By ZACH MORETTI
The long baseball regular season has come to a close and now the playoffs are here. Who will be crowned 2009 World Series Champs? Can the Phillies repeat? Will the Yankees capture their first title since 2000? Tune in to FOX and TBS to watch the games and find out. Now here are my Divisional Series predictions:
Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels won the AL West and posted the second best record in all of baseball, but they face the AL Wild Card Red Sox, a team that has had their number in the playoffs. Boston eliminated Los Angeles from postseason contention each of the last two seasons and Boston is 4-0 all time against the Angels in the playoffs. The Angels will try to end that drought this year, but it will not be an easy task.
Overview: The Angels are a complete team. They can score runs any number of ways and that helped them score the second most runs in baseball. Los Angeles was first in the majors in batting average, third in stolen bases, and 11th in home runs. They have speed all throughout the batting order, 1B Kendry Morales exploded to become a feared power hitter in the middle of their lineup, and with slugger Vladimir Guerrero healthy the team has another power bat. Los Angeles is also very good defensively, as they too were tied for sixth in the MLB with a .986 fielding percentage. Their starting rotation is probably the deepest in all of baseball with five very good starters and their bullpen was great all season long with things being closed out by MLB saves leader Brian Fuentes.
The Red Sox have one of the best 1-2 punches when it comes to starting pitchers in LHP Jon Lester and RHP Josh Beckett. The team also has one of the best bullpens in the league anchored by outstanding closer Jonathon Papelbon. Not only that, but on offense Boston scored the third most runs in all of baseball. They don’t have a ton of speed, but CF Jacoby Ellsbury led the league in steals with 70 and he’s a threat every time he gets on. The reemergence of DH David Ortiz has been huge for Boston, as has the mid-season acquisition C/1B Victor Martinez. The Red Sox are also sound defensively as they ranked sixth in the majors with a .986 fielding percentage
Biggest Advantage for the Angels- Speed: Boston allowed 151 steals in the regular season, by far the most in the majors, and they threw out a putrid 13 percent of base stealers. This plays perfectly for the Angels, who as previously stated were third in steals in all of baseball. Los Angeles stole 148 bases, had 5 players steal 10 or more bases including two who stole 30 or more.
Biggest Advantage for Boston- Starting Pitching: While the Angels may have the deepest rotation in baseball, they lack a true No. 1 stud to help carry them in the playoffs. The Red Sox happen to have two aces in Lester and Beckett and that is a big reason why they can make a run at a World Series title.
Prediction- Red Sox in 5 games: The Angels are a really good team and this series could go either way, but great power pitching wins in October and Boston has two aces on their side.
Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees
New York won the AL East, finished with the best record in all of baseball, and they have home field advantage throughout the postseason. They also caught another break when the Twins and Tigers remained tied atop the AL Central through 162 games, thus forcing a tie-breaker to be played the day before the ALDS series was set to begin. Minnesota won to advance, but getting past the Bronx Bombers in the playoffs will be an even greater challenge.
Overview: New York’s strength is clearly their great lineup, led by 1B Mark Teixeira and SS Derek Jeter, which scored the most runs in the MLB this season. The Yankees also led with majors with 244 home runs and they had seven players hit 20+ homers. They have the deepest lineup in baseball, with All-Star caliber players at almost every position and anyone from 1-9 in their order can beat you. They don’t run all that often, as they were only 11th in steals, but their hitting is so good that they don’t really need to gamble either. Their starting pitching is pretty good too, headed by a work horse in LHP CC Sabathia, and their bullpen was stellar after early season struggles and is led by the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. Defensively New York was solid but not great, as they were tied for 10th in the league in fielding percentage.
The Twins’ strength is their very good lineup that scored the fifth most runs in the majors and they are great at manufacturing runs. The problem is that their strength is also the Yankees strength, and New York is better at scoring runs then the Twins. Another problem is that the team is without slugging 1B Justin Morneau, who is out for the year with a stress fracture in his back. Minnesota does still have AL MVP candidate Joe Mauer to go along with the hot hitters in DH Jason Kubel and RF Michael Cuddyer. The Twins are also an outstanding fielding team and they ranked third in baseball with a .987 fielding percentage. The starting rotation is mediocre and they lack a stud at the top of the rotation. Not only that, but their rotation is all out of sorts right now as Minnesota had to use all their starters just to get into the playoffs, so it’s unclear how their rotation will shape up. Their bullpen is rock solid, with veteran closer Joe Nathan at the back end of it.
The Biggest Advantage for New York- Rest: One could say hitting, as it will be really hard for any team to out-slug the Yankees. But New York’s biggest edge is that they clinched their division and the best record in the AL long ago, which allowed them to rest their players and set up their rotation the way they wanted for the postseason. Meanwhile, the Twins were simply fighting to get into the playoffs and had to fight tooth and nail not just to the end of the regular season, but an extra tie-breaker game as well. No one on Minnesota is rested and now they have to face a team that’s not only better then them, but one that’s been resting comfortably for this series for quite some time.
Biggest Advantage for Minnesota- No Pressure: There is absolutely no pressure on the Twins at all. They are playing with house money and they are the biggest underdog in the entire playoffs. Minnesota was three games out with four to play, and they somehow tied the Detroit Tigers, forced a one game playoff, and won that in 12 innings to advance to the ALDS. They have the worst record of any team to qualify for the postseason and they face the team with the best record of any team in the playoffs. The Yankees have to win a World Series this year in order for the season to be considered a success while Minnesota is already glad to have a playoff berth on their resume for this season. Furthermore, the Yankees have marquee guys on their team like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia who have failed to come through come playoff time. If these guys struggle again under pressure like they have in past postseasons, New York could be in trouble as they face a team with nothing to lose.
Prediction- Yankees in 3: The Yankees are simply too good for Minnesota. New York has better hitting and pitching and the Twins used up too much just to get to this point. New York moves on for what should be an epic Yankees/Red Sox ALCS.
Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia won the NL East and the reigning champs look to defend their crown and repeat as World Series Champs. They face a Rockies team that found new life when they switched managers in late May and put Jim Tracy in charge. Since that switch, the Rockies went 74-42 and surged into the playoffs as the NL Wild Card.
Overview: The Phillies strength lies in their lineup that touts outstanding 2B Chase Utley along with two former NL MVP’s in 1B Ryan Howard and SS Jimmy Rollins. Philadelphia was fourth in the majors in runs scored, they were tied for second with 224 home runs, and they were seventh in stolen bases. The team was also great defensively as they were tied for third in Major League Baseball with a .987 fielding percentage. The starting pitching has been up and down, but when it comes down to it they are pretty strong with two very good LHPs in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The bullpen is an issue, as closer Brad Lidge has had a terrible season, and if the Phillies falter it will most likely be because of this weakness.
Colorado’s best asset is the team’s hitting as they were sixth in the big leagues in runs scored. Their offense has a good mix of young and old with up-and-coming SS Troy Tulowitzki leading the team as the best offensive player while veterans like 1B Todd Helton and RF Brad Hawpe also contribute. The Rockies aren’t anything special as far as speed goes as they were 12th in the league in stolen bases, but they were a good fielding team as they were tied for sixth in the majors in fielding percentage. The starting pitching is solid and led by RHP Ubaldo Jimenez while the bullpen was also very good throughout the season and they look strong heading into the postseason now that closer Huston Street is back healthy.
Biggest Advantage for Philadelphia- Starting Pitching: The Phillies don’t have the best starting pitching in the playoffs this year, but in a five game series to have Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels pitch three of the five games is a big advantage because both of those guys are better then anyone on the Colorado staff. Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis are solid pitchers, but they aren’t going to help carry a team through the playoffs.
Biggest Advantage for Colorado- Bullpen: The Rockies pen has been great down the stretch. RHP Rafael Betancourt has been great since Colorado acquired him from the Indians, LHP Franklin Morales emerged late as their 8th inning man and closer Huston Street converted 35 of 37 save opportunities on the year. On the other side, the Philadelphia bullpen has been terrible. Closer Brad Lidge has an ERA of 7.21 and has blown an MLB high 11 saves this season. The team might need to switch to RHP Ryan Madson as their closer, but Phillies manager Charlie Manuel seems reluctant to do so and his faith in Lidge could cost Philadelphia a chance to advance in the playoffs.
Prediction- Phillies in 4: Philadelphia has bullpen issues, but they are still a great hitting team with good starting pitching. And while neither Cliff Lee nor Cole Hamels are power pitchers, that starting pitching duo is better then anything Colorado has. The defending champs keep their repeat hopes alive as they advance.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers enter the playoffs with the best record in the National League and were the champions of the NL West. They face a very dangerous St. Louis team who got into the playoffs as the NL Wild Card and tout the best player in the game along with two of the best pitchers in the sport.
Overview: Los Angeles isn’t stellar in any category, but their strength would still have to be hitting. The team has talented sluggers all over the field, but especially in the outfield with LF Manny Ramirez, CF Matt Kemp, and RF Andre Either. The team isn’t great offensively, as they ranked 11th in the league in runs scored, and they don’t crank out many home runs as the team was just 23rd in the majors in that category. The Dodgers can manufacture runs with their speed as they were eighth in baseball with 116 steals. Defensively the Dodgers were very good as they were tied for sixth in the major leagues in fielding percentage. The starting rotation is a bit shaky. Former ace Chad Billingsley has struggled so mightily that he might not even start for the team in the postseason and starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda will miss the NLDS due to a neck injury, leaving the Los Angeles rotation very thin. The bullpen is extremely talented and the eighth and ninth innings are pretty much locked down when relievers George Sherrill and Jonathon Broxton enter the game.
The Cardinals strength is clearly their starting pitching. RHP’s Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright have been so good this year that they are both in the running for the National League Cy Young award. The bullpen was also solid as the team found a very good closer in RHP Ryan Franklin. The hitting wasn’t very good, as St. Louis ranked 18th in runs scored, but they do have some talented hitters in LF Matt Holliday and RF Ryan Ludwick. And of course, who could forget the Cards 1B Albert Pujols, who should win his second NL MVP in as many years. The team isn’t really a threat to steal bases, as they were 23rd in the majors in that category, but they are solid defensively and ranked 10th in baseball with a .985 fielding percentage.
Biggest Advantage for the Dodgers- Hitting: The Dodgers are a solid hitting team led by CF Matt Kemp and RF Andre Either. However, if they are going to go anywhere in the playoffs they need LF Manny Ramirez and C Russell Martin to break out of their long slumps and start mashing the ball the way they are capable. St. Louis is a decent hitting team but they rely a lot on the home run ball and on star 1B Albert Pujols. The Cardinals will need LF Matt Holliday and RF Ryan Ludwick to step up and have a good series so that Los Angeles can’t pitch around Pujols.
Biggest Advantage for St. Louis- Starting Pitching: The Cardinals tout two of the premiere pitchers in baseball in starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The two stud pitchers combined to go 36-12 on the season with an ERA in the mid-2’s and over 350 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has a very weak starting staff. With RHP Chad Billingsley’s problems and RHP Hiroki Kuroda’s neck injury, the Dodgers are without an ace and the first two games of the series will be started by LHP’s Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw. This is a huge advantage for St. Louis.
Prediction- Cardinals in 4 games: Once again, great power pitching wins in October and the Cardinals have two NL Cy Young Candidates on their staff to go along with the best hitter in the game today. St. Louis gets out of the first round and moves on to the NLCS.