A sneak peek into the 2014 World Series
By BRIAN FITZSIMMONS
It's a fool's game to take a crack at predicting the World Series this early in the season, considering teams have just completed their opening week.
But you have to admit it – we all do it. We dissect the inner workings of every team in baseball through the first lap of the race. We scrutinize every game, every inning, every at-bat and every pitch with hopes of arriving at some whacky foregone conclusion pertaining to the next Fall Classic champion. Can an educated guess wind up being correct? Sure. It's a hell of a lot easier to guess October's DNA than a March Madness survivor.
So let's say the Dodgers and Tigers, two powerful squads who each fell short in their respective league championship series last year, fight their way into being the last two standing.
If that's the case, we're in for some good fun.
Just look at Tuesday night's interleague game in Los Angeles, a 10-inning treat that included the reigning American League Cy Young weaving his magic, a leadoff home run from the least likely person to connect on such a shot, and a blown save in the ninth from baseball's best closer not named Craig Kimbrel. Oh, and don't forget the dramatic walk-off that sent Dodger Stadium into an October-like frenzy one night in April.
This had the workings of a postseason showdown, where unexpected things occur and the drama never seems to evaporate.
There was Max Scherzer, toeing the rubber and staring down Dee Gordon, a poor sap with no more home-run power than you or I, fixated on showing the baseball world that his other-worldly campaign from a year ago wasn't a fluke.
He'd already done enough convincing by orchestrating a dazzling performance on opening night, tossing eight scoreless innings in a win over the Kansas City Royals. Yet the serviceable-turned-superhuman righthander yearned to use his second start of 2014 as a golden opportunity to send this message: the American League will have to go through Detroit.
He has plenty of supporting evidence too, considering the Tigers' strong lineup (even without Prince Fielder) and pitching depth that helped them reach the ALCS before running into Boston's buzz saw.
Gordon, however, had a message of his own and sent an offering into the stands for a leadoff dinger. Austin Jackson evened the score with a homer in the second.
Both Scherzer and Dan Haren – an inconsistent question mark, yet perhaps a secret weapon for the stacked LA rotation – settled down and traded zeroes until the seventh. The Tigers broke through for a 2-1 edge when Justin Turner lifted a sacrifice fly that scored Matt Kemp, a former All-Star who's, so far, done an admirable job shaking off last year's injury-riddled nightmare of a campaign.
Then the real theatrics began. Detroit evened things up again against closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth, thanks to a Victor Martinez single that drove in newcomer Ian Kinsler.
Finally, after JP Howell tossed a perfect frame, Chone Figgins led off the bottom of the 10th with a walk. Gordon then popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt, but Carl Crawford sliced a drive to left against Tigers reliever Phil Coke. Rajai Davis struggled to run the drive down before stumbling and falling to the ground, enabling Figgins to trot home for the win.
"Not everyone pays attention to it this early, but guys get used to thinking we can come back and win, and that's big," Figgins told ESPN. "The expectation is to win. You focus on beating someone that night, go home, come back and beat someone again."
There is plenty of evidence why this game may have served as our first look into what could be the 2014 World Series matchup. Neither team is on the wrong end of an overwhelming margin between them and another. The American League is filled with potential contenders, though the Tigers and Rays seem to be the only sure things. In the National League, bet on the Nationals and Cardinals making some noise. But it's a safe bet to call the free-spending Dodgers clear favorites – especially if they continue to win close games like this.
"We feel like we are going to win these games," Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said. "The expectations aren't that big of a thing for us right now. We had them last year so that part is over, but we're a confident club and we also know we have to play well. We can't just show up and expect it.
"I like guys thinking they are good but also knowing they still have to play."
Baseball is a 162-game rollercoaster with too many corkscrews and twists to predict, but it sure is fun trying to play this fool's game.
And, thanks to a wonderful random night in April, this fool identified which matchup he's rooting for.
Follow Brian Fitzsimmons on Twitter: @FitzWriter