Now comes the time of year when baseball purists like myself have to grit their teeth at the prospect of a Wild Card team actually winning it all. I admit I have never cared for the wild card concept in any sport, much less baseball. I think it rewards overall season mediocrity. But, baseball purists are seldom consulted on matters, so be that as it may.
This year's playoffs unofficially started off with a bang: a pre-playoff playoff as it were. If you missed it, the Twins beat the Tigers in an old fashioned, non-wild card, winner take all pennant chase. (See what we miss by rewarding mediocrity?) They ended the regular season tied, and had to have a tie breaker game. The Tigers led most of the season, but dwindled down the stretch, letting the suddenly hot Twins in the door. The Tigers had to play in the Metrodome, a great way to send off the old Metrodome, which which will be no longer used for baseball next season. The Twins won in 12 innings in an epic back and forth battle that saw colossal failures and comebacks on both sides. At the end of the day, the Tigers go home for a long break.
That leaves the following teams in the regular playoffs: American League: Twins v. Yankees, Red Sox v. Angels; National League: Rockies v. Phillies, Cardinals v. Dodgers. Let's take a look at each series.
Red Sox v. Angels
Red Sox, the wild card team, comes in with a record of 95-67. The AL West champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (I will refrain from making a snide comment on the ridiculous two city name that team has) come in with a record of 97-65. Boston largely limped into the playoffs, though there was not much competition for them in the wild card. The Angels finished strong, going 7-3 in their last 10 games, but the AL West was pretty weak this year overall.
Lowdown: I think this is probably the most evenly balanced series in the Division Series. Both have been in the post season several times in the last few years, and both have won a World Series in recent memory. The Angels are a bit retooled over last year, and are a stronger team. The Red Sox are not the team they once were a few years ago. The Angels are better at manufacturing runs, but Boston has more homeruns and overall batting power. Team ERA's are virtually identical. I think this series could go either way.
Possible Series Breaker: Angels have home field advantage and nearly identical win-loss records of games played at home v. away, and Red Sox are below .500 on the road.
Yankees v. Twins
The Yankees (AL East Champs) come in with a Major League best record of 103-59. Twins (AL Central winners thanks to the tie breaker/Tigers late season collapse) come in 87-76. On paper this looks like the weakest match up of the Division Series. Yankees largely cruised for most of the 2nd half of the season; Twins were in a dogfight to the end.
The Lowdown: The Yankees are easily the best team in the AL this year. The Twins are the Cinderella story, but have some serious personnel issues, especially in the bull pen and in sporadic run production. All things being equal, I don't see the Bronx Bombers having much problem getting out of this series in 4 games as they are better in virtually all statistical categories.
Possible Series Breaker: Being possibly the last baseball series played in the Metrodome, beware the dreaded Metrodome Magic. The Dome won't go out with a whimper, although the Twins have had serious trouble beating the Yankees all year.
Rockies v. Phillies
The defending World Series champ Phillies come in as the NL East champs, with a record of 93-69. The Rockies, though at times looking over their shoulders at the Braves, wrapped up the Wild Card with relative ease, with a virtually identical record of 92-70.
The Lowdown: This is an intriguing matchup, actually. The Rockies are always a scrappy little team, who were in contention to win the NL West off and on, but never could quite get the charge they needed. The Phillies, though in a fairly competitive division, cruised in the post season with an uninspiring 4-6 record in their last ten games. The Phillies have hit surprisingly more home runs than a team that plays a mile high in altitude.
Possible Series Breaker: The Phillies start the reigning AL Cy Young winner, and have home field advantage.
Dodgers v. Cardinals
The Los Angeles Dodgers come in as the NL West Champs with a record of 95-67. The Cardinals come in at 91-71, though were uninspiring in their last ten games (2-8). The Cardinals won the World Series not too long ago, but the Dodgers' manager, Joe Torre, has tons of post season coaching experience. Both teams have winning records at home and on the road, very typical for Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa teams. Both coaches are largely unflappable, and that shows in their teams. After the Manny Ramirez steroid saga earlier in the season, the Dodgers bounced back nicely.
The Lowdown: In terms of hitting, the Dodgers have a higher batting average, but the Cardinals have higher power numbers and far fewer stolen bases. The Cardinals also have a higher ERA.
Possible Series Breaker: Cardinals have lower batting average and higher ERA than the Dodgers. If the series comes down to squeaker games, that doesn't bode well.
PREDICTIONS FOR ALCS AND NLCS:
Yankees (pretty easy pick) v. Angels (this one is really a toss up)
Phillies (another fairly easy one) v. Dodgers (basically another toss up)