By Michael Tapia
The weekend proved to be decisive with the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies advancing to the championship series of their corresponding leagues. In the American League, the Yankees wait for the winner between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers; in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies wait for the winner between the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves. For the second consecutive year both Yankees and Phillies advance to the second round of the postseason, but this year these teams will not be facing the Anaheim Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers respectively.
The weekend served well for the Tampa Bay Rays who were on the brink of elimination until their bats woke up and took the last two games from the Texas Rangers. The Rays were facing elimination since Thursday when they felt behind two games to none in the best of five series. Thanks to exceptional pitching from Matt Garza, Joaquin Benoit and Wade Davis and key offensive contributions from BJ Upton, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria the Rays have tied the series at two games apiece. In Saturday’s game, Colby Lewis pitched five scoreless innings and left the game with a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, for Lewis the Rays rallied on his bullpen and won 6-3. The problems begun in the top of the sixth inning when Lewis walked Longoria, Derek Holland came in relieve for Lewis but gave up a hit and a walk that put runners in scoring position for the Rays. Alexi Ogando came in later in the inning with the bases loaded and gave up a double to BJ Upton that scored Dan Johnson to tie the game 1-1. Later in the game, Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford homered to lift the Rays over the Rangers.
Sunday’s game was not as close as the Rays took the lead first and never looked back. For the Rays, Pena and Upton once again demonstrated why their bats are so important to Tampa’s lineup. In the bottom of the fourth inning the two hit a pair of rbi doubles to extend the Rays lead to 3-0. The following inning, Evan Longoria hit a home run to left scoring Ben Zobrist to make the score 5-0. The Rangers tried to rally in the top of the sixth inning with a homer from Nelson Cruz and an rbi double from Mitch Moreland, but felt short 5-2. Nelson Cruz has proved to be an important bat for the Rangers hitting three home runs in the series.
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In the other American League Division Series the New York Yankees swept the Minnesota Twins for a second year in a row. Phil Hughes came up big for the Bronx Bombers guaranteeing their birth to the American League Championship Series. Hughes pitched exceptional allowing just one run and four hits in seven innings pitched. Brian Duensing was lit up for five runs courtesy of a Marcus Thames home run and rbi hits from Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner. For the Twins Orlando Hudson had the only rbi and perhaps this was proof how much Minnesota missed their slugging first baseman Justin Morneau. Now the Yankees move onto the second round where they will have to decide if they expand their rotation to four pitchers and allow struggling AJ Burnett to pitch.
In the National League, the Phillies also swept their way into the second round. The Phillies proved to be the most solid team in this year’s postseason only giving up four runs in three games. The Phillies clinched their birth to the next round thanks to a superb performance from their starter Cole Hamels who pitched a complete game and struck out nine Reds. All the Phillies needed was an error from Orlando Cabrera that scored Placido Polanco and a solo home run from Chase Utley. With the performances that Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels posted you can easily say that this series was over before it even started. Now the Phillies wait between the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves.
After a miraculous 11th inning home run from Rick Ankiel, the Braves just like the Rays are facing elimination trailing their series 2-1. Matt Cain pitched 6 2/3 innings only allowing one unearned run but his bullpen did not hold up. The Braves were trailing 4-1 until Sergio Romo stepped on the mound in the top of the eighth and left runners in the corners for Brian Wilson. Wilson and the Giants defense were inefficient after Pablo Sandoval committed an error that allowed Derek Lee to score. Two batters later, Alex Gonzalez doubled to left center scoring Brian McCann and Melky Cabrera. The game progressed uneventful until an unexpected home run by Rick Ankiel in the 11th inning that gave the Braves a 5-4 victory.
Sunday’s contest was a close game with Jonathan Sanchez and Tim Hudson on the mound. Sanchez pitched a superb game striking out 11 batters and only giving up one run and two hits; his counterpart Tim Hudson, also pitched seven innings gave up one run, but gave up four hits and only struck out five batters. Unfortunately, for the Braves’ three errors were one too many especially after losing by one run (3-2). The Giants opened the score in the top of the second thanks to an error by Brooks Conrad that allowed Mike Fontenot to score (1-0). The game remained 1-0 until the bottom of the eighth inning when Erik Hinske homered with Alex Gonzalez on base and gave the Braves a 2-1 lead. The Giants did not waste any time reclaiming the lead in the top of the ninth inning. Aubrey Huff singled to right scoring Travis Ishikawa and sending Freddy Sanchez to second. One batter later, Brooks Conrad made another error allowing Freddy Sanchez to score the winning run for the 3-2 final.
The Giants and Braves continue their series tonight with their first pitch scheduled for 7:37 PM EST while the Rangers and Rays resume action on Tuesday at 8:07 PM EST.
MLB Divisional Series Playoff Predictions