Half of each Championship Series puzzle is now complete with the Yankees sweeping the Twins and the Phillies sweeping the Reds. There are a couple of games left to decide which teams will advance for the rights to go to the World Series.
Let's take a look at which matchups would favor the Yankees and Phillies more entering the final three days of the first round.
Yankees vs. Rangers
The Yankees and Rangers split eight games during the regular season and the Rangers swept the final series between the two at Rangers Ballpark. All three games from Sept. 10-12 were closely contested, with the Rangers getting to Mariano Rivera on Sept. 11 to win the game, 7-6, in the ninth.
This series would be a battle of two teams with great hitting, especially in two hitters' parks, and good pitching.
The Yankees' biggest question entering the playoffs was their starting rotation after CC Sabathia. It turned out in the ALDS that Sabathia was the least effective of the three. He was still pretty good, but Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes came through and proved the Yankees have a great threesome.
The key to the Yankees' sweep of the Twins was clutch hits. The Twins had one hit with runners in scoring position for three games.
So far, the Rangers got big hits in the first two games of their series with the Rays, but haven't done anything in games three and four.
The Pitching matchups straight up would have Sabathia against Cliff Lee, Pettitte against C.J. Wilson, and Hughes against Colby Lewis. That'll change though, as both the Rangers and Rays will have to use their aces for Tuesday's game five.
No matter who the Yankees face for the remainder of this postseason, they'll have a better lineup. The only exception would be facing the Phillies with the DH at Yankee Stadium.
Yankees vs. Rays
The Rays won 10 of 18 games against the Yankees in the regular season, showing just how close these two teams were, finishing a game apart in the standings at season's end.
The problem the Rays have, is although they scored over 800 runs this season, they don't ever seem to bunch together consecutive hits. They get their runs by getting the clutch hits, but at the beginning of their series with the Rangers, they weren't doing that.
The Yankees have a much better lineup than the Rays, much bigger of an advantage than over the Rangers. The Rays have guys who strike out a lot and they don't get productivity from every player in their lineup.
The Rays rotation is also an issue, and unlike Texas, not being able to start David Price in game one is a huge problem. Tampa Bay doesn't have enough quality in their rotation to start a seven game series without their ace.
The ALCS begins on Friday night, and the Rays would have to go with Matt Garza, who was awful against the Yankees this season. In three starts against them, he went 0-1 with a 8.10 ERA. He would be on an extra day's rest, having pitched on Saturday, but against Sabathia, the Yankees would have a major edge.
Really, the Rays facing the Yankees coming off a tiring five-game series would give them a hard chance at winning four of seven.
If you want to take into account the Rays having home-field advantage, you shouldn't. They did lose both home games to the Rangers in this ALDS and the Yankees won both road games in their series against the Twins.
More favorable to the Yankees: Tampa Bay Rays
Phillies vs. Giants
The Phillies and Giants split six games during the regular season, with each team winning two of three at home. The great thing about this potential matchup is simple—starting pitching. Both teams boast great rotations, and they arguably have the best staffs in the league.
The Phillies have what they call "H2O" with Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt. The Giants have their own fine threesome with Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez. Although the edge in that department would go to the Phillies, it would be very slight. Tim Lincecum did break the Giants postseason single-game record with 14 strikeouts on Thursday in a game one win over the Braves.
Both teams have good closers, with the Giants Brian Wilson being more effective at this stage. So then you take a look at the offensive matchup, and that's where the comparison ends.
The Giants do have some more guys who can hit now than they did in past seasons, but they're still not on the level of the Phillies. Philadelphia has guys who can hit for power, steal bases, and provide pesky at-bats. The most pesky being Shane Victorino, as you just never know what he has in store.
The Giants would love to wrap up their series with the Braves tonight, as pitching Lincecum on Wednesday for a game five would hurt them like the Rays and Rangers situation. Winning on Sunday meant the Giants don't have to pitch Lincecum on three days' rest, but it'll be hard to take two in a row in Atlanta.
If everything works out for the Giants, a Halladay vs. Lincecum matchup wouldn't be bad. The offense, though, is what swings the series in the Phillies favor.
Phillies vs. Braves
The Phillies won 10 of 18 games against the Braves in the regular season and took over first place on Sep. 7.
Right now, the Braves are a mess. Losing closer Billy Wagner to injury in game two already came back to haunt Atlanta in game three. The Braves took a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning on an Eric Hinske home run, but the bullpen blew the game in the ninth. A huge Brooks Conrad error caused the lead run to score, but without Wagner, it'll be tough for the Braves to win any close game.
If the Phillies were to get the Braves in the NLCS, it would be so lopsided to the point a sweep would be possible. Unless Wagner could return in time, the Phillies would have advantages in starting pitching, closer, and offense.
The Braves are without Martin Prado, who was seventh in the league in batting, and even with him their lineup wasn't too strong.
As for starting pitching, nobody could top the Phillies' "H2O," and especially not the Braves' bunch. Derek Lowe isn't as good as Halladay, Tommy Hanson isn't as good as Oswalt, and Tim Hudson isn't quite as dominant as Cole Hamels, especially late in the season.
You add to the fact that the Phillies would have home-field advantage, and the Braves couldn't win their first playoff home game, the Phillies are just a much better team than Atlanta.
More favorable to the Phillies: Atlanta Braves
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