Playoff pie: Tasty mix of newcomers, plot lines
Start with playoff newcomers Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. Throw in rocket-armed rookies Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. Add a dash from pickups Cliff Lee and Lance Berkman. Mix in banged-up Josh Hamilton and Evan Longoria.
Sounds like a pretty tasty October pie.
With all the matchups set after Game No. 162 — no tiebreakers necessary this year — baseball launches into the postseason Wednesday.
"Words can't describe it," San Francisco second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "This is what I've played for ever since I was a little kid."
Tampa Bay ace David Price will throw the first pitch against the Texas Rangers, the only current major league franchise that's never won a playoff series.
The afternoon opener will be played under new rules — Major League Baseball made a change Monday, saying popups that hit the two highest catwalks at Tropicana Field are now dead balls, rather than in play.
Next up, the two-time defending NL champion Phillies host Cincinnati. Halladay starts Game 1 against Edinson Volquez, with Philadelphia aces Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to follow in a formidable rotation.
The Reds are making their first postseason appearance since 1995. They rewarded manager Dusty Baker on Monday with a two-year contract extension through 2012.
"I think we got here sooner than a lot of people thought — to the playoffs," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "I think a lot of it is due to Dusty's leadership."
The World Series champion New York Yankees visit Minnesota on Wednesday night for the first postseason game at Target Field. No need to worry about playing outdoors, either — it's supposed to be sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s this week.
CC Sabathia, a workhorse throughout the last postseason, starts against Twins lefty Francisco Liriano. After his numbers dropped this year, Derek Jeter hopes to be at his best in October, as he often is.
On Thursday, the wild-card Atlanta Braves and retiring manager Bobby Cox begin their best-of-five division series at San Francisco. Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, pitches for the Giants against Derek Lowe.
The Giants and Braves clinched their playoff spots Sunday, eliminating San Diego.
"This is what it's all about," Atlanta closer Billy Wagner said. "You play all year long and it comes down to the last game and you get the champagne shower."
A look at the major plot lines in this postseason:
— Newcomers: Now in his 13th season, Halladay led the NL in wins and innings, threw a perfect game and took a leading role in the Year of the Pitcher. He's among several longtime veterans about to make their first postseason appearance, joining Texas All-Star third baseman Michael Young, Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff and Phillies utilityman Mike Sweeney, who finally got this far in his 16th season, most among active major leaguers.
"Only early on will you be able to tell the test of nerves," said former Braves ace John Smoltz, part of the TBS telecasts in the first round. "It's like watching the Ryder Cup. Guys don't know until they go through it, the type of pressure guys are going through."
— Injuries: Most every team is hurting going into these playoffs. Justin Morneau, Minnesota's four-time All-Star and the 2006 AL MVP, is out for the year because of a concussion he sustained in early July. Hamilton, who led the majors in hitting at .359 and had 32 home runs and 100 RBIs for Texas, makes his playoff debut after missing nearly all of September with two broken ribs. Longoria, Tampa Bay's star third baseman, didn't play the last week because of a strained left quadriceps. Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins and the Yankees' Mark Teixeira are bruised, too, while Braves third baseman Chipper Jones had season-ending knee surgery in mid-August.
— Big Boosts: Once again, the left-handed Lee could become a major factor. He won twice for the Phillies in the World Series last year after Philadelphia got him in midseason, and this year Texas acquired him from Seattle before the All-Star break. Houston was going nowhere when it traded Berkman to the Yankees and Oswalt to the Phillies. Minnesota helped itself by getting closers Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes, and the Giants added late punch with Jose Guillen, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross.
— Rookies. Even though voting for Rookie of the Year ends before the postseason, Giants catcher Buster Posey and Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward might stage their own duel for the award. Closer Neftali Feliz has been a savior for Texas. And a pair of relievers who saw little action — Chapman with the Reds, Kimbrel with the Braves — could really break out, much as Price did in the 2008 postseason. Chapman hit 105 mph on the radar gun, Kimbrel struck out 40 in only 20 2-3 innings.