10/06/10 — Stevens: Today's baseball heroes begin World Series quest

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Stevens: Today's baseball heroes begin World Series quest

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on October 6, 2010 1:47 PM

During the next 31/2 weeks the legends of today's baseball heroes will grow even larger, new stars will arise, unforgettable moments will occur and fans will experience an emotional roller coaster.

There's nothing quite like baseball's postseason.

The drama.

The tension.

The joy and the agony.

It's something little boys dream of playing in and players work all season to reach. The following is a look at the 2010 postseason:

Pitch men: Home runs and offense sell tickets, but pitching and defense win championships. It's no coincidence that all eight playoff teams rank in the top 15 in team earned run average (ERA).

Philadelphia's three-headed monster of starting pitchers Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels comprise the most formidable postseason rotation.

The New York Yankees' playoff success hinges largely on the development of a legitimate No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia.

Atlanta has its own trio of reliable starting pitchers with Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson. The Braves' bullpen has been solid all season, while being anchored by closer Billy Wagner. The Ferrum (Va.) College alum has 37 saves this season.

Tampa Bay possesses a pair of solid starters with David Price (19-6, 2.72 ERA) and Matt Garza, and closer Rafael Soriano has tallied 45 saves. San Francisco's Tim Lincecum and Texas' Cliff Lee are also quality big-game pitchers.

Phillin' good: Philadelphia went 21-6 in September on its way to clinching the NL East title. The Phillies' offense is one of the tops in all of baseball statistically.

Philadelphia also has home field-advantage throughout the postseason. A daunting starting rotation and the experience of having been to the playoffs four straight years and the past two World Series doesn't hurt, either.

We're having Twins: Minnesota dominated the AL Central for much of the season but sputtered late, losing eight of its final 10 games. The Twins rank in the top 10 in every major offensive statistical category and in the top 15 in most pitching categories.

Minnesota's new home, Target Field, has provided success as the Twins have baseball's second-best home record.

Home of the Brave: Atlanta needed to beat Philadelphia and have San Francisco defeat San Diego on the final day of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot.

The Braves limp into the postseason banged up and on fumes. The absence of Chipper Jones continues to take its toll on the offense. After hitting .279 in May and in the .260s in June, July and August, Atlanta's team average in September was .244. The Braves enter the postseason as the second-lowest scoring team among the eight teams still playing with 738 runs. Only Atlanta's divisional playoff opponent the Giants scored fewer runs.

But, there is something about a team that can manufacture ways to win games. The Braves have done that this season with 25 last at-bat victories. Atlanta also has baseball's best home record.

The weight of manager Bobby Cox's impending retirement is a burden the Braves have been playing with all season. How heavy that burden becomes in the postseason remains to be seen.