- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The most intriguing matchups in the upcoming league championship series:
1. The Cardinals' immortality versus the Giants' immortality
The Cardinals have been on the bad side of four match points in the last 13 months, and after Friday night's madness in Washington, they are still standing, with championship rings to show for it, and they have earned the right to believe that they cannot lose.
Before St. Louis' reign began, the Giants were champions, having gone to the brink of elimination at the end of the 2010 season, before rolling through the Rangers in the World Series. This season, the Giants grew from the Melky Cabrera adversity, and after losing their first two games in the postseason, they came back to beat the Reds -- in Cincinnati, no less. They have earned the right to believe they cannot lose.
This is like Dracula versus the Werewolf. The team that wins this series is going to need a wooden stake, some garlic and silver bullets to finish off the other.
2. The Yankees versus their rotation jumble
Once again, being the No. 1 seed is actually a disadvantage for the Yankees. Because they started their series against Baltimore one day later than Detroit opened against Oakland, the Yankees have to begin the AL Championship Series with a 24-hour turnaround, without the benefit of getting their rotation in order.
While Detroit appears to have Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer all lined up and ready to go, with each able to be fully rested for their starts, the Yankees' staff met late Friday night to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation. Andy Pettitte will start tonight on full rest, but then the Yankees will have a bunch of imperfect options for Game 2 -- Hiroki Kuroda on short rest, or David Phelps, or the slump-ridden Ivan Nova, or Derek Lowe.
If they start Phelps or Nova in Game 2 to buy Kuroda more time to rest up for Game 3, then CC Sabathia would start Game 4 -- and would have to start Game 7, if necessary, on short rest. Joe Girardi will have rotation complications throughout the series.
3. Miguel Cabrera versus the Yankee Stadium dimensions
Cabrera is strong enough to hit the ball out in any park, in any direction. But no park in baseball is better suited for his style of hitting than Yankee Stadium, because Cabrera has incredible opposite-field power and those are the most inviting parts of the ballpark in the Bronx. Before the start of the Tigers' series against the Yankees last year, he chatted during batting practice about how great it would be to hit in Yankee Stadium all the time, and joked about how many home runs he would hit if he played there. Yankee Stadium can hold down a lot of right-handed hitters, but not Cabrera, if he gets some pitches to hit.
4. Bruce Bochy's bullpen management versus the Cardinals' lineup depth
The San Francisco manager might be the best in the majors, along with the Orioles' Buck Showalter, at handling his bullpen, at finding the right matchups. But as the Giants face the Cardinals, it will be more difficult for Bochy to pick and choose because of the depth of the St. Louis lineup, from Carlos Beltran to Matt Holliday to the incredibly underrated Allen Craig to David Freese.
5. Buster Posey versus Cardinals manager Mike Matheny
In the division series the Reds pitched around Posey, the Giants' best hitter, until they couldn't -- when he came to the plate with the bases loaded in Game 5 and crushed a grand slam. With Hunter Pence batting behind Posey, Matheny will work to steer around Posey as much as possible.
6. Trevor Rosenthal versus the radar gun
Every October, a relief star is born -- like in 2002, when the baseball world got its first look at Francisco Rodriguez. This year, it's the Cardinals' Rosenthal, who has been mixing a 100 mph fastball with a devastating breaking ball and dominating hitters. In 3.1 innings, he has struck out six hitters, and he'll get more chances against the Giants.
7. Yankees' hitters versus their swings
Curtis Granderson hit a home run in the final at-bat of his ugly series against the Orioles, and maybe that'll give him a chance to turn the page and get reset -- and many of his teammates will need the same. The Yankees' hitters looked awful against Baltimore, with the exception of Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Russell Martin. For the Yankees, getting Robinson Cano back on track will be the biggest lineup priority over the next week.
You can bet that most of Fielder's at-bats in the Tigers-Yankees series will come against left-handers -- Pettitte and Sabathia at the start of games, and in the sixth and seventh and eighth innings, against Logan and Rapada. Fielder is 1-for-5 in his career against Logan, and 0-for-2 against Rapada. Keep this in mind, too: In five career plate appearances against Rafael Soriano, the Tigers slugger has two homers and a walk.
9. Joe Girardi versus the Alex Rodriguez questions
Up until now, both Girardi and Rodriguez have handled this situation as well as possible. Girardi has been honest and direct with the veteran All-Star while choosing to pinch-hit in Games 3 and 4 against Baltimore, and then benching him in Game 5, and Rodriguez has told reporters that while he's not happy to be sitting out, he knows it's about winning -- and about looking in the mirror. This hasn't become a debilitating distraction for the Yankees, yet.
The Tigers' rotation is made up of four right-handed starters, and Rodriguez has looked utterly helpless against right-handed pitchers -- he's 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts in this postseason. The guess here is that Girardi will give Rodriguez a chance to play his way back into the lineup in Game 1 tonight, against Doug Fister, who doesn't throw as hard as teammates Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer or Anibal Sanchez; Fister's average fastball velocity this year is 89.1 mph. If Rodriguez responds and swings his way out of his funk in Game 1, that'll earn him more chances going forward. If Rodriguez really struggles again, then Girardi can move on, in good conscience, and play others, whether it be Eric Chavez or Jayson Nix or Eduardo Nunez.
10. The Giants' rotation versus pitch counts
Although San Francisco found a way past the Reds, scouts say Matt Cain looks like he's not close to 100 percent, and that Madison Bumgarner is not throwing well. Barry Zito didn't get through five innings in his start in Game 5. We tend to think of San Francisco as a team with dominant starting pitching, but in the first round, the Giants got only 22 2/3 innings in five games from their rotation. They will need more in this round. So far, the Giants' rotation has zero quality starts this October, writes John Shea.
11. Justin Verlander's drive for destiny versus the Yankees' aura and mystique
Verlander is likely to start Games 3 and 7, if necessary, at a time when it appears he has learned to work through his postseason adrenaline issues. Over his last six starts, he has allowed just three earned runs, and his dominance of Oakland on Thursday night was the best pitching performance in these playoffs. Verlander sets the bar very high for himself: He said in the spring that he wants to do everything he can to build a Hall of Fame résumé, and beating the Yankees in this round and winning the World Series could be the next notches in his belt. The Yankees' many stars have faced him so many times that they aren't going to be intimidated by him -- but will their aging, slowing lineup find a way to beat him? We'll see.
A lot of the Yankees' hitters actually have pretty good numbers against him: Derek Jeter is 13-for-36, Martin is 5-for-12. Raul Ibanez, on the other hand, has had his problems, with just three hits in 29 at-bats.
12. Jose Valverde versus the long season
The Detroit closer tends to do his work on the ledge, and he seems even closer than ever this October to falling off: Talent evaluators say his stuff flattened out late this season. At some point, the Tigers are going to need him to take them across the finish line, something he could not do against Oakland on Wednesday night.
The death of Max Scherzer's brother has motivated him, writes Pete Grathoff.
After the Orioles were knocked out, O's manager Buck Showalter spoke to his players, and a little while later, he was still fighting to hold in his emotion as he talked about what Baltimore had accomplished.
"It's always real tough to talk to them after the season is over because there is always another game, and it is not goodbye to this group, it is 'see ya later.' They have a very well-deserved rest. And I am not going to go into what was said to them, but I am sure they now think it's a little tougher on me than them.
"But they are a special group. You know, you don't know how many times you are going to pass this way, and, you know, they got a grip on ... like a lot of young people, they know they are not bulletproof, and we talked way back in spring training in our first meeting, and they bought into each other. And they were good teammates and people that our city and organization can be proud of. And we'll see them again. It's been about as much fun as I have had in the big leagues watching how they play the game every day, the standard they held themselves to and the way they raised the bar in Baltimore with each other. It was about them. They cared about pleasing their teammates and playing to a certain standard."
Peter Angelos says the Orioles will be back next year.
Sabathia recorded his first career postseason complete game.
From Elias: He had 199 regular-season wins before his first winner-take-all postseason win.
Complete game in postseason game by Yankees pitchers, since 1960:
2012 -- CC Sabathia versus Orioles
2000 -- Roger Clemens versus Mariners
1962 -- Ralph Terry versus Giants
1961 -- Whitey Ford versus Reds
1960 -- Whitey Ford versus Pirates
1960 -- Whitey Ford versus Pirates
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Sabathia won:
A) Orioles hitters were 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with the slider. Sabathia led MLB with 136 slider strikeouts during the regular season.
B) Orioles hitters were 0-for-13 with eight strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch down in the zone or below, including 0-for-10 against the slider. All seven slider strikeouts were down in the zone or below.
C) Orioles hitters were 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch out of the strike zone, including 0-for-6 with four strikeouts with the slider.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. A parcel of land that could someday be the site of a baseball field was purchased.
3. Braves GM Frank Wren got a contract extension.
4. The Athletics are likely to retain some of their veterans.
By the numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
1: stolen base in 36 career postseason games for Mark Teixeira.
14: wins in winner-take-all games for the Cardinals, most in MLB history.
15: LCS appearances for the Yankees, most in MLB history.
70: straight postseason games started since 1997 for Alex Rodriguez before snapping that streak Friday.
93: wins, 0 losses for the Yankees when leading after eight innings at home in the postseason.
800: different players have hit home runs in the postseason after Michael Morse did so in the third inning.
1924: the last year a team based in Washington, D.C. won a postseason series (Washington Senators won World Series).
Dings and dents
• Francisco Rodriguez was arrested in a domestic violence case in September.
• Dustin Pedroia's willingness to play through pain is a mixed blessing.
• Vanderbilt is set to take on Florida.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney breaks down the most intriguing matchups of the ALCS and NLCS.