For the 18th consecutive season, the Toronto Blue Jays won’t be participating in the post-season.
But there are still plenty of reasons for Canadians to follow this year’s playoffs set to begin Friday in the American League with Tampa Bay opening the day at Texas in a 5:07 p.m. ET start, followed by Detroit at the New York Yankees (8:37 p.m). As many as five Canadians, 11 ex-Blue Jays and four former Montreal Expos will be among the players competing to hoist the World Series trophy this October.
With general manager Doug Melvin (Chatham, Ont.) and assistant GM Gord Ash (Toronto, Ont.) as architects and closer John Axford (Simcoe, Ont.) and catcher George Kottaras (Scarborough, Ont.) on their roster, the Milwaukee Brewers could be considered Canada’s team. The Brewers will battle former Jays Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay, Ryan Roberts and John McDonald and the rest of the West-winning Arizona Diamondbacks in one National League Division Series (Game 1 is Saturday at Milwaukee).
While the other NLDS pits longtime Toronto ace Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies against a St. Louis Cardinals club that features ex-Jays Chris Carpenter, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson.
And while you might find it difficult to cheer for the Yankees, the Bronx Bombers will boast the only Canadian — Russell Martin (Montreal) – in their series with Detroit.
In the other ALDS, the never-say-die Rays will take on Texas, which will be looking for redemption after last year's Fall Classic loss to the San Francisco Giants.
Here’s a breakdown of the four division series:
Detroit Tigers vs New York Yankees
- Home Field Advantage: Yankees
- Regular Season Records: Yankees — 97-65 (1st in American League East); Detroit — 95-67 (1st in American League Central)
- Season Series: Tigers 4-3
- Past Playoff History: Tigers beat Yankees in 2005 ALDS.
- Injuries: Yankees – C Francisco Cervelli (concussion, indefinite), RP Joba Chamberlain (right elbow, out for season), RP Pedro Feliciano (rotator cuff, out for season), RP Damaso Marte (rotator cuff, indefinite), RP Sergio Mitre (right shoulder tendinitis, out for season), 3B Alex Rodriguez (sore right knee, day-to-day); Tigers – OF Brennan Boesch (right thumb, out for season), OF Carlos Guillen (right calf strain, day-to-day), RP Joel Zumaya (right elbow, out for season)
- Prediction: Both teams have bona fide aces (Justin Verlander, Detroit; CC Sabathia, New York) but otherwise shaky rotations. Tigers right-hander Doug Fister, who is 8-1 since being acquired from Seattle, could be the most important player in the series.
The Yankees boast a superior bullpen, a more multi-dimensional offence and their home field advantage will work against the Tigers who lack a left-handed slugger to capitalize on the short right-field porch. Even if Verlander gets two starts, he hasn’t been particularly effective against the Yankees this season (4.50 ERA in two starts). Yankees in 5.
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers
- Home Field Advantage: Rangers
- Regular Season Records: Rangers – 96-66 (1st in AL West); Rays 91-71 (2nd in AL East, wildcard)
- Season Series: Rangers 5-4
- Past Playoff History: Rangers defeated Rays in 2010 ALDS.
- Injuries: Rays – OF Sam Fuld (wrist, day-to-day); Rangers – OF Julio Borbon (left ankle, indefinite), RP Mark Lowe (strained left hamstring, day-to-day), SP Brandon Webb (right shoulder, out for season)
- Prediction: Aside from a rotation that boasts James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays are a team that you look at and wonder how they made the playoffs. Their bullpen is average (3.73 ERA) and their offence – outside of the red-hot Evan Longoria – is anemic (.244 team batting average), but they excel at manufacturing runs.
However, with the sting of their 2010 World Series loss still fresh, the Rangers will be hungry for redemption. Boasting five pitchers with at least 13 wins, the Rangers’ rotation is deep and their offence is far superior to the Rays’. And for virtually the first time this season, the Rangers will have all of their key players healthy. Rangers in 5.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies
- Home Field Advantage: Phillies
- Regular Season Records: Phillies – 102-60 (1st in National League East); Cardinals – 90-72 (2nd in National League Central, wildcard)
- Season Series: Cardinals 6-3 Past Playoff History: none
- Injuries: Phillies – RP Jose Contreras (right forearm strain, out for season), INF Wilson Valdez (left hamstring, day-to-day); Cardinals – SS Rafael Furcal (tight left hamstring, day-to-day), OF Matt Holliday (inflamed tendon in hand, day-to-day), RP Lance Lynn (strained left oblique, out for season), RP Eduardo Sanchez (strained right shoulder, day-to-day), SP Adam Wainwright (right elbow, out for season)
- Prediction: Fuelled by elite hitters like Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, the Cardinals boasted the NL’s best offence this season. This offence will suffer, however, if Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday can’t return from injuries. The Cards’ starting pitching is no match for the Phillies’ mighty rotation. To put this into perspective, Kyle Lohse led the Cards with 14 wins – a number equalled or surpassed by three Philadelphia hurlers.
Anchored by Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo (just 28 hits in 58 innings this season), the Phillies also possess a better bullpen than the Cards. The Phillies’ dominant pitching staff should be enough to compensate for their middling offence. Phillies in 4.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
- Home Field Advantage: Brewers
- Regular Season Records: Brewers – 96-66 (1st in NL Central); Diamondbacks – 94-68 (1st in NL West) Season Series: Diamondbacks 4-3
- Past Playoff History: none
- Injuries: Brewers – RP Brandon Kintzler (right forearm, out for season), SP Manny Parra (left elbow, out for season), RP Mitch Stetter (left hip, out for season); Diamondbacks – SS Stephen Drew (fractured right ankle, out for season), RP Juan Gutierrez (right shoulder, out for season), SP Jason Marquis (fractured right fibula, out for season), OF Xavier Nady (fractured left hand, day-to-day)
- Prediction: The Brewers rotation includes five pitchers with at least 11 wins each and their bullpen, led by right-handers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, is strong. In what’s likely his last season in Milwaukee, Prince Fielder should team with MVP candidate Ryan Braun to provide ample offence.
Headed by 21-game winner Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson (16 wins), the D-backs rotation is also formidable. But it’s hard to get excited about an offence that will rely on three players – Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay and Ryan Roberts – that the Jays couldn’t get rid of enough fast enough and whose best hitter, Justin Upton, is recovering from a concussion. Brewers in 4.