Playoff matchups set: Giants, Braves in; Padres out
Bobby Cox will get one more try in October. No tiebreaker needed.What could’ve turned into a real tangle of a playoff picture became clear Sunday: Cox and his wild-card Atlanta Braves will face the San Francisco Giants, while the San Diego Padres are finished.Major League Baseball was looking at the possibility of a three-team, two-day round of games to sort out all the postseason slots – fun for fans, a scramble for players. Instead, for the first time in four years, the regular season ended with Game No. 162.The first round was set when Jonathan Sanchez and the Giants eliminated the Padres 3-0 to win the NL West. Philadelphia and Cincinnati will meet in the other NL division series.”We nailed it,” Giants outfielder Pat Burrell said. “It was looking like it was heading the wrong way. Our guys toughed it out.”Tampa Bay clinched the AL East when the World Series champion New York Yankees lost at Boston 8-4. That sent the Rays back home to open the playoffs against Texas, while the wild-card Yankees will start their best-of-five series at Minnesota.The action begins Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field, followed by games at Citizens Bank Park and Target Field. The banged-up Braves visit Tim Lincecum and the Giants at AT&T Park on Thursday night.”We’re probably not expected to do well,” said Braves ace Tim Hudson, wearing a T-shirt with “Wild Card” across the front.No matter, Cox is in the postseason yet again. At 69, he’s retiring after this season. And his Braves went 4-3 against the Giants this year.Cox guided Atlanta to 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, but only one World Series championship during that run. He and the Braves are back in the postseason after a four-year absence.The Giants’ win simplified the playoff scenario. Had they lost, San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta would’ve all finished at 91-71, forcing a pair of tiebreakers. The Giants make their first postseason appearance since 2003, when the team was built around Barry Bonds.”Versus the past when we lived and died with one superstar player, there aren’t any superstars on this team. There might be a couple rising stars,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said.Hudson and his teammates saw the Giants’ victory on TV in their clubhouse. A few hundred fans stayed past a postgame REO Speedwagon concert at Turner Field to watch on the video board, and chanted “Bobby! Bobby!” while watching the Braves celebrate.The Yankees and Tampa Bay started the day even at 95-66, with both teams already guaranteed playoff spots. To win the AL East, the Yankees needed to finish ahead of the Rays, who held the tiebreaker after winning the season series 10-8.In the ninth inning of the Rays’ game at Kansas City, the Yankees’ loss was posted on the scoreboard. Tampa Bay players briefly exchanged high-fives, then rushed onto the field after closing out a 3-2 win in 12 innings.”It took a little of the tension off,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We wanted to win this game. How ’bout that? Extra innings, on the road, didn’t need to win. It tells you something about our ballclub.”The Yankees and Rays both had plenty of chances to pull away in the last week or two.”It would be stupid to say it doesn’t matter how you finish. We would have liked to get this thing done, but we didn’t,” Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte said. “The bottom line is: We’re the world champs until someone knocks us off.”It’ll be CC Sabathia against the Twins’ Francisco Liriano in Game 1, the first postseason game at new Target Field. The Yankees were 4-2 against Minnesota this year.Rays star David Price opposes Cliff Lee in their opener. Maybe the aces can stop another slugfest: Tampa Bay went 4-2 against the Rangers this season, outscoring them 40-31 overall.Roy Halladay will make his first playoff start when the two-time defending NL champion Phillies host Edinson Volquez and NL Central champion Cincinnati, back in the playoffs for the first time since 1995. Philadelphia was 5-2 against the Reds, including a four-game sweep at home in July.