I LIVE FOR THIS.
There, I said it. Playoff baseball represents all that is holy on this earth. It is by far the best time of year, and if it were up to me, which it sadly isn’t, playoff baseball would replace Christmas as the most celebrated holiday.
We’ve all heard the stories of fathers missing their children’s birth for a prime-time sporting event, and ladies and gentlemen, that guy is me. Not literally, I’m only 23, but should the opportunity ever present itself, you can be sure I wouldn’t hesitate to miss that hospital visit for a seat behind home plate.
That’s how much I love playoff baseball. Even with my team far removed from the playoffs, I’m officially juiced for the 2008 Divisional Series to start.
Playoff baseball is so beautiful because every game holds such extreme importance. Drop Game One of a five-game Divisional Series, and there’s a great chance you’re done. Can’t maintain home-field advantage in the Championship Series? Then there’s a good chance you can kiss your World Series dreams goodbye.
Playoff baseball brings out the best in both players and managers. Sure, I love watching the best players in the world play on the biggest stage, but something inside me almost enjoys watching managers attempt to outwit their counterparts even more.
From setting their playoff rosters, to crucial in-game decisions, managers are truly put to the test come playoff time.
To think that 162 games of blood, sweat, and tears shed by your beloved team can evaporate with one hanging breaking ball is what makes playoff baseball so unbelievably excruciating, exciting, and enjoyable.
So, without further ado, I present to you my American and National League Divisional Series previews and predictions:
(All times Eastern Standard Time)
Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
10/2 - Chicago Sox at Tampa Bay - 2:30 PM
10/3 - Chicago Sox at Tampa Bay - 6:00 PM
10/5 - Tampa Bay at Chicago Sox – TBD
10/6 - Tampa Bay at Chicago Sox - TBD
10/8 - Chicago Sox at Tampa Bay - TBD
This is one of the more intriguing series, in my mind. We have the feel good Rays against the veteran-laden White Sox. In the season series, Tampa Bay held a 6-4 advantage over Chicago.
The Rays turned in one of greatest single-season turnarounds in baseball history, hell, sports history. They transformed a dismal 66-96 record in 2007 into a sparkling, A.L. East winning 97-65 record in 2008.
The Rays used a combination of young starting pitching, dependable bullpen arms, speed on the basepaths, clutch contributions from rookies, and brilliant managing to execute the best story of the 2008 regular season. If anyone predicted this astonishing 180 for the Rays this year, come down to Bleacher Report, and I’ll kiss the ground where you stand.
NOBODY SAW THIS COMING.
The Rays dethroned the Red Sox and the Evil Empire to win the A.L. East with style and flair. Their starting rotation of Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson, all under the age of 28, went a combined 64-45. These youngsters led the Rays to the A.L.’s second best ERA, 3.82.
A solid year from B.J. Upton, timely contributions from Carlos Pena, and an amazing Rookie of the Year campaign from Evan Longoria supplied the Rays with ample run support. Not to mention, the Rays are getting their sparkplug back in the form of Carl Crawford just at the right time.
A solid bullpen anchored by David Price, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, Chad Bradford, and maybe Troy Percival give the Rays confidence in late-game situations.
The White Sox come into this series with a full head of steam, having won two must-win games to reach the ALDS. We’ve seen in recent years how valuable it can be for a team to come into the playoffs having won momentous games. That’s the main reason we can’t count out the White Sox in this series.
The South Siders combine a powerful lineup with a solid corps of starting pitchers. With Jim Thome, Ken Griffey Jr., Jermaine Dye, Nick Swisher, A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, and Orlando Cabrera, the White Sox aren’t lacking in experience.
On the season, the Sox outscored (+36 runs) and outslugged the Rays (+64 home runs), while hitting only three points higher (.263 to .260). The White Sox have a formidable foursome themselves in Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks.
Their bullpen is also very solid, anchored by Bobby Jenks and Octavio Dotel.
I’m not sure you can make the argument that the Sox are hungrier than the Rays because they’ve got wily veterans that could very well be seeing their last shot at a World Series, but you can certainly say they’ve got experience on their side.
Manager Ozzie Guillen has been there before, and won, while Rays’ manager Joe Maddon will experience his first taste of postseason baseball as the main man in charge.
Let’s give credit where credit is due: Maddon has managed this team terrifically all year, and there’s no reason to think that that would change now. I’d love to see Griffey advance and win, because everyone can agree he deserves it, but I don’t think it’s the White Sox's year.
Tampa Bay will ride the coattails of their young stud starters, swipe a few bags, and continue to use the clutch, timely hitting that helped get them here. Price could play a huge roll in this series, coming into late-inning situations to face lefties Thome, Griffey, Swisher, and Pierzynski.
Let's not forget Tampa Bay owns the American League’s best home record, 57-24. The Rays take the first two at home, and eventually win on the road.
Prediction: Rays in four
Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
10/1 - Boston at LA Angels - 10:00 PM
10/3 - Boston at LA Angels - 9:30 PM
10/5 - LA Angels at Boston - TBD
10/6 - LA Angels at Boston - TBD
10/8 - Boston at LA Angels – TBD
The two powerhouse American League rivals find themselves squaring off against each other for the third time in five years (2004, 2007). Since 1986, the Red Sox have won nine-straight playoff games against the Angels (stat courtesy of Angels Community Leader, Scott Fowler).
They’ve shared tremendous recent success against the Angels, but the Sox come into this series limping, and without a familiar face. This year, the Angels owned the Red Sox, winning eight of nine games.
The story of the series boils down to the Red Sox's bats against the Angels' arms. Essentially, can Boston outslug the Halos? Can their bats heat up against an Angels staff that has owned them this season?
Boston scored 80 more runs, recorded 101 more extra-base hits, hit 12 points higher, and owned an .805 OPS, compared to the Angels’ .743. These numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, however, because one Manny Ramirez is no longer with Sox Nation.
The Sox can still flat out rake, but maybe not against the Angels.
Interestingly enough, the Sox hit only .252 against the Angels this year, were outscored by 28 runs, stole six fewer bases, and hit four fewer home runs, and that was WITH Ramirez for half the season. The Red Sox probable starters (Jon Lester, Dice-K, and Josh Beckett) were unable to record a win against the Angels this year, going a combined 0-3 in four starts.
Let it be noted that those numbers were with a healthy Beckett, not a banged up version of the right-handed flamethrower. Beckett surrendered 11 earned runs in only 13.1 innings pitched against the Halos this year. Combined, the three starters were lit up for an 8.10 ERA.
The Angels are well rested and should feel confident heading into the series, given the shared success they’ve enjoyed against the Sox this year. The Halos hit .305 against Red Sox pitching and scored 61 runs in nine contests, an average of 6.78 runs scored per game.
They stole 10 bases and were caught only twice. As a team, the Angels hit 17 points higher at home than on the road (.277/.260), an added advantage of playing three of five at The Big A. With the additions of Torii Hunter and Mark Teixeira, the Angels feature a more potent lineup than what the Red Sox are used to seeing from their West Coast rivals.
With the Angels owning home-field advantage throughout, look for the banged up Red Sox (See: Lowell, Drew, Beckett) to feel the lingering effects of having to travel across the country at least two times, and possibly three, should they force a Game Five.
With Beckett less than 100 percent, the Red Sox's days could be numbered. It doesn’t seem to matter where the Angels play, owning identical 50-31 records both at home and on the road.
Will history hold true, allowing Boston to cruise past the Angels, or will 2008 season trends linger into the postseason? I’m leaning towards the latter. Teixeira, John Lackey, and Francisco Rodriguez reverse the curse and lead the Halos past the Sox.
Prediction: Angels in three
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies
10/1 - Milwaukee at Philadelphia - 3:00 PM
10/2 - Milwaukee at Philadelphia - 6:00 PM
10/4 - Philadelphia at Milwaukee - 6:30 PM
10/5 - Philadelphia at Milwaukee – TBD
10/7 - Milwaukee at Philadelphia – TBD
The Brewers find themselves in unfamiliar territory, having reached the playoffs for the first time in the last 26 years. After barely beating out the Mets for the final National League playoff spot, Milwaukee heads back to Philadelphia, where they were recently swept in a four-game series from Sept. 11-14.
In that series, the Brewers were outscored 26-7 and were in the middle of firing their manager, Ned Yost. Since then, Milwaukee has won seven of 12 games, riding their newly acquired ace, CC Sabathia.
The Phillies edged out the Mets to take the N.L. East crown for the second consecutive year. Powered by Ryan Howard in the month of September, the Phillies will look to use their bats and trusty 'pen to win the series. Let it be known that the Phillies took the season series from the Brewers, 5-1.
The Brewers are very inexperienced and owe their playoff berth to one man, Mr. Sabathia. After pitching a complete game, four-hitter last Sunday to will the Brew Crew into the NLDS, Sabathia looks to start Game Two of the series once again on three days' rest, the fourth time he will have done so in his past four starts.
Is this guy Superman? The Brewers starting rotation is in shambles outside of Sabathia. The loss of All-Star Game starter, and 13-game winner, Ben Sheets could prove costly. Sheets will be lost for at least the Divisional Series, if not the entire playoffs, with elbow problems.
He was quoted as saying, "I got a broke arm, I got a broke arm. It's not really broke, but it's all I had for the year. Things definitely don't look like they're on my side." Broke or not broke, that’s terrible news for Brewers fans. Milwaukee will turn to Yovani Gallardo in Game One of the series, in hopes that the youngster has regained all his strength from a midseason injury. Gallardo (67 pitches) pitched very well last Thursday, in his first start since May 1.
In six games against the Phillies this year, the Brewers were outhit (.299 to .206), outscored (33 to 16), and walked eight fewer times than Philadelphia. Comparing season totals, however, the two teams have very similar offensive stats.
Philadelphia had the slight edge in most categories, including batting, runs scored, home runs, and OBP to name a few. Neither Sabathia nor Gallardo faced the Phillies this year, giving a slight advantage to both those two.
However, possible third starters Jeff Suppan/Manny Parra both got lit up. In his one start against Philadelphia, Parra allowed five earned runs in 1.1 innings pitched, while Suppan was 0-1 in two starts with a 5.91 ERA. I don’t even want to get started with the Brewers' bullpen, and their closer Salomon Torres, who, although reliable in the regular season, is anybodies guess come playoff time.
The Phillies head into the playoffs having won 13 of their last 16 games. Ryan Howard is unconscious at the plate, and starters Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Jamie Moyer are all rested and sharp.
After hitting a putrid .168 in the first month of the season, Howard turned in on in the second half, more specifically in September, hitting .352 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI in only 88 at-bats.
Speedsters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino shared great success against the Brewers this year. In the four games they each played against Milwaukee, Rollins and Victorino combined for 14 hits, eight runs, three doubles, two home runs, eight RBI, seven walks, and respective batting averages of .538 and .500.
In addition, Chase Utley hit the Brewers at a .476 clip. If Charlie Manuel puts Victorino in the two hole, Brewers pitchers could have a tough one, two, and three on their hands.
In addition, Hamels, Myers, and Moyer combined to go 3-1 against the Brew Crew this year. All this and I haven’t even mentioned Brad Lidge, a lock for reliever of the year. The Phillies' bullpen, next to the Angels, is the strongest in the playoffs. If there are any close-scoring games in this series, it presents a huge advantage for the Phils.
The only way the Brewers contend in this series is if Gallardo gives them a chance to win Game One. If the Crew can steal game one from Hamels and the Phils, they have a fighting chance with Sabathia going in Game Two and probably Game Five if they can last that long.
The Brew Crew will need a huge series from their big bats, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. If not, this series will be over in a hurry.
Prediction: Phillies in four
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
10/1 - LA Dodgers at Chicago Cubs - 6:30 PM
10/2 - LA Dodgers at Chicago Cubs - 9:30 PM
10/4 - Chicago Cubs at LA Dodgers - 10:00 PM
10/5 - Chicago Cubs at LA Dodgers - TBD
10/7 – LA Dodgers at Chicago Cubs – TBD
The Cubs are back in the playoffs! Let it soak in for a moment. Can the Cubs secure a Divisional Series win, or dare I say their first World Series in 100 long years? They definitely have the team to do it and are the favorites to come out on top in the National League.
Their 97-64 record was good for second in the majors, and their 55-26 record in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field was second to only the Rays and Red Sox.
Grasp this: The Los Angeles Dodgers have won ONE postseason game, ONE in the past 19 years! In contrast, the Cubs have won seven. Not great, but surely better than one! I know, I know, the Cubs are cursed, but I really think they have the strongest team heading into the postseason.
In seven games this season, the Cubs won five of those contests against the Dodgers, slightly outscoring them 19-18. After looking at the numbers, it looks to be a close series, but I’m not buying into it.
The Cubs are firing on all cylinders right now, have no injuries, are well rested, and have home-field advantage. They scored the second most runs in the majors (855), were second in .OBP (.358), and had the fifth-highest team batting average (.278).
Contrast that with the Dodgers (700/.333/.264), good for 24th, 14th, and 14th, respectively, in the Senior Circuit.
Surprisingly, the Dodgers had the best ERA in the National League (3.68), while the Cubs sat in a close third (3.87). In the games played against each other this year, the two teams battled very closely. Team batting, home runs, and RBI were each separated by very slim margins (.238 to .235, 6 HR to 4 HR, and 80 RBI to 78 RBI), all in favor of the Cubbies.
The North Siders swept the Dodgers at home in a three-game series from May 26-28, and split a four-game set in Los Angeles from June 5-8.
I love the Cubs' starting staff, if only they can remain healthy. Zambrano might not be at full strength, and you can’t ever count on Rich Harden to not get injured. That being said, adding Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly into the mix creates a four-headed monster that no team in the postseason can compare to.
Combined, the foursome went an astonishing 53-22 on the year. Dempster went a ridiculous 14-3 at Wrigley this year, while Game Two starter Carlos Zambrano went a solid 7-2.
Dempster and Zambrano went a combined 1-1 in four starts against the Dodgers this year, while Lilly and Harden didn’t face the Dodgers at all. That could seriously favor the Cubbies. In four opportunities, closer Kerry Wood was perfect, saving four games, while striking out eight and walking only one.
The Cubbies' lineup is stacked and has everything you need: speed, power, and average. All Cubs starters posted an .OBP of over .350, with the exception of exceptional leadoff hitter, Alfonso Soriano.
They have veteran presence in Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Soriano, Jim Edmonds, and Mark DeRosa. And they have solid youngsters in Ryan Theriot and Geovany Soto.
The Dodgers won the West with a subpar 84-78 record. They were helped and carried in large part by midseason addition, Manny Ramirez. They have a solid core of battle-tested veterans in Ramirez and Jeff Kent (possibly not in the series), and a nice trio of youngsters in Ethier, Kemp, and Loney.
The Dodgers have a very deep bench if you consider Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Mark Sweeney. And let's not forget one of the best postseason managers ever in Joe Torre.
I’m not in love with the Dodgers' rotation, though. In two starts, Derek Lowe pitched very well against the Cubs, posting a 1-0 record with a sterling 1.93 ERA. Game Two starter, Chad Billingsley, got roughed up in his two starts against the Cubbies, posting an 0-1 record with a 4.91 ERA.
The Dodgers' bullpen worries me a little bit with Broxton having never experience a postseason before.
So, let’s add this up. Both teams’ first two probable starters went 1-1 against each other this year, and in the seven games played, there was only a one-run difference. I know how loud it can get at Chavez Ravine, and I think the Dodgers can win one game, but that’s it.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think the series will be as close as the numbers may suggest. I’m looking for a monster performance from both Ramirez’s, Aramis and Manny. I think the Cubs' starting staff and bullpen give them the edge. Don’t say I’m jinxing it, because a lot of people are picking the Cubbies, but here it goes:
Prediction: Cubs in four
There you have it! And just for good measure, I'm taking the Cubs over the Rays to win it all.