Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Playoff Preview: Division Series

It is finally here! October baseball!

While some match-ups look to be very exciting, others could prove to be a little lopsided.

Here is my breakdown. Leading off, the National League:

Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies

This may be a more exciting match-up than it appears.

The Phillies may be favored, but Colorado has proven in the past that you can never count out a "Cinderella Story."

Philadephia has both the better starting lineup and starting rotation. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard once again proved in 2009 why they are arguably the scariest offensive right side of the infield. Raul Ibanez also had a pretty solid first year in the City of Brotherly Love, while Jason Werth had a career year with 36 home runs and 99 runs batted in, while swiping 20 and walking 91 times.

If Jimmy Rollins can break out of the funk that has seemed to plague him all season long (.250 BA, .296 OBP - both career lows), then the Phillie lineup will be absolutely lethal.

Out on the mound, Philadelphia's mid-season acquisitions of southpaw Cliff Lee and the always entertaining Pedro Martinez make the starting rotation extremely solid.

Lee should get the Game One start with Cole Hamels in Game Two and Pedro in Game Three. Rookie J.A. Happ would probably get the nod in a Game Four, should the series come down to that.

On the contrary, Philadelphia's weakness comes in the bullpen. Closer Brad Lidge who went a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities last season managed to blow 11 saves this season (leading the majors).

As a whole, the Phillie bullpen has blown 22 saves this season, so a lead in late innings does not mean a guarunteed win for Philadelphia.

Colorado had started the year off terribly under manager Clint Hurdle, going 18-28 under their former skipper. However, the team has since seemed to turn it around since the arrival of new manager Jim Tracy.

The Rockies have compiled a 74-42 record since Hurdle's departure.

In addition to claiming the National League Wild Card, Colorado even made a run at the National League West Division, keeping Los Angeles fans biting their nails until the second to last day of the regular season.

Simply put, while the Rockies do not have the talent of Philadelphia, they come into the playoffs riding a hot streak, just as they had in 2007 when they appeared in the World Series.

Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies over Colorado Rockies in five games.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Back in April and May, most people already had Los Angeles penciled in as the National League Champions. Now, that is not the case.

With a shaky starting pitching staff and their biggest slugger, Manny Ramirez, in a painful slump, Los Angeles has stumbled a bit down the stretch.

As mentioned, the Colorado Rockies almost managed to steal the division away from them in September.

In addition, many experts have pointed out that the Dodger core may just be too young to truly take the team all the way. While players such as Matt Kemp, Andre Eithier, and James Loney each had very good years, they may not have the discipline required to take a team to the World Series.

On the other side of the diamond, the Cardinals have, arguably, the best 1-2 punch in baseball, with starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright serving as a very formidable two-headed monster.

And of course, the Cardinals lineup contains some guy named Albert Pujols, who, after starting the year on fire, has appeared to slow down. However, protection from newly acquired left fielder Matt Holliday makes St. Louis's power threat very legitimate.

While I would expect this series to be much closer than most people are making it seem, the St. Louis pitching staff will probably prove to be too much for the stumbling Dodgers to handle, even under the guidance of manager Joe Torre.

Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals over Los Angeles Dodgers in four games.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Boston Red Sox

This has become a classic post-season rivalry, even if it has been grossly one-sided over the past five years.

Since 2004, the Red Sox and Angels have faced each other in the ALDS three times. Boston has won all three of those series, sweeping Los Angeles in two of the three.

This year, the Angels come into post-season play as the American League West Champions, while the Sox come in as the Wild Card.

Both teams appear to be very even, especially on the mound. On paper, both pitching staffs would appear to be equal, however, Angel ace John Lackey has not been himself this year and a good part of the rotation has been injured for a good portion of the year.

Boston, on the other hand, has their post-season magician in Josh Beckett going for them in Game Two, with 15-game winner Jon Lester set to go in Game One.

Conversely, the offenses could not be more different.

The Red Sox boast a power-packed, patient lineup. It features on-base machines the likes of Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, and even 5'7" second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Don't forget about Big Papi either. The average may have been down this year, but the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat is still very much there.

The Angels are built on speed and aggressiveness. Not only did they lead the American League in stolen bases for 2009 (148), but they also lead the league in moving from first to third on singles.

It is that aggressive nature that could make the Angels a nightmare for the Red Sox, especially for the Boston pitching staff and catchers. Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez have thrown out an extremely unimpressive 14.5% of base-stealers.

In addition, the Angels can answer Boston's power with the always dangerous Vladimir Guerrero, the surprise of the year Kendry Morales, and the always versatile Bobby Abreu.

Call me a bias Yankee fan, but I believe that this may finally be the year that Los Angeles gets the best of Boston.

Prediction: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over Boston Red Sox in five games.

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

Well, it meant overcoming unbelievable odds, but the Minnesota Twins will make it to the post-season for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.

Minnesota's comeback from seven games down with 26 left to play in early September came to a climax earlier this evening, as they beat the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in a one-game tiebreaker.

Now they turn to their attention to the well-rested boys in the Bronx.

The Yankees have been sitting pretty for a solid week and a half now, clinching their division and home field advantage on September 27th.

New York has also won the luxury of setting up their pitching rotation exactly the way that they want it, with CC Sabathia starting tomorrow and A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte to follow in Games Two and Three, respectively.

Meanwhile, the exhausted Twins will send rookie starter Brian Duensing, who has never pitched in the Bronx before, to the mound for tomorrow's 6:07 start.

While Minnesota has shown that it certainly has fight, going up against the New York lineup may prove to be a daunting task for a team that hasn't known the meaning of the word "rest" for a good three to four weeks now.

One thing the Twins could claim to have on their side is momentum. One of baseball's greatest cliches is that winning in the playoffs largely has to do with who is hot at the right time. However, this may not be enough to counteract against the power-laden Yankees.

The fact is that in addition to not having the talent that the Yankees have, the Twins may soon run out of gas, as well - especially after the 12 inning classic they participated in tonight.

In addition, the Yankees-Twins regular season series ended with a final record of 7-0 in favor of the Bombers in 2009.

Sad to say, but I would look for this heart warming story to come to an end in the Bronx.

Prediction: New York Yankees over Minnesota Twins in three games.

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