Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baseball Playoff Preview

I was asked to write a preview for the baseball playoffs for CBS and since I was going to do basically the same thing here anyway, I figured it was silly to write the thing twice. I linked to that other site, but you might find it eerily similar to what follows here...

National League Playoff Preview
In a field full of have-nots, the Cubs have gone the longest (100 years) since winning it all. The Phillies won the World Series in 1980. The Dodgers have just one post-season win since winning the World Series in 1988. The Brewers have never won it all, and haven't played a postseason game since they lost the World Series in 1982.

National League Divisional Series - Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
The Dodgers are a franchise steeped in a winning has just been a while since they last added to it. The Cubs are a franchise embroiled in a 100-year-old curse. Something has to give!

The Cubs began 2008 as the favorites in the National League. They got out of the gate fast and stayed solid throughout the season, never being bitten too hard by the injury bug. Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter two weeks ago but was crushed in his next outing, leaving manager Lou Pinella with no sure idea what he will get from game to game. But the Cubs didn't finish with the best record in the league for no reason. They both a legitimate MVP candidate and CY Young in Derrek Lee and Ryan Dempster. They have a fearsome bullpen, scored the most runs in the National League and gave up the second fewest (the Dodgers gave up 23 fewer).

The Dodgers have ridden a solid second half into the postseason and must feel confidant after putting the division in their rear view mirror in August and September. Manny Ramirez proved pop in the middle of the lineup that they were sorely lacking and has woken up a lethargic offense. However, the Dodgers only went 7-7 down the stretch and but for a stretch earlier this month where they won 12 of 13, they would have finished the season five game under .500.

Prediction: Cubs in 3. The Cubs are loaded and the Dodgers have not played well of late and even since Ramirez has rejuvenated L.A., they have had the seventh best record of the playoff teams.

National League Divisional Series - Philadelphia Phillies vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Neither the Phillies nor the Brewers were sure they'd be in the playoffs until games 161 and 162 respectively, and both must have breathed sighs of relief come Monday morning. Both franchises, and indeed both cities, have been devoid of a title in decades, and their fans are hungry. One of these two snake-bitten towns is going to the NLCS.

The Phillies won the East largely because of the bat of Ryan Howard down the stretch, but Howard is not alone. This prolific offense features Chase Utley and the last two NL MVPs (Howard, Jimmy Rollins), and tied for the second most runs scored in the National League behind the Cubs. But it isn't all offense with the Fightin' Phils. They also allowed the third fewest runs in the League and feature the ageless 16-game winner Jamie Moyer and the game 1 starter Cole Hamels. If they lead late, it's over - Brad Lidge was a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities this season.

The Brewers are quite a story. Last year they came out on fire and withered late to miss the playoffs. This year, they came out cold and little by little worked their way up the ranks past the Astros and Cardinals and Mets and into the playoffs. They are rare in that they made the playoffs after firing their manager mid-season. They also have the single greatest weapon in the NL - CC Sabathia who was 6-0 at home with four complete games in 10 starts. The Brewers have five players with 20 or more homers including Prince Fielder with 37 and Ryan Braun with 34.

Prediction: Brewers in 5. Sabathia and Ben Sheets are a brutal 1-2 combo and match up well against a potent but strike-out prone Phillies offense. Look for a lot of balls leaving the yard in Philly.

National League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers vs. Chicago Cubs
The Brewers spent the last 150 games of the season tracking down the Cubs and ran out of games to do it they will use these seven to finish the job. The Brewers will be hard-pressed to rearrange the rotation to get Sabathia three starts in the series, but considering he is a free agent next month and they don't have the cash to keep him, they will ride him as far as they can get with him. Fielder, Braun and Mike Cameron are a powerful combo and the Cubs' Zambrano is too erratic to rely upon. Brewers in 6.

American League Playoff Preview
The Rays are crashing the October party for the first time in franchise history and will face three teams that are used to playing well after the weather turns cold. The Angels, Red Sox and White Sox have each won the World Series since 2002. So who's gonna survive to battle it out in the Fall Classic?

American League Divisional Series - Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
The two World Series favorites square off in the opening round after Tampa Bay's surprising win the the AL East. Last year the Red Sox swept the Angels out of the first round on their way to winning the World Series, but the Halos have a lot more offensive firepower this year and the Sox have question marks hanging over the heads of some key players.

Starting right fielder JD Drew has been suffering with lower back strain for much of the second half of the season but is expected to play. Starting third baseman and last year's World Series MVP Mike Lowell has had two trips to the disabled list and is questionable for this week. Ace starter Josh Beckett is suffering from a strained oblique and while manager Terry Francona, Beckett has been pushed back and will start game 3. The Sox will rely heavily on John Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka to carry the load for the first two games in Anaheim, but even without Lowell, Drew and Manny Ramirez, the Sox can still put up a lot of runs.

The Angels were cruising along this year and looked like presumptive favorites in the west before they traded for slugger Mark Teixeira, who not only brought his own big bat but also provided some protection for Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter. They rolled along to 100 wins behind one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball, complimented by perhaps the best bullpen. Even after locking up the division in April, they still kept the pedal down and are ready for the big time. The Angels are a complete ballclub and are playing at home for the rest of the month - and they will be playing for the rest of the month.

Prediction: Angels in 4. The Angels are too well-rounded and the Red Sox are too thin right now to compete.

American League Divisional Series - Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox
After perhaps the most improbable season in Major League Baseball history, the Rays are sitting at home as October begins once again. Only this time it is because they are hosting a playoff series, not watching on T.V. They face the White Sox who had to play an extra game Tuesday against the Twins to claim the AL Central's spot. The Sox survived what looked like a colossal collapse last week to make the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series in 2005.

The Rays had one of the great single-season turn-arounds of all time and did it without any major signings or trades. They are a home-grown, young team with talent at every position and now, with confidence as well. They held off the Red Sox and Yankees despite missing their brightest star, Carl Crawford, for much of the season. The Rays have had a few days to rest and set their pitching staff while waiting to find out who they would play, and while they had a great regular season, they are facing a team with far more postseason experience.

The White Sox won two uplifting games with the entire baseball world watching on Monday and Tuesday and will arrive in Tampa on a wave of emotion. Having recovered from the brink of elimination last week, they will feel like they are playing the postseason on house money. John Danks threw an eight inning gem on Tuesday to send the Sox to October, but more importantly, he allowed the bullpen to have a day off heading into the postseason.

Prediction: Rays in 4. The Rays are hot, while the White Sox are 2-6 in their last eight games against winning teams and 7-9 against losing teams - but they're good for a win at home in game 3.

American League Championship Series - Los Angeles Angels vs. Tampa Bay Rays
It would make for a great story if the Rays won this series and went to the World Series. It would be fun to watch an epic seven game slugfest between these two nice-guy franchises. Sadly, it ain't gonna happen. The high powered Angels will be too much for the team formerly known as the Devil Rays. The Angels have more experience, better pitching, better defense, better hitting and a better bullpen, and that pretty much says it all. The young players from Tampa will be able to cut their teeth against the White Sox, but Angels' balance will prove too much for the new kids on the block. Angels in 5.

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