The MLB post-season picture is much clearer tonight as the Milwaukee Brewers, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers have clinched their divisions.
It began with the Brewers who beat the Florida Marlins 4-1 on a three run homerun by Ryan Braun. Look for The Hebrew Hammer to win the NL MVP (unless Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp wins the Triple Crown.) Even though the game ended, none of the 40,000 plus fans at Miller Park left their seats. They stayed to watch the St. Louis Cardinals fall to the Chicago Cubs 5-1 and officially seal the NL Central. It is the Brewers first NL Central title. The Brewers reached the post-season in 2008 when they won the NL Wild Card on - what else? - a homerun by Ryan Braun against the Mets. Despite some late season kvetching by K-Rod and Prince Fielder, the Brewers began to run away with the NL Central shortly after the All-Star Break. At one point, the Brew Crew won 27 out of 32 games breaking away from the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. It's remarkable when you consider the Brewers started the season 14-20.
What is even more remarkable is that the last time the Brewers clinched a division they were in the AL. In 1982, the Brewers won the AL East on the last day of the season against the Baltimore Orioles when Don Sutton outdueled Jim Palmer. Those were the days of Harvey's Wallbangers (named after their manager Harvey Kuenn) with the likes of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner, Cecil Cooper, Ben Ogilive, Gorman Thomas and Rollie Fingers.
I didn't think the Brewers would amount to much this season. I knew they could hit but I didn't think could pitch even with the addition of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum. Perhaps the biggest difference between this year and last was manager Ron Roenicke. He had the respect of the players in a way that his predecessor Ken Macha simply didn't. It also didn't hurt them to have Nyjer Morgan (a.k.a. Tony Plush) in the clubhouse. What a difference a year makes.
The same thing could be said for the Arizona Diamondbacks who clinched their first NL West crown since 2007 with a 3-1 victory over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants going from worst to first and celebrated by jumping into the pool beyond the outfield wall at Chase Field. I knew the D'Backs would be better in 2011 (I picked them to finish third in the NL West.) I knew that Kirk Gibson wasn't going to put up with a last place team. I also really liked Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson at the top of the rotation. But I didn't think Kennedy would win 20 games nor did I think J.J. Putz would save more than 40 games. Like the Brewers, the D'Backs picked up steam in the second half as the Giants resembled the walking wounded whose bats couldn't break glass in a China shop. Look for Gibson to be named NL Manager of the Year. Wouldn't it be neat if the D'Backs face the Detroit Tigers in the World Series given the D'Backs have both Gibson and 1984 World Series MVP Alan Trammell on their bench? If they do, I have a feeling the country is going to become very familiar with Paul Goldschmidt.
Last year, the country became familiar with the Texas Rangers as they won their first AL championship. Acquaintances will be renwed as the Rangers beat the Mariners 5-3. As in Milwaukee, Rangers fans waited for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to fall to the Oakland Athletics 3-1 and clinch their second consecutive AL West title. The Rangers led the AL West for most of the season but the Angels kept clipping at their heels but Ron Washington's crew held them off.
I didn't think the Rangers would repeat when they failed to re-sign Cliff Lee. But C.J. Wilson picked up where Lee left off and emerged as their ace. Alexei Ogando was also a revelation in the first half. However, Michael Young proved to be the steadiest hand of them all. Young was nearly traded to Colorado in the off-season. The Rangers wisely didn't deal him because when Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre went down with injuries, Young was there to pick up the club. While there is increasing sentiment towards Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander (who will go for his 25th victory tomorrow night against the Orioles) as the AL MVP, there is a school of thought which makes the case that the MVP should go to an everyday player. Well, you don't get more everyday than Michael Young.
Well, six of the eight post-season berths have been filled. All that remains are the AL & NL Wild Card spots. Despite their recent struggles, the Boston Red Sox lead the Tampa Bay Rays by two and a half games and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by three and a half games in the AL Wild Card. The Atlanta Braves have also recently struggled albeit under far less scrutiny than the Red Sox. The Braves lead the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants by three and five games respectively in the NL Wild Card. The fun has only begun.
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