Monday, October 10, 2011

I Was Wrong About the AL and NL Central (At Least Temporarily)

Back at the beginning of August, the AL and NL Central Divisions were the picture of mediocrity. In the AL, the Tigers and White Sox seemed to want no part of first place, while in the NL the Pirates were tied with St. Louis for the pole position. Both division leaders sat only a few games above 500. In an article, I illustrated how this season seemed to be part a downward trend for the baseball teams of America's heartland. Instead of crumbling down the stretch, Central teams really came to life, and now make up 3/4 of the final MLB field. What a difference two months can make!

On the AL side, the Tigers rolled through the last two months of the season. After struggling to put it together most of the summer, Detroit rode the pitching of Justin Verlander (24 wins!) and Jose Valverde and used clutch hitting to achieve 95 wins. The AL Central champs showed their resolve in a 5 game series win over the New York Yankees. The Tigers are now in a tough ALCS with a solid Rangers team. It is a classic matchup of good pitching versus good hitting. I am confident Detroit and their solid pitching will come out on top.

It is hard to fathom that there are two NL Central teams in the NLCS, much less the playoffs! Two months ago, the Cardinals were going nowhere and the Brewers just seemed like another mediocre team trying to make a playoff run. Over the past eight or so weeks, the Brewers have been the best team in baseball, and cruised to an NL Central title behind their immense talent, both in pitching and hitting. The Brew crew had a tough first round fight against a pesky Diamondbacks team, but persevered on the way to winning the series in 5 games. While Milwaukee locked up the division with ease, the Cardinals had to pull off a near miracle to get in as a Wild Card. The Braves seemed to have a postseason spot locked up with only a short time to go, but a several game lead disappeared over the season's final month as Cardinals won the right to the postseason in the 162nd game. St. Louis carried this momentum into the Divisional Round and beat the 102 win Phillies to go to the NLCS.

Before this is all said and done, we will probably see a Central team crowned world champion. But will this success continue in the years to come? Are we in the midst of a renaissance in America's heartland? If I had to answer, I would say probably. Although some teams might lose a lot this offseason, (Pujols, LaRussa, Fielder) most of the teams in these divisions will retain their most important assets. With teams on the rise like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and many teams lurking to reclaim past glory, (White Sox, Twins, Cubs, and even the Royals) the Central divisons in both conferences should be at least competitive in the years to come. But, lets not focus too much on the future. Let us instead enjoy the story of a few remarkable teams proving their doubters wrong and going for the ultimate prize, a World Series Championship.

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