Yes, its that time of year again. The weather is cooling, and playoff baseball is just around the corner. The matchups are set, and the fans of the Angels, Cardinals, Dodgers, Phillies, Red Sox, Rockies, Twins, and Yankees are ready for some playoff baseball.
Yankees (1) versus Twins (3)
The Yankees have been the best team in the best division in baseball. The Twins just eeked out a title in the worst division in baseball. After winning their playoff game versus Detroit on Monday night in the 12th inning, so they get the privilege to get trampled by the Yanks. The Yankees are very, very fortunate to not be playing the Tigers, who have a much more potent offense and more pitching firepower. Even saying that, it likely wouldn’t have mattered who New York played since they are 12-1 against the Twins and Tigers, including 7-0 versus Minnesota.
Infield: The Yankees easily have the better infield. In fact, they may have the best infield of the past few decades with MVP candidates Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira along with All-Stars Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. Jorge Posada is the only low light for the infield, which is great to have as your weak link. The Twins are missing their biggest bat, Justin Morneau, and they haven’t gotten too much offense out of either Nick Punto nor Alexi Casilla. Joe Mauer, who will likely win the AL MVP, and Orlando Cabrera are the only highlights for Minnesota. Michael Cuddyer used to start in right field, but because of Morneau’s injury, Cuddyer will start at first.
Outfield/DH: New York also has the better outfield. I’m not saying that Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, and Hideki Masui are world beaters, but they have had much greater seasons then were expected and could ride their hot bats into the playoffs. The Twins have a not-so-solid outfield of underacheiving former top-prospects Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez, along with defensive playmaker Denard Span and Jason Kubel.
Bench: The Yankees barely win this category, too. Jerry Hairston is very versatile in the field, Jose Molina is one of the better backup catchers, and Brett Gardner will really help the Bronx Bombers on the basepaths. The Twins, on the other hand, have no decent bat on the bench between Brian Buscher, Mike Redmond, and Brendan Harris.
Starting Pitching: The Yankees also win this category, but with an asterisk. On paper, they have a much better rotation with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte compared to the Twins’ Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, and Carl Pavano. But, and that is a big but, CC Sabathia has a postseason ERA of 7.92 in 5 starts, and A.J. Burnett has never pitched in the postseason, and has pitched poorly in big games.
This guy is going back to pitch in New York
Relief Pitching: The Twins barely have the better bullpen, mainly because of the lack of Yankees depth. Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera are the two best closers in baseball, Rivera a bit better in the postseason. The Twins have several solid relievers in Jon Rauch, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Ron Mahay, and Jose Mijares. After Rivera, the Yankees only have Phil Hughes and perhaps Joba Chamerlain, so do you really want to depend of Phil Coke?
Coaching: Minnesota has one of the better coaches,Ron Gardenhire, and management in the game. To take a team with this little fire power on offense and starting pitching is incredible. Joe Girardi is improving as a coach, but his success is largely to do with his $200+ million payroll.
Key Stat: Carl Pavano is pitching for the Twins.
Prediction: Yankees in 3
Phillies (2) versus Rockies (4)
To me this is the easiest series of all four to pick. The Phillies won it all last year and a great playoff 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. The Rockies don’t have any big names in their rotation or lineup that you would be afraid to pitch to like the Cardinals, Phillies, Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox do. The lead the season series 4-2. This is also a matchup of the last two NL Champs, the Phillies won the World Series last year, and the Rockies fell to the Red Sox in 2007.
Infield: Phillies win this one big time. With MVPs like Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard along with All-Star Chase Utley, Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies are stacked here, and this is the biggest difference maker in the series especially with the fact that both stadiums are very hitter friendly. The Rockies have rising stars like Troy Tulowitski, Ian Stewart, and Chris Iannetta along with Clint Barmes and Todd Helton. They aren’t bad as much as unexperienced and young.
Outfield: The Phillies get the edge again with a solid outfield of Raul Ibañez and his record year in homers, speedy Shane Victorino, and emerging slugger Jayson Werth. The Rockies on the other hand, the Rockies are a lot young with talented rookies Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler. Veteran Brad Hawpe is a great power threat and is a quiet leader in Mile High.
Bench: The Rockies actually get the edge here. They have power off the bench from Jason Giambi and Garrett Atkins along with more solid production from Ryan Spilbourghs, Yorvit Torealba, and Seth Smith. The Phillies are okay with former Indians starter Ben Francisco and aging vets Eric Bruntlett, Paul Bako, and Greg Dobbs.
Starting Pitching: The edge, again, goes to the Phillies. They have two aces at the top of their rotation with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The back end of the rotation is also solid with innings eater Joe Blanton and either rookie sensation J.A. Happ or veteran Pedro Martinez. The Rockies have no true ace, but career years from young Ubaldo Jimenez and vets Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis, and 16-game winner Jorge De La Rosa.
Relief Pitching: Colorado barely gets the edge here because of the struggles of all the Phillies’ closers. After being perfect last year, Brad Lidge has blown ten saves and set-up man Ryan Madson hasn’t been any better. J.C. Romero and Brett Myers will be solid contributors, but can’t help in the ninth. The Rockies have a solid closer in Huston Street and several more okay relievers like Franklin Morales, Rafael Betancourt, and Joe Beimel.
Coaching: Neither team has a great coach, but the Rockies’ Jim Tracy has turned around a team that was well under .500 early in the year, after replacing Clint Hurdle, and will likely win Manager of the Year Award for that.
Key Stat: The Rockies have only won eight games on the road versus the lefty starters.
Prediction: Phillies in 3
Angels (2) versus Red Sox (4)
Vladimir Guerrero grounds out in Boston
The Angels lead the regular season series 5-4, but the Red Sox have won twelve of the last thirteen postseason games between the two. For whatever reason, the Angels have always dominated Boston in the regular season, but can’t seem to beat the Red Sox when it come to playoff time. Sometimes, it has been injuries to the Angels (which there are no important ones) or running into a hotter Boston team (Los Angeles is actually playing better lately), but the Red Sox just have the Angels number.
Infield: Boston picks up the edge in the infield after trading for Victor Martinez, a great power bat to hit clean up for Boston. The rest of the infield consists of MVP Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, and Alex Gonzalez. For the Angels, the emergence of Kendry Morales as a power threat for the middle of their order has really helped their offense, along with Chone Figgins’ breakout year. Up the middle, the Angels lack a big bat, as Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar are just about only useful to get on base.
Outfield/DH: The edge goes slightly to the Angels here. The addition of Bobby Abreu completes the Angels lineup and has taught them to wait for the right pitch. Conversly, Vladimir Guerrero will swing at anything, but unfortunately for the Red Sox, can hit anything really hard. The rest of the outfield consist of solid veteran Torii Hunter and improving Juan Rivera. The Red Sox aren’t too shabby, either with slugging Jason Bay and David Ortiz and speedy Jacoby Ellsbury. The weak link is J.D. Drew, who has well under performed for his massive $70 million contract.
Bench: The Red Sox get the edge here, too, with solid former starters such as Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Casey Kotchman, and Rocco Baldelli off the bench, not to mention the fastest baseball player ever, Joey Gathright. The Angels also have some solid production off the bench from Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis, Gary Matthews Jr., and Reggie Willits, but they aren’t collectively as good.
Starting Pitching: Los Angeles and Boston are equal here, as long as Boston stays healthy. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have been lights out in the playoffs, and Clay Buchholz and Dice-K have pitched well lately, with the exception of Buchholz’s last two starts. The Angels bolstered their rotation big-time when they added former Ray and Red Sox nemesis Scott Kazmir to an already loaded rotation that features John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders , and maybe Ervin Santana.
Relief Pitching: This is the Angels biggest weak spot and one of the Red Sox’ strengths. Boston’s bullpen is made up entirely of former closers and players who could close on many other teams. Included are Jonathan Papelbon, Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, and the list goes on and on. For the Angels, they are very weak after closer Brian Fuentes, who is one of the more hittable closers in the AL.
Coaching: Both coaches receive a lot less credit then they deserve because of their massive pay rolls, but Mike Scioscia is by far the best coach in the American League. He is a great leader, teacher and strategist. That is no knock on Terry Francona, though, who is also one of the better coaches in the league.
Key Stat: The Red Sox have won 12 of the last 13 game versus the Angels in the playoffs.
Prediction: Red Sox in 4
Dodgers (1) versus Cardinals (3)
This series feature the two best hitters in the majors over the past decade: Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez. Since the All-Star Break, the Cards and Dodgers have gone in different directions. The Dodgers were the toast of the NL and led their division by seven games and almost lost the division to Colorado and only won it by three games. The Cardinals were struggling to take command of the Central with a three game lead over Milwaukee, until they picked up Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, John Smoltz, and Julio Lugo. St. Louis won the season series 5-2, but don’t look for that to keep the the Dodgers down.
Infield: St. Louis gets the edge here because of the 2009 NL MVP Albert Pujols (What? Who said that?) and Mark DeRosa. The rest of the infield isn’t great with Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker, but Pujols is such a difference maker. James Loney is an emerging as a great hitter, but Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, and Orlando Hudson are all on the decline.
Outfield: Just like the Cardinals win the infield because of Pujols, the Dodgers have the better outfield because of Manny. Not only do the Dodgers have a great playoff hitter in Manny Ramirez, but they have two rising future All-Stars in Andre Either and Matt Kemp. The Dodgers easily have the best outfield out of all the playoff teams. The Cardinals are no slouches either with All-Stars in Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick, along with possible Rookie of the Year Colby Rasmus.
Bench: The Dodgers have a loaded bench with former starters they picked up, Ronnie Belliard and Jim Thome, along with more solid contributions from Juan Pierre, Brad Ausmus, and Mark Lorretta. The Cards, on the other hand, only have Rick Ankiel, Julio Lugo, and Troy Glaus, who all have been very underproductive and injured this year.
Ryan Franklin and his beard
Starting Pitching: This is the Cards’ biggest strength and the the Dodgers’ biggest hole. With Cy Young candidates like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright along with more contributions from Joel Piñeiro and Kyle Lohse. The Dodgers have a very young rotation with Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla, and Chad Billingsley. Unlike St. Louis, LA doesn’t have any ace-type pitchers in their rotation.
Relief Pitching: Neither team is great, but the Dodgers get the slight edge. They are great in the eighth and ninth with All-Stars Jonathan Broxton and Trade Deadline pickup George Sherrill. After that, they only have Ramon Troncoso and Hong-Chih Kuo. St. Louis has All-Star closer Ryan Franklin, but he had a career year that isn’t likely to be repeated. After Franklin and his beard, their next best relievers, Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan are both under 27.
Coaching: The Cardinals win a close call in a matchup of the best NL manager. Joe Torre led the Yankees to four World Series Titles, but that was in New York. Tony La Rusa is the only manager to win a World Series in both leagues, and is a master coach. He and pitching coach Dave Duncan have turned former cast-offs Piñeiro, Lohse, John Smoltz, and many more into All-Star calliber pitchers.
Key Stat: Manny Ramirez hasn’t hit a home run since September 9th.
Prediction: Cardinals in 5