It's about time October was here! Even here in Boston, where we have a playoff team, the regular season lost its excitement about a month ago. In fact, with the exception of the thrilling finish in the AL Central between Minnesota and Detroit last night, there was really no drama in any playoff races.
The Yankees won the AL East by eight. The Angels won the AL West by ten. The Red Sox won the AL Wild Card by eight. The Phillies won the NL East by six. The Cardinals won the NL Central by seven and a half. Out west, the Dodgers and Rockies brought it down to a final weekend series against each other, but ultimately, the Dodgers maintained their strong hold on the NL West that they had all season, and it didn't really matter anyway, since the Rockies lost two of three and still won the NL Wild Card by four.
Needless to say, it's about time the playoffs started. But, in a season with so many forgone conclusions, will the playoffs be any different?
Can anyone beat the Yankees? New York finished six games in front of the second best team in the majors (the Angels).
Does the National League stand any chance against the American League in the World Series? The Dodgers finished with the NL's best record, which was only good enough to tie the Red Sox third-best AL record.
The answer is "yes" the Yankees can be beaten, and "yes" the NL stands a chance against the AL. However, the Yankees must be taken down in the AL Playoffs, because I think there's little chance that an NL team can compete with New York in the launching pad the Yanks call home. Only an AL team, like the Red Sox or Angels, familiar with the ballpark stands a chance at toppling the mighty Yankees.
American League Divisional Series
1. New York Yankees (103-59) vs. 3. Minnesota Twins (87-76)
When you think about it, the Yankees finished 17 games in front of Minnesota in regular season play (before the Twins one game playoff). That's a pretty big disparity!
However, when you think about it again, that doesn't mean anything in the playoffs. The Yankees don't get spotted a game or two, just because they were so much better.
I think that the Tigers, with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson as their 1-2 pitchers and a mix of power bats and pesky base hitters, stood a much better chance against New York.
This decade, it seems that because the Yankees usually win the AL East, the Red Sox take the Wild Card, and the AL Central has the weakest record of a division winner, New York tends to face whoever comes out of the AL Central. Especially when that's been the Twins, it hasn't meant good things for Minnesota, who has always struggled to beat the Yankees.
Considering this year, the Twins were playing the regular season until yesterday, and have to start the postseason tonight, it's hard to see them being able to put up a strong fight against the Yankees.
New York in 3.
2. Los Angeles Angels (97-65) vs. WC. Boston Red Sox (95-67)
There's always something about the Red Sox that brings out the worst in the Angels. They've met three times this decade in the ALDS and the Sox are 9-1 in those games. The Angels have held home-field advantage twice in those meetings, but have yet to win a game at Angels Stadium in the postseason against Boston.
A few weeks ago, Boston mounted a comeback against Los Angeles in a thrilling game, scoring two runs in the ninth to win 9-8. After the game, LA outfielder Torii Hunter criticized his team for playing differently against the Red Sox than other teams, a valid assessment of the Angels over recent years.
The key here will be Game One. In each of the three previous meetings, Boston has handily taken Game One and set the tone for the season.
This is the third straight year these teams will meet in the ALDS, and it's the third straight year the Angels will send John Lackey out to start Game One. He's 0-2 so far, so he's gotta be hoping the third time's the charm.
The Sox will start Jon Lester in Game One for the second straight postseason, so this will be a rematch of last year's Game One. Lester vs. Lackey? Considering how great Lester has been this year, we'll take that matchup in Boston any day and ride that momentum to another series win over the Angels.
Boston in 4.
National League Divisional Series
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67) vs. 3. St. Louis Cardinals (91-71)
First things first, unlike New York vs. Minnesota, these teams only finished four games apart in the regular season, so don't be thrown off by the Dodgers #1 seed.
The Dodgers started the season as the best team in baseball, but have never been quite the same since the Manny Ramirez suspension in early May. They recovered enough to finish with the best record in the National League, which actually was a surprise to me. But, let's not get too excited. They led the division by 8 and the Rockies by 13.5 going into June, but led the Rockies by just one before beating Colorado on Saturday and Sunday to win the division by three.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, picked up a lot of momentum at the trade deadline by adding slugger Matt Holliday. Sure, they finished the season on a 2-8 skid, but there's not a better 1-2 punch in baseball than Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. It'll be hard for the Dodgers to match the Cards in pitching, but home-field advantage will at least make this a series.
St. Louis in 5.
2. Philadelphia Phillies (93-69) vs. WC. Colorado Rockies (92-70)
Philadelphia fans were irate that the Rockies swept them out in 2007 after Philly ended its long playoff drought. I joked with some Phillies' fans that now that that drought was over, they needed to end their drought of not having won a playoff game for a decade and a half. That joke went by the wayside last year, when Philadelphia won the World Series.
Despite being the reigning champion, the Phillies don't seem to be getting a lot of publicity. Perhaps it's because the rest of the NL East faded so early, that it was just expected that Philly would be here.
Even so, this team is four games better than it was in 2007 (when it had the same record as the Rockies going into the postseason) and even a game better than last year.
I think it's a different story for the Phillies than 2007, they have the confidence and experience to the dispatch of the Rockies. But, it's different than 2008, the Phillies don't seem poised to make a miraculous run, and Brad Lidge certainly hasn't been the end of the bullpen that he was last season. The Phillies won't make it back-to-back championships, but the addition of Cliff Lee will be enough to get them by the Colorado.
Philadelphia in 4.
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
Maybe it's blind passion for the Red Sox, maybe it's just that I see the good side of what has been a season with great heights and deep lows in Boston, maybe I'm actually on to something: I see the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the ALCS.
It actually hurts me to say that. Why would it hurt a lifelong Sox fan to say the Sox will beat the Yankees!? Because I try to remain as neutral as possible when it comes to predictions, and I hate throwing out homer picks for the underdog, but, I'll say it again, I see the Red Sox beating the Yankees.
Boston might have finished eight games behind New York, but they started the season with eight straight wins against the Bronx Bombers and held the Division until the All Star Break.
Maybe I haven't paid enough attention to New York's dominance in the second half of the season, or maybe I just don't buy that they're that good.
I'll tell you this though, the addition of Victor Martinez made the Red Sox a better team, and this is a better and healthier team than the one that was a J.D. Drew swing of the bat (he struck out looking with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS) from the World Series last year. David Ortiz was hurt last year, as was Mike Lowell, who was inactive for the ALCS.
If Jon Lester and JOsh Beckett pitch like they can, I'll take the Red Sox pitching over the Yankees. After all, Boston beat C.C. Sabathia and his then-Indians in 2007, so this isn't an uncharted matchup.
Boston in 7.
Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals
I said before that I don't see the Phillies winning back-to-back, and I think the buck stops here. The Cardinals matchup extremely well against the Phillies. Philadelphia has a lot of strength in its sluggers, but hitting-wise, I give the edge to the Cards' Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday over the Phils' Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
With that advantage neutralized for Philadelphia, it'll mean that Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee will have to out duel Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, if the Phillies are to move on. I don't see that happening; Hamels has had a tough year and Lee just doesn't have the dominant stuff to match those dual aces in the Cards.
St. Louis in 6.
Boston Red Sox vs. St. Louis Cardinals
It's become one of baseball's longer standing traditions at this point: the AL wins the All-Star Game, and thus gets to be the home team in the World Series.
At 56-25, the Red Sox had the second-best home record in baseball (the Yankees were 57-24), and, especially in October, Fenway Park provides a huge boost to this team.
In their previous two World Series wins this decade, the Sox battered their opponents at Fenway in Games One and Two and went onto sweep their National League opponent.
That's not good news for the St. Louis at all. The Cardinals were that unlucky foe in 2004, and in 2007, it was current Cardinals slugger, Matt Holliday, whose then-Rockies were swept out of the Series.
This year will be different. The Cardinals have more teeth than they (or the Rockies) had in past years. However, the Red Sox are just too good at Fenway in October to lose when they have the home-field advantage. Especially in the 2-3-2 format that baseball uses in the playoffs, Boston just needs to pick up one win in St. Louis to be firmly in control of this series.
The Red Sox have been so dominant in past World Series that they've celebrated both sweeps on the road. A slightly longer Series this year might mean they actually get to win it at home for a change.
Boston in 6.
Again, it actually kind of hurts to expose myself as a homer like this, but I do believe that when Boston plays its best baseball, as it is known to do in October, it's the best team in the Majors, and I expect this month to prove that.