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As the season's winding down, the "top" four teams are battling it out for spots in the World Series. It's been a topsy-turvy year in baseball, with teams expected to be awful surprising many, and teams thought to be competitive finishing at the bottom. A run-through by division:
We all expected the Boston Red Sox to make the playoffs, just not in the way they did so. If anything, the Red Sox would win the division, the New York Yankees somehow pull off second, and the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays fighting for third. The Yankees finally missed the playoffs, due to the Rays having a year not many thought possible. Who would have thought that Tampa Bay would be hosting a playoff series this year, let alone an ALCS? Granted, they are a good team who has always been full of young talent, and they were bound to start rising if they kept their current players, but not a lot of people expected such a quick turnaround from last year's 66-96 season.
We also expected two teams that completely fell off the radar by mid-season to be competing for the top spots in the AL Central as well. The Cleveland Indians, with their ALCS appearance last year, was expected to contend not only for the playoffs, but a World Series berth this year, and the Detroit Tigers were as well, with arguably the "best lineup" in baseball. Of course, both teams finished way out of first place, to the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins, who last year finished 24 and 17 games behind Cleveland respectively. Heck, even the Kansas City Royals fared better than the Tigers. That's how you throw away money.
The Los Angeles Angels had a great season, though many probably expected a better finish rather than losing in the ALDS to the Wild Card team, especially with their pitching staff. The Seattle Mariners not surprisingly brought up the rear, even though on paper at the beginning of the year they were supposed to be much better than they ended up being. The Oakland Athletics with their weird selling-off of assets probably finished right around where they were expected to, as did the Texas Rangers. Looking at the standings, it could possibly be inferred the weak AL West did not hinder the Angels from getting the record that they did.
Once again, the New York Mets could not hold on down the stretch, this time for the Wild Card spot. The Philadelphia Phillies won, as many expected, and the Florida Marlins surprised many by finishing as well as they did record-wise, though third place was probably where they were predicted to be at the beginning of the year. Was anybody else puzzled at how poorly the Atlanta Braves performed? Losing John Smoltz did not help much, nor did a slumping Jeff Francoeur and others, but losing 90 games, after last season's 84-78 finish?
The NL Central really had their coming-out party this season, with four of six teams not only finishing above .500, but at least ten games above as well. The Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs as expected, albeit with the Brewers faltering along the way and firing manager Ned Yost, and both astonishingly not being competitive in the playoffs, especially Chicago with eight all-stars on the team this year. The Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals, both expected to not be competitive this year, exceeded everybody's expectations and remained in the playoff hunt until well into September, with the Cardinals leading the Wild Card even into July, when many thought they would be out of it already, perhaps even behind the sixth-place Pittsburgh Pirates.
And there's the NL West, arguably the weakest division in baseball. The Arizona Diamondbacks had a down season, as compared to last year, and the Colorado Rockies did not justify winning last year's NL pennant by finishing 74-88. The San Diego Padres also surprisingly fared poorly, finishing last, after losing out on the Wild Card last year in a one-game playoff. And the Los Angeles Dodgers came out of practically nowhere, until the middle of August, to win the division and now be playing in the NLCS. The acquisitions of both Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez obviously did wonders to the team, and having Joe Torre at the helm did not hurt. In fact, it probably solidified Joe Torre's legacy, and quieted his critics who said that he only won because of his loaded Yankees teams.
Who will win eventually? Here's a guess:
Red Sox over Rays 4-2
Phillies over Dodgers 4-2
And after 86 years of futility, the Red Sox win their third championship in five years over Philadelphia 4-1.
Have fun watching. Can somebody please tell MLB to return the LCS to over-the-air networks?