LEAD OFF

There are three undefeated teams left in the Majors. The Reds defeated the Astros 8-2 to improve to 4-0 while the Rangers continued to roll with a 3-2 win over Seattle to move to a  5-0 mark. They join the 4-0 Orioles, who enjoyed an off day Tuesday. All three are in action on Wednesday. On the other side of the spectrum, there are three winless teams remaining: one that isn’t a shock (Astros) and two that are a surprise (Red Sox and Rays).

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Michael Pineda, Mariners: L, 6.0 IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 4K (Not a bad start at all against the red-hot Rangers offense on the road).

QUESTION:

The 4-0 Reds are off to their best start since what year?

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz‘s bid to become the only player in MLB history to homer in his first five games came up short Tuesday with an 0-for-2 performance with one walk. His four home runs in the Rangers first four games was a feat matched only by Willie Mays and Mark McGwire.

QUICK HITS

– The Mets will need more performances like this one if they hope to compete this year. Mets starter Chris Young did it all on Tuesday in his debut with his new team as he not only shut down the Phillies through 5.1 innings with one run allowed for a victory, but he helped his own cause with three hits and one RBI. Two of his three hits came in the third inning as the Mets exploded for a six-run inning. Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was the last pitcher to record two hits in an inning last September.

– The Red Sox lineup Tuesday including their starting pitcher will earn $87.4 million this year. While their opponent Indians starting lineup and pitcher will make just over $23 million. And the Red Sox are 0-4. Good thing it’s a long season.

ANSWER:

The Reds haven’t been on a start like this since 1990 when they started the season 9-0 and would eventually go on to sweep the A’s in the World Series. On the flip side, the Reds dropped the Astros to 0-4. It’s the worst start for the Astros since…2010.

Game 4: Rays 5, Rangers 2
Well it looks like this series will live up to the hype as the Rays won their second straight game on the road 5-2 to tie the series at two games apiece, forcing a decisive game 5 back at Tropicana Field. The Rays stormed out to a 5-0 lead off Texas starter Tommy Hunter behind RBI doubles by Carlos Pena and BJ Upton and then a two-run blast off the bat of Evan Longoria, his first of the postseason. Wade Davis limited the Rangers to two runs through 5.0 innings of work to pick up the win while the Rays bullpen tossed a nearly-perfect four innings to close out the game. Nelson Cruz provided the only offense for Texas with a solo home run, his third homer of the series. The road team has won all four games in this series so far with the Rangers leaving home 0-2 in front of fans that have yet to see a postseason series victory. David Price and Cliff Lee will meet again in Tampa Bay on Tuesday for the winner-take-all game.

Game 3: Giants 3, Braves 2
Poor Brooks Conrad. The Braves second baseman made three costly errors in Game 3 at Turner Field, the last one being the difference as the Giants rallied to defeat the Braves 3-2 to take a two-games-to-one series lead. With the Giants leading 1-0 on another brilliant pitching performance, this time by Jonathan Sanchez, Eric Hinske hit a clutch, pinch-hit two-run homer in the eighth inning off reliever Sergio Romo to give the Braves a 2-1 lead. The Giants were not done yet though as Aubrey Huff singled in the tying run with one out in the ninth, but Buster Posey reached on a fielding error by Conrad, his third of the game and fourth of the series, to allow the winning run to score. Brian Wilson mowed down the Braves in the bottom of the inning to hand the Giants the tight victory. Conrad’s fielding error in the second inning allowed the Giants first run to score as well. The Giants and Braves will face off in Atlanta for Game 4 Monday with a chance for the Giants to close out the series on the road.

Game 3: Phillies 2, Reds 0 (Phillies win series 3-games-to-0)
If you somehow didn’t think this series was already over after Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 and the Reds collapse in Game 2, Cole Hamels ended it quickly Sunday night as he fired a complete game shutout to give the Phillies a three-game sweep of Cincinnati. Hamels allowed just five hits through 9.0 innings of work with nine strikeouts and no walks. The Phillies opened the scoring with a run off a Reds error, go figure, and Chase Utley hit his first home run of the postseason to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead. That was all Hamels needed on the night as he threw 119 pitches. NL MVP candidate Joey Votto went 0-for-4 and hit just .100 in the series. Johnny Cueto suffered the loss for Cincinnati after lasting just 5.0 innings with two runs (one earned) allowed. The end result of this series shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone, the Reds inexperience showed throughout the series and no matter what they tried to do, the Phillies overall were just better at every facet of the game.

Caught Looking breaks down the games from Friday night…a couple of comeback victories in the National League Division Series.

Game 2: Phillies 7, Reds 4
The Reds built a 4-0 lead before imploding in the 7th inning to hand the Phillies a come-from-behind 7-4 win in Game 2 of the NLDS. Errors were wild in this game as Cincinnati committed four errors, including two in the fifth to give the Phillies life and then two errors in the 7th when the Phils took a commanding lead. With the score 4-3 and two on, Jimmy Rollins hit a line drive to right field off Reds flame throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman that Jay Bruce lost in the lights and missed the ball. Two runs scored on the play and Rollins eventually scored on a ground0ut for the third run of the inning. While Chapman’s 100 MPH fastball was supposed to be the story, his debut ended with him being charged with three unearned runs.

Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge then took over out of the pen, shutting down the Reds the rest of the way. Lidge picked up his first save of the postseason with a scoreless ninth inning. Things had started off well for the Reds as Brandon Phillips led off the game with a home run off Roy Oswalt. Bruce added a homer in the fourth inning to give the Reds 3-0, but Bruce’s misplay in the field would eventually give up their lead. The Phillies scored their seven runs off just eight singles, but took advantage of four Reds errors and three HBP. The Phillies will attempt to finish the Reds in Game 3 of the series in Cincinnati.

Game 2: Braves 5, Giants 4 (11 innings)
The Reds weren’t the only ones to blow a four-run lead Friday night. The Giants joined the party after falling apart in the 8th inning as the Braves tied the game with three runs in the frame and won it in the 11th inning on a Rick Ankiel solo shot that landed in McCovey’s Cove. Yes, remember Ankiel? It was his first postseason home run of his career. Giants starter Matt Cain cruised through 6.1 innings with only one unearned run on his line and left the game with a 4-1 lead, but the bullpen and the Giants defense came unglued in the 8th as Derek Lee scored on Pablo Sandoval‘s throwing error and Alex Gonzalez doubled into the gap to score two runs to knot the game at 4 apiece to set the stage for Ankiel in extra innings.

The Giants built their early lead off Braves phenom Tommy Hanson as Pat Burrell belted a three-run home run in the first inning. Burrell finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Cain made it 4-0 when he singled up the middle in the 2nd inning to score Cody Ross. Cain and Hanson both received a no-decision on the night. Kyle Farnsworth picked up the win for the Braves after surviving a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the 10th by enticing rookie catcher Buster Posey to ground into an inning-ending double play. That took the wind out of the sails for the Giants and Ankiel delivered for Atlanta the very next half inning. This series is the only division series knotted at one game each.

The Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera had just witnessed Roy Halladay‘s no-hitter firsthand as he went 0-for-3 himself with a strikeout in Wednesday’s Game 1 of the NLDS. After the game Cabrera decided to let the world know he was a sore loser on an elite level.

“Another umpire, he wouldn’t have thrown a game like that,” Cabrera told reporters following the game. “He was getting every pitch. We had no chance. We had to swing.”

Seriously, man? Just please stop talking.

Caught Looking breaks down the playoff games from the night before in a feature that will continue throughout the postseason. The opening day of the playoffs was of course dominated by none other than Roy Halladay. The best pitcher in the game over the past decade just threw the best pitching performance in the playoffs in 54 years. Let’s recap the games…

Game 1: Phillies 4, Reds 0
So much for postseason experience being so crucial? Roy Halladay added clout to his legend as he made his playoff debut by firing just the second no-hitter in MLB postseason history, second to only Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Halladay struck out eight batters on 104 pitches with his only blemish being a two-out walk to Jay Bruce in the fifth inning. Honestly, there’s nothing this guy can do anymore that really surprises me. It was his second no-no of the season as he threw a perfect game back in May. The Phillies didn’t need much offense but they quickly built a 4-0 in the first two innings with Doc even driving in a run with an RBI single in the bottom of the second. Shane Victorino drove in Halladay and Wilson Valdez two batters later with a single off Reds starter Edinson Volquez. Victorino finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a double.

Game 1: Rangers 5, Rays 1
The visiting Rangers jumped on Rays ace David Price early scoring two runs in the 2nd inning followed by single runs in the 3rd, 4th and 5th innings to build a 5-0 lead. Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina provided some pop with solo home runs. Molina, who only hit two home runs all season, had a nice afternoon from the ninth spot with three hits, a homer and two RBIs. Texas put ace Cliff Lee on the mound and he picked up right where he left off in last year’s playoffs. Lee went 7.0 strong innings, five hits, one run allowed, 10 strikeouts and zero walks. The Rays had a chance early to get to Lee with bases loaded in the first off three singles, but Lee bore down to strike out Carlos Pena and Rocco Baldelli to end the threat. Lee cruised the rest of the way after that allowing only two hits the rest of the way. Ben Zobrist drove himself in for the only run of the game for Tampa Bay with a solo home run in the 7th inning.

Game 1: Yankees 6, Twins 4
The Yankees just own the Twins in postseason play. The Twins built a 3-0 lead and appeared to finally get a leg up on the Yankees, but things fell apart quickly in the top of the sixth as the Bronx Bombers finally got to Francisco Liriano with RBI singles by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada followed by a two-run triple by Curtis Granderson to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. After the Twins tied it in the bottom of the inning, it wasn’t tied for very long as Mark Teixeira launched a two-run bomb off reliever Jesse Crain to give the Yanks a 6-4 lead. The bullpen took over from there as Mariano Rivera worked a four out save to close the door on the Twins in Target Field, the first outdoor postseason game in Minnesota since 1970. C.C. Sabathia picked up the win in a laboring start (112 pitches in 6.0IP) with four runs (three earned) allowed through 6.0 innings. Michael Cuddyer provided the early fireworks for Minnesota with a two-run blast in the second.

Phillies-Reds

This matchup is very simple to me, I don’t think it will be much of a series. Let’s see, you have the defending two-time National League champs going against a Reds team that is making its first postseason appearance since 1995. Happy to be there versus a NL powerhouse at the moment. Not to mention Phillies ace Roy Halladay will be making his first postseason appearance, and I expect for him to showcase his best stuff on the game’s top stage. Volquez, Cueto and Arroyo just don’t have enough to match Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt (named H20) in a five-game series. Phillies win this series, I’ll even call a sweep behind the stellar pitching of H20.

Giants-Braves

The Giants moved out of the Barry Bonds era to clinch the NL West title for the first time in forever without Bonds all thanks to a potent starting rotation. Pitching is paramount especially in the playoffs, and I think the Giants are the only NL team that can match the Phillies head to head with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. They’ve been hot as of late too, that included a ridiculous 1.85 ERA in the month of September.

The Giants question mark in spring training was the offense, did they have enough to help out the pitching? Well, this team has certainly gotten better with the free agent signing of Pat Burrell along with rookie Buster Posey coming up and looking like a star in the making in the second half of the year. Posey hit .305/.357/.505 and provided some much-needed pop with 18 homers and 67 RBIs in just 108 games. Not too bad for a rook. After being dumped by the Rays in May, Burrell picked up with the Giants and belted 18 home runs in 96 games in the Bay area. Throw in a very surprising year from Aubrey Huff (.290/.385/.505, 26 HR) and this offense is suddenly a decent offense, 100 times better than it was on Opening Day.

Obviously, I like the Giants in this series. They have the better pitching, they have home field and the Braves have been sputtering the past couple of months. Atlanta held a three game lead on the Phillies on the first of September, but put together a lackluster month to fall way behind the Phils before scraping together a win in the final day to avoid possibly missing the playoffs altogether. The Braves went 13-14 in September while hitting just .247 with 17 total homers through September and October. They’re limping into the playoffs right now, and the Giants are rolling. I like the Giants in 4.

Yankees-Twins

The defending world champs are heading on the road to Minnesota, which will see its first outdoor postseason game in the Twin Cities since 1970. We’ve seen this before in 2009, 2004 and 2003 with the Yankees and Twins meeting in the first round and the Twins just looking like they were too busy gawking at the pinstripes across the field. This time the Twins have home field advantage…will it matter?

The Twins have a very good team. They used a 48-26 second half to run away with the AL Central, which was a division predicted to go down the wire. But besides Francisco Liriano as their ace, they’ve enjoyed stellar seasons from Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey and a slew on others, but come on who sees Pavano having a good postseason? On the hitting side of things, the Twins received a huge blow today when they learned Justin Morneau will miss the entire playoffs. Once again, Morneau is not there for the Twins when it matters the most. I just don’t see this team with Pavano and Duensing having enough to shut down the veteran team of the Yankees. New York in 4.

Rays-Rangers

This is the premier series of the first round as the Rays take on a Rangers team that is making only its first postseason appearance since 1999. Texas has a dangerous team too with Josh Hamilton, who had a silly year (.359/.411/.633) along with the pitching tandem of Cliff Lee (acquired midseason from Seattle) and CJ Wilson. Lee was pretty much lights out last year in the playoffs for the Phillies, so if he matches that performance again the Rangers could easily pull off an upset in the short five-game series.

Overall, I like the Rays to win it all this year. David Price has become the legitimate ace for Tampa (19-6, 2.72), Evan Longoria is a phenom, Carl Crawford can do it all and has the knack for making plays on the big stage (i.e., All-Star game). Plus, this team may be young, but they have the postseason experience already from their WS appearance two years ago. I just think it’s the Rays time for all of this young talent to come through and win the ultimate prize. But if there’s one team and series that worries me if I’m the Rays, it’s this Texas series. Anything can happen in a five-game series with one hot pitcher and Lee is the one that could do it for the Rangers. I’ll take Rays in 5, but it should be a fun series to watch which kicks off first in just a couple of hours.

So after all the questions of if the San Diego Padres were for real and could hold onto the division lead they had controlled all season, fate would have it that they would lose in the final game to not qualify for the postseason.

While stellar pitching carried them all year, it was the anemic lineup that eventually did them in. No surprise there. Pitching dominates the game and you need it to win, but as the Padres would prove—you need at least some kind of competent hitting to win as well. The Giants also have the pitching, matching the Padres in Sunday’s game while their offense was able to muster just enough (which they’ve been doing all year) to scratch out some runs for the 3-0 victory and the NL West division title after trailing San Diego almost the entire season.

The Giants victory coupled with the Braves 8-7 win over the Phillies meant my dream of a three-team tiebreaker playoff was not to be. Oh well, it has to happen one of these years sooner or later I suppose. So it’ll be Giants-Braves and Phillies-Reds. I’ll have a full preview of these series tomorrow, but the Giants could be a real dark horse to come out of the National League. They may be the only team that can match the Phillies pitching starter for starter. And hey, two of my surprise teams ended up making the playoffs!

Over in the junior circuit, the Red Sox played spoiler against the Yankees and kept them from winning the AL East crown, which goes to the Rays at 96-66 for their second division title in franchise history. Who would have thought the Yankees would be going on the road to Minnesota to open the playoffs? The other matchup will be the Rays-Rangers with the Rays having home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. More on all four series tomorrow prior to first pitch.

I’m excited. There’s only one Oc-TOBER! Yeah, remember the terrible Dane Cook MLB playoff commercials a couple of years back? I can’t wait to see what they will come up with this year.