Baseball’s LCS picture is officially set. Following division series victories by the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals in the beginning portion of the week, the Championship Series will commence on Friday when the Toronto Blue Jays take on the Kansas City Royals. The National League will kick things off Saturday as the New York Mets welcome the Cubbies.
While plenty of pitching power will be showcased by the NL – ranging from the arsenal of Mets aces to leading NL Cy Young candidates – the 2015 World Series will be played by an American League team with something to prove.
The New York Mets winning the World Series was an improbable quest before the Major League Baseball season started, but here we are in October and the Mets have as good of a shot as any team to win it all with their strong group of starting pitchers.
The Mets won 90 games for first time since 2006, sparked by acquisitions made at the trade deadline including slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and the return of the team's Captain, David Wright. It was all capped off with a strong second half run, in which the Mets surged passed the Washington Nationals and put their arch nemesis away for good.
Yankees vs Astros
The New York Yankees limped into the postseason, losing seven of their final ten games, with the team’s top players, including Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann failing to get hits and score runs towards the end of the season. But there was a glimmer of hope that The Pinstripers could pull off a victory over the Houston Astros in the AL wild card game in the Bronx last night. Yes, Astros starter Dallas Keuchel may have shutout the Yankees in two regular season starts this season, but last night the AL Cy Young Award contender was making his first-ever playoff appearance, which was sure to give him the jitters, not to mention he was pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. But the small glimmer of hope Yankees’ fans held onto was quickly extinguished as Keuchel pitched six scoreless frames, giving up 3 hits and striking out seven. Houston’s bullpen then came into the game and pitched a combined three hitless innings.
There are only three games left in this NFL season, which on the surface is a sad thing (how did this season go by so fast??!?), but luckily for football fans, the two games this weekend are setting up to be a couple fantastic match-ups. The four remaining teams in the postseason – the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers – each finished with 12 or more wins and are considered by football experts to truly be the four best teams in the NFL this season.
While being the best team is obviously important to having a awesome conference championship weekend, it's all the additional story-lines and rivalries that are setting this weekend up to be one of the greatest weekends of football in memory.
Brady vs. Manning
For the past decade, the debate has raged on across the NFL – who is better: Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Whichever side you choose, there are plenty of good reasons why you are right. Manning has the huge numbers and more MVP awards; Brady has more championship rings and the most playoff wins in league history. I fall on the side of Tom Brady, although I am extremely biased due to the fact that I am a Patriots fan. However, for many people, this weekend's game between the Broncos and Patriots is the line drawn in the sand; whoever wins the game is the better quarterback and perhaps the greatest of all-time. Of course, that may be going a little overboard, but it has thrown gasoline on the fire of this QB rivalry, which is only adding to the anticipation of the game.
In one night, the Los Angeles Lakers went from teetering on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005, to beating the Houston Rockets, leapfrogging them in the standings and clinching the seventh seed. NBA basketball as its best.
The Western Conference playoff teams are now set and, unlike the Eastern Conference where the Heat are far and away the favorites, the West has more teams that have a legitimate shot at going to the NBA Finals. Here is how I view the eight playoff teams out West:
Contenders: Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs
The Oklahoma City Thunder dominated their way through Western Conference in 2012 before losing to the Miami Heat in the Finals. This year could be more of the same. Kevin Durant is the best player in the NBA not named LeBron and he will not slow down in the postseason. If point guard Russell Westbrook can play up to his ability, the Thunder will be tough to take down again in 2013.
While the Thunder may be favorites, the Spurs also have a claim as contenders. Veteran leaders Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have been great all season, playing "Spurs" basketball that coach Gregg Popovich has built over the years. While San Antonio does not have the superstar players that OKC has, they may be the better team at playing as a collective unit.
Challengers: Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies
All season long, the Denver Nuggets have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA. The Nuggets are the forgotten team of the Andrew Bynum trade, but that trade landed them Andre Iguodala, who has been great for Denver all season. No team scored more points than the Nuggets and if they can carry their scoring ability into the postseason, they can beat anyone in the league.