Figuring out the Final Four

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Figuring out the Final Four! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Well, it looks like Major League Baseball is in for a treat. For the longest time in a while, baseball has a final four that is box office gold. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and Red Sox. West Coast to East Coast, we have four storied franchises that are filled with superstars. Maybe MLB thought they would give Bud Selig a nice going away present, since he’s retiring following the 2014 season.  If that’s the case, I am super excited about next season. Let me curb my enthusiasm about the two championship series and take a look at how we got there. The Braves, Pirates, Rays and A’s all fell in the Division Series. Can anybody sense a theme? All squads are small to mid-market teams, lacking big names, with very little postseason experience.

Matt-Kemp-NL-West-ChampsCould this just be a coincidence? It might be. Maybe the other teams were just better. Three out of the four teams with home field advantage won out, with the Tigers being the only team that outlasted this disadvantage. No real shocker there. So maybe we can just chalk it up to the best teams are left, which is the way it should be. Let’s break down the series.

The Dodgers’ return to the postseason matched them up against the Braves and Clayton Kershaw reminded us why he is the best pitcher in baseball. He dealt in Game 1 in Atlanta and the Dodgers got timely hitting from the usual suspects in Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig to cruise to a victory. The Braves responded in Game 2 by getting some clutch two-out hitting from Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson to squeak out a 4-3 victory over Zack Greinke. Heading back to Los Angeles, the series still seemed up in the air.

​The Dodgers quickly reminded us that this team can not just pitch, but they are capable of putting on an offensive display. In a matchup of two international rookie starting pitchers, the slugfest finished with a football score as Juan Uribe struck the big two-run homer in the fourth inning. The game was out of reach after that. The Braves scored a late safety to make the final score 13-6. Game 4 was the best game in he series. The Dodgers opted to move Kerhsaw up a day to pitch against Freddy Garcia. Yes I said Sweaty Freddy Garcia. How can the Braves be serious about winning by doing this? I laughed when I saw this matchup. And the Braves almost had the last laugh.

After trailing 2-0, the Braves answered by taking a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th. Puig led off the inning with a double and shortly thereafter, Uribe did it again. Just like he did for the Giants when he was the unsung hero of the 2010 playoffs, Uribe belted another two-run homer to give the Dodgers the lead and the series. Sorry Braves, another great regular season and division title were all for not. For the Dodgers, there are a lot of things to be excited about moving forward. Hearing Vin Scully announce on the road brought tears to my eyes.

a916f1fa16b6fc213e0f6a706700a437The other matchup in the National League showcased the new NL Central rivals in the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Playing in the playoffs for their first time since 1992, the Buccos definitely held their own. They forced the full five game series. After getting shelled in Game 1, the Bucs returned the favor in Game 2 to winning convincingly behind rookie sensation Gerrit Cole. They split the two close games back in Pittsburgh. In a predictable sudden death Game 5, the Cardinals, behind ace Adam Wainwright, glided to a 6-1 victory over Cole and the proud Pirates.

You have to give the city of Pittsburgh credit; their fans are electric. The crowd reminded me of the 12th man that the Seahawks have in Seattle. Waving those black flags, the Pirates and their fans have a lot to be excited about in the future. Pedro Alvarez set a record by recording an RBI in his first six career playoff games. Andrew McCutchen is a viable MVP candidate every year and a model citizen on and off the field. In the end, they were facing the Cardinals. Enough said. All they do is advance in the playoffs. They moved on to their eighth league championship series in 14 years. Simply remarkable. No Albert Pujols. No Tony La Russa. No problem. The Cards are the best run franchise in baseball, filled with a great blend of young talent and skilled veterans. They will play the Dodgers as truly he best two teams in the National League. I can’t complain.

th (1)In the American League, there were two solid matchups. The Red Sox were back in the postseason and even without Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, they are still a heck of a team to watch. “Fear the beard?” Yes I do.  The Red Sox sported many beards on their squad making them fun and cool to admire this hard-nosed team. The first two games at Fenway Park had two great pitching matchups, on paper. However, this is why games are played not on paper, but on the field. Matt Moore got crushed in Game 1 and David Price was clobbered and the Red Sox won both games easily. The only series that went 2-0, it did not look bright for the Rays.

After a road trip consisting of a playoff clinching series in Toronto, a Wild Card play-in game in Texas, a Wild Card playoff game in Cleveland, and the first two ALDS games in Boston, the Rays finally were back home in their illustrious Tropicana Field. And they actually had some fans attend Game 3 and 4. Trailing 3-0, a sweep seemed inevitable until Evan Longoria tied it up with a three run knock. After wild closer Fernando Rodney blew a save in the ninth, new hero Jose Lobatob cranked a walkoff home run to give the Rays their only win in the series. Game 4 consisted of very few runs. Joe Maddon used every pitcher in his bullpen, but it was not enough as the Red Sox scratched two runs in the 7th and one in the 9th to win 3-1 and the series. The Rays once again fell short in the playoffs, but still did not disappoint since making the playoffs for a team with this payroll is a victory in itself. The Red Sox continue to grow their beards and look as if they are the hottest team going right now.

The Tigers-A’s series closes out our bracket and this one did not disappoint. Games 1 and 2 were both one run games. In Game 1, Max Scherzer was given a 3-0 lead early and made it stand all the way home. Just barely.Yoenis Cespedes rocked a majestic homer in the 7th to make it 3-2, but this ended up being the final score.  Rookie Sonny Gray took on Tigers superstar ace Justin Verlander in a pitchers duel in Game 2.  A walkoff single by Stephen Vogt capped off a very exciting 1-0 win for the Atheletics. Moving to Detroit, the series was also a toss up.

thAnibal Sanchez has quietly been the MVP of the pitching staff for the Tigers this year, but got roughed up as the A’s came out swinging. The A’s came out victorious 6-3, but the highlight of the game took place in the 9th inning when A’s closer Grant Balfour and Tigers slugger Victor Martinez got in a screaming match. Martinez fouled off a Balfour pitch and the two proceeded to stare at each other, use bleeped verbiage, causing both benches to clear. A mere shouting match. Nothing really came out of this except that some athletes take themselves way too seriously. The Tigers rallied in Game 4 behind home runs from Jhonny Peralta and Martinez to win 8-6. Scherzer came in out of the bullpen highlighting one of my favorite elements of postseason baseball in do-or-die situations.

In a rematch of Game 2, Verlander showed everyone he can be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He had everything working and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer, giving him all the run support he needed. The Tigers advanced to the ALCS against the Red Sox, leaving the A’s and Billy Beane still one win away from their Moneyball dream. It is hard not to be optimistic about the A’s future, but one can not question if this style of baseball will ever carry them over the top. For the Tigers, they are definitely not playing their best, but they still have the best hitter in baseball in Cabrera and a pitching staff full of studs. Just like the NLCS, the Red Sox and Tigers are indeed the best two teams in the American League. The Tigers look to get back to the World Series and they don’t care who stands in their way. The Red Sox will be ready.

mlb-champsOverall, baseball had four competitive and compelling division series. All four series had some great games and great heroics. The best teams won and coincidently, the four teams left have the most superstar power and should draw the best ratings. In a time where sports fans choose football and basketball over baseball, this is just what the doctor ordered. Baseball is now in position to recapture the hearts of its fans. They have the most stars, pitching and hitting, and geographically, the entire country is represented with these four teams. The Dodgers look to establish themselves as the new mainstay in the National League and how fitting to do it against the classic and respected Cardinals. The Red Sox are back and better than ever. They take on the Tigers who are looking for some revenge after getting swept in the World Series last year. This sports fan is very pleased and excited for the rest of these playoffs. Baseball should be too. These next couple of weeks  could be crucial for the revival of baseball and its fandom. Ratings will be up, and hopefully up for a long time to come.

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Paul Culley
Guest Sports Activist for The Cover 4

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