It’s too early to write this article, but it’s what I’m thinking about so I’m just going to go ahead and write it. If you think that it is going to jinx anything, well that is just kind of ridiculous, but I’ll accept your feedback here.
The Texas Rangers lost to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night, in an 11th-inning walk-off home run by Ben Zobrist to give the Rays the final advantage of 3-1. It was just a great baseball game, all the way around. The two starting pitchers, Derek Holland and Jeremy Hellickson, combined to pitch 14 innings, while allowing just six hits, two runs and three walks, while striking out 16. After that, the bullpens dueled each other for another seven half-innings of near-perfect pitching. It was the kind of game that had a playoff feel to it, which isn’t too surprising considering the quality and history of the two opponents. The Rangers and Rays have locked horns in the American League Division Series each of the past two postseasons, delivering two wildly entertaining series that played nine out of a possible ten games. In 2012, the season series between the two teams favors the Rays 4-3, with two games left to play. Watching Texas and Tampa Bay play is like eating Pringles; you always want one more.
As the MLB playoffs are fast approaching (the first ever Wild Card playoff will be four weeks from today), it is nearing the time to begin looking at potential matchups. What follows are the five American League playoff matchups I would most enjoy watching. I am only considering Texas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Oakland, Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Baltimore as playoff candidates. Most of these matchups will have a Texas slant to them, because I’m a Rangers fan, but as back-to-back AL champs, the Rangers also have the biggest target on their back, so that slant is vindicated because their inclusion instantly makes a series more interesting (or so I’ll tell myself).
1. Texas Rangers vs. Los Angeles Angels
The 2012 season was supposed to see these two teams engage in a battle royale all season for the AL West division title. It hasn’t played out exactly like that, but there may be a chance for them to meet in the postseason to refuel the flames. This is one of Major League Baseball’s best budding rivalries. The storylines of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Mike Napoli, and Adrian Beltre are extremely juicy. The talent of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Yu Darvish would be captivating. And in general, these two teams just don’t like each other, which only gets amplified in a playoff series.
2. Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
For all the reasons I mentioned above, plus more. Joe Maddon and Ron Washington are two of the game’s best managers. Andrew Friedman and Jon Daniels are two of the game’s best general managers. Both teams are turning into perennial contenders, despite not having the game’s largest payrolls. On top of that, there is a rivalry bubbling beneath the surface here. In 2010, some of the Rays players mocked the “claw” and “antlers” hand signals the Rangers used that year. In 2011, Maddon was quoted in a postgame press conference that he was getting tired of losing to Texas. There is a healthy respect between the two teams, but it is a respect between foes, not friends.
3. Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees
The Yankees have lived with a target on their backs for nearly two decades, and now the Rangers are threatening to dethrone them as “the” team to beat in the AL. While the Yankees are an aging ballclub that has faltered lately, they are still a scary team in a playoff series, especially at home. While New York may see Texas as a “little brother” figure, the Rangers certainly have plenty of reasons to gear up to beat the Yankees: embarrassing losses in the playoffs in 1996, 1998, and 1999, as well as former Rangers players like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira being all-too-happy to get out of Texas and land in New York.
4. Oakland Athletics vs. Baltimore Orioles
I’m not sure if I can explain why I would want this series to happen, except for that before the 2012 season you would have never thought that this series would happen. A series between the A’s and the O’s would fly in the face of all logic and predictability, as these two Cinderella stories attempt to turn each other into pumpkins. It may be ugly, and not the best brand of baseball that could be put on the field, but it certainly would be scrappy.
5. Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees
This is for basically two reasons. Reason #1: It’s a classic David vs. Goliath match-up. Unfortunately for the Orioles, their relative complete lack of experience may doom them to an early exit by the Yankees. However, the previously mentioned aging Yankees could be vulnerable to the exuberant Orioles. Reason #2: Apparently, they would just hit home runs the entire series in the bandboxes of Camden Yards and new Yankee Stadium (the two teams combined to hit 12 home runs in Thursday’s and Friday’s games against each other).
Between these eight teams, there are 28 different possible playoff matchups. We’re still about four weeks from knowing what any of those would be. These five are the five I am hoping for the most, but playoff baseball is playoff baseball, which means any of the 28 possibilities will be excruciatingly entertaining.
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