Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MLB Division Series Preview

Now that the regular season has finally come to a close after a great one-game playoff won by the Twins, it's time for my post-season predictions. But first, we will recap my All-Star break predictions.

In the American League, I was half right on Boston and New York. I had them both in, but I had Boston winning the division and boy, was I way off on that. But for once, I'm extremely happy about being wrong.

I had the Angels in the West as well but went with Chicago in the Central. That was more of a knock on the Tigers than anything else, as I didn't think they were a good enough team to make the playoffs (and they didn't). It just happened to be the Twins who caught them, as the Tigers couldn't hold a seven-game September lead, much like the Mets in 2007.

On the National League side, I was right on the Phillies in the East, the Dodgers in the West and the Rockies taking the Wild Card. But I whiffed badly on my NL Central pick of Milwaukee, who finished under .500 and a whopping 11 games behind the Cardinals.

I guess six-for-eight isn't too bad, but most of them were rather easy picks (missing the Cardinals annoys me). Hopefully I can do better with these playoff predictions.

American League

Yankees vs. Twins

Looking at the pitching matchups on paper, this series should be over even before Minnesota ace Scott Baker takes the hill in Game 4, as he was needed against Detroit to get the Twins into the playoffs. The Yankees should take Game 1 easily with C.C. Sabathia on the mound against Brian Duensing and his nine career starts, not to mention the 12-inning marathon the Twins had to endure last night, as their flight reached New York just 15 hours before tonight's first pitch.

Game 2 will be very interesting, as Joe Girardi has decided to catch Jose Molina with A.J. Burnett on the mound. Jorge Posada and Burnett have struggled to get on the same page this season and this will be a controversial move if the Yankees lose this game, taking Posada's bat out of the lineup (Hideki Matsui is likely to DH). Nick Blackburn will oppose Burnett for Minnesota.

Game 3 pits playoff veteran Andy Pettitte against former Yankee bust Carl Pavano, who was shelled in his last outing against the Tigers. Sabathia will return for Game 4 against Baker, if the series even gets that far.

In the end, the Yankees are just too good for the Twins. What Minnesota lacks in star power they make up for with scrappy players who play the game the right way, but the Yankees offense and starting pitching will be too much for the small-market Twins to handle.

Prediction: Yankees, 3-0

Angels vs. Red Sox

As a Yankee fan, I will actually be rooting for the Red Sox in this series, as the Angels always hurt New York in the postseason. That probably won't matter in the end though, because the Angels are the better team and they will win this series.

Game 1 will pit Jon Lester against John Lackey. Lester hasn't faced the Angels this season, while Lackey pitched 7.2 innings against Boston and allowed just two earned runs. I like Boston to take Game 1, but Jered Weaver looms in Game 2, and he has dominated Boston in two starts this season (13.2 innings, one earned run).

The Angels' solid top-to-bottom lineup will be too much for the young Clay Buchholz in Game 3 and with a 2-1 lead, Los Angeles will win one of the series' final two games to move on and face the Yankees.

Predictions: Angels, 3-2

National League

Phillies vs. Rockies

I like the Rockies, I really do. I just don't think they're good enough to beat the Phillies. Combine the average Rockies starting pitching with the potent Philadelphia lineup and you have a recipe for disaster.

Game 1 provides an intriguing matchup, with Cliff Lee facing Ubaldo Jimenez. Lee has struggled after a hot start following his trade from the Indians, while Jimenez is enjoying a breakout season that saw him win 15 games with a 3.47 ERA. Jimenez pitched well in the 2007 playoffs, throwing 16 innings and allowing just four earned runs, including a 6.1-inning, one-run performance to close out an opening-series sweep of the Phillies.

I like the Rockies in Game 1, but Game 2 and 3 will belong to the Phillies. Game 2 starter Cole Hamels posted a 3.32 ERA and 40:8 K:BB ratio in September and the Philadelphia offense should be able to score a few runs against Aaron Cook. The Phillies are unsure at this point who they will throw in Game 3 against Jason Hammel, but I don't see Hammel keeping their offense down.

The one chink in the Phillies armor' this season compared to last is their bullpen. Brad Lidge went from lights out in 2008 to lit up in 2009, and Ryan Madson has proven his inability to close this season on numerous occasions. These late-innings issues will come back to haunt Philadelphia eventually, just not in this series.

Prediction: Phillies, 3-1

Cardinals vs. Dodgers

The Dodgers enter the playoffs cold, having lost five of their last seven games and seven of eleven. But the Cardinals have won just two of their last ten games, with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright picking up the only two victories in that stretch.

The Dodgers' suspect rotation will be exposed against Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and the Cardinals lineup, who also have the luxury of throwing Cy Young candidates Carpenter and Wainwright in the first two games of this series against Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers bullpen is excellent with Jonathan Broxton, Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill, but they may not see an opportunity to hold a lead in the first two games. L.A. has a fighting chance against Joel Piniero in game three, but I don't see this series going the distance.

Prediction: Cardinals, 3-1

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