Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 MLB ALCS/NLCS notes/oddities

By Rick Morris
^ The Cardinals and the Giants are making history, as the last two World Series champions have never met in an LCS.  It hasn't happened in October, period, since the 1958 World Series matched the Yankees and Braves.  Prior to that, it was the Yankees and Cardinals in the 1943 World Series meeting having won the previous two championships and that was the only other occasion!
^ This is also the first ever LCS in which the last three World Series winners are represented (Yankees in '09, Giants in '10 and Cardinals in '11).  This does not include teams like the 1975 As and 2001 Yankees, who won the previous three World Series on their own.
^ If the Yankees and Giants make the World Series, expect plenty of cameras to be shoved in Bobby Richardson’s grill.  Exactly 50 years ago, in the most recent of the many World Series showdowns between these franchises, Richardson made the clutch grab at second base of a screaming line drive to end a thrilling seven-game classic.  For that matter, the last Yankees-Cardinals World Series was in 1964, marking a short tenure as New York manager for Yogi Berra.  Detroit and St. Louis have met on a few occasions: 2006 (won by the Cardinals), 1968 (won by the Tigers) and 1934 (won the Gas House Gang Cards).
^ The odds are in Mike Matheny's favor.  He is the only manager in this year's LCS without World Series experience.  Shockingly, the last eight managers in this situation advanced to the World Series (and four of those eight brought home the big trophy at the end of October).  Dick Howser's Royals were the last team to fail under these circumstances in 1984 -- and the late, great Howser helmed a world championship squad in Kansas City the following year.
^ If the Giants win the World Series: they are the first team to win two World Series in three years, sandwiched by a non-championship year, since the 1998 New York Yankees.  If the Yankees win the World Series: they are the first team to win the World Series, not win it for two years, then win again since the 2007 Red Sox.  If the Tigers win the World Series: they are the first team to win the World Series to end a 28-year drought since the 1948 Cleveland Indians (the 1978 Yankees won the title 28 years after the champion 1950 squad, but there were numerous other championships in between).  If the Cardinals win the World Series, they are the first back-to-back winners since the 2000 Yankees.
^ This is the first meeting of Detroit and New York in the American League Championship Series, which is fairly unsurprising given that, for 24 of the 43 years that the ALCS has existed, the Tigers and Yankees were both in the AL East with no wild card and it was a zero-sum game for these squads just to make the playoffs.  They have, however, met twice in the ALDS, in 2006 and just last year, with Detroit winning the first-round series on both occasions and capturing the pennant in ’06.  This third appearance for the Tigers in six years matches their total prior to this era, as they had only advanced to this round in 1972, 1984 and 1987.  Conversely, the Yankees, who have been here every year since 2009 except last year, have now tallied 10 ALCS appearances in the three-division era of baseball and put up another five between 1976 and 1981. 
^ San Francisco is making their third appearance in the last 10 years, with the other two having been a part of seasons that ended very memorably (losing Game 7 of the 2002 World Series and winning it all in 2010).  Prior to that, the team’s only other NLCS runs came in 1971, 1987 and 1989, with the sole pennant coming in ’89 with that memorable Bay Area Earthquake World Series.  St. Louis is here for the 5th time in the last decade and they play the Giants on the 10-year anniversary of their 2002 meeting (won by San Fran) and the 25-year anniversary of their 1987 clash (won by the Cards -- and oh, by the way, the Tigers were also in the ALCS that year, just as the team that they lost to, the Twins, joined the Cards and Giants in the LCS in 2002).  On both of those occasions, the NLCS winner lost the World Series in seven games.
^ Surprisingly, for two of America’s most prominent sports cities, there is fairly little playoff history between Detroit and New York in the Big Four American sports.  Most of it comes from the Stanley Cup Finals back in the Original Six days, as the Red Wings won the Cup over the Rangers in 1937 and 1950.  
^ If the Yankees and Giants meet in the World Series, it will be the matchup with the most combined pennants in history (64), surpassing the 1981 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers (54), the 1999 World Series between the Yankees and Braves (53) and the 1978 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers (52).
^ With four “old-line franchises” (in existence prior to the start of the expansion era in 1961) in the LCS, MLB will prolong its record of never having a World Series without one such team in it.  But it’s somewhat rare to have two of these teams play one another.  We will see this scenario and it will be the first time since the Yankees-Phillies tilt of 2009.  The last few before that were St. Louis vs. Detroit in 2006, St. Louis vs. Boston in 2004, the Yankees vs. Atlanta (keeping in mind that the Braves go way back, in Milwaukee and in Boston before that) in 1999 and 1996 and Cleveland vs. Atlanta in 1995.
^ Baseball is renowned as a sport where the elite players can’t necessarily assure their teams of championships.  One player out of nine can’t have a disproportionate effect on his team.  Ted Williams never won a World Series, nor did the Yaz, Ernie Banks, Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn or Rod Carew.  Remember how much hype there was when ARod finally got the monkey off his back in 2009.  And yet, top pitchers throughout history don’t seem to have quite the same problem taking home titles – not to say that every big-time ace has a World Series ring, but all things considered, you’re more likely to have one if you’re a top hurler than a top hitter.  Many of the best pitchers of this generation have a ring already: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Josh Beckett, to name a few.  All this is to point out that Justin Verlander is on a trajectory to have a better career than every name on that list with the possible exception of Halladay.  His team resides in baseball’s most execrable division and hence, he should have many more chances at the ring.  But nothing in life or baseball is guaranteed.  This may be Verlander’s best chance for the postseason that will help define his legacy.
NOTES: This column was initially posted when Washington was up 6-0 in Game 5 of the NLDS and had many notes about implications of the Nationals being in the LCS.  Here is the copy that was written in anticipation of the Nationals advancing:
^ This ALCS/NLCS combo marks an all-time first.  Do you know what it is?  Highly unlikely, so we’ll tell you: this is the first time that all four managers have already won the World Series: Davey Johnson (1986), Jim Leyland (1997), Joe Girardi (2009) and Bruce Bochy (2010).  There were three times that three of the four managers had won the World Series and the one without a crown captured his first in that year: Girardi in 2009, Bob Brenly in 2001 and Alvin Dark in 1974.  There were four more times that every manager in the ALCS and NLCS would EVENTUALLY go on to win a world championship: 1992, 1991, 1985 and 1972.
^ If the Nationals win the World Series: they are the first team to knock out the defending champions in the playoffs and take their crown since the 2009 Yankees.   
^ The Nationals have not appeared in the NLCS since moving from Montreal in 2005 (the previous franchise in Washington, the Senators, played in the American League – the first incarnation of DC became the Minnesota Twins in 1961 and the second became the Texas Rangers in 1972).  The only appearance for the Expos in the NLCS was also against a California team, the Dodgers, in 1981 (of course, as any tortured Expos fan can tell you, Montreal was the best team in baseball in 1994, but lost their chance at October due to the strike and then saw their incredibly talented young team scattered like the four winds due to shaky ownership finances).   
^ Washington and San Francisco famously waged fierce battles for NFC supremacy in the 1980s when the legendary Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs were roaming the sidelines.  Also, if you consider the San Francisco fanbase as an appreciable part of the Golden State following (as most people would), we can throw the 1975 NBA Finals in the mix, when the Warriors swept the Bullets. 

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