Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MLB Division Series Playoff Preview

Not everything in the baseball world is dark and miserable, hoping against hope that there is light at the end of this 12 year losing tunnel. However, if you ask most of my friends and neighbors in Michigan, they would probably disagree with that sentiment. The Tigers fell in 12 innings to the surging Twins, who will truck their physically and emotionally exhausted team to New York to take on the best team in baseball. Not to ignore the climax of the baseball season for the sake of the first half of football season, I thought it might be nice to give some thoughts on the four opening round playoff matchups, and give myself another opportunity to make some bad predictions (however, I have predicted the winner of all the Ravens games so far, with pretty close margins of victory/loss compared to the final result).

Yankees – Twins
The Yankees have it all- solid starting pitchers (though they complain that they want to add more starting pitching, every team says that and the Yankees are in better position than most), a lock-down closer in Mariano Rivera, and a team of position player All-Stars. The Twins come in with almost no advantage save for Joe Mauer and the guts they used to catch up with the Tigers down the stretch. The Rangers, Marlins, and Giants all had records good enough to win the AL Central. That tells me that the Twins will need a little bit more of that 17-4 finish to the season in order to ride this series to a win. Their run will bring back recollections of the 2007 Rockies who rode a 21-1 end of September, including a playoff game against the Padres to take the Wild Card. However, this is not the 2007 Rockies. The Twins were not unbeatable in September and the 2009 AL is a heck of a lot tougher than the 2007 NL. Minnesota will take a game at home, but nothing more.

Yankees advance to ALCS, 3-1.

Dodgers – Cardinals
Does Los Angeles really have a better record than St. Louis? It certainly hasn’t looked like a better team over the second half of the season. There are plenty of teams that missed out on the playoffs entirely that are looking better than the Dodgers have. They did well to put away the Rockies and keep them from the division lead, but this team had the division wrapped up in May, they should not have had to hold anyone off to win this one. Meanwhile, the Cardinals emerged from a crowded NL Central and thumped any other contenders to the curb as they took over mid-season. They have the best pitching duo left in the playoffs in Carpenter and Wainwright, and they are going up against one of the better hitting lineups in the majors. However, so are the Dodgers, but Randy Wolf and Chad Billingsley aren’t exactly earth-shattering pitchers. L.A. flamed out last year, and they give a repeat performance. A few homers from Manny might give L.A. a game, but I am betting that the bats of Matt Holiday and Albert Puhols will keep the Cards on top.

Cardinals advance to the NLCS, 3-0.

Phillies – Rockies
“In the playoffs it is all about pitching.” “In the playoffs you have to be able to win in the clutch.” Take these two (cliché) sayings together and you have why people are worried about the Phillies. In a word, it’s the closer. Brad Lidge is a shell of last season’s perfect self, but everything else about the Phils is either static or slightly improved from last year from a personnel standpoint. Then again, if you are leading by 4 runs in the 9th, who closes it out isn’t all that important. What does worry me is that Philadelphia hasn’t played a meaningful game in a while; this team had the NL East all but wrapped up by August, some ephemeral Marlins and Braves runs notwithstanding. The Rockies haven’t exactly been gangbusters lately, but they were forced to take control of the Wild Card chase and hold off the loaded Giants head to head. This team knows how to win in the playoffs, but the rested and talented Phils have too much starting pitching. J.A. Happ, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, and Cole Hamels make this team too deep for the Rockies to beat… but they will make it tough on the defending champs.

Phillies advance to the NLCS, 3-2.

Angels – Red Sox

The Angels in the playoffs are like the Texans in the regular season. Every year you look at their roster and want to predict success, and every year those hopes are dashed by the perennial powerhouse teams. However, the Angels don’t usually play against a team that has had as many questions as the Red Sox have this last month. Josh Beckett hasn’t been his old self, and Jon Lester is the only Sox starter who I trust to pitch a lights-out game. Tonight he goes up against John Lackey, with Jered Weaver waiting in the wings. If Lester goes down, Boston will have to hope that their postseason pitching finds its familiar magic. The Red Sox will make this one difficult due to their success against the Angels in the past, but the Angels have plenty of bulletin board ammunition after they were robbed by the umpires at Fenway Park earlier in the season. Scott Kazmir is a wild card here. If he gets the ball against his former division foe, it could be feast or famine. If he plays like he has in 6 starts with the L.A./Anaheim/California/Golden State/Greater Western U.S. Angels, the Red Sox could let this one slip. This could be determined on the basepaths, where the Angels steal crazy while the Red Sox catchers couldn’t throw out Magglio Ordonez. This one is by far the toughest one to pick.

Angels advance to ALCS, 3-2.

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