Picture this in your head: It's Tuesday October 21, 2014. Angels Stadium is filled and is about 75% red and 25% blue. Jered Weaver is getting ready to pitch to Dee Gordon. This is not as far fetched to consider this year.
The World Series has seen 14 Subway Series, a Bay Bridge Series, a Streetcar Series (1944 between the Cardinals and Browns), and a matchup between the Cubs and White Sox that never got a catchy nickname back in 1906. But, there has not been a Freeway Series. But could 2014 finally be the year that the Santa Ana Freeway will get clogged up from 3-9 pm to never before seen levels?
The answer is, of course, maybe. The Angels finished with the best record in the majors at 98-64, coasting home in the AL West by 10 games over Oakland. The Dodgers had the second best record in the NL at 94-68, besting the Giants by 6 games.
Both teams will take on teams from Missouri in the Division Series. The Angels will play the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night at 6:07 pm and be televised on TBS. The Dodgers open the playoffs against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday afternoon at 3:37 pm, televised on Fox Sports 1.
Despite having the best record in the majors and being the only team in Southern California that was relatively easy to watch on TV, the Angels never seemed to be the big story in Southern California.
This happened despite the Angels having the best position player in the majors in Mike Trout, leading an offense that scored more runs than any other team in the majors (773). But, I guess since a New Yorker writer has said that most of us won't recognize Trout if he walked into our neighborhood bar, the Angels (or perhaps the entire sport of baseball) are doomed to irrelevance. (Or so the New Yorker would have us believe.)
The Angels are trying to go through the postseason without having a dominant starting pitcher. The team had one in Garret Richards, but he blew out a knee on August 20 in Boston. The Angels ended up winning that game. And after that, the Angels went 23-14. Jered Weaver will start Game 1 for the Angels. Matt Shoemaker, who has been battling an oblique injury, will start Game 2. The inconsistent C.J. Wilson will start Game 3.
Fortunately for the Angels, they have had an outstanding bullpen, which was greatly helped by the acquisition of Huston Street from San Diego at the trade deadline. Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin, and Fernando Salas should become familiar names as they should be seeing a lot of work.
The Angels offensive attack is more than Mike Trout however. Albert Pujols has been healthy and productive. The Angels strength is that there are no obvious weak links in the lineup. Even with Josh Hamilton missing large chunks of the season with a variety of injuries, the Angels haven't slowed down.
The Angels' opponent, the Royals, returned to the postseason for the first time since 1985, and won a bizarre and exciting 12-inning 9-8 affair against Oakland in the wild card game. The Royals, unlike the Angels, don't hit home runs. But they do steal bases. They stole seven against Oakland on Tuesday night, tying a postseason record. The Royals can match the Angels in the bullpen department with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Like the Angels, their starting pitching is usually just good enough to get the game to the good relievers. Former Angel Jason Vargas is starting against Weaver Thursday night.
If the Angels get by the Royals (which they are favored to do), they will face either Baltimore or Detroit in the ALCS. The Orioles won the AL East easily, while the Tigers had to wait until the last day of the season to beat out the Royals for the Central title. The Tigers will start three straight Cy Young winners, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price, against an Orioles team that led all of baseball in home runs. If you're a fan of these two teams, get up early on Friday for Game 2. It's scheduled to start at 9:07 am Pacific Time.
The Dodgers story has been far more showy than the Angels. Clayton Kershaw's pitching has been otherworldly. Yasiel Puig has has served to both get the offense going and be the subject of newspaper columns and tweets about how he is the downfall of Western Civilization.
In the second half, the Dodgers crowded outfield situation settled down once Puig moved to center, Matt Kemp moved to right, and Carl Crawford beat out Andre Ethier for left field. Kemp and Crawford have hit extremely well in the second half. The Dodgers finished second in the NL in runs scored behind only the altitude-aided Rockies.
The Dodgers opponent in the NLDS will be a familiar one: the Cardinals. Last year, the Cardinals bested the Dodgers in six games in a series that played right into the sports media's desire to portray baseball in "Goofus vs Gallant" terms. The Dodgers were cast as showoffs with undisciplined players, while the Cardinals were the team of dedicated professionals, cheered on by baseball fans who were the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings that you would ever know.
Thankfully, the first round of the playoffs is just five games, so perhaps that narrative won't get as much play. We probably won't be that lucky.
The Dodgers plan to start Kershaw in Game 1 and Zack Greinke in Game 2. Dan Haren is the likely Game 3 starter, with the health of Hyun-Jin Ryu up in the air. Expect Kershaw to pitch as often as possible. And probably for as long as possible because the Dodgers bullpen aside from Kenley Jansen has not been as reliable as it was last season.
The Cardinals will send Adam Wainwright , Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Shelby Miller to the mound against the Dodgers. Michael Wacha, who was the postseason sensation for the Cardinals last year, will be in the bullpen as he has struggled through injuries this season.
St. Louis has had a hard time scoring runs this season, scoring 99 fewer runs than the Dodgers this year. They outscored their opponents by just 16 runs on the year. The Dodgers outscored the opposition by 101 runs.
If the Dodgers win their NLDS, the opponent in the NLCS could either be their arch-rival, the Giants, or the team with the best record in the NL, Washington. The Nationals should be able to handle the Giants, who shouldn't be able to match the Nats in terms of pitching or hitting, especially after Giants ace Madison Bumgarner had to pitch the Wild Card game against the Pirates on Wednesday.
If the Giants do beat Washington, a Dodgers-Giants NLCS would be quite intense, even more than a Freeway World Series and would make up for the rancor that is missing in a year where neither the Yankees nor Red Sox are in the playoffs. The Giants have not lost a playoff series since 2003 and in their 2012 World Series run, they faced elimination six times and won all six games.
If it's a Dodgers-Nationals NLCS, the storylines would be "Whose phenom is going to destroy baseball first: Puig or Bryce Harper of Washington?" or "Remember, people of L.A. , we don't like Matt Williams at all."
If the 1 in
8 16 chance of a Freeway Series happening comes to pass, what would it be like? Would Southern California divide itself into blue and red camps? Would anyone outside of the L.A.-Orange County metropolitan area care much?
There would be lots of jokes made about traffic (For example, "They need a travel day between Games 2 and 3. It takes that long to drive between L.A. and Anaheim after all") Then, jokes about how the Angels unwieldy official name "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim." And finally lots and lots and lots of jokes about how no one will show up for the start of any of the games on time and then everyone will leave early. But, I would be willing to put up with that. Because a World Series that is a matchup between the 213 and the 714 would quite likely be some very intriguing baseball.
A Freeway Series is just one potential storyline. There could be a Baltimore-Washington World Series (nickname still under consideration, the teams prefer Battle of the Beltways) or an I-70 Series (as in 1985). Or maybe the Giants will end up playing the Tigers again, like 2012. There are numerous intriguing plots that could develop. Will most of them involve Southern California?