The East division clearly showed that it was the cream of the crop this year in the American League. Now, though, the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox will square off to see who heads to the World Series to represent their league.
Here's a couple things to look for at least early on in this series.
1) Can B.J. Upton keep up his torrid streak?
In four games against the Chicago White Sox, Upton hit three long balls and went crazy over the final two games of the series, hitting a combined 4-for-9 with four RBI.
The real question is: Can he keep that up? To be honest, I really don't think so. Luckily for Upton, though, I think it is fair to expect young sensation Evan Longoria to find his groove after going hit less in his last eight at bats of the ALDS.
A hidden bandage to worrisome answer is Upton's ability to make plays in center field. He can cover as much ground as anyone out in the eight spot and showed, against the White Sox, that his athletic ability is unmatched.
Especially with some power hitters in the BoSox lineup, expect Upton to get his fair share of action in the field, as well as at the dish.
2) Can the Rays extinguish the Sox emotional high?
After going from an extreme low, losing in 12 innings to the Angels, to an extraordinary high, winning the ALDS in walk-off fashion, the Red Sox are on "Cloud Nine." It will be interesting to see if the Rays' bats and arms can subdue the adrenaline that is still pumping through the BoSox's veins after last night's thrilling victory.
With a starting group of Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Lester, the Rays will be tested in every game. Lo and behold, though, they counter with their own staff of arms. Scott Kazmir was lights out in his performance, and James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine didn't look too shabby either.
All in all though, it will be very difficult for the Rays to take these Red Sox players and fans off of their proverbial throne.
3) So who gets the edge?
Batting- There isn't anyone more locked in right now than Upton. That being said, I give the edge to the Red Sox, for their consistency up and down the lineup with Padroia, Bay, Ortiz, and Youkilis. Red Sox 1, Rays 0.
Fielding- I mentioned how explosive Upton was in the outfield; well, Longoria might be even better at third. I know Youkilis is arguably the best defensive player in the game, and Kotsay looked like gold at first. Don't forget the center field plays that Ellsbury makes, but this one goes to the Rays for one underrated defensive player: Akinori Iwamura. Red Sox 1, Rays 1.
Pitching- This is pretty simple: The rich always win the arms race, just look at history! Red Sox 2, Rays 1.
Manager- Terry "Tito" Francona was in this same situation last year, and Joe Maddon hasn't seen the playoffs for a while. Although he's more experienced overall, Tito wins this battle. Red Sox 3, Rays 1.
When it's all said and done, I think this will be a very intriguing series, but the Red Sox will come out on top in six games, 4-2.
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