Sunday, October 01, 2006

What to Watch For in October

It is the time of year when baseball tells its own stories, when the meek inherit the Earth in the form of a Buddy Biancalana or a Larkin. That's why you watch. But in the meantime, here are some interesting storylines entering the Division Series:

Yes, that guy managing the Dodgers is the same Grady Little who managed Boston to the cusp of a pennant in 2003 before Aaron Boone hit a classic Game 7 ALCS homer to send him packing. Will Little have another shot at Joe Torre's Yankees later this fall? We'll see.

Will Johan Santana and the Twins open their postseason against the A's the way they opened their regular season home schedule against them? It was a three-game sweep of the A's in April at the Metrodome. The A's took three of four from the Twins in Oakland to open the month of June, and then the Twins won two of three at home on Sept. 11-13. So far in 2006, home field has mattered a great deal between these two clubs.

The Mets won't have Pedro Martinez in October because of his surgery. Will they be able to show the same season-long swagger without him? How will youngsters like David Wright and Jose Reyes handle their first postseason?

Jim Leyland won it all as Florida's manager in 1997, and he admitted that it was hard for his Tigers to keep their same intensity level the last week after clinching a berth and just waiting to see whether it was a division or Wild Card berth. Now the road has to go through a Yankees lineup being compared by many to the 1927 Bombers. The Yankees won two of three the last time the teams met at the end of August in the Bronx, and they won three of four in the previous series at Comerica Park from May 29 to June 1.

The Cardinals got close in 2004 but ran into a Boston train, and then last year the Astros knocked them out in the NLCS. Can Tony La Russa find an answer for the loss of closer Jason Isringhausen for the postseason? Will it be one of those rare years when a club opens a new ballpark -- and celebrates a world championship there?

The home-field advantage in the World Series again will go to the AL, because of Michael Young's game-winner in the last All-Star Game. What will that mean this time? It hasn't been especially significant since the rule was adopted for the 2003 season. What may be more significant, though, is the widespread perception that this is the Year of the AL -- witness the Interleague results, the winning percentages, even the Midsummer Classic. Will the Padres get more respect out of the gates than a year ago, and perhaps help the NL make a dent in that AL power perception?

There are many questions, but the identities of the elite eight no longer are among them. The field is set. It's time to play some postseason ball again.

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