Wednesday, October 06, 2010


No, it's not My Life Before Pilades, but Major League Baseball's Playoffs, which started about an hour ago as I enter this post.

I refer you to my previous in-depth review of the progress of baseball's season, which will in turn refer you to my preseason posting. As for the latter, suffice to say that I got five of the eight postseason teams correct, a pretty good result, though my pick for World Series champ (the Cardinals) didn't make the cut. I'm happy about that error, as well as the Tampa Bay Rays displacing the Boston Red Sox (or BoTox, as I generally refer to them). I'm less pleased that the Colorado Rockies did not repeat their dramatic finish of 2007: as in that year, they had the winning streak to get close, but then ran out of gas, cut the motor, and, coasting, fell back in the race. On the whole, I've enjoyed the main course regular-season and its results enormously and I'm looking forward to dessert.

Going forward, then, we have four first-round matchups, which I'll discuss briefly, then giving my preference and predictions. Then I'll assume I'm right and briefly predict the League Championship and World Series.

Rays vs. Texas Rangers: Rays are favored, based on better regular-season performance. They also have the great motivation (I think) of knowing their team is likely to be largely broken up after the season in an effort to cut salary expenses. I see it as basically even; the Rangers' mid-season pickup of Cliff Lee puts them in a good position to win games 1 and 4, which, of course, is two-thirds of the way there. Texas has never--ever!--won a postseason series (and that includes their limp predecessor, the second incarnation of the Washington Senators), while Tampa Bay had a dramatic run to glory in 2008 before losing in the Series and dropping out of the running last year. My preference would be the Rangers; my pick is the Rays, in five games.

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees: Three things suggest the Twins can reverse the slave-master relationship that has prevailed between the two teams in recent years and the recent playoff history: 1) Twins have home-field advantage because they won their division, while Yanks are "only" the Wild Card; 2) the Twins arguably have the stronger three-man starting rotation, because the Yanks have had only one reliable starter through the year, C.C. Sabathia; and 3) regular-season record has the Yanks only one game better, so the teams are at least theoretically about equal. Unfortunately, I don't buy any of that; the games will be high-scoring but the Yanks will outslug them. My preference would be the Twins; my pick is the Yanks, in four (win one of two on the road and the two at home).

San Francisco Giants vs. Atlanta Braves:
The Giants won their division on the last day with a 3-0 shutout of the San Diego Padres, thus avoiding a four-way tie among contenders and a three-way playoff for two spots (the playoff would've been Giants/Braves/Padres; the fourth tied team would've been the Cincinnati Reds, who'd clinched their division). The winner of that crucial game was Matt Cain, who is only the second-best starter on the Giants (behind Tim Lincecum), and they have two-three other good ones. The Giants' outstanding starting pitching makes them heavy favorites over the Braves, who have a sentimental appeal in beloved Manager Bobby Cox's last year (and, apparently, future Hall of Fame reliever--or should be HOF'er--Billy Wagner's last). My preference would be the Braves (see below for the reason), my pick is the Giants, in four.

Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies: This is, for me, the main event, and for most fans, it will be the most interesting. For one thing, the Reds' presence in the postseason is something new and exciting (first appearance in 15 years); for another, it's a great matchup between the Phillies' three-man power rotation (Halladay/Oswalt/Hamels) and the Reds' top-rated offense. Unfortunately for me (a devoted Reds fan), good pitching can usually close down good hitting. I also have some doubt about the Reds' starting pitching for the series, as selected by manager Dusty Baker: three righty starters against the Phillies' power-hitting lefties.

The Reds have to win one of the first three to get to their best shot to win, Travis Wood, who I would hope Baker will trot out in Game 4. The key to that is for the Reds to make a successful comeback using long relievers (other than Wood, preferably) and their hitting prowess, either wearing down at least one of the Phillies' starters or getting to their bullpen. Sounds pretty daunting, and the Phillies are indeed major favorites.

I decided a while ago that, while I was sympathetic to the Phils in their two previous pennant runs (2008 and 2009), I would root against them this year for their nearly-criminal preseason trade of Cliff Lee to the Mariners (from whence Lee was traded again to the Rangers). Then the Reds came along to clinch that feeling. My preference is clearly the Reds, and I will ignore logic to pick the Reds in five.

Future rounds: ALCS--Yankees and Rays: This has been a real good matchup in the regular season this year. I picked the Yanks to go to the World Series in preseason, but that's because I figured the main opposition would be BoTox. The Yankees are formidable but their pitching weakness pierces their air of invulnerability, upon which they rely so much. My preference and pick would be the Rays. (If one or the other doesn't make the ALCS, I'd pick the one that does, and if Minnesota-Texas, I'll go with the Twins.)

NLCS--Reds vs. Giants: I'm already satisfied with the Reds' making the playoffs, though naturally if they beat the Phils, I'll want more. The Phillies would be looking to make history with three straight NL pennants if they win in the first round (the last time it was done was by the Cardinals in 1942-44; I'm rooting--and betting--against. Preference--Reds; pick--Giants. (I'll even go with the Giants against the Phils, but I'd pick the Reds, or the Phillies, over the Braves.)

World Series--Giants vs. Rays: This would be a great one to watch, if it happens; a real change from the usual suspects. The Giants have not won the World Series since they moved west from New York in 1958 (they won a bunch there); the Rays have a short history, with one World Series loss. Warning, though: it might be very low-scoring, because if the teams get this far, their pitching staffs will have been effective. Preference and prediction: Rays.

It's too complicated to consider all the other 30 possible World Series matchups, so I'll oversimplify and generalize. Preference: NL team (in all matchups except Phillies vs. not-Yanks); Prediction: same, in six games.

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