Inspiring Athletes

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To quote a classic Christmas song, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” No, I’m not talking about the celebration of our Savior’s birth. I mean, that part of the year is pretty wonderful too and, quite frankly, a lot more important. But c’mon. How can you not love the Major League Baseball playoffs?

After the crazy finish Wednesday night that saw wild card spots determined by a walk-off home run in Baltimore’s shocking upset of Boston and extra-inning dramatics as Philadelphia sunk Atlanta’s hopes and opened the door for St. Louis, this might be the most buzz headed into the postseason since 2004 when Boston excited its rabid fan base by snapping its legendary 86-season championship-less streak.

Here’s a quick look at the upcoming divisional series and some Inspiring Athletes predictions:


New York vs. Detroit

Yankees manager Joe Girardi (Photo courtesy of MLB)

Big surprise. The New York Yankees are in the playoffs. That makes 16 post-season appearances in the last 17 years for the Bronx Bombers. In contrast, the Tigers are making just a second jaunt into the playoffs since 2006. But that doesn’t mean New York won’t have its hands full with a top-notch pitching staff (led by Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander) and wily old-school manager Jim Leyland.

But with home field advantage in a short series, the edge should go to the post-season veterans in New York led by Mariano Rivera (arguably the greatest closer of all-time) and manager Joe Girardi who looks at his role as more than just a job.

“God has given me this great gift,” Girardi told me in an interview last year. “I don’t want to waste it, because He’s given me a platform and I’m supposed to go out there and do good things for Him.”

Prediction: New York wins series 3-2


Texas vs. Tampa Bay

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton (Photo courtesy of MLB)

Tampa Bay is one of the hottest teams in baseball right now. That doesn’t always mean much in the playoffs, however. Just ask the 2007 Colorado Rockies who made it all the way to the World Series before getting steamrolled by the Red Sox.

A lot of experts are picking Tampa Bay to win this series, but I’m going with Texas due to home field advantage and the fact that many of its players (including Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler) still have the taste of last season’s A.L., pennant in their mouths.

Of course, Tampa Bay’s been there too and rising stars such as Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist will make this series tight.

Prediction: Texas wins series 3-2



Philadelphia vs. St. Louis

Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (Photo courtesy of MLB)

Philadelphia has the best pitching staff in baseball, hands down. And in the post-season, pitching trumps the other key elements (hitting, running, fielding, managing, etc.) every time. Even though the Cardinals are riding high with its wild card clinching effort on the last day of the season, it’s hard to imagine that heavy hitters Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday will be able to overcome the able arms of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

According to Pujols, baseball about letting his faith shine through an undying team-first approach.

“My goals every day are to help my team win and then hopefully have the opportunity to go the playoffs or the World Series,” Pujols once told me. “That’s my goal every year—to win the World Series. Having been in two World Series and six playoffs is just unbelievable. It’s more than I could ask for. I really make sure I keep my eyes on Christ first. If I do that, I think everything else will be easy.”

Prediction: Philadelphia wins series 3-1


Milwaukee vs. Arizona

Diamondbacks pitcher Zach Duke (Photo courtesy of MLB)

Milwaukee could be the x-factor in this year’s post-season. Even though I predict they will lose in the NLCS, they are quite capable of making a deeper run thanks for deep ball threat Prince Fielder and solid contributors such as Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Ryan Braun. Milwaukee’s pitching, led by Zack Greinke, Yovanni Gallardo, Randy Wolf and reliever Francisco Rodriguez is somewhat underrated and may be the difference in this series.

On the other hand, the Arizona Diamondbacks knocked off defending champions San Francisco out west and are anchored by legitimate Cy Young Award candidate Ian Kennedy and power hitting outfielder Justin Upton. Advantage here goes to the team with home field advantage (Milwaukee) in what should be an exciting, high-scoring affair.

Diamondbacks pitcher Zach Duke says win or lose, his baseball experience is all about the journey.

“I used to just pray to win the game and it was always a very selfish prayer that I’d do well,” Duke told me. “I’ve grown to realize that it’s not the right way to go about things. The deeper I got with my faith, the more I realized that it’s all about what you’re learning through the process and going through the trials and tribulations and the good times.”

Prediction: Milwaukee wins series 3-2

Looking beyond the divisional series, here are the Inspiring Athletes predictions for the championship series and the World Series:


Prediction: New York over Texas 4-3


Prediction: Philadelphia over Milwaukee 4-2


Prediction: Philadelphia over New York 4-2

For more on some of the athletes featured in the upcoming playoffs, check out these related Inspiring Athletes interviews:

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira

Former Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte

St. Louis outfielder Lance Berkman

Arizona pitcher Zach Duke

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