The Yankees are back in the playoffs after finishing third in the AL East last season. The hottest team in baseball may be the Minnesota Twins, winners of 17 of their last 21, including an extra game in extra innings. Do they have enough talent to match their momentum?
The Red Sox seek their third World Series title in six seasons, but can they get past the Angels, who are talented and inspired by the loss of Nick Adenhart?
With apologies to the other sports, there’s nothing better than the baseball postseason. Here now is a quick look at each AL Division Series, with some predictions.
Minnesota vs. New York
The prevailing thought is that the Yankees will trounce the Twins. After all, they went 7-0 against Minnesota during the regular season, and the Twins just clinched their spot last night and then had to fly to New York to play Game One in a span of 24 hours. This should be an easy series for the Yankees.
However, the Twins are on a roll. Jason Kubel and Mike Cuddyer are not household names, but they have stepped up their offensive production in the wake of Justin Morneau’s season-ending back injury.
Denard Span is the type of pesky, base-stealing player similar to others who have given the Yankees fits in recent postseasons, like Chone Figgins of the Angels.
If the Twins’ bats continue to hit well, they’ll have a chance against the Yankees.
Like the Twins, the Yankees can swing the bats. Their lineup is the deepest in the game. Derek Jeter has received some attention as a potential MVP candidate, yet he is eighth on the team in slugging. Unless the entire lineup goes into a slump simultaneously, the Yankees will put runs on the board.
Where the Yankees have a big advantage over the Twins, in theory, is in starting pitching. Their entire rotation, led by CC Sabathia, has the ability to go deep into games if need be and get key outs via the strikeout. The Twins don’t have a true strikeout pitcher on their staff, relying on contact outs, and their rotation is largely untested in playoff situations.
The Yankees also have the superior bullpen when compared to the Twins. Joe Nathan has struggled against the Yankees for his career, and the rest of the setup men enter this series having expended a lot of energy getting the Twins this far.
With Joba Chamberlain relegated to the bullpen for this series, the Yankees can trot out Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Mariano Rivera late in games to protect leads and win ballgames. It’s a simple formula that will provide a simple result: Yankees in three.
Boston vs. Los Angeles
The angle many are taking with this series is that the Angels’ base-stealing prowess will overwhelm the Red Sox catchers and give them the advantage in the series.
The problem with this theory is that the Angels can’t steal first base; they need to get on via a hit or a walk. With Jon Lester and Josh Beckett slated to pitch in the first two games of the series, that will be a difficult task for the Angels’ lineup to accomplish. The Angels could capitalize with their speed against Clay Buchholz and/or Daisuke Matsuzaka, but by then they trail 2-0 in the series.
Both teams are capable of scoring runs in bunches. The Angels have improved at drawing walks, and their lineup is built to sustain long rallies. The Red Sox were one of the top offenses in the game despite the well-chronicled struggles of David Ortiz. Right now, Ortiz is hot, and the combination of he, Kevin Youkilis, and Jason Bay in the heart of the order could provide the Sox with some big innings.
The big difference between these teams is in the bullpens. Brian Fuentes of the Angels led the AL in saves (48), but he blew seven opportunities and struggled with his command for much of the season. The rest of the Angels’ bullpen has been mediocre, which is a departure from previous seasons.
Meanwhile, Boston can rely on power pitchers Billy Wagner, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon with leads in the late innings. While Bard has allowed a few big home runs down the stretch, his fastball is tailor-made for postseason dominance; he could be the breakout player of the postseason.
If Boston pitches as they are capable of, this could be a short, sweet series for Red Sox Nation. I’ll take Boston in four.
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