I’m looking forward to these playoffs more than any other playoffs since, well, 2006. All four series are evenly matched and real tough to predict, but I’m going to try, anyway.
The New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. The key to this series will be Game 2. CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander are about as evenly matched as you can get and should be co-Cy Young Award winners in fairness to both of them. But Jim Leyland has categorically, emphatically stated that he will not under any circumstances pitch Verlander in game four on short rest. And we know that doesn’t bother CC one bit. The Yankees can lose Game One and still win the series without having to face Verlander again. Game one will be a tossup, and the series will fall in the hands of two young, unproven, inexperienced kids, Ivan Nova for the Yankees and Doug Fister for the Tigers. After that, the pitching matchup favors the Yankees. The Tigers will start Max Scherzer in Game 3 against the crafty Freddy Garcia, and the Tigers Game 4 starter is TBA against CC. A potential Game 5 would see Nova on short rest against Verlander. That’s why Game 2 is so important. If the Tigers win Game 1, winning Game 2 would ensure at the very least Verlander will pitch again. If the Yankees win Game 2 to tie up the series, they still have a chance to avoid Verlander. Of course, if the Yankees take both games in the Bronx, the series is all but over. The bullpen edge critically favors the Yankees, and around the diamond, I would only award catcher and first base to the Tigers hands down. You can argue Victor Martinez over Posada in the DH role and I wouldn’t disagree. But Posada can still hit right handed pitching, and the Tigers will not throw a lefty in this series. And well……he’s Jorge Posada. This ain’t his first rodeo and his tank ain’t on E just yet.
The Yankees hit better, pitch better and field better. The Tigers do have Verlander, though, so it’s not a slam dunk. I predict the Yankees will move on in four games.
The Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. A rematch of last year’s ALDS, which saw the Rangers win a thrilling series in five games. There is one major difference, though. CJ Wilson is no Cliff Lee. That’s offset, though, by the fact that the Rangers have their rotation set up and the Rays do not, and that is what will ultimately determine this series. Tampa Bay is starting rookie Matt Moore in Game 1 against Wilson. Matt Moore only has one career start under his belt, but he got the nod over Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, anyway. James Shields likely will throw on regular rest in Game 2 and David Price will probably pitch on regular rest Monday in Game 3. This means that if the series goes to a fourth game, Joe Maddon will have the unenviable task of choosing to give the inexperienced rookie the start on short rest or go with Davis or Niemann, the two guys not trusted enough to start Game 1. Dollars to donuts Shields would come back on short rest in a potential Game 5.
I think the Rays have a better rotation, but not being able to utilize it to it’s maximum efficiency will hurt them immensely. The Rangers have a very considerable edge offensively and a good bullpen to boot. The Rays are the best defensive team in baseball, but the Rangers are no slouch, either. This will be another great series between the two teams, but the result will be the same. The Rangers in five.
The St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. This is the toughest series to predict, because all the edges that would normally go to the Philles are question marks. They’re beset by injuries, and don’t have that great an offense to begin with. They also come limping into the playoffs, while the Cards are on a high after having been the beneficiary of the second-worst choke job in baseball history. The Cardinals have the best offense in the league, the second-worst defense and sport league average pitching. The Phillies are suffering offensively, aren’t much to write home about defensively, but have the best pitching this side of the 1971 Orioles. Further hurting the Cardinals is the road they took to the playoffs, needing Chris Carpenter just to get them there on Wednesday. So like the Rays, St. Louis will go into the postseasons with a discombobulated rotation.
Look, if the Cards can eliminate both the Braves and the Phillies in the span of ten days, I’d buy Tony LaRussa a car. Or, maybe that’s not such a good idea. I’d love it to pieces, but my head does not agree with my heart. I think the deck is stacked too much for the Cards to overcome. Good pitching always beats good hitting, and I’m also reminded of last year, when the Phillies, without Cliff Lee, dispatched the league-leading offense of the Cincinnati Reds in a three-game sweep. Phillies in four.
The Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is the series I’m most looking forward to. Both teams are young, inexperienced, and very good in every aspect of the game. I think the Brewers are a little deeper, though. Justin Upton is one of the best young players in the game, but Ryan Braun is better. Ian Kennedy is the best pitcher in the series, but he’s followed by Daniel Hudson, in only his first full season, the uninspiring Joe Saunders, and rookie Josh Collmenter. After the Brewers get past Yovani Gallardo, they will throw Shaun Marcum and former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke (in which order is TBD). JJ Putz is having a resurgent year for the D-Backs, but John Axford is having a better one for the Brewers. Milwaukee also sports set-up man K-Rod, while Arizona counters that with former Oriole legend David Hernandez (I jest. He’s been very good, but not as good as the former Met). Besides Hernandez, only Joe Paterson (who?) has pitched in even 35 games out of the Arizona bullpen, while the Brewers relief core is very experienced, with four guys having pitched in over 40 games and three pitchers north of 50.
The 800 pound gorilla in this series is Miller Park, where the Brewers went a league-best 57-24 at home. Between a distinct home field advantage, a deeper rotation and the two best hitters on either team, Milwaukee in four.
There you have it, my first round predictions. Just for fun, the Yankees over the Rangers in six and the Phillies over the Brewers in six. I reserve the right to alter those LCS predictions based on how the rotations shake out and what teams get how much rest. Maybe I’ll write another piece outlining both League Championship Series before they start. This was fun. Also, Yankees over the Phillies in six. I picked the Yankees before the season began, so I married to that pick until the Yankees are no longer playing. Let the fun begin.