankees, he is 16-for-100 with 28 strikeouts and has tended to anxiously swing at pitches out of the strike zone.)
4. Dusty Baker versus Buster Posey
Posey is one of the best hitters in baseball. The guy who likely will hit behind him, Hunter Pence, is not. So the Reds' manager presumably will put the onus on Pence in big moments when he can, by walking Posey or by nudging the Cincinnati pitchers to work around him. Pence has hit .219 since joining San Francisco, with a .287 on-base percentage. He'll get more opportunities in this series.
5. David Robertson versus his backlog of work
He has been asked to do a whole lot in the past couple of months: Thirty-one of his 65 appearances have come since the end of July, and, on some days lately, scouts think his stuff has been diminished. He's a pivotal performer in a Yankees bullpen that is good but not particularly deep. It will help that he will have pitched only once in the week leading up to this series.
6. Tyler Clippard versus gravity
Regardless of whether Davey Johnson chooses to use Clippard as his closer or his setup man, Clippard is crucial to the Washington bullpen, which is not viewed by scouts as being particularly deep. Clippard's best pitch is his changeup, and lately, he has really struggled to keep that pitch down -- which he must do against a good-hitting team such as St. Louis.
Clippard had a 1.93 ERA in the first half of the season and a 5.60 ERA in the second half.
7. The Nationals versus the stage
The Cardinals have been there, done that and have built up postseason scar tissue. But just about every member of the every-day Washington lineup -- as well as the front men in the Nats' rotation and bullpen -- is going to be playing playoff baseball for the first time. The players will have to learn how to cope with the extra pressure, immediately.
All year, there has been a major variation in performance for Lincecum and Zito, ranging from really good to much less than that. The Giants are not necessarily built for slugfests, so if and when these two pitchers get the ball -- Bochy hasn't set his rotation fully -- they must avoid the stinkers, the games in which they're headed for the showers very early.
9. The Detroit pitchers versus the extra outs
It's a simple fact that the Tigers' defense is the worst in the majors and that, in most games, Detroit has created additional opportunity for opposing teams by failing to make plays that other teams make. A ground ball that normally would be caught gets through the infield or a double play that should be turned is not. This is the lay of the land for the Tigers' pitchers, and it has been all year, and their response to this -- a strikeout or a hit -- will be particularly important in the postseason, when the caliber of the opposing teams is at its highest.
10. Oakland Athletics versus RBI situations
Some members of the Red Sox talked the other day about how distinctive the approach of the Oakland hitters is, with their all-or-nothing swings. "They just let it fly," as one veteran said. Oh, sure, the Athletics rack up their share of strikeouts, but they also have bashed a ton of home runs in the past 101 games. The Athletics led the majors in home runs and runs scored after the All-Star break.
But there inevitably will be situations in this postseason when a home run isn't required, when all the Athletics will need is for someone to put the ball in play. Can the Oakland hitters get this done, too? We'll see. They had the second-highest OPS with runners in scoring position this year. (Detroit was first).
11. The Baltimore hitters versus the strike zone
CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are two experienced and savvy pitchers, and they will work to minimize the chances for the Baltimore hitters to do damage. They will try to coax the Orioles into swinging at pitches on the fringe of the strike zone or outside the zone.
This is why Sabathia's use of his changeup in his recent starts has been so important to his recent success. "I think it's the best I've had the whole year," Sabathia said, explaining that he's been able to get on top of the ball in releasing the pitch rather than be on the side of the ball in his hand position.
The challenge for the Orioles' hitters will be to force Sabathia and Pettitte (and Hiroki Kuroda, for that matter) to work in the zone.
12. Aroldis Chapman versus the thing
The tall left-hander was arguably the second-best closer in the National League this year, and he was as dominant, on some days, as any pitcher in the majors. But from time to time, Chapman still had moments when he would lose his delivery and lose the strike zone, and once that started to happen, he would have serious difficulty making the necessary in-game adjustments to get back on track.
Reds manager Dusty Baker has hinted at a possible return.
The bonds among the Tigers' players mean more than the No. 1 seed, writes Drew Sharp.
• The Cardinals partied like rock stars after beating the Braves in the crazy playoff marred by controversy and debris.
Some related thoughts:
1. Sam Holbrook, who applied the infield fly rule in the game's most pivotal moment, is regarded as one of the sport's best umpires.
2. The call is rooted in the reasoning for the infield fly rule: Could the fielder have intentionally dropped the ball in an effort to get two outs on the play? And considering where the ball came down, this seems out of the realm of possibility. You have to wonder whether Holbrook lost his bearings because of the unusual positioning in left field, which is only put into place for the All-Star Game and the postseason.
Once baseball goes to expanded instant replay, you wonder whether it would make sense to go back to just four umpires because the placement of umpires where they are not accustomed to being seems to have caused more harm than good -- Rich Garcia botching the Jeffrey Maier call (as he acknowledged), Tim Welke impeding Jermaine Dye on a fly ball in the 1996 World Series, and, as Benjamin Hoffman writes, a call made by Phil Cuzzi that went against the Twins.
3. Once Holbrook made his call, there was no way to go back on his decision -- in the same way there was no way to replay the choice of plate umpire Jeff Kellogg to grant David Ross timeout in his first at-bat. The Cardinals weren't happy about that, especially after Ross swung through Kyle Lohse's pitch, but there was no way to go back on the moment -- and Ross clubbed a two-run homer on the next pitch. C'est la vie.
4. The Braves were in a 6-3 hole at the moment of Holbrook's call because they had played poorly, with all kinds of uncharacteristic defensive mistakes. The Cardinals took advantage.
The Cardinals keep believing, writes Bernie Miklasz.
By the Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Information
6: Losses in winner-take-all postseason games by the Braves, second most, after the Yankees.
10: Manny Machado became the 10th player age 20 or younger to have an RBI in a postseason game.
19: Times the Rangers were held to one run or fewer in the regular season, second fewest in MLB (Yankees, 18).
225: Feet from home plate of pop fly hit by Andrelton Simmons in the eighth inning, in which he was called out because of the infield fly rule.
From Baseball Info Solutions:
In the past three seasons, there were six infield flies that were not caught. The longest was measured at 178 feet. Friday's infield fly was measured at 225 feet from home plate.
The ball was in the air 5.44 seconds before the infield fly was called, and the ball landed at 6.13 seconds. So the umpire made the call 0.69 seconds before the ball landed. Shortstop Pete Kozma ran approximately 70.7 feet to catch the ball before stopping.
• I would've bet the family farm that Joe Saunders would get the quick hook, and, in the very first inning, right-hander Steve Johnson got up to throw in the Baltimore bullpen. But Saunders pitched into the sixth inning as the Orioles shut down the stagnant Texas offense again, and incredibly, the Rangers' season is over.
Saunders defied expectations, as Eduardo Encina writes.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Terry Ryan no longer has "interim" attached to his title.
3. The Royals are raising their ticket prices.
4. Managing the Indians would be like a family reunion, says Terry Francona.
6. Jim Tracy's status has not been resolved, writes Troy Renck.
7. The Angels signed their catcher to an extension.
8. The Mariners lost one scout and fired another.
• A couple of Chicago announcers could be considered in Arizona.
And today will be better than yesterday.