Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lightning Round

The tournament known as the baseball playoffs begin tonight. The miracle series (Phillies vs. Rockies) in the NL and the Red Sox vs. the Angels in the AL. I guess it's time for me to make my predictions. First I'll give you a wrap up of my preseason picks for the playoffs. In the AL I was 100% accurate. Thank you, thank you very much. As far as the NL goes, I was slightly less accurate. The Phillies winning the east was all I got right and that took a collapse of historical proportion by the Mets. Oh well, five out of eight isn't too bad, but I do expect more from myself. I was incredibly wrong on the Dodgers, who played the last two months of the season like a minor league team. The Brewers made me look bad again. They were in first place for most of the season, but could not maintain it down the stretch. I'm sure I'll end up picking them again next year (thanks Amy and Claire). However, I was correct in stating that neither of last years World Series participants would make the playoffs. All in all a very mediocre effort. Almost Steve Phillips like (although I have to apologize to Steve for ridiculing him when he said that the Mets wouldn't make the playoffs and the Rockies would win the wildcard. He also said the Yankees wouldn't make it so I'm still holding that against him). Arod will win the MVP in the AL, Pujols will not win it in the NL. I picked Jake Peavy to win the Cy Young last year, so I'm going to take partial credit for that one. I just didn't think that he would be able to stay healthy all year. My AL Cy Young pick Rich Harden got hurt in the first month of the season and never recovered, so I'm going to give my self a pass on that one.

Now lets get on to picking the winners of the division series'. The Red Sox finished with the best record in baseball and are playing a Angels team that is a little banged up. Tim Wakefield is out for the Red Sox, but it won't hurt them at all because they opted for the longer series format which only requires them to use three starting pitchers. That means Beckett and Schilling would get two starts a piece in a five game series. The Angels are a scrappy bunch of players and they seem to have the Yankees number, but I don't see them getting past the Red Sox. The Red Sox have too much offense (as long as Manny is healthy and Ortiz stays hot) and just enough pitching to lose to the Angels. My call is the Red Sox in four.

In the NL the Phillies and Rockies face off in the most improbably series in baseball history. The odds against two teams who were down by 6-1/2 games with 14 games to play both making the playoffs are probably astronomical. I can't remember a more improbable ending to a season. The Rockies come in as the hottest team in baseball, having won 14 of their last 15 games. The Phillies are no slouches in the heat department as they won 13 of their last 17 to overtake the Mets and win the East. So who has the advantage? Given that the offenses of both teams are capable of putting up a lot of runs (they ranked one and two in runs scored in the NL), the difference may come down to the bullpens. Both teams are relying on pitchers who did not have the closers job when the season started. Manny Corpas has been very effective for the Rockies since taking over the closing duties from Brian Fuertes while the Phillies have relied on converted starter Bret Myers since Tom Gordon got hurt. Corpas has been more effective pitcher since the All-Star Break and that may just be enough to put the Rockies over the top. I'm going to pick the Rockies in five.

The Cubs are playing the Diamondbacks in the other NL series. The Diamondbacks are another improbable playoff team. They have a team of young position players, one very good starter and a closer who led the league in saves. The Cubs spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the off season and during the season (signing Carlos Zambrano to a long term deal) and have reached the playoffs for the first time since the infamous Steve Bartman year of '04. The Cubs have a balanced offense, good starting pitching and of course the fiery and overrated Lou Pinella in the dugout. So clearly I have no choice but to pick the Diamondbacks to win this series. I'll pick Arizona in five with Brandon Webb winning games one and five at home.

That just leaves the Yankees and the Indians. the Yankees dominated the Indians during the regular season (just like they did the Tigers last year) going 6-0. The Indians have very little playoff experience (just like the Tigers last year). They also have the best one-two combination of starters in the AL in Carmona and Sabathia. By some fluke, the Yankees haven't faced Sabathia in three years and while they have good numbers against him, those numbers were compiled when Sabathia was a much different pitcher. The Yankees will counter with Wang and Pettite, but the pitching edge, at least in the first two games has to go to the Indians. Jeter and Arod have to come up big against Sabathia for the Yankees to have any chance at stealing game one. The problem with that scenario is that Arod actually hits better against right handers and Sabathia is lethal on left handers (they hit .203 against him). It might be a long night in Cleveland. Andy Pettite's presumed big game pitching is mostly a myth. He has pitched well in some big games and he's gotten bombed in others. Carmona has a 2.26 post all-star game ERA and was probably the best pitcher in the AL in the second half. He pitched twice against the Yankees this year without a win, but that was before the Indians turned their season around. The Indians actually have a better record than the Yankees over the past 30 games. So potentially the Yankees could be down 2-0 coming back to the stadium and would have Roger Clemens going to the mound in the first time in a month. Roger is coming back from a hamstring injury and will not be at 100%. If he's not able the go the options for the Yankees would be either the very inconsistent Mike Mussina or the rookie Phil Hughes. I just don't see the Yankees winning this series, in fact I think that they will be hard pressed not to get swept. The Yankees have the best offense in baseball, but at this time of year, it's about pitching (as the Tigers proved last year) and I just don't think that they have the pitching to stack up to the Indians. My call is the Indians in four.

That's it for now. I certainly hope I'm wrong about the Yankees. I would hate for the season to come to an end next week, but it might. I'll hope for the best but expect the worst. Good luck to everyone who still has a dog in the hunt.



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