So the local team is out of the playoffs -- that should be a surprise to no one. And in typical postseason fashion, the Atlanta Braves tortured their fans with hope (Game 2), then delivered a sobering punch to the gut (Game 3), and finally, laid down (Game 4) to give the San Francisco Giants the best-of-three NLDS.
So the Braves, and their legendary manager, are done -- out of the picture.
But playoff baseball plays on.
There are four teams left -- New York and Texas in the American League and San Francisco and Philadelphia in the National League.
Any combination of these teams could make for a good World Series matchup. The underdog Giants making an improbable run to the finals -- and they have the pitching to do it -- would certainly be a remarkable story. And what about the Yankees going for back-to-back titles (and an American professional sports record 28th championship overall) in the wake of George Steinbrenner's death?
Those subplots take a back seat to the best available matchup left -- Phillies vs. Rangers.
In a given season, the Rangers wouldn't be likely to generate any excitement for the average baseball fan, but not this year. A Phillies-Rangers matchup makes the best story for two reasons: Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.
Last year, the Phillies acquired Lee before the trade deadline and he delivered in the postseason, going 4-0. The Phillies lost to the Yankees in the World Series four games to two, but Lee won both Philadelphia games.
However, come the offseason, Lee's postseason performance wasn't enough to keep him in a Phillies uniform, because the Philadelphia front office wanted Halladay. So the Phillies shipped Lee, who had one year remaining on his contract, to Seattle for prospects, and acquired Halladay.
Halladay has been everything the Phillies envisioned and more. He's the reason the Phillies won the NL East, a constant in the rotation through all of Philadelphia's injuries. He went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and 219 strikeouts and is a lock for this year's Cy Young. He's thrown two no-hitters this season, the second coming against the Reds in Game 1 on the NLDS, which set the tone for Philadelphia's sweep of Cincinnati.
Lee, on the other hand, was pitching for the worst team in the majors in the Mariners, but still managed to post an 8-3 record with them despite minimal run support. Clearly without hope of a postseason berth, the Mariners shipped Lee to their division rival, the Rangers, shortly before the deadline in exchange for prospects.
Like Halladay for the Phillies, Lee became the ace Texas envisioned when it acquired him. Lee won Games 1 and 5 for the Rangers in the ALDS, tossing a 120-pitch, complete-game gem against Tampa Bay in the deciding game.
Now Halladay and Lee appear on a collision course to meet in the World Series.
The Phillies thought they needed Halladay more than Lee to get past the Yankees, though Lee beat the Yankees twice in the '09 World Series. How ironic would it be for Lee to get past the Yankees in a Rangers uniform, then face and beat his former Phillies squad that includes Halladay?
That's a tall order for Lee, but that's the best story left in these playoffs.