October is a baseball fan’s favorite time of year; the marathon of a 162-game season is cut down to a few short series that separate the champions from the near-misses. For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention since the opening days of spring, here is what you need to know about the teams still in the hunt.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers snuck into the playoffs by virtue of winning the underwhelming NL West. At 84-78 on the year, and a full nine games below .500 on the road, L.A. was lucky to get into the postseason at all. Now that they’re in, they’ve done some damage, upsetting the heavily-favored Chicago Cubs in the first round. The Dodgers looked awfully impressive in the sweep, but it remains to be seen if they can maintain the post-season pace. The July 31 acquisition of Manny Ramirez was a no-brainer but it will be interesting to see if his added offense/general-wackiness will be enough to get them past the Phillies and into the World Series.
The Phillies took the NL East for a second straight year after another hilarious late-season collapse by the New York Mets. For as much attention as the Chicago Cubs championship drought receives, the Phillies have just one World Series title in their 125-year existence; the 1980 team led by Mike Schmidt remains the only thing keeping Philadelphia from an Expos-esque streak of futility. Nonetheless this could be their year, especially with 2006 NL MVP and “The Office” character namesake Ryan Howard and his 48 home runs leading the way.
Tampa Bay Rays
Speaking of comically-inept baseball franchises, the Tampa Bay Rays have cast off a solid decade of irrelevance this year with a meteoric rise through the ranks of AL East. Blazing past the Yankees and their trillion dollar payroll, the Rays found themselves locked in a heated battle with the Red Sox for the division title. The young Rays held off the defending world champions and rode their regular season success into a first-round victory over the Chicago White Sox. They will definitely be underdogs in the ALCS against Boston, but Tampa has been proving the critics wrong all year-long and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Boston Red Sox
Even though they are the AL Wildcard, the Red Sox have got to be considered the odds on favorite to take the title again this year. The Sox will look to ride their young arms to their third championship in five years. First they would have to end the Rays’ magical season, but with the Cubs out of the way, the Red Sox are the most talented team remaining. After the Patriots’ heartbreaking Super Bowl loss it would be nice to see Boston fans get some redemption, but if it means another Jimmy Fallon movie, that should be enough to make Rays fans of us all.