Here it is sports fans … October.
With the NFL and NCAA football seasons now in full swing, conference play beginning in almost all collegiate sports and the NBA and NHL seasons about to commence, there is arguably no better month than October to find such a vast amount of quality, sports entertainment.
However, what distinguishes October from the other 11 months of the year is the prospect of great pitching duels, jaw-dropping defensive plays and dramatic finishes that only the Major League Baseball postseason can offer. And with no clear-cut winner among the eight teams competing, this year’s postseason promises to be just as exhilarating as 2001.
Just one question: can anyone keep the New York Yankees from reaching their sixth consecutive World Series?
As was expected, the Yankees are once again the team to beat in the American League. The reigning AL champs have showed poise and power during a 103-win season in which their vaunted pitching rotation looked more like a liability than a strength.
However, with six-time Cy Young award winner, Roger Clemens back to full strength, Mike Mussina finishing strong (1.24 ERA in September), and 19-game winner David Wells looking just as durable as ever, the Yankees staff should make it tough on opponents to produce runs.
That is where the Anaheim Angels come in.
As the Yankees’ opening opponent, the Angels have the difficult task of defeating the Bronx Bombers in the short, best-of-five division series.
Relying on speed and defense, as opposed to the Yankees power attack, the Angels will have to take advantage of their every scoring opportunity. That means it will be up to staff-ace Jarrod Washburn (18-6, 3.15 ERA) and the Angels bullpen to find a way to cool off the Bronx Bombers’ bats long enough to keep Anaheim within striking distance.
If, however, the Angels falter, there will be another foe awaiting the Bombers, namely the Oakland A’s or the Minnesota Twins.
There is no denying that the Twins are MLB’s feel good story of the year.
Here is a team that entered spring training not wondering whether it would be playing in October, but if it would exist come October.
Yet, by staving of the threats of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Twins Owner Carl Pohlad to dismantle the franchise, the Twins have managed to take the AL Central title en route to making their first postseason appearance since 1991.
Furthermore, thanks to their amazing defense and refuse-to-lose attitude, the Twins now find themselves in Oakland, Calif., where they will take on the Oakland A’s.
Speaking of the A’s, this is a team that last season took the Yankees to the brink of elimination, before losing the series on three consecutive losses.
However, there are a few subtle differences between the 2001 A’s team that choked and this year’s team that won 103 games en route to the AL West title.
In December of 2001, A’s general manager, Billy Beane and manager, Art Howe watched as the players most instrumental in Oakland’s 2001 postseason run – Jason Giambi (Yankees), Johnny Damon (Boston Red Sox) and Jason Isringhausen (St. Louis Cardinals) – chose to leave the A’s and sign lucrative contracts elsewhere.
Not many teams can endure such losses and come back stronger the following year. But not many teams boast a starting rotation that features three different 20-game winners from three different seasons.
The A’s dominant trio of right-hander Tim Hudson and lefties Mark Mulder and Barry Zito will not be easy to score on, let alone defeat.
In order to do so, the Twins are going to have to learn to hit left-handed pitching – something they have failed to do all season (batting a dismal .252 against lefties).
But don’t count Minnesota out. After all, if the Twins can look contraction in the eye and survive, they shouldn’t have any problems facing Hudson’s 94-mph fastball, Mulder’s wicked splitter, or Zito’s bending curve…should they?
So the question remains: can anyone keep the Yankees from reaching their sixth consecutive World Series?
George Steinbrenner already lost one big battle this year – when baseball agreed to a luxury tax and increased revenue sharing – perhaps he’ll lose one more … perhaps.