This is where it gets good. Really good. After a 162-game season and the Division Series round of the playoffs, so many thought they knew what to expect in the two League Championship Series. The Yankees and Phillies basically steamrolled their competition in the first round, then sat around waiting for an LCS opponent. It was fashionable to predict that the Phils, with their three-headed monster in their rotation, and the Yanks, with their playoff-tested lineup that can inflict catastrophic pain on opponents, would be World Series-bound. Another Amtrak-assisted Fall Classic.
Yet here we sit, two games into each LCS, and it's 1-1 as the American League set barrels into the Bronx and 1-1 as the National League series shifts to San Francisco.In the NL, the Giants overcame arguably the game's best pitcher in Roy Halladay. Literally unhittable in Game 1 of the Division Series with the Reds, Halladay proved mortal when the Giants' Mr. October, Cody Ross -- who is starting to be referred to as "Babe" -- cranked out two solo shots Saturday night. Halladay was outdueled by Tim Lincecum, and a cacophonous Citizens Bank Park fell strangely quiet. No one outside of San Francisco saw this one coming. The Phillies hadn't lost the first game of a series since 2007. The Giants, on the other hand, are a quirky club that is greater than the sum of its parts, and that sum seemed to pale in comparison to what the red-hot Phillies were bringing to the table. Game 1 changed all that. In beating Halladay and prolonging the Phillies' problems at the plate, the Giants suddenly became the team to beat. The pressure was transferred to the other dugout. The Phillies, true to form, responded to that pressure in convincing fashion Sunday night, breaking it open late to win, 6-1, and head west with the momentum in tow. But it's impossible to feel quite as confident in the Phillies dispatching the Giants in efficient fashion, given what we saw in Game 1. You don't just dismantle the Doc then fade into oblivion, do you? We'll find out in the coming days, when AT&T Park launches the NLCS anew. That's the prevailing theme we're left with in the wake of the weekend. The LCS rounds feel like they're just getting started. And this is where it gets good.
These two best-of-seven sets have been whittled down to best-of-five. The "reset" button has been pressed, the intensity heightened, and, frankly, it's anybody's guess where it all leads from here.This is only the fifth time in the post-1995 Division Series era that both LCSs are tied 1-1. It happened in 1996 (Yankees-Orioles; Braves-Cardinals), '97 (Indians-Orioles; Marlins-Braves), 2003 (Yankees-Red Sox, Marlins-Cubs) and '05 (White Sox-Angels, Astros-Cardinals). If you're looking for some kind of historical clue as to how this might all play out, consider that in three of the previous four instances, the team that purportedly lost home-field advantage by splitting the series' first two games went on to win it, anyway. Of course, historical trends don't always hold true. We're in the present, and the first two games of each LCS have left us with plenty to digest. In the AL, we have had the message hammered home that while the Yankees' lineup might have more experience on this stage, that Rangers budge for nobody. CC Sabathia, the embodiment of excellence last October (particularly when he pestered the Angels twice in four days in the LCS round) was hammered in Game 1 in Arlington. The Rangers roughed him up for five runs in four innings, an assault that momentarily rattled all preconceived notions about the LCS outlook. The talk going in had been about the Rangers likely suffering from their inability to use Cliff Lee until Game 3, yet here Sabathia was getting clearly outdueled by C.J. Wilson, and the tone shifted. This was, as it turned out, a mirage. The Yankees turned that game in their favor with a five-run eighth that was either stunning or scripted, depending on your perspective. And with a late lead lost in demoralizing fashion, the Rangers looked destined for demise. For about, oh, 16 hours. Because in Game 2, the Rangers simply revved up their offensive engines once again and made their early advantage stick. Now, it's Lee on the hill for a Game 3 that looks a lot like a Game 1. "It's a five-game series now," the Rangers' Ian Kinsler said. "We have Cliff Lee to pitch two of them. That doesn't sound so bad now, does it?" No, it really doesn't. The Rangers can take comfort in having Lee, 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA in the postseason, available to pitch two of the five potential remaining games. The Yankees, though, will counter in Game 3 with Andy Pettitte, the winningest pitcher in postseason history. If Pettitte and the Yankees can overcome Lee, who seemed about the only pitcher capable of derailing them on their path to a World Series title in '09, that might be even more significant than those miraculous eighth-inning exploits in Game 1.