Dwindling Cigar Opportunities in Baseball's Playoff Cities
A great season is behind us and a promising postseason lies ahead, but with fewer places to enjoy a cigar in the cities hosting the playoffs this year. After the recap of who's in, we've put together a list of places where you can still go have a cigar.
Holy cow! That's about as much Yankees lore that I'm going to invoke and only for the benefit of a certain Cigar Aficionado editor. The Bombers failed to make the October festivities for the first time in 13 seasons, which means NO October baseball in New York. In truth, I mention this mostly because their former longtime manager has made the playoffs this year, with a new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Joe Torre is back and so are some of the best cigar enjoyment opportunities in the country.
Torre takes into the playoffs a team that at times saw so much bickering in the clubhouse that it's amazing the Dodgers emerged with a winning record. Thanks go not only to the acquisition of Manny Ramirez, who put up a season's worth of career numbers in less than half the time it would take most players to achieve in a full campaign, but also to former Cleveland Indians solid citizen Casey Blake. Together, ManRam and Blake beefed up a sorry power-hitting team.
The most surprising team of the 2008 season is the Tampa Bay Rays. Just take "Devil" out of your name and the heavens reward you, I guess. Or maybe they won the American League East because they play in a stadium THAT HAS A CIGAR BAR. Sweet! The Rays did it with clutch play and hitting, plus a canny ability not to fold against the Red Sox and Yankees in their series. The Rays did it with a payroll of $44 million, less than half the Major League average of $90 million and the second lowest in the majors. Only the Marlins were cheaper.
While everyone who loves baseball should celebrate the Rays being in the playoffs, they still generate questions like, "So, is Evan Longoria the brother of Eva Longoria?" (No. But he does want to meet her. Duh!) You'll know more soon.
What the heck happened to the White Sox and did Ozzie Guillen's head explode yet? I mean, like, literally after the Pale Hose lost five of the last six. It's not as if the Twins are a bad team, but losing three straight to them in the last week is as close to choking as you can get. Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who won the AL batting title, and possible league MVP first baseman Justin Morneau lead the Twins against Chicago Tuesday in a one-game playoff for the chance to meet the Rays. The ChiSox beat the Twins in dramatic fashion as pitcher John Danks, going on three days' rest, led Chicago to a 1-0 victory. It's not as if the season isn't long enough, huh?
The Boston Red Sox are back, but weakened offensively, if not spiritually, by the loss of Ramirez and by injuries to Mike Lowell, the MVP of last year's World Series, and David Ortiz. They'll play the Angels, who owned the Crimson Hose during the season, but have historically had trouble against Boston in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were the only team to win 100 regular-season games. Mark Teixeira is the latecomer to the Halos and the first baseman has made them a significantly more potent offensive threat. Pitching is a little suspect, though Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez is the new record-holder in saves notched in a season with 62. Of course, that's also an indication that the Angels play a lot of close games.
In the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers snuck in, winning the wild card (and providing the chance to visit one of my favorite cigar perches, Blu at the Pfister Hotel). They fired Ned Yost as their manager late in the season and that seemed to work. At least ownership will claim it did. The same move obviously didn't work as well for the Mets, whose latest distinction is to become the only team to be knocked out of the playoffs by losing their last game at home two seasons in a row. And to the same opponent!
Prince Fielder is always exciting to watch, as is late-season acquisition CC Sabathia, without whose pitching on Sunday and 10 previous wins the Brewers are now playing golf. The Brew Crew will face the Phillies. Good luck with that. Ryan Howard is just smoking every at bat, finishing the season with 48 homers. This is a series in which defense could make a very big difference as the Phils have been somewhat deficient all year.
The very-different-from-early-in-the-season Dodgers face the Cubs, who won the regular-season series 5-2, with the first playoff game at Wrigley. This could be — should be — the year that curses are broken. Lou Piniella is probably Chicago's MVP and the Cubs have the pitching that is likely to carry them far. All the way to Anaheim, helmed by Mike Scioscia, pitting arguably the two best managers in baseball against one another.
Here are my highly unemotional picks for each series, made with the pragmatic understanding that I visit ballparks in Southern California more than I visit them in Illinois. Let the arguments begin.
The numbers correspond to the minimum number of cigars per series you'll be able to smoke.
Angels vs. Red Sox: Angels in 4
Rays vs. Twins/White Sox: Rays in 5
Angels vs. Rays: Angels in 5
Cubs vs. Dodgers: Cubs in 4
Phillies vs. Brewers: Phillies in 4
Cubs vs. Phillies: Cubs in 5
Cubs vs. Angels: Angels in 7
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