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.

A-Rod powered the Yankees past Minnesota. Does he have an encore performance for Hollywood?

A-Rod powered the Yankees past Minnesota. Does he have an encore performance for Hollywood?

The American League championship is a battle between East and West as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim set to do battle starting on Friday night in The Bronx.  Before that, though, let’s take a look at both of these teams head-to-head.

Catcher
The Angels seem to have finally found their long-term solution behind the plate in Mike Napoli, who has really begun to play well on a consistent basis.  He also has a great relationship with an Angels’ pitching staff that might have the most depth of all the remaining teams in the playoffs.  The Yankees, on the other hand, caused some waves by electing to use backup catcher Jose Molina in Game 2 of the ALDS to catch Jorge Posada.  Although, with his series-clinching home run in Game 3, it’s hardly a debate in New York as to who the true starting catcher is.  In the end, it’s always a comfort to have someone who is young behind the plate and can deal with all the pitchers in his battery.

Advantage: Angels

First Baseman
This is much more clear cut than catcher was.  Mark Teixeira had an unbelievable regular season and stands to possibly win the MVP award this year.  Kendry Morales, while he played very well this year, is not the man he is attempting to replace who is, ironically enough, Mark Teixeira.

Advantage: Yankees

Second Baseman
Again, this position is simply a case of having a consistent and solid player against having a platoon system of two sometimes good players.  Robinson Cano had a bounce back year this season, putting himself back in the upper echelons of second basemen in the American League.  Meanwhile, after holding the second base slot for most of the year, Howie Kendrick lost the spot to Maicer Izturis, neither of whom bring the productivity or the talent to their team that Cano does.

Advantage: Yankees

Third Baseman
This is actually a tougher call than I initially thought it would be.  On the one hand, the Yankees have Alex Rodriguez, who, in spite of missing a month of baseball and being under the steroid cloud, still hit for 30 and 100.  On the other hand, the Angels have Chone Figgins, who is a do-it-all kind of player and is usually the key to their offense’s overall success.  At the outset of the playoffs, I would have definitely taken Figgins based off of A-Rod’s lack of postseason success.  However, it looks like he’s shaking those demons and will be a key factor in the ALCS.

Advantage: Yankees

Shortstop
Erick Aybar has been quite a revelation for the Angels this year, and that continued into the playoffs with his .364 average against the Boston Red Sox, which is unreal production from the #9 spot in any team’s lineup.  The Yankees counter with their captain, Derek Jeter, who has proven time and again that he just knows how to win.  He may not always light up the scoreboard, but Jeter finds ways to have an impact that most players don’t.

Advantage: Yankees

Outfield
The Angels have an outfield that is very experienced and very dangerous.  They have Torii Hunter, who is playing hungrier for winning than any other player in the postseason right now, Bobby Abreu, who would love nothing more than to beat his former team and get to the World Series they promised him, and Juan Rivera, who since leaving New York for Los Angeles, has been a thorn in the side of Yankee pitching.  The Yankees have an outfield of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, the three of which combined for 4 hits in the ALDS and will face even better pitching and will probably be challenged defensively much more in this series.

Advantage: Angels at all 3 positions.

Starting Pitching
This is where the series will be won and lost.  There is no denying the strength of the front of the Yankee rotation with Sabathia and Burnett.  There is also no denying that the Angels are very deep with Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir.  It’s almost impossible to determine which is going to win out. Either way, expect some pitching duels in the series.

Advantage: Push

Bullpen
The Yankees have continuously touted the new-found strength of their middle relief this season, but it was less than convincing against the Minnesota Twins.  The Angels’ bullpen isn’t heard from all that much, and that’s because their fairly mediocre.  The tipping point is that the Yankees have the greatest closer in postseason history backing their bullpen, while the Angels have Brian Fuentes, who is basically untested in the playoffs in his career.

Advantage: Yankees, just slightly

Prediction: The positional breakdown is fairly even between these two teams as far as I am concerned, and it’s hard to determine because the teams play much different styles of baseball. That’s why it’s going to be those so-called “intangibles” that will win this series. Can the Yankees overcome their lack of postseason success against Los Angeles, or will the Angels work their way past them yet again?  As far as I’m concerned, the Angels and Yankees are the same teams that they were the last time they faced, another time the Yankees were favored against them.  Los Angeles might even be better than they were in 2002 when they won it all, and that’s why I’m taking the Angels in Six.

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 has had one of the best offensive seasons ever, but it still might not be enough to win the AL MVP.

Mauer has had one of the best offensive seasons ever, but it still might not be enough to win the AL MVP.

Somewhere in the bowels of the soon-to-be vacant Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome there is a player who is quietly having one of the most spectacular offensive seasons in Major League history, and yet, almost no one is recognizing the tremendous numbers that Joe Mauer has put up in 2009.  Mauer enters tonight’s showdown with the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers hitting at a just silly clip of .374 for the year with 27 homers and 87 RBIs.  Name the last catcher to have that kind of season?  That’s right, no catcher has ever hit like this before. Not Johnny Bench, not Yogi Berra, not Carlton Fisk.  In fact, name the last player to hit .375 with 30 homers and 100 RBI.  It’s only happened to three players in Major League history, four times by Babe Ruth, and once a piece by Ted Williams and Stan Musial.  That’s pretty amazing company for the somewhat underappreciated Twins catcher to be in.

In spite of these facts, though, Mauer has only been getting sniffs of the MVP talk.  This is a combination of several things. One is that the Twins are a mediocre 74-72 right now, but with a few wins over the Tigers down the stretch, they could sneak into the playoffs.  Another is that he doesn’t get the exposure of players like Mark Teixeira because he plays in small-market Minnesota.  The last is that his numbers aren’t legitimate because he missed all of April with an injury.

The small-market argument is probably the most compelling argument of the bunch.  It’s extremely difficult to escape the so-called East Coast Bias that exists through media outlets like ESPN.  Also, the reach of both the fanbase of the Yankees and the expansive national and international coverage that New York receives dwarfs anything the Minneapolis Star-Tribune can do for Mauer and the Twinkies.

The injury argument is one that can be looked at with respect to its face value.  Yes, Mauer missed a month’s time and therefore his numbers might be inflated.  However, I take the position that it’s that much more impressive that a guy could miss all of spring training and the first month of the season and get thrown right back into the fire and play at as high a level as Mauer has this year.  It just doesn’t happen.  I think that when all is said and done that Mauer has the ability to become the greatest offensive catcher in the history of the game.

So what does Mauer and/or the Twins have to do so that their star catcher snags the MVP award?  Well for starters, the Twins have to make the playoffs

Justin Morneau won the AL MVP in 06. Could his season-ending injury actually help Joe Mauer?

Justin Morneau won the AL MVP in '06. Could his season-ending injury actually help Joe Mauer?

and become relevant in the national baseball picture this year.  They’ll have plenty of opportunities as they face the Tigers 7 times in their final 16 games.  Also, it’s crucial that they don’t get swept out of the playoffs if they happen to make it.  Assuming they play the Yankees in the Divisional Series, they face an uphill battle, as they are a robust 0-7 against New York this year.  However, regular season series has proven to be unimportant in the past (See Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees, 2007 playoffs).

Other than that, Mauer can certainly help himself by getting on a hot streak over the remainder of the regular season that pushes his numbers to that .375/30/100 level, which would look even better considering that he no longer has Justin Morneau in the middle of the lineup with him.  That by itself might be just enough to push him over the top with voters, regardless of the Twins making the playoffs or not.