Playoff cast is dream come true for fans

BY Bob Klapisch • October 5, 2009

If your idea of October baseball features big-market teams, established rivalries and rosters crowded with superstars, you've come to the right place. MLB is bracing for its most entertaining postseason in years, with storylines guaranteed to wrap you tightly in their long tentacles.

Among the contestants are three of the sport's most storied franchises — the Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals — as well as the Red Sox, who've won more World Series in this decade than anyone else, and the Phillies, the defending champs.

The Rockies, the National League's 2007 pennant winners, finished the season on a crazy sprint — they pushed the Dodgers all the way to the final weekend — which made it impossible to focus solely on the American League's Central Division race.

Still waiting on Game 163 between the Tigers and Twins? We don't have to know the outcome of Tuesday's showdown in the Metrodome to envision the winner bringing its own, unique Q rating to the playoffs. Either Justin Verlander will show up throwing high 90s heat, or MVP candidate Joe Mauer will be smoking line drives into the gaps.

Whatever series you lose yourself in, it figures to be a long and thrilling month. That's good news for MLB officials and TV viewers alike, given the low ratings of the past two World Series.

Baseball could certainly use the boost, given attendance was down for the second straight season. A 6.9 percent plunge this summer left the game at its lowest levels since 2003.

Perhaps the renewal starts now, as all eyes will be locked on the Tigers and Twins. Whether the winner arrives in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday loaded with momentum or emotionally spent depends on how wide you consider the divide between the regular season and the Division Series.

If carry-over is a meaningful currency, the Yankees are in a commanding position, finishing with the most wins by an American League team since 2002 and leading in virtually every offensive category.

The wild-card Rockies, meanwhile, are banking on their hot streak that began on May 29, when Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle. Colorado went 71-41 with its new manager, reason enough for Rockies fans to think they're headed to the World Series for the second time in three years.

But to get there, Colorado will have to deal with Phillies' powerhouse offense and the devastating rotation duo of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. They make the Phillies' run-scoring machine look all the more dangerous, after leading the National League in runs, home runs and slugging percentage.

You might think a Phillies-Rockies muscle-flexing contest will produce a flurry of home runs. What better launching pads than Citizens Bank Park and Coors Field, right? Not exactly. The two stadiums finished ninth and 15th, respectively, in home run park value this year, which is to say Ryan Howard (45), Jayson Werth (36) and Troy Tulowitzki (32), among others, hit their homers the old-fashioned way — with timing and power.

The real intrigue in this series is how (and with whom) the Phillies are going to nail down the ninth inning. Brad Lidge's 48-for-48 masterpiece season in 2008 feels like a million years ago, as the Phillies have all but declared the role of closer defunct.

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