Nelson Cruz pounds the Tigers for ALCS win

Texas Rangers Nelson Cruz celebrates his seventh inning home run against the Detroit Tigers in game six of the ALCS at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 15, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. Crux had six homers and 13 RBIs in the series. The Rangers won the series 4-2 and will play the winner of the NLCS in the World Series. UPI/Ian Halperin

The Texas Rangers are returning to the World Series after a 15-5 thumping of the Detroit Tigers to win the ALCS by four games to two. Nelson Cruz was a beast in the series, pounding out six home runs and 13 RBIs against Tiger pitching. Cruz hit 29 home runs in the regular season in 475 at bats.

The Rangers will now play the winner of the NLCS between the Cardinals and the Brewers. The Cards are leading the series 3-2 with Game 6 coming tonight in Milwaukee. The Rangers have never won a World Series.

Meanwhile, the Tigers had a great season but had no answer for the Rangers lineup. Justin Verlander wasn’t dominant in the post-season, but at least he did his job.

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Phillies take Game 1 of NLCS

Carlos Ruiz and Raul Ibanez hit three-run homers as the Phillies beat the Dodgers 8-6 in Game 1 of the NLCS on Thursday. Ryan Howard also hit a two-run double and closer Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless ninth to protect a two-run lead.

Since the NLCS moved to a seven-game format in 1985, the team that takes a 1-0 lead has won 16 of 23 series, including 14 of the previous 16. In fact, eight of the 10 National League teams that took a 1-0 lead on the road have reached the World Series, including the past seven times.

Usually teams in the playoffs look to, at the very least, earn a split when they’re on the road. For Philadelphia to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the NLCS is huge, especially considering how good their bats looked.

Game 2 is set for 4:07 p.m. ET on Friday and will feature Pedro Martinez vs. Vicente Padilla. It’s kind of amazing that Martinez is back pitching in a championship series again and hopefully for the Phils’ sake, he produces some of the magic that made him a lights out pitcher in Boston.

Media Reactions: Phillies heading to World Series

Philadelphia Phillies– Phil Sheridan of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes about the thirstiest sports town in the universe finally draws closer to title drink.

– Bill Plaschke of The L.A. Times writes about Dodgers’ fans booing their club into the offseason after their terrible performance in Game 5.

– T.J. Simers writes that even though the Dodgers fell short, Manny Ramirez made them important again.

– Rich Hofmann writes that the Fightin’ Phils get to write a new chapter in their history.

– Bill Shaikin writes that Dodger veterans Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux and Nomar Garciaparra deserved a better ending.

– Bob Ford reminds Phillie fans to savor this victory.

Torre remains confident after terrible decisions

TorreFor the majority of the season, Joe Torre faced criticism for failing to move the Dodgers to the top of their division. His talents as a World Series-caliber manager were questioned: Was it Torre that got the Yankees into the playoffs, or the players alone? As he always does usual, Torre remained calm and optimistic. Then, Manny Ramirez came around and the Dodgers found themselves sweeping the Cubs in the NLDS. The negative remarks quickly quelled, and Torre was once again hailed as a genius. But after his decisions in Game 4 of the NLCS on Monday, that harsh criticism has resurfaced.

In street clothes and a blue cap bearing the name of the Safe At Home Foundation he created, Torre took the podium for a noon news conference and answered questions about the widely scrutinized decisions he made in Game 4 — from his call to pull Derek Lowe in the sixth inning to his choices about which relievers he used and when.

Torre said he didn’t second-guess any of his decisions.

“You wish the result was different,” he said. “If we all know the results, we certainly say, ‘Yeah, maybe I should have done that and done this.’ But with what I had at hand and knowing what I wanted to do, the only thing I’d like to change is the result.

“I have a two-run lead in the seventh inning, the game’s in my court and then the winning home run is hit off my closer.

“I don’t know what I could say to myself that would change what I would do, to be honest with you.”

The only change Torre said he envisioned making today would be to re-insert Matt Kemp into the lineup. Kemp, who has hit .208 in his six postseason starts, had his place in center field taken by Juan Pierre in Game 4.

I’ve always been a fan of Joe Torre. When he arrived in Los Angeles, he did the best he could with what Dodgers GM Ned Colletti had given him. Without a big bat in the top of the order, he still remained neck and neck with Arizona. Manny was only the missing link, and he certainly proved it.

Still, even with Ramirez in the lineup, Torre has made some confusing decisions. Monday against the Phillies, he pulled Lowe in the top of the sixth, after only throwing 70 plus pitches and giving up two runs. Granted, he was only on three days rest, but he has just pitched his only one-two-three inning of the game. Then, he pulls Hong Chi Kuo—a pitcher the Phillies have been awful against—after giving up one single to Jimmy Rollins. These two decisions probably cost the Dodgers the series. Torre brought in all the wrong pitchers at all the wrong times. A string of bad decision killed Dodgers chances of tying this series: a twenty-year old Clayton Kershaw, a struggling Chan Ho Park, an inconsistent Joe Beimel, and a tired Cory Wade. With nowhere to go, in the top of the eighth inning Torre brought in their young, overworked closer, Jonathan Broxton. After elder statesman Matt Stairs hit a monster homerun into the right field pavilion, the Dodgers fans fell silent. Joe Torre’s critics, however, erupted.

Torre needs Chad Billinglsey to give him at least six good innings in the game tonight. If this doesn’t happen, the Dodgers are finished. However, with a lead going into the seventh, the Dodgers have two strong relievers in Kuo and James McDonald, who shut down the Phillies in Game 2. Then, it will come down to Big John Broxton, who’s hopefully learned a thing or two from Matt Stairs.

Top 5 Hitters and Top 5 Pitchers in LCS Play

Unlike the division series that began in 1995, the ALCS and NLCS has been played since 1969. Before that, there was just a World Series. Anyway, with the two series underway to determine who will play in the 2008 fall classic, we’ll take a look at the career Top 5 in LCS play in both batting average and starting pitching ERA. Enjoy, and hope you’re enjoying the games…..

Batting Average

1. Kevin Youkilis (.531)—Okay, so Kevin Youkilis has only played in one full LCS, last year’s ALCS with Boston, and he just began his second, against Tampa . Last year, Youkilis went 14 for 28 with a double, a triple, three homers, and 7 RBI. And last night he went 3 for 4 with two doubles. Sox fans not surprisingly love this guy as well as, or in spite of, his facial hair.

2. Mark Grace (.515)—Mark Grace played in two league championship series—in 1989 with the Cubs and in 2001 with the Diamondbacks. Despite the fact that Gracey hit .647 with a homer and 8 RBI in the 1989 NLCS, the Cubs lost to the Giants. Are you surprised?

3. Will Clark (.468)—First baseman Will Clark has played in three NLCS—1987 and 1989 with the Giants and 2000 with the Cardinals. He hit .360, .650 and .412 in those series, respectively. It’s worth noting that the .650 was against Mark Grace’s Cubs. That, and a billy goat, partially explains the result of that series.

4. Craig Counsell (.400)—“Screech” is lights out in the LCS (with Florida in 1997 and Arizona in 2001), but has a .212 average in the NLDS and .130 World Series mark. Huh?

5. Mickey Rivers (.386)—Talk about consistency. In three straight ALCS appearances for Rivers’ Yankees against the Royals (1976-78), he was almost impossible to pitch to, hitting .348, .391, and .455. Considering Rivers was the Yankees’ leadoff man, do I have to tell you who won each series?

Starting Pitching ERA (note: we only included those who have started more games than they relieved)

1. Gary Nolan (1.35)—Gary Nolan pitched in four NLCS for the Reds—1970, 1972, 1975 and 1976. In four starts, he went 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA, and 16 strikeouts. Though Nolan was a very good 3.08 in his career during the regular season, he clearly knew how to turn it up a notch when it counted most.

2. Orel Hershiser (1.52)—Orel Hershiser was almost unhittable in 1988, but in all he pitched in five LCS—1985 and 1988 with the Dodgers; 1995 and 1997 with Cleveland, and 1999 with the Mets. His record in championship series play? 4-0 with the 1.52 ERA and 47 strikeouts.

3. Jeff Suppan (1.69)—Jeff Suppan has pitched in three NLCS, all with the Cardinals—2004-06. His numbers are aided mostly by those two ridiculous starts in 2006 against the Mets when he gave up one earned run in 15 innings of work. And as a Mets fan, I do mean ridiculous literally.

4. Randy Johnson (1.72)—The Big Unit has been lights out in LCS play—in 1995 with Seattle and in 2001 with the D-Backs. In those two series, he went 2-1 with 32 strikeouts and just 5 walks in 31 innings. The man is just sick.

5. Fernando Valenzuela (1.95)—Fernando Valenzuela was like a cult hero for the Dodgers and pitched for them in three LCS—1981, 1983 and 1985. Over that time, Valenzuela, who’s out pitch was a screwball, went 3-1 with 28 strikeouts.

Source: Baseball Reference

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