Hey, guess what division is the best in baseball as of this moment and has a guaranteed spot in the World Series? Nope, not that one in the junior circuit with the Yankees, Rays and Bosox. It would be the home base of the Buccos, the NL Central.
Milwaukee and St. Louis eliminated Arizona and the Phils in thrillers last night. Their upcoming NLCS series will determine which of the pair will represent the NL in the 2011 October Classic.
The Brew Crew fell behind on Justin Upton's third inning homer off a 3-2 heater from Yovanni Gallardo, who was especially honked because he thought he had caught him looking at a slider the pitch before. The Brewers tied it on a Jerry Hairston sac fly in the fourth, and a two-out Yuniesky Belancourt single in the sixth off Ian Kennedy put them up 2-1.
It could have been a bigger frame, but Chris Young made a no-look web gem grab of a Hairston shot to center to limit the damage. The drama continued in the ninth, when a Willie Bloomquist squeeze tied the game, snapping John Axford's 44-game save streak.
That set the table for Nyjer Morgan, who rolled a single up the middle just past JJ Putz's leg in the tenth inning to plate Carlos Gomez, who had stolen second, with the series-clinching run.
St. Louis came out on top of an old fashioned pitching duel. Raphael Furcal and Skip Schumaker opened the game with extra base knocks off Roy Halladay to take a 1-0 lead before an out was recorded. It was the game's only score. Chris Carpenter tossed a three-hit, complete game gem and the Phillies were left on the outside looking in yet again. As Paul McCartney noted, money can't buy you love.
It should make for a great series. Yesterday's winners, team aces Carpenter and Gallardo, are set up to square off in Games 3 and 7. The clubs finished the regular season series 9-9, and have a thing for one another, with trash talkin' yap and bench clearing hubbubs regular features of their contests.
For the Bucs, it validates the blueprint of building a team that is championship caliber rather than just competitive. For all the hue and cry of a weak division, the Central proved itself in the playoffs. This year is a high point, of course, but it does show how far the Bucs have to go yet.
The Brewers and Cards both have a murderous one-two punch in the middle of their lineups (although Prince Fielder is likely to become a free agent, and who knows whassup with Sir Albert?) and can throw some top-of-the-rotation arms at you.
The result? Pittsburgh won seven games against the Cards and three against Milwaukee for a combined 10-21 slate against the big boys of the division. Make no mistake; that's a fair barometer against teams that have some elite talent playing against a club that by and large doesn't. And those games are the only meaningful measuring stick, because you can't go anywhere until you step out of the division.