The year 2009 won't be remembered as the greatest season in baseball history. With little suspense over who was going to make the playoffs—Hello, Red Sox. Pleasure to see you, Yankees—you can be forgiven for sleeping through September. (And August, July, June, May, and April.) Now that the playoffs are upon us, it's time to wake up and start paying attention. Don't know anything about the teams that are still alive? Fear not—Slate's surface-level guide to the postseason will have you sounding like a baseball savant in no time.
American League Division Series, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Boston Red Sox
Angels talking points: Unlike their higher-profile playoff counterparts, the unheralded Angels don't have any stars to speak of. Vladimir Guerrero no longer counts, Gary Matthews Jr. never did, and Chone Figgins is a great player who will never become famous because his first name is really confusing. What they do have is an experienced, veteran team that hits (.285 team batting average, best in the majors) and gets on base (.350 team on-base percentage, third in the AL). You should point out that the Angels also have valuable experience in the area of losing to the Red Sox. Despite having one of the best won-loss records over a six-year period in baseball history, the Angels have fallen to Boston in the 2004, 2007, and 2008 postseasons.
Historical context: The thing that most people remember about the Angels' World Series win in 2002 is the Rally Monkey, the enthusiastic mascot who led the team to victory during home games. After the World Series, the Rally Monkey got fired in a commercial for ESPN's SportsCenter. Despite making the playoffs four times since the simian firing, the Angels have yet to reach another World Series.
Conversation starter: "Sure, Mark Teixeira is having a great year for the Yankees, but the Angels were right to get rid of him. Kendry Morales is younger, cheaper, and just as good a hitter."
Conversation stopper: "Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have retired from acting after Angels in the Outfield. Why mess with perfection?"
Red Sox talking points: Your insufferable Boston buddies will brag about the Red Sox starting lineup, which is undeniably stacked—six starters with double-digit home runs and a team on-base percentage of .352, second-highest in the majors. Aim for a small victory and highlight the team's punchless bench. (Rocco Baldelli, Boston's best pinch hitter, is injured as usual.) Remind the Boston faithful that plenty of playoff games have been won thanks to clutch play from an unheralded reserve—think back to the 2004 ALCS, for instance. If your Red Sox pals start getting depressed or violent, cheer them up by mentioning that Boston does have Joey Gathright, who can jump over a car. So, you know, if that becomes a factor, Boston's got it in the bag.
Historical context: It's no secret why the Red Sox have had such sustained success this decade, with six playoff appearances and two World Series titles in the last seven years—they've got perhaps the best front office in the game, led by general manager Theo Epstein. You, however, know that having a secret is really, really fun, which is why you'll insist that the true secret to the Red Sox's success can't be revealed to anyone who's not a 32nd-degree Mason.
Conversation starter: "If the Sox get a lead, watch out—nobody's scoring against Daniel Bard, Billy Wagner, and Jonathan Papelbon."
Conversation stopper: "Do you think Jimmy Fallon is available for Fever Pitch 2?"
American League Division Series, New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers or Minnesota Twins
Yankees talking points: Joe Buck and his commentative ilk will spend a lot of time this postseason promoting Derek Jeter's MVP candidacy. And rightly so—whether displacing Lou Gehrig atop the Yankees' all-time hits list, playing improved defense, or posting a .406 on-base percentage, Jeter has had a great year. But you nonetheless maintain that the Yankees' front office has had an even better year. Yes, the Yankees spent big in the offseason, but they also spent wisely, as all of New York's offseason acquisitions—Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia, and Nick Swisher—paid off handsomely in 2009.
Historical context: In 1923, the last time the Yankees opened a brand new ballpark, the Bronx Bombers beat the New York Giants in six games to win the first World Series title in franchise history. While you join other Yankee fans in hoping that history repeats itself, you nevertheless feel that the team is wasting its time with all those charts about how to pitch to Frankie Frisch and Hank Gowdy.
Conversation starter: "For once, the stat-heads and the baseball fuddy-duddies can agree—the Yankees' most-important player is Mariano Rivera."
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