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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

October Sky

The Red Sox clinch a playoff berth.

It'll be interesting to see what happens from here on out.

The media is already preparing new montages for an anticipated Yankee-Red Sox showdown in the ALCS, though it's at least as likely as not that one or both teams will fall short.

Word among the baseball geek community is that either the Red Sox or Yankees are better off drawing Oakland, Anaheim, or Texas than Minnesota in the first round, due to the presence of Cy Young winner (if the writers have any sense, that is) Johan Santana, the way none of the three AL West teams playing particularly well the last month or so (other than Texas, and they've been all but eliminated) and the unwelcome prospect of playing games indoors on artificial turf.

The Yankees are most likely AL East winners, since they only need to win three games of their remaining six (three at home against the Twins, three in Toronto) to guarantee at least a share of the division title. The Red Sox have six road games (two in Tampa, four - including a day-night doubleheader - in Baltimore) left, and they'll need to win three more than the Yankees for a tie, four for an outright win.

As tempting as it might be to try to grab the division, since the Red Sox are so good at home, getting the rotation set is a higher priority; getting Curt Schilling (the Sox are 25-7 - 16-2 at Fenway - when Schilling takes the hill) two starts in five games if needed is critical.

I think the Sox could get by any of the A's, Angels, or Twins, but the Twins - medicore offense notwithstanding - seem to present the toughest challenge in a short series, especially if given home field advantage. Though Minnesota has no hitter that can match Eric Chavez or Erubiel Durazo, their pen has been much better than Oakland's in recent months, and none of the Oakland Big Three of Hudson, Mulder, and Zito have pitched especially well recently.

I hope the Red Sox have Bronson Arroyo, who has been coming strong the latter half of the season, in the third spot going into the playoffs. Arroyo's famously a little wild, but is tough to hit and has had some clutch outings down the stretch. Wakefield and Lowe have struggled recently, though the offense has often covered for them.

It'll be interesting to see what the Twins do with their three games in the Bronx. Are they going to work hard to make sure they get home-field advatange in the first? You'd think the Yankees would be better faced in five than in seven, and the Red Sox the opposite. Are they even going to have to work hard given the struggles of the Angels and A's?

Oakland - heavy on lefty starters - has a better chance of beating Boston than New York, who are very good against southpaws; however, that thought is a bit of a luxury for them since they have to get past the Angels (and Rangers) first.

Over in the National League, meanwhile - one heck of a race for the Wild Card, with the Giants, Cubs, Padres, and Astros in the mix. (The Dodgers appear to have command of the West race, and of course the Cardinals and Braves have been a foregone conclusion for a while.) Imagine the media circus if Cards-Cubs (or Dodgers-Giants) and Yanks-Sox were the semi-finals.

Exciting September races are good for baseball, and October could be shaping up to be even better.


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