Starting Friday, it's LCS time. It means that the next step in the MLB Postseason is upon us. As a Diamondback fan, you're probably lost in the desert as to what this means, as the last time the franchise was in this position it did not go so well. True story: I was actually in Denver for Game 3 of that series. I was in a Bennigan's watching on TV, trying to keep a stone exterior so as not to betray my true sadness around the exhalation of the Rockie fans around me.
Of course, the first time was pretty awesome.
However, it will be at least a year (probably more if we're realistic) until the D'Backs make it back to this promised land, and we're going to focus on the now and who is left in the bigger picture this year, and who or what you should root for.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS VS. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
This is the sort of series that would prompt such phrases as "2005 me would have been so confused by this series!" But that's not strictly true. I was just out of High School in 2005, but I like to think that that version of me nine years ago still had a fundamental understanding of the concept that bad teams could become good again.
However, as has been noted many times before in many places, the fact that the Royals are here is pretty astounding considering it's been 29 years since Don Denkinger incorrectly called Jorge Orta safe in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. They survived a barn-burner of a Wild Card game against the Athletics, and unexpectedly swept the Angels in the LDS. They did it through very good pitching, which was their calling card throughout the regular season, and got some offensive lift from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
And it all happened despite/because of? Manager Ned Yost's propensity for the sacrifice bunt. It should also be pointed out that the Royals are a great at stealing bases. They were first in MLB in that category by a fairly wide margin (They had 153 in the regular season, the Dodgers were the next highest at 138.) You might think to yourself "If you're good at stealing, shouldn't you do that instead of bunting, because taking an extra base without giving up an out is better than taking one with an out, right?" But Ned Yost doesn't care what you think. Nor should he, since his team is in the LCS and yours is not.
The Orioles are back in the LCS for the first time since 1997, when they lost to Cleveland (who then went on to lose to the Marlins.) They got here through the tried-and-true technique of "Having two of your better position players injured and having a somewhat no-name pitching staff do well and mash the heck out of the ball." which worked in the LDS against the Tigers (Though the Tigers having a bullpen that makes most members of the 2010 Diamondbacks' look like Trevor Hoffman helped.) Buck Showalter is probably the best tactical manager left in the playoffs, and in a short series that ain't nothing.
Fun fact: Delmon Young and my mom went to the same High School (many many years apart, obviously) in Camarillo, California.... Okay, it's a fun fact for ME.
UNSCIENTIFIC PREDICTION: Orioles in 6
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS VS. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
It's nice to see two tortured fanbases without any history of recent success get a shot to win it all. You look at this series and think "Man, here are two sets of fans who really deserve it."
Sarcasm aside, we did just see this LCS two years ago, so you'll be forgiven if you rolled your eyes a bit at it. However, it is better than the possible Giants-Dodgers dystopia we may have faced so thank your lucky stars.
The Cardinals got here by unexpectedly beating Clayton Kershaw twice, and late, probably through a pact with The Dark One. However, Don Mattingly gets some of the credit for his... interesting bullpen and pitching staff management throughout the series. However, you can't really blame him since in terms of the ratio of total investment to actual quality, the Dodger bullpen was basically Spider Man: Turn off the Dark. So really, the MVP was Ned Colletti.
To the Cardinals: They've been able to keep it chugging despite losing high-visibility Free Agents the past few years with good, homegrown pitching. Yeah, that's right, they didn't trade guys like Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller away if they struggled at first call-up. What a concept. They also have Adam Wainwright, who is the best pitcher in Baseball who has not won a Cy Young yet. You hope that all of this rubbed off on Tony La Russa and the Diamondbacks can be somewhere near this level in a few years.
The Giants, annoyingly, got here because it's an even-numbered year and that's just what they do now. They also had an assist from Matt Williams and his bullpen management. This is a good time to point out that the Save stat has totally screwed up how bullpens are worked, and the idea that you have "A 7th inning guy, an 8th inning guy, a closer etc." is dumb and inflexible when really you should be thinking "A guy who can gets outs in situations that need them." KILL THE SAVE.
The Giants still have guys like Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval from their previous two World Series winning teams, but have been able to stitch together the rest of their offense through people with made up names like "Joe Panik"
Bruce Bochy should be put on trial for changing pitchers every batter when given a 40-man roster bullpen in 8 run games in September. Nothing to do with this series, just throwing it out there.
UNSCIENTIFIC PREDICTION: Cardinals in 7
POSSIBLE HEADLINES FOR EACH POTENTIAL WORLD SERIES MATCHUP
Cardinals vs. Royals
"MISSOURI LOVES COMPANY!"
Cardinals vs. Orioles
"BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR!"
Giants vs. Orioles
"ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK... GET IT, BECAUSE BOTH OF THESE TEAMS WEAR ORANGE AND BLACK AND IT'S THE NAME OF THAT NETFLIX SHOW ABOUT THE WOMEN'S PRISON IT'S FUNNY AND I'M UP TO DATE ON POP CULTURE REFERENCE SO LAUGH DAMMIT!"
Giants vs. Royals
"NO IMMEDIATE PUN OR REFERENCE COMES TO MIND, HELP!"
CLEFO'S PLAYOFF LIKABILITY RANKINGS
3. Your next door neighbor playing a loud audiobook of Gilbert Gottfried reading a Harlequin Romance at 4 AM
("AND SO BUCK STEREOGRAM, THE YOUNG STABLEHAND, TOOK PRIMROSE MCGEE, THE BORED FARMER'S DAUGHTER INTO THE STABLE AND LAY HER DOWN ON THE HAY AND SHE ADMIRED HIS CHISELED FEATURES AND....." Now it's in your head. You're welcome)
4. Constant fear of your own mortality
5. A kid playing Dance Dance Revolution on the back of your seat during a cross-country red-eye flight
(This happened to me, actually, in 2005 when I was flying back from Hawaii to Los Angeles after a family reunion. I hope that kid is dead now.)
6. A distant relative doing (fwd:fwd:fwd:fwd:) on untrue, inflammatory political e-mails til the end of time.
7. The concept of sadness
8. Beer snobs
9. Either National League team, really. I guess Cardinals above Giants on divisional grounds, but I'm sick of both of these teams in my Playoff baseball.
Let's face it, there is one series of exciting teams that haven't had recent success, and the other consists of the two most spoiled fanbses in the National League. There really isn't any other way to frame it. Well, there might be, but there really isn't any other way for me to frame it, and that's what's important.
PERSONAL PLUG TIME
I mentioned this in a previous installment of "The Wild Card", but I wrote, directed, and edited a radio-style drama called The Interstellar Duck, which is now available for download and streaming here. There is one joke about Kirk Gibson attacking someone with a machete, so there's your D'Backs in. But, seriously, take a listen, it would mean a lot to me.