Apparently, K-Rod wasn’t the only one who had the right to remain silent, so did the Colorado Rockies hitters yesterday at Citi Field. At a time when the New York Mets desperately needed a quiet, low-key victory, the team’s ace delivered just that.

Johan Santana never gave Mets manager, Jerry Manuel, the chance to take the ball from him and give it to the K-Rod-less bullpen Thursday.  Santana threw 9 shutout innings surrendering just 4 hits in the 4-0 Mets win.  The lefty fanned 10 Rockies, including the first three to start the game.

Now prior to the game yesterday, I thought the Mets should have gotten Ted Turner on the line to ask him if the team could star in a new Tyler Perry commercial showing this season’s highlights and having Jose Reyes at the end go, ‘TBS, very funny.’ 

Or maybe Omar Minaya, Mets General Manager, should have called up Vince McMahon at the WWE and asked Vince to trade K-Rod for the Undertaker.  After all, the Undertaker would fit right in with the dead Mets team playing right now.  Plus I have a weird feeling that if K-Rod were still on the team come September, he would not very much appreciate family members being present at the team’s funeral. (Just a hunch…especially his wife’s side, they’re a crazy bunch)

But these calls unfortunately were not made. (possibly because K-Rod smashed his father-in-law’s head into a telephone pole at Citi Field knocking out the Mets direct line)

But instead the Mets and their FREE K-ROD sign holding fans witnessed a gutsy, dominant pitching performance from #57.

Yes, the Mets are a joke right now and are slightly funnier to watch than ABC’s Rookie Blue, but just because the team is young and can’t buy back-to-back wins, that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate one of the game’s best pitchers. Keep doin your thing Johan, thank you so much for not going to the Yankees.

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Torii Hunter's former team was elminated by the Yankees. Will his current team suffer the same fate?

Torii Hunter's former team was elminated by the Yankees. Will his current team suffer the same fate?

For the Angels, the path is a certain and familiar one as they take on the New York Yankees, who broke out the brooms last night with their 4-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.  For the Dodgers it could be just the same, as they watch the Philadelphia Phillies try and wrapup their  series with the Rockies tonight.

The Angels went 5-5 against the Yankees this season in a series of games that neither team was ever really out of, with the exception of the three-game sweep by LA at home just before the All-Star Break.  This has certainly been a trend for the Angels, who own the Yankees when they meet in Anaheim.  This will be a matchup between two teams that are as different in style in terms of play on the field as Hollywood and the South Bronx are in terms of glamor. The Angels will look to get it done the same way they always have against Yankee pitching by finding ways to get on base, and then running wild.  The Yankees know this, but with a defensive liability in at catcher in Jorge Posada, it’s hard to see them slowing down the Angels’ game plan.  The Yankees, on the other hand, will be looking for more of the same from Alex Rodriguez, who powered the Bronx Bombers past Minnesota, shedding his “Can’t get it done in October” moniker for the time being.  This should be a much more heated and contested series than these two teams had in the ALDS, and I fully expect it to go 6 or 7 games.

Assuming that Cliff Lee will pitch the way he did in Game 1 against Colorado, then we can safely say that the Phillies will advance to the NLCS to take on the Dodgers.  Of course, the last time I made this kind of assumption, I said the Twins were done and not making  the playoffs and look what happened there, but this time I’m confident that the Champs will prevail and advance to play Game 1 in Dodger Stadium.  The Dodgers desperately need to avoid getting into a high-scoring affair with the Phillies’ offense, because this plays right into what Philadelphia wants, as it makes it a battle to see which team’s pitching staff blinks first.  The Phillies should have a decided advantage in power and starting pitching, and have to feel like they have the best team remaining in the NL right now with the Cardinals being eliminated.  I struggle to see the Dodgers getting past Philly, but then again, I didn’t see them getting past St. Louis, either.

Joe Torre's L.A. Dodgers are one step closer to the World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday

Joe Torre's L.A. Dodgers are one step closer to the World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday

This was supposed to be a quick exit for Los Angeles.  They weren’t supposed to be able to get to the St. Louis Cardinals’ vaunted pitching staff.  This was supposed to be Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday’s playoff coming out party.  Apparently Joe Torre, Manny Ramirez, and the rest of the LA Dodgers didn’t get the message.

A decisive 5-1 victory in an abnormally quiet Busch Stadium, backed by seven shutout innings from the somewhat unlikely Vincente Padilla left no doubt about the NL West Champions, who all of a sudden look rejuvenated and as good as they did back in April and May when they first were called World Series contenders.

Even though the Cardinals’ bats were held in check to the tune of just six runs in three games, it’s hard to ignore the timely hitting from the Dodgers as a key factor in the sweep.  No player on the field had a bigger impact on the series than Andre Ethier, who has continued his late season tear into October, hitting .500 in the series with two home runs and three RBIs, including the 2-run home run in tonight’s game to make it 3-0 Dodgers in Game 3, and eventually 3-0 in the series for L.A.

Now the Dodgers get to sit and watch the Phillies and Rockies battle it out for the next two games of their series in wintry Denver, and potentially play an all-or-nothing game back in Philadelphia.  Either way, the winner of that series has to go out to Chavez Ravine, where a well-rested, well-managed, and maybe most importantly, a hungry Dodgers team will be lined up and primed for the NLCS.  Both teams bring up some big motivators for the Dodgers, as well.

If it’s the Rockies, the motivation is explicit.  A battle to end all battles of an NLCS against their closest rivals from the NL West.  A team that they beat 14 times in 18 games, and yet, it seemed like down the stretch that a lot more people were watching Colorado than Los Angeles.  It’s a great chance for the Dodgers to reclaim their supremacy on the West Coast, especially if they are to possibly meet the Angels in the World Series.

If it’s the Phillies, you better believe that closer Johnathan Broxton will be fired up.  In last year’s NLCS, it was Broxton who gave up the key home run to pinch hitter Matt Stairs that permanently shifted the series in favor of the defending World Champions.  Most of the members of that 2008 Dodgers team are still around and remember the feeling of getting beaten by the Phillies and will have that to feed off of if they come into Dodger Stadium for the second consecutive year for the NLCS.

Regardless of the result of the other NLDS series, the only thing that is certain at this point is that the Dodgers are not going to go silently, if not by their play, then simply by their surroundings.  Only time will tell if it’ll be a Hollywood ending in Mannywood.

Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as hes #1 on this list.

Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as he's #1 on this list.

Now that the playoff picture has pretty much all but taken its final shape, I have taken the liberty of removing any and all Twins or Braves from the remaining lists, so don’t be confused that the list stops at #8 as opposed to #10.  That being said, today we’re looking at the group of second basemen headed into the Divisional Series next week.  This is a group that is a good bit different from the first basemen in that some of these guys are really good, but you’ve never heard of them.  However, there is definitely more of a separation between the second basemen than their first base compadres.

1. Chase Utley, Phillies
I really had to look closely at both him and defending AL MVP Dustin Pedroia to determine which one is actually #1, but in the end it’s hard not to pick Utley because of what he means to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Utley has had another great offensive year as far as second basemen go, hitting .285 with 31 homers and 90 RBIs. He was named the starting 2B for the NL in the All-Star Game and is looking like he will win his 4th consecutive Silver Slugger Award.  He solidifies the middle of the Phils’ lineup with Ryan Howard and is probably the most popular man in the City of Brotherly Love. He also plays a solid defensive game, committing 12 errors in 153 games this season.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
I’m probably going to receive several complaints about Pedroia not being #1 on this list, but there are two reasons for that.  First, Pedroia, unlike Utley, is a top of the batting order guy, along with teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and to put a guy who isn’t the focal point of the team ahead of Utley would be just wrong.  Second, his numbers aren’t as good as last year, as he’s hitting .298 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs, all of which are down from the previous year.  However, the number that stands out with Pedroia is 45 strikeouts in 615 at bats this season.  There’s a reason he’s known as a pest by opposing pitchers, and that’s exactly why.  There might not be a player in the league who will fight off more pitches in a two strike count than Pedroia, which makes him extremely valuable in a situation where Boston needs to advance a runner or get a runner in.  He’s also one of the best defensive second basemen in the league.  The 2008 Gold Glove Award winner, Pedroia has committed only 6 errors in 150 games for the Sox this year.

3. Robinson Cano, Yankees
After a down year in 2008, Cano has had a pretty big comeback year, as he is amongst the AL leaders in batting average, hitting .322 and also has 202 hits on the year, including a career-high 25 home runs.  Cano has been a frustrating player for Yankees fans, at times, however, as he has a tendency to get a little to flashy with the glove, which has caused him to make 12 errors in 158 games this year.  Cano also has the luxury of hitting in a lineup behind guys like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, which is a solid explanation for the jump in his numbers in ’09.

4. Placido Polanco, Tigers
Polanco is one of the most underrated second basemen in the MLB every year.  Much like Dustin Pedroia, Polanco is extremely difficult to strike out, which he has only done 43 times in 599 at bats this season, making him in the very widely recognized stat category of at bats per strikeout for the third-consecutive year in the AL.  Polanco is also looking like the favorite to win his second career Gold Glove, as he has been stellar defensively all year, committing only 2 errors in 147 games for the Tigers.

5. Orlando Hudson, Dodgers
Hudson left the Arizona Diamondbacks after the 2008 season and was a player that was on a lot of teams’ wish list.  However, he didn’t sign until late in the free agent signing period with the LA Dodgers, but it hasn’t caused him to miss a beat in 2009.  The ’09 All-Star selection is having his best offensive season since ’06, which was his first year in Arizona, hitting .285, and is also just short of career highs in just about every major stat category.  The O-Dog also continues to play the position about as good as anyone in the Majors, committing only eight errors in 146 games, which puts him in position to be a candidate for his 4th career Gold Glove.

6. Howie Kendrick/Maicer Izturis, Angels
These two have spent the year splitting time at second base for the Halos, and their numbers are almost exactly the same.  Both are hitting right around .300 and lack power, but get on base a lot, which fits in nicely with Mike Scioscia’s overall strategy at the plate.  They have only committed 6 errors combined at 2B this year, as well, which would place them second in the AL behind Polanco if this were one player instead of two.

7. Skip Schumaker, Cardinals
Schumaker originally came up and looked like a super utility player for the Cards to hold onto.  However, Skip showed that he can hit in ’08 and has continued that through this season, hitting .303, which is important considering there are times when he bats in front of the pitcher, which explains his total lack of run production for the year with only 35 RBIs.  The permanency of him at second took a little while for him to adjust to defensively, as well, which explains his 9 errors in just 130 games at the position this year.

8. Clint Barmes, Rockies
Barmes looked like he was going to be the Next Big Thing after a great campaign in 2005.  However, after a disappointing ’06 and then a freak accident in the beginning of 2007, Barmes fell way off of everybody’s radar.  Now he’s working his way back at second base, rather than shortstop and has improved his power numbers, which is the norm for anyone on the Rockies, with career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (76).  However, he is still only hitting .246 on the year for a team that could use a few more contact hitters in its lineup.  He’s also committed 12 errors in 136 games at the position, making him one of the weaker second basemen going into the playoffs.

There are a lot of great first basemen on playoff teams, but there is only one Albert Pujols.

There are a lot of great first basemen on playoff teams, but there is only one Albert Pujols.

After having a fairly easy time ranking the catchers on the teams contending for playoff spots yesterday, I had to spend a lot more time on the first basemen that are potentially playoff-bound.  The thing that makes it so difficult is that none of these teams has a particularly weak 1B.  They all have shown that they can lead their respective teams, and all are proficient on offense and defense. This is the list that I came up with. I expect at least a few objections.

1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
OK, I don’t expect any objections on this one, though.  Pujols is simply the best player in the Majors right now, hands down.  From an offensive standpoint, he looks like the next candidate to be the player who will break all the major records.  He’s no slouch defensively, though, either.  This season, Pujols has only committed 12 errors this year and did win a Gold Glove in ’06. The Cardinals success, or lack thereof, in the playoffs this year lies heavily on The Machine.

2. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
Up to this point in the 2009 season, the $180 million dollar man has paid off with dividends for the New York Yankees, leading the AL in both home runs and RBIs.  The All-Star has also continued to live up to his reputation of being a very good defensive first baseman by committing only 3 errors on the year, putting him in line to potentially win his 2nd career Gold Glove.

3. Ryan Howard, Phillies
If not for Albert Pujols, Howard would be the NL first baseman everyone is talking about for the MVP this year.  His power numbers are fantastic, as always, and his average at .275 is a significant improvement from last season.  He is the heart and soul of the Phillies’ powerful offense along with Chase Utley and is one of the most dangerous men to have to face in a big spot in the league.  His defense is a bit suspect at times, committing 14 errors this year after 19 the previous year, but it’s a necessary risk for Philadelphia to take because it’s not like they can use him at DH in the NL.

4. Kevin Youkilis/Victor Martinez, Red Sox
Initially “Youk’s” position at the beginning of the year along with David Ortiz, Youkilis now splits time at first with Victor Martinez, usually replacing Mike Lowell at third.  Either one of them is a great option to have in the position, though, as they have combined to commit only one error in 99 games at first this season.  Also striking is the fact that they both are hitting over .300 this year and both have hit over 20 HRs and have over 90 RBIs.

5. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
In his first full season as solely a first baseman, Miguel Cabrera has excelled for the battling Detroit Tigers, hitting .329 with 33 home runs and 101 RBI, while only committing 7 errors in the field.  Unfortunately for Cabrera, he’s no longer a third baseman, which means that this year he is not in the MVP candidate talks in spite of his numbers.

6. Todd Helton, Rockies
Ol’ Reliable for the Colorado Rockies, all Helton wants is another chance to win a World Series like he had back in 2007.  His power numbers are significantly decreased from his prime, but he’s still hitting .323 for the year and hasn’t committed more than 5 errors in a season since he committed 11 in 2003.  He is the face of the Rockies’ organization and there might not be a guy in the league who wants to win more than Helton.

7. Adam LaRoche, Braves
Getting out of Pittsburgh might have been the best thing to ever happen to Adam LaRoche’s career.  At first, he was sent to Boston, where he lasted a whole six games before being sent to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman, where he has gone onto hit .344 in 52 games with the Braves and become the protection in the lineup that they have needed for Chipper Jones.  He’s also amongst the best defensive first basemen in the game, with a fielding percentage of .999 this year.

8. Kendry Morales, Angels
Another beneficiary of change, Morales finally got his chance to play full-time this year with the departures of Casey Kotchman and Mark Teixeira, and has solidified himself at the position for the LA Angels of Anaheim.  The 26-year old has been a catalyst for the Halos’ offense at times, hitting .303 with 33 home runs and 105 RBIs.  His defense has been passable, as well, committing 8 errors on the year.  However, it remains to be seen how Morales will react to his first time in the playoff spotlight.  If he struggles, the Angels might be in trouble against the Red Sox.

9. James Loney, Dodgers
Loney was a guy that a lot of people predicted to have a breakout year with the Dodgers, but hasn’t really lived up to those expectations, hitting almost identically to his numbers from last year. In 2008, Loney hit .289, with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs.  This year, Loney is hitting .285, with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs.  No, that is not a typo.  He is the exact same player he was last season.  He has improved defensively from ’08 though, cutting his errors down from 13 in ’08 to seven in ’09.  Loney just doesn’t match up with the rest of the guys on this list, and isn’t necessarily the guy Joe Torre’s Dodgers are counting on to drive their offense in the playoffs.

10. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
It’s not even that I think Cuddyer isn’t good, because he is pretty darn good and he’s having a career year in ’09, with highs in hits, home runs, and slugging percentage, but he’s not a first baseman by trade.  Cuddyer is a player who can play just about any position on the field, but was forced to stick to first after Justin Morneau went down with his season-ending back injury.  In 28 games at first, Cuddyer has committed four errors, which, when looking at the rest of these guys’ defensive stats, is not very good.  I just worry about a player who is placed into an unusual situation in important games and what could potentially happen.

Mauer is the class of the catchers that could be playoff-bound this year.

Mauer is the class of the catchers that could be playoff-bound this year.

With the MLB Playoff picture beginning to take its final shape, it’s time to start looking at each of the teams still in the race and see how they stack up against each other.  For the next week, I’ll be breaking down all the teams on a position-by-position basis. Today, we look at the guys calling the games, which really is a case of the haves and have-nots.

1. Joe Mauer, Twins
The guy might not only be the best catcher in the playoffs this year, but he might be the best player in the AL.  Mauer has had an unbelievable season for the Twinkies, and has kept it up even after the injury to Justin Morneau.  If Minnesota is going to make the playoffs, they need this guy to rise to the occasion in the next three days and lead them past the Tigers.

2. Brian McCann, Braves
It’s ironic that the teams with the two best players at this position are currently the two teams that are on the outside looking in.  McCann is the heart and soul of the red hot Atlanta Braves, and exactly what you look for in a catcher.  Very sound defensively, some power in his bat, and widely recognized in the Braves clubhouse as a team leader.  The Bravos seem to go as McCann does, and lately he’s been hot.  With games left against the Marlins and Nationals, there’s a chance we’ll get to see McCann in the national spotlight during the playoffs.

3. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
One of the Molina catching trio, but certainly the best of that group and one of the best in the Majors.  Molina enjoys quite a few comforts in the lineup, batting behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, but even before Holliday came to St. Louis he was one of the better offensive catchers in the game.  Defensively he is often regarded as one of the best, and catching for guys like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright hasn’t hurt him too much, either.

4. Jason Varitek/Victor Martinez, Red Sox
Had the Boston Red Sox not made the deal for Victor Martinez at the trade deadline, it’s hard to say where exactly they would have ended up.  V-Mart has increased the stability of the catcher position in Boston, and Varitek has responded with improved play in the second half.  Having both of them in the lineup in also a plus, as Martinez has really taken advantage of hitting in Fenway Park.  They are both very good game managers, as well, which is going to be important when they take on the Angels in the Divisional Series (barring a complete and utter collapse and the Rangers winning out.)

5. Russell Martin, Dodgers
Martin hasn’t had the offensive impact for the Dodgers that many were expecting him to have, but he remains an important piece of the puzzle for Los Angeles behind the plate, with a .994 fielding percentage this year, as well as throwing out 31% of all baserunners this season, which is important against teams that seem to always get more aggressive in the playoffs.

6. Jorge Posada, Yankees
Posada has the most playoff experience out of all of the catchers on this list and he would be much higher on here, but recent injuries have got to be a major concern for the Yankees and their aging catcher.  If New York deems that Posada can only DH for them, that means that they have to plug in Jose Molina or Francisco Cervelli into the lineup for every game during the playoffs and possibly bench someone like Hideki Matsui, which is a big blow to the vaunted Yankee offense.

7. Mike Napoli, Angels
It’s not that I don’t think highly of Mike Napoli, it’s just that the overall impact that he has on his team isn’t nearly as big as the players ahead of him on this list.  He is more than a serviceable player behind the plate, and has come up with some big hits for Los Angeles of Anaheim of California, et cetera, this season, but he just isn’t a huge part of the Angels’ master plan to win their first World Series since ’02.

8. Gerald Laird, Tigers
Most people don’t even realize that Gerald Laird is the Tigers’ starting catcher, especially since Brandon Inge is still widely listed as a catcher, and that’s because Laird hasn’t really had to do much this season, working with one of the better pitching staffs in the Majors, while being nicely protected in the bottom third of Detroit’s lineup.  Much like Napoli, he isn’t really a huge part of the Tigers as a team.

9. Chris Iannetta/Yorvit Torrealba, Rockies
I really don’t know what to make of these guys, or most of the Rockies, for that matter.  I don’t think that their really all that good on offense or defense, but they do what they can for Colorado.  They benefit from playing in Coors Field, but that’s just about all you can say about them.

10. Paul Bako/Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
It’s not good when you have Carlos Ruiz as your Opening Day catcher. It’s worse when you have to platoon him with journeyman Paul Bako because of the fact that they are both liabilities on the field for the defending champion Phillies.  This is a position where the Phils are going to have to make a decision on during the off-season.  They have some decent talent in the minors, but they might want to go out and look at a short-term fix, such as Paul Lo Duca or Johnny Estrada to but themselves more time.

If The Freak can get San Francisco into the Playoffs, he could wreak havoc in October.

If "The Freak" can get San Francisco into the Playoffs, he could wreak havoc in October.

In a September in which playoff races are looking pretty dead and all but settled, there is one race between two very different teams that gives us a reason to keep paying attention.

Currently, barring a miraculous comeback, the San Francisco Giants are about to take down the Colorado Rockies and cut their deficit in the Wild Card to 2 1/2 games.  So really the only relevant question that remains in either league is which one of these teams is going to take the last playoff spot and play in October (although since the regular season ends in October this year, I guess that’s not a great question).

The Giants have what every good postseason team needs to have when it counts in its excellent starting pitching with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and the resurgent Barry Zito.  If the Giants make it into the playoffs this is certainly a team to look out for because of how difficult its going to be to beat them in a short series.  Unfortunately for San Francisco, their great pitching is offset by an offense that at times can be almost completely non-existent.  Pablo Sandoval has been a huge part of the Giants’ offense throughout the year, and if guys like Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina can provide some support, then they might just have a chance to make a deep playoff run, but it’ll take an offensive output that we have yet to see on a consistent basis from this squad.

The Rockies, on the other hand, are looking to bring back “Rocktober” from the ’07 season, when they went on a tear up until they were swept in the

One of the most consistent hitters of the past decade, Todd Helton would love one more shot at postseason glory

One of the most consistent hitters of the past decade, Todd Helton would love one more shot at postseason glory

World Series by the Boston Red Sox.  What they have going for them is the same thing that every Colorado team always has going for it in their offense, which can score in bunches.  Their lineup has a great balance of speed, in players like Dexter Fowler, average in Todd Helton, and power in basically anyone who has ever played in Coors Field.  All that makes them pretty dangerous and got them back into the NL West race with the Dodgers up until this recent slump.  Again though, the Rockies pitching staff isn’t exactly one of the most spectacular in the league, although it is vastly improved from where it has been at times in the past.  Ubaldo Jimenez is their ace, and with Jason Marquis and I guess Jorge De La Rosa as the next two in their rotation.  Jimenez got shelled by the Giants tonight, and that’s not a good sign for Colorado. 

So for now, there really is only one show in town if you are an MLB fan and the NL Wild Card race is it.  Looking at the remainder of the schedule, it could become even more interesting if both teams can get hot and put some pressure on Los Angeles, but for now we’ll assume that the Dodgers will avoid the collapse and win the NL West.  Meanwhile, somewhere in the bowels of his personal offices in Milwaukee or the MLB main offices in New York, Bud Selig is looking for ways to make the last three weeks of the regular season go faster.  Playoff baseball could not come soon enough this year.