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MLB 2010 season

The Fall Classic, sans Bronx Bombers and Philadelphia Phillies, starts tonight.

Yes, the upstarts, Texas and San Francisco, vanquished heavily favored foes and the league’s two hottest teams embark on a tight matchup tonight. Here are our thoughts:

Rangers in seven

Usually you can predict the winner of the World Series by asking a simple question, “Who’s happy to be there, and who wants to win?” That isn’t the case this year because frankly, neither team was supposed to be here. With that said, this should be a phenomenal series.  The matchup is perfect. San Francisco has great pitching and adequate hitting.  The starting rotation is outstanding, and the bullpen is deep. With all due respect Mr. Halladay, Tim Lincecum has become the best big game pitcher in the National League, and if Brian Wilson isn’t the best closer, he’s certainly a fair representation.

The Giants lineup doesn’t feature one great hitter, but there isn’t an easy out 1-8 in that lineup either. They also have in Pablo Sandoval a rare luxury for any NL team heading to an AL park: a designated hitter. Texas is the exact opposite, great hitting and adequate pitching. Cliff Lee is the best player in the Series, but the rotation drops off some after that. With Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerrero, Ian Kinsler , Michael Young, etc., etc., the Rangers will show the Giants the strongest lineup they’ve seen all year. Neither team plays brick wall defense, but both feature some great players in the field.

So call it a toss-up.

I’m a Giants fan for two decades, so I really want to pick them to win. However, I think the Rangers have so much momentum heading into this series, along with Lee, I have to go with the Rangers in 7. I guess.

Rangers in six

The pitching matchups will be fantastic. Offense will be scarce. But I think the Rangers have the potential to put up a few more runs than the Giants do.

Plus, the momentum garnered by taking out the heavily favored Yankees will keep them hot. Games will be low scoring and close. But the Rangers will prevail.

Giants in six

Well, pretty clear whoever I pick will lose. I pick the Giants.

Pitching and homefield advantage. Should be a good series.

Major League Baseball begins the next step toward the World Series tonight as Texas hosts the New York Yankees in game one of the AL Championship series. New York publications already spent some time today talking about how important it is for the Yankees to win so television ratings stay strong but other national experts think Texas might have at least one advantage in the run game.

All three of the Brushbackpitch writers correctly predicted two of four Divisional series. Rich missed on the American League but nailed both National League series right on the nose. Andy hit Texas winning in five and Philadelphia sweeping the Reds but missed on Philadelphia’s win over Atlanta and the Yankees whitewashing of the Twins.

Tony hit the Texas and Philadelphia series but didn’t hit them squarely on the correct number of games. So … who cares? Yeah, you’re probably right.

Anyway, here are our picks for the League Championships:

New York over Texas, six games
Philadelphia over San Francisco, five games

New York over Texas, six games
Philadelphia over San Francisco, five games

Texas over New York, six games
Philadelphia over San Francisco, six games

The Texas Rangers squeaked by the Tampa Rays tonight to win the American League Divisional Series three games to two. It’s been a fun series to watch with great pitching, timely hitting and momentum swings beyond belief.

I thought the series was over after Tampa manager Joe Maddon was ejected following Michael Young’s three-run homer, a shot that should never have happened because Young’s check swing on the previous pitch should have been strike three.

But the Rays collected themselves and continued battling, eventually earning the right to come back home for gave five after winning both games in Texas.

Watching the seesaw battle between these two clubs was a pretty dramatic contrast to the other AL series, which was won in dominating fashion by the New York Yankees over the Minnesota Twins, who despite a narrowed talent gap in 2010 could not come close to getting past their playoff nemesis of recent times.

I thought heading into this year’s series that things might be different. Early on it looked like there was a chance I could be right. The Twins led 3-0 in game one heading into the sixth inning.

But then things fell apart.
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There will be a lot of new faces managing Major League Baseball teams next season. Joe Torre left the Dodgers. Lou Piniella left the Cubs. Cito Gaston left the Blue Jays — and those are just the ones who left voluntarily.

Bobby Cox is also leaving the Atlanta Braves. This retirement might be the biggest loss of all for the game.

Cox took an undermanned Braves team to the playoffs as a wild card despite losing Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and two key pitchers during the season. And he had the San Francisco Giants on the brink in the NL Divisonal Playoffs despite losing closer Billy Wagner and a bunch of errors by Brooks Conrad.

The better team won the series. But the Giants and their fans were classy about it, giving Cox a standing ovation for his years and contributions to the game.

Congratulations on your retirement, Mr. Cox. You’ve given Atlanta a heckuva ride.

Though the blogosphere, the Internets and the traditional media will be exploding with talk of Randy Moss returning to Minnesota, the biggest story in the Twin Cities sports scene Wednesday could be the opening of the Minnesota Twins/New York Yankees playoff series.

Yes, the baseball playoffs begin Wednesday and we, like every other baseball fan, have opinions on who is going to take home the trophy. Here are our first round picks.

Tampa Bay over Texas, four games
Minnesota over New York, four games (or Yankees in three)
Philadelphia over Cincinnati, three games
San Francisco over Atlanta, five games

Texas over Tampa Bay, four games
Minnesota over New York, fie games
Philadelphia over Cincinnati, four games
Atlanta over San Francisco, three games

Texas over Tampa Bay, five games
Minnesota over New York, four games (If it goes five, Twins lose)
Philadelphia over Cincinnati, three games
Atlanta over San Francisco, five games

I love that the New York Yankees did not get Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners.

I love even more that the Yankees were livid with the Mariners because they thought they had a deal and then Seattle pulled it away from them at the last minute.

But I am confused about how the Texas Rangers, bankrupt and under the operation of Major League Baseball at the moment, can take on more than a million in salary for a pitcher they likely will not retain after the season while giving up rookie hitting phenom Justin Smoak as part of the deal.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that Lee is an ace. And I understand that Texas is in first place. Continue reading

Florida Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton had three hits (though one came on a questionable call in the ninth inning where it looked like he forced the runner in front of him) and scored two runs in his Major League debut. He definitely looked like he belonged, watching footage on MLB Network.

But the rookie who stole the show on Tuesday was the highly acclaimed franchise savior for the Washington Nationals, Stephen Strasburg.

The phenom, who entered professional baseball under controversial circumstances when his agent, Scott Boras, threatened to hold him out unless he got $50 million to sign, was every bit the stud he was advertised to be. He tossed seven innings, striking out 14 and walking none in getting his first MLB win. Continue reading

Ten Golden Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers and one in-game nap is enough for Ken Griffey Jr. The all-time great Seattle Mariner probably stayed on a season too long. But he’s a clear Hall of Famer and Wednesday he decided that his career had gone on long enough.

Griffey had been brought back to Seattle last year as a veteran presence and stuck around for one final season this year as the Mariners made several aggressive moves in the offseason aimed at contending for a championship. But the Mariners got out of the gates slowly and one report indicated that he was going to retire or be released sometime last month.

He finishes 2010 with a .184 batting average and no homeruns. But he finishes his 22 year career with 630 homers and a .284 average to go along with the above-mentioned accolades. Throughout the 1990s he was regarded as one of the best – if not the best – players in the game, though his stats would undoubtedly have been even better if he had not spent most of 2002-2004 on the disabled list.

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The Florida Marlins got beat by Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night. Not just beat, either–Halladay threw the 20th perfect game in Major League Baseball history, and the second already this season.

Of course, since the game was in Florida, there were only just over 25,000 fans in attendance for the game–about 8,000 more than for an average Marlins home game.

So what to do with the other 13,000+ tickets that weren’t sold (and probably were never even printed)?

Well, if you’re the money grubbing Marlins, there’s only one logical solution–sell them. At face value.

That’s right, for between (based on published ticket prices) $12 and $300+, you to can claim that you were there to witness history.

Or turn around and try to resell the ticket on eBay–try to get a Halladay autograph, package it with a Halladay trading card, make a nice little plaque, and turn yourself a nice little profit.

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As an occasional collector of sports memorabilia, this seems…just dirty to me. As a fan, had I attended the game, I could see keeping that ticket stub, and making some sort of collectible. And I could see a truly passionate fan (of Halladay or the Phillies) buying some sort of memento. But in either case, having a ticket that was actually used would mean 100x more than having something printed after the fact.

What’s next, just print up an extra 50,000 tickets with May 29, 2010 on them, and sell them in the fan shop?  Maybe Commemorative Replica Tickets?

It would be slightly more palatable if the Marlins printed something extra on the ticket, indicating it was not used on game day–but the story makes no indication of that, and I doubt it would happen.

Which means, once again, the Marlins have found a way to sully MLB tradition, and the way the game should be conducted, in my eyes.

[Note: It’s possible this is a regular thing with many teams in MLB, and I’ve just not heard of it before–if that’s the case, just add it to the list of reasons for why I don’t think MLB will ever reclaim the #1 spot in my heart for sports, even if the NFL does manage to screw things up by having a lockout/strike in the coming year.]

Roy Halladay pitched a five-hit shutout for the Philadelphia Phillies tonight and for the Atlanta Braves it almost wasn’t a fair game.

Halladay was on all night long, there was no question about that. He was really only challenged, according to the ESPN announcers, in one inning when the Braves had the bases loaded.

What impressed me even more was how the Phillies played around him in their 2-0 win.

I didn’t watch the whole game. But in the couple innings I did, second baseman Chase Utley made a fantastic diving stop of a hard ground ball. Had it squirted into centerfield the Braves would have scored at least two runs.

In the ninth inning, a slimmed down Ryan Howard dove to his right and snared another shot that appeared to be a base hit. He then flung the ball to Halladay covering first for yet another gem.

Earlier in the game Troy Glaus hit a deep fly to center that Shane Victorino timed, leaped for and caught with his glove over the fence, saving Halladay yet again.

The Phillies, the closest thing Major League Baseball has to a dynasty at the moment, and Halladay, probably the league’s best pitcher, appear to be made for each other at the moment. The pitcher is clearly motivated to take his game up another notch to make his first run into the playoffs.

And Philadelphia isn’t going to have to score many runs for him to win a heckuva lot of games if the team keeps playing defense for him like they did tonight.

So far he’s 4-0 with ERA and WHIP both below 0.90. He won’t be able to keep that up, but expect 22 or 23 wins for Halladay and something in the high 90s if not more for the Phightin’ Phills. It’s early and a lot could change, but I think that’s the best team I’ve seen so far in 2010.