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Who will join Oakland?

by Matt Smith

Last night was a night of celebration for me as the A’s finally made it through to the ALCS with a sweep over the Minnesota Twins.

A 3-0 defeat is tough on the Twins, but that’s the sort of thing that can happen in a best of five series. Look at the way the Pirates reeled off three wins against the Mets not so long ago. The key in these match-ups is generally not so much who makes the most mistakes, but which team takes advantage of them. Every little opportunity has to be grasped, as a single play can shift the momentum from one team to the other. Throughout the three games, it was the A’s who took advantage of their opportunities. I guess for the neutrals it was somewhat of an anti-climax; the Twins never seemed to get a toe-hold in the contest. Oakland were able to quickly cut down any Minnesota revival in the three games. With the series being so short, unless you hit the ground running it can be over before you have really started. Play another three games and the Twins could just as easily win three on the bounce.

I wasn’t convinced that Kendall tagged out Torii Hunter at home plate and the replays didn’t prove conclusive either way. As every sports fan knows though, the marginal calls always seem to go against you when you are down. The A’s finally caught the breaks in a divisional series, although potentially the most crucial break was the one to Mark Ellis’s finger. This Oakland team is far from being in perfect shape, yet previous teams with All-stars such as Hudson, Mulder, Giambi and Tejada didn’t come through for the A’s. Maybe it’s time for some relative unknowns to make a name for themselves.

As for the Tigers, they have managed to put their poor end of season form behind them and have caused a mini-shock by going 2-1 up in the series. Most people started writing the team’s 2006 obituary after they lost the opening game. Now it is the Yankees who are on the brink of defeat. I get the feeling that tonight is the Tigers’ big chance. Although losing this one won’t seal their fate, heading back to the Bronx having blown a chance to clinch the series would be a massive challenge. One good game and one good pitching outing by Jeremy Bonderman is all they need. The question is, will they embrace the opportunity or will they buckle under the pressure? There’s only one way to find out and it’s sure to be exciting. Just like pretty much every non-Yankees fan (and every non-TV Executive), I hope they do it. An Oakland-Detroit ALCS might not have the money men salivating, but having different teams taking a turn in the spotlight can only be a good thing for the game as a whole.

The Detroit-Yankees series currently looks to be the only one that is likely to go to a game five decider. The NLCS line-up could be decided as early as tonight, with both series currently sitting at 2-0. Once again it depends who copes with the pressure of these “must win” games. The great thing about the baseball play-offs is that, after 162 games to separate the wheat from the chaff, you know you have got eight quality teams battling it out. The Padres and the Dodgers are more than capable of beating the Cardinals and the Mets three times in a row. And the best thing is, the Cards and the Mets know this as well as anyone.

Will it happen? Out of the two match-ups, I would fancy San Diego to pull off the comeback against the Cards more than the Dodgers against the Mets; however the Padres are going to have to win twice in St Louis to give themselves a chance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chris Young pitch a gem tonight to keep his team alive and that may prove to be all the inspiration they need to take it back it San Diego. The Dodgers meanwhile are relying on Greg Maddux to follow his former team mate, Tom Glavine, and to turn back the years with a vintage performance.

The truth is, no one can really predict what will happen. That’s exactly what makes this time of year so exciting. With the Padres and the Dodgers battling to stay alive, and Detroit oh-so-close to dumping Steinbrenner’s All-stars out of the competition, it promises to be a thrilling evening of baseball.


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