The baseball season isn’t a marathon or a sprint, it’s so long it’s a marathon followed by a sprint. The regular season separates the men from the boys as weakness is exploited over the six-month slog, but in the playoffs anything can happen.
It’s not about how good you are, it’s how well you play in a small number of games. That’s why there’s so much parity in the playoffs, though officiating as shaky as the National Basketball Association also plays a role.
In the National League, the San Francisco Giants shocked the baseball world dethroning the two-time defending N.L. Champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games.
The Giants were carried offensively by League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award winner Cody “Smiles” Ross. Ross hit three home runs, with five batted in and four runs scored. Ross was drafted by Detroit Tigers in the fourth round of the 1999 draft.
In Saturday night’s clinching game six the Giants took the lead in the eighth when shortstop Juan Uribe hit a home run to right field for a 3-2 lead.
Manager Bruce Bochy started the bottom of the eighth with starter Tim Lincecum who, pitching out of the bullpen on his throw day, retired Jayson Werth swinging.
After two soft singles he was pulled for closer Brian Wilson for a five-out save, which he capped off with a 3-2 backdoor slider to strike out first basemen Ryan Howard to end the game.
This year, like each of the last six, we have a new champion in the American League. The Texas Rangers, a team that two weeks ago had never won a playoff series, beat the New York Yankees in six games, outscoring them 38-19.
Outfielder Josh Hamilton took home the ALCS MVP award hitting 7-for-20 with four home runs, a double, and five intentional walks, only strengthening suspicion that he’ll grab regular-season MVP honors as well.
There were many factors that went into making the Rangers’ first World Series appearance a reality. Perhaps the most important was three years ago when the club traded its best player current Yankees first basemen Mark Teixeira to the Braves.
In return for a year and a half of Teixeira, Texas received an enormous haul of prospects including catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus, and pitchers Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz.
Saltalamacchia, at the time the most highly touted prospect in the deal, is now on the Red Sox, still yet to establish himself as anything more than the player with the most letters on the back of his jersey. Credit the Rangers scouting department for pinpointing Andrus and Feliz, who were both All-Stars this year.
Andrus is an incredible player. Advanced defensive statistics are a work in progress, but he certainly passes the eye test as the best fielding shortstop in the A.L. displaying great range and a strong throwing arm.
Offensively, Andrus doesn’t bring much power as he went without a home run this season. He gets his job done in another way, leading off and working counts.
Despite playing only three more games this year than his rookie campaign of 2009, Andrus saw almost 700 more pitches and added 24 walks leading A.L. shortstops in on-base percentage (.342).
He also has tremendous instincts on the base paths stealing 32 bases during the regular season, four during this series. He’s the perfect kind of annoying player to stick at the top of the order, doing his job in a similar way to past year’s A.L. pennant winning shortstop leadoff men the Yankees’ Derek Jeter (’09) and Rays’ Jason Bartlett (’08).
The Giants rode the best pitching staff in the N.L. (1st in team E.R.A 3.36) to a 92-win campaign but were not expected to make noise in October because of an average to below average offense (eighth in team OPS .729).
The World Series will begin Wednesday night and will feature Cliff Lee going for the Rangers in San Francisco against Lincecum.