Archive for Tuesday, October 3, 2006

N.Y. teams eye series

Yankees, Mets have designs on title

October 3, 2006

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All eyes on the Big Apple.

After tying for the best record in baseball this year, the New York Yankees and Mets might be set for another Subway Series.

That's what everyone's gearing up for on Broadway, at least. But six other teams like their playoff chances, too, and they plan to spoil the party.

It all starts this afternoon with the postseason opener in Minnesota, where rested ace Johan Santana will be on the mound for the resurgent Twins against Oakland lefty Barry Zito - a matchup certainly worthy of October.

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres play at 3:09 p.m., followed at night by the surprising Detroit Tigers trekking into Yankee Stadium.

"I'm not really sure we're the underdog," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Nobody has more respect for the New York Yankees than we do, but I believe that when you get down to the final eight teams, whoever plays good at that particular time has a chance to win."

Many think the Yankees (97-65) and Mets have the best chance, and could be on track for their second Subway Series in six years.

Each team won its division by a comfortable margin, and both feature potent lineups. But while Yankees stars such as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, who will be scrutinized even more than usual this October, are postseason regulars, the Mets have several newcomers.

Cleanup hitter Carlos Delgado is a first-timer, along with his 23-year-old wunderkid teammates, David Wright and Jose Reyes.

"We match up well against anybody in the National League. If we go out there and play our game, play the way we're capable of, we'll win," Wright said. "If we don't win the World Series after making the playoffs, it's going to be a big letdown, naturally. This team, when we get off to an early lead, we don't let up."

The Mets, who cruised to their first NL East title since 1988, don't open until Wednesday against the wild-card Los Angeles Dodgers.

By then, the Athletics and Twins will have played twice at the earsplitting Metrodome in an intriguing rematch of their 2002 division series.

Both teams have flourished in recent years despite small budgets, and young stars such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Nick Swisher will be on display.

"They're a lot like us," said Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer, one of only four players remaining in Minnesota from the 2002 playoffs. "They're built around starting pitching and defense. They've got great team chemistry. They play the game the right way."

The Twins turned their season around after starting 25-33 and capitalized on Detroit's late collapse to win their fourth AL Central title in five years. They overcame a 101â2-game deficit in August and even earned home-field advantage in the first round.

That could be key, because Minnesota had the best home record in the big leagues at 54-27. Santana, the major league leader in wins, strikeouts and ERA, has been just about unbeatable at the Metrodome.

But the AL West champion A's are looking to end a streak of four straight first-round exits from 2000-03.

Over in the NL, Albert Pujols and the Cardinals narrowly avoided one of the worst September collapses in baseball history and backed into their third straight NL Central title. Now, they get a fresh start against San Diego, a team St. Louis swept in the first round last year.

Chris Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, will pitch Game 1 for St. Louis against the Padres' Jake Peavy.

"I can't wait," Carpenter said. "This is what it's all about. Now anything can happen. I feel good. I'm ready to go. I'm excited about the situation we're in."

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