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Rounding Third: Baseball's Final Four all set
By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Could Major League Baseball have asked for four better teams in the League Championship Series?
In the ALCS matchup you have a pair of charter AL clubs in Boston and Detroit, two teams who have been playing one another since 1901. Remarkably, though, this will be the first time the two will be facing off in the postseason.
Then, in the NLCS you essentially have baseball royalty in the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, two teams who have accounted for 17 World Series titles and 36 National League pennants.
We will start with the Cards-Dodgers matchup since that is the first to get going.
From top-to-bottom there may not be a better-run franchise than the St. Louis Cardinals.
Whatever obstacle seems to be thrown their way the Cards push forward and barely skip a beat. Remember this is a team that is just two years removed from losing both manager Tony La Russa and at the time the best player on the planet in Albert Pujols.
Yes they have a ton of young pitching, and of course, that helps. Adam Wainwright is as good as it gets, but the Cards needed an MLB-high 36 wins from rookie pitchers to get by this season.
They needed one of those rookie hurlers to step up in the NLDS and 22-year-old Michael Wacha answered the bell with a near no-hitter versus the Pittsburgh Pirates in a season-saving victory in Game 4.
Wacha will step up in competition in the NLCS, as he draws the great Clayton Kershaw in Game 2.
Kershaw is likely headed toward another NL Cy Young Award after a remarkable regular season that saw him go 16-9 and lead the major leagues with a minuscule 1.83 ERA and an NL-best 232 strikeouts.
Over his last 11 starts, including his two postseason starts, Kershaw is 6-2 with a remarkable 1.46 ERA.
It's not just Kershaw for the Dodgers, though, they also have another former Cy Young Award winner in 2009 AL winner Zack Greinke, who will pitch Game 1.
The Dodgers are led by the two horses atop their rotation, but their offense isn't too shabby either. They hit .333 as a team in the NLDS, thanks to the likes of Hanley Ramirez (.500), Yasiel Puig (.471), Juan Uribe (.375), Carl Crawford (.353) and Mark Ellis (.333).
St. Louis may not have the star power in its own lineup, but it is a group that always seems to get the big hit. And oh yea, the Cards also have perhaps the best postseason hitter of this generation in Carlos Beltran.
Beltran added to his postseason legacy by driving in six runs in the five-game set. Amazingly he only hit .222, but his .944 OPS in this series was his second-lowest OPS in a playoff series.
It's hard to argue with the amount of postseason experience this Cardinals team has. Not to mention this is just a group that just seems to rise up no matter what type of adversity they face.
They just feel at home in the postseason.
When it clicks on all cylinders, though, this Dodgers' lineup is relentless. That coupled with the fact that Greinke and Kershaw will both likely get two starts in this series gives Don Mattingly's team the edge in what could be a classic series.
If there is a baseball god he'll deliver a Kershaw-Wainwright showdown in Game 7.
Meanwhile, the AL matchup is just as even.
Boston and Detroit finished the year 1-2 in the majors in both runs scored and OPS. While the Red Sox hit two more homers, the Tigers' staff had a lower ERA (3.61 to 3.79).
Now it looks as if Justin Verlander is intent on re-claiming his title as the best pitcher on the planet, given his remarkable two-hit, eight scoreless- inning performance over Oakland in Game 5 of the ALDS.
But, the Red Sox won't see him until Game 3 of this series. It may be too late by then.
There is not much Boston can't do. You want the long ball? They can do that. You want small ball? They can do that too. John Farrell's biggest contribution may be to the starting rotation, where the staff ERA dropped two runs from last year's team.
And if that's not enough, Koji Uehara has been the best closer in baseball for almost two months now.
Not to mention the Tigers just don't look right at the plate. And when I say Tigers I mean the great Miguel Cabrera. It was a good sign that he homered in Thursday's Game 5 win, but still the abdominal pain that bothered him all through September has had some effect. He only hit .250 and had just one RBI before his two-run homer on Thursday.
At the beginning of the year I picked the Tigers over the Dodgers in the World Series. Before you give me too much credit for making that pick, those two teams were about the only ones I got right for the postseason.
And as much as I'd love to stick to my preseason pick, the Red Sox are just too tough. They really have no weakness at the moment.
You think anyone misses Bobby Valentine?
PREDICTIONS: RED SOX in SIX
DODGERS in SEVEN
10/11 11:33:55 ET