To understand American history, Jon Lauck says you have to understand the Midwest's role in some critical events.
The National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers begins tonight.
The first pitch in the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers will be thrown tomorrow night at Fenway Park.
So who will win the pennants and advance to the World Series? We take out the crystal ball to find out.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
So staying with sports, the table is now set for Major League Baseball's pennant showdowns after the Detroit Tigers held off the Oakland A's in a do-or-die game 5 to capture the American League West last night. In the locker room, the Tigers recreated their game-end celebratory dance.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
YOUNG: Whoa. So the Tigers and their war dance now face the Boston Red Sox and their facial hair for the American League crown. In the National League Championships, the L.A. Dodgers meet the St. Louis Cardinals tonight. NPR's Mike Pesca is here. Mike, that Detroit Tigers dance, how great. Where did that come from?
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, Torii Hunter is the team leader. He's a really respected guy in baseball. In fact, during the all star game, he was the one who made Mariano Rivera give a speech in the locker room. And he's just a beloved, diffusive guy. And he invented this dance which he calls the Turn Up. It has a lot to do with - or it's clearly influenced by the Maori dance from New Zealand, the Haka, where they praise God and praise the sun and kind of intimidate opponents.
But it also has elements of - in football they do a breakdown in the huddle. So, you know, you see this. Like you said, the Red Sox are wearing their facial hair. That's sort of a tradition borrowed from hockey. When it comes playoff time in baseball, you see the influences maybe of other sports or other cultures.
YOUNG: Well, it seems to be having an effect. Last night, the Tigers starter Justin Verlander, eight scoreless innings, a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts, but a five game series. The Tigers have to be tired, and the Red Sox have been resting. Your thoughts.
PESCA: Well, I think that - I don't know if the dance had the effect. I think the cause and effect is Justin Verlander is lights out. He's drinking from the juice of the dominance jug these days. Justin Verlander is a great, great pitcher. But he wasn't really that great this year. He was very good at times, but something was off. Now when a pitcher has something off, the first thing, especially if it's a flamethrower, you look at his miles per hour. Is he losing velocity?
And Verlander wasn't losing velocity. It was maybe a mechanics problem. Well, in the last couple of games of the regular season and now here in the playoffs, he's gotten it all together. And he is, right now, the ace of baseball, along with maybe Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. So it sets up so that the Tigers will be able to have Max Scherzer, who could very well win the Cy Young, who was their number one starter in the division series, could have Justin Verlander, both pitched two games.
It only takes four games to win the division series. I know the red Sox are better rested. But, you know, rest, I guess they say, you know, we'll sleep during the off-season. And I would be pretty worried if I were a Red Sox fan about those two dominant Tiger aces.
YOUNG: Even though the Red Sox have gone from worst to first in the American League, and a writer, a local writer here, Dan Shaughnessy, refers to them as the Duck Dynasty-ZZ Top-Fidel Castro Red Sox with their facial hair. But take us to the Dodgers and the Cardinals. Your thoughts there.
PESCA: Well, the - so before the season started - sorry, before the playoffs started, Las Vegas was saying that the Red Sox and the Dodgers were the two favorites to win from each league. Some advance stats said the Tigers should be the favorite. But no one is saying anything other that in the NL, it should be the Dodgers. But you know baseball. There's a lot of chance and variation. And the - let's not count out the Cardinals.
The main assets that the Dodgers have is they have, again, great pitchers. I mentioned Clayton Kershaw. He's so dominant. Right behind him, they have Zack Greinke. And I think that the Cardinals, again, will have their hands full. But the Cardinals are an experienced club. The Cardinals, you know, they're not going to be intimidated by anything. And these four teams are such rich, historical teams. We're really set for a great World Series.
I know programmers at the networks that are airing the World Series were worried about something like, wait, what if Pittsburgh makes it? What if Tampa Bay makes it? You're going to have big markets with huge fan bases in the World Series.
YOUNG: Yeah. Cardinals also looking for their second World Series title in three years, their third since 2006. Dodgers haven't won the World Series since 1988. So there's a little bit of hunger there too.
PESCA: Oh, yeah, absolutely. But, you know, I don't know that Yasiel Puig who is their great young player even knows any of that history. And that's how Yasiel Puig rolls. He just kind of has his own drummer, jumps in swimming pools in the outfield at times. So he's kind of this unintimidated type guy.
YOUNG: So there you have it. Baseball's final four: L.A., St. Louis, Boston and Detroit. We'll see what happens. And Mike Pesca will be our guide. Mike, thanks so much.
PESCA: You're welcome.
YOUNG: And, Meghna, of course, we are going to remain impartial during the games. Pay no attention to the fact that we are growing beards.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
I was going to say exactly the same thing. Journalism integrity above all.
YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
CHAKRABARTI: I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.