Texas is on the way to the American League Championship Series on the back of Adrian Beltre. The Ranger third baseman hit three solo home runs and carried his team to a 4-3 win over Tampa that locked up the Division Series in four games. When we say Beltre carried the offense, that is meant literally, because after an early home run by Ian Kinsler, Texas only managed three singles outside the trio of blasts. Matt Harrison pitched five innings for the win and a tag-team of relievers closed out the game.
Ron Washington has found another reliever for his bullpen in moving Alexi Ogando out of the rotation for the postseason. Ogando had struggled badly in the second half, but he’s settled into the relief role nicely and had three solid one-inning outings. In a series where each game Texas won was a nailbiter—they were actually outscored by Tampa 21-14 thanks to a Game 1 rout—Ogando’s work can’t be overlooked. Nor can we overlook the non-showing of Evan Longoria, who failed to get a hit in the final two games and hit .188 for the series. Texas will begin the ALCS on Saturday night.
We’re still waiting to find out who the Rangers play, as the Yankees came up big in a Game 4 rout in Detroit. New York broke open a 4-1 game with six runs in the eighth. The bottom of the order ate up Tiger pitching, as Russell Martin and Brett Gardner each had two hits, and when the lineup rolled over, Derek Jeter hit a big two-run double that opened up what was a tense 2-1 game in the sixth. The two teams now return to the Bronx for the decisive Game 5 on Thursday night at 8 PM ET.
In the National League, Milwaukee also missed a chance to close, and like Detroit it wasn’t close. Unlike the Tigers, the Brewers at least got buried right from the get-go as Shawn Marcum struggled from the outset and was finally chased in the fifth when Paul Goldschmidt hit a grand slam. The final was 8-1 and sets up a Game 4 matchup with Randy Wolf for Milwaukee and Joe Saunders, a playoff vet from his days with the Angels, taking the ball for Arizona.
Philadelphia had its back to the wall and Cole Hamels did what aces do—he was flawless, in giving six shutout innings in St. Louis. Jamie Garcia was matching him pitch for pitch until Ben Francisco hit a three-run shot in the seventh for Philly’s only runs in a 3-2 win. Crucial to the Phils’ survival was holding Lance Berkman and David Freese to a combined 0-for-9. This was important because in front of them Albert Pujols had four hits, including three doubles. At the bottom of the order, Ryan Theriot also had four hits, but the Cards just couldn’t get anything going around their two producers. Tonight Roy Oswalt can lock it up for Philadelphia, while St. Louis places the season in the hands of Edwin Jackson.
If Arizona and St. Louis stay alive, the National League Game 5s would be on Friday and everybody’s got their aces in reserve. It would be Ian Kennedy-Yovani Gallardo for the Brewers-Diamondbacks, while a Roy Halladay-Chris Carpenter matchup would await in Phils-Cardinals.
WHO WANTS THE SEC EAST?
The national championship talk in the SEC is in the West again with Alabama and LSU leading the way. But come the first Saturday of December in Atlanta, someone from the East will get a chance to upend the applecart. Is anyone ready to stand up and take this division?
*Florida is coming off a bad beating at home by Alabama last Saturday, and with starting quarterback John Brantley out with a high-ankle sprain, an already-hopeless cause against LSU this week looks even worse. Even with Brantley, Florida doesn’t really get the ball to its receivers in the passing game, relying heavily on the backs, and a defense we thought was a strength was destroyed by Alabama.
*South Carolina has got their defense rebuilt and they’ve played well in SEC games, although now the offense seems to be AWOL. Quarterback Stephen Garcia has again gotten the hook in favor of Connor Shaw. I understand Steve Spurrier’s frustration here, but Shaw didn’t play well when we did this the first go-round. Garcia has his inconsistencies, but he’s still a decent college quarterback in an offense where Marcus Lattimore is still the focal point.
*Georgia put itself back on the map with a win over Mississippi State this past week and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell has settled in to give support to sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray. The Dawgs lost a close shootout to South Carolina, but still have Florida and Tennessee ahead.
*Speaking of Tennessee, they were competitive in a loss to Florida and while they have a lot of improvement to make, the balance in this division keeps them a factor. The Vols really need to get more consistency from Tauren Poole in the running game if they’re going to beat the conference contenders.
At the start of the season I picked South Carolina to win this division, while thinking the Gamecocks were a little overrated nationally. I like the way the defense has come along and they’ve got a victory over Georgia behind them with a home date with Florida ahead of them in November. Even with the quarterback concerns, defense, Lattimore and the ‘Ol Ball Coach will be enough to win a division that lacks a true national championship team.
TENNESSEE SNEAKS UP IN THE SOUTH
When Peyton Manning fell, the Houston Texans assumed the favorite role in the AFC South by default. With the Tennessee Titans starting under a new coach in former offensive line guru Mike Munchak, the Titans weren’t seen as a serious contender. I’m not sure if the perception—or even the reality—has changed all that much, but with three straight wins under their belt we at least need to have Tennessee on our radar as a team that could win this division and host a playoff game come January.
The positive is that the Titans are 3-1 even as Chris Johnson gets rounded into form after missing the abbreviated post-lockout training game with his holdout. Johnson was a non-factor the first three games and finally opened up for a 100-yard game in Cleveland last Sunday. On a related note, this was the one game Tennessee won convincingly.
Johnson is going to be more needed than ever, because the passing game took a huge hit when Kenny Britt went down for the season two weeks ago. Matt Hasselbeck is playing very well at quarterback, looking a lot like the man who led Seattle to a Super Bowl six years ago, but Hasselbeck needs big-play threats. He doesn’t have a gun for an arm and Britt was the one playmaker this team had on the outside. If the Titans come up short, this is the weakness that will do them in.
Defensively, Tennessee is doing a pretty good job across the board. They shut down Joe Flacco in a surprising 26-13 win over Baltimore in Week 2 and kept Kyle Orton under control in the Denver win of Week 3. And while Colt McCoy and Cleveland aren’t doing any kind of impression of Brady’s Patriots, the Titans still held them to 84 passing yards. As to the rush defense, while it got off to a shaky start against Jacksonville in the opener, they’ve settled in and no one has exceeded 100 yards since.
The trend here looks pretty clear—when the Titans run the ball, they win big. When they stop the run they win. With a former line coach like Munchak at the helm, I think they’ll win this line of scrimmage battle enough times to have them in the hunt all year. Without Britt on offense though, I suspect the AFC South title bid still comes up a game short.