MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Baseball's long road to the World Series is down to four teams: The Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League; and the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers in the American League. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays, to talk about those teams. Welcome, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: Detroit was the last team to book a spot in the league championship series. They did it with a three-to-nothing win over the Oakland A's in Oakland last night.
FATSIS: And it was all about Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander, eight innings, didn't allow a hit for the first six and two-thirds of them. His pitches averaged 95 miles per hour. A year ago, Verlander also shut out Oakland in a deciding fifth game, so after last night, someone cheekily edited the A's Wikipedia page and changed owner to Justin Verlander.
SIEGEL: Ah, that's cruel. So Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals. Those are four franchises with a lot of history.
FATSIS: Yeah, four franchises that were founded between 1882 and 1901. The Dodgers and Cardinals have 18 World Series appearances apiece. The Red Sox have 12. The Tigers have 11. St. Louis, Detroit and Boston have been playoff and World Series regulars for the last decade. Your plucky story line is the low-budget Athletics, the lovable Pittsburgh Pirates returning to the playoffs after 20 years, those are all done.
SIEGEL: Well, since they're playing tonight in St. Louis, let's start with the Dodgers and the Cardinals.
FATSIS: Well, columnists are going to have a field day with this one. You can contrast the Cardinals' old-timey ownership, supposed player modesty and Midwestern goodliness of the fans with the Dodgers and their free-spending financial world owners, flashy players, star-laden fans. Both teams, though, have great frontline starting pitching.
Clayton Kershaw of L.A. simply has been the best pitcher in baseball the last two seasons. The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright has been one of the best post-season pitchers of the last decade. St. Louis has a very balanced lineup. L.A. has the Cuban defector Yasiel Puig, whose sudden arrival in the spring and his free-spirited play has just really made baseball a lot of fun this year.
SIEGEL: Great fun to watch. And Boston versus Detroit, Detroit's been the better team the last couple years.
FATSIS: Yeah, it's their third straight trip to the ALCS. The one-two starting pitching punch for Detroit, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, are amazing. Miguel Cabrera almost won his second straight triple crown for Detroit. He's likely to win a second straight most valuable player award.
As for Boston, it's a reconstructed team that went from last place to first place this season, only three holdovers from the 2007 team that won the World Series. The player to watch on Boston, I think, is Japanese closer Koji Uehara. He has a crazy season. He struck out 100 batters in 74 innings, gave up just one run every nine innings.
SIEGEL: By the way, Stefan, you mentioned the low-budget A's and Tampa Bay. Of the four teams that are in the league championship series, how do they rank in terms of payroll?
FATSIS: Well, overall, their ranking in baseball, the Dodgers are second, the Red Sox fourth, the Tigers fifth, the Cardinals 11th, and they are the top four biggest payrolls of the 10 teams that made the playoffs. Payroll hasn't mattered as much the last decade, you've seen better balance in baseball, but this year it's the top four that made it.
SIEGEL: And when you talked about Boston, we haven't yet mentioned the angry beards storyline. They've been growing beards all season long on the Red Sox team.
FATSIS: Yeah, they have. Remember those pictures from the barnstorming house of David baseball teams from the early and middle 20th century, Robert? That's the Red Sox. Some players started growing their beards in spring training. Now it's become one of those Boston things, beloved to fans there, tiresome to everyone else. So expect lots of shots of fans wearing fake beards in the stands, players tugging on each others' beards when something good happens to Boston.
SIEGEL: OK, thanks Stefan. Have a great weekend.
FATSIS: You too, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate magazine's sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.