Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Playoff Predictions

I've been dreading this. I've been thinking about making my predictions again, terrified of pulling off the impossible 0-for-7 two years in a row. It might be time to channel my inner Costanza and just do the opposite of my instincts, but that would probably make me the only person in the world to pick a Diamondbacks-Angels World Series, and I think I've gone out on enough limbs with 2007 predictions (see: 2007 Texas Rangers). So screw it, I'm going with my first instinct. But if I go 0-for-4 in the DS, then it's Costanza time.

One final thought before I get going - I think it's awesome that out of the eight playoff teams from last year, only one of them made it back this year. I think it's less awesome that the one repeat team is the Yankees, but that's beside the point. In two years, exactly half of the teams in MLB, and, in fact, half in each league, have made the playoffs. That's the wild card era in a nutshell, and I don't want to hear any more whining from Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and the rest of the perennial doormats. It can be done.

The Red Sox have destroyed Lackey and Weaver this year; they haven't faced Escobar, but they killed him last year and beat him in the clinching third game in 2004. I like the Angels' pitching, but the Red Sox seem to have their number. Having Manny back in the lineup is huge, and if he and Youkilis can stay healthy, the offense will be much stronger than when it sputtered in September. I'm obviously worried about Drew and Lugo, but I think Ortiz, Manny, and Lowell can carry enough of the load on offense.

The pitching is another story, and of course I'm a little bit concerned about Matsuzaka (he should be pitching Game Three - he's much better on the road), but like I said, the Angels staff has its warts, too. The bullpens are similar: shut-down closers, set-up guys who were brutal down the stretch (Gagne's and Okajima's struggles have been well-documented, but here's Scot Shields since the all-star break: 7.36 ERA, 1.81 WHIP), and seventh inning guys who are lurking as stronger eighth inning options (Manny Delcarmen and Justin Speier).

I'd say Boston has a slight edge in the rotation, and the bullpen is a push. The Red Sox offense puts them over the top. The Pick: Red Sox in 4.

Everyone knows that the Yankees are the hottest team in the AL (I'd love to see them play a three-game series against Colorado or Philly right now), but something worries me about this Cleveland match-up. Last year, going into the playoffs, everyone and their grandmother was picking the Yankees to stomp on Detroit and go all the way, conveniently overlooking the fact that their pitching stunk. Well, what's changed? The Yankees have a high-powered offense that goes into the playoffs with a few guys banged up, and their opponent has a strong rotation, good middle relievers, and a closer who's a closer in name only. With home field and three potential starts from Sabathia and Carmona, why can't the Indians take this team down?

The answer? A-Rod. Maybe. If he has a big series, there's no way the Yankees can lose, unless the rest of the lineup goes 7-for-100, or something. But what if Sabathia and Carmona can shut him down, and he comes back to the Bronx 1-for-9 with no RsBI? Do the fans get on him if he pops up in his first at-bat against Jake Westbrook? If he hits into a double play off of Paul Byrd? Can he keep it together?

Personally, I don't know what to think. I've mocked the man enough that even after he came through in some huge spots against the Sox this year, I still expect him to fail with the game on the line and the leaves changing colors. Do I believe that he's un-clutch and a stat-padder and not a True YankeeTM? I don't think so. At least, I like to think I'm smart enough not to, but as a fan of the opposition, I just can't shake the feeling that he won't come through when it really matters, and that the negative karma from the New York fans and press could eat him up. Of course, this is the situation that I'm praying for, so that he opts out and leverages a gigantic offer from the Yankees into a bigger offer from the Cubs or Dodgers or Giants, but I think this year, finally, I'm not expecting it.

I really don't know what to make of this series, though. If the Yankees can steal one in Cleveland (which I think they can... probably Game Two), then I think the Indians are done. Westbrook and Byrd aren't holding down that offense in Yankee Stadium. The Pick: Yankees in 4.

I have to zip through the NL, because I should be studying for my accounting test...

Everyone's on the Cubs bandwagon, pretty much because they have a celebrity manager, play in a big market, and are playing against a team that was outscored by 20 runs this year. Well, for those people I offer two strong words: Ryan Dempster. The Pick: Diamondbacks in 5.

I'm trying to figure out whose rotation is worse in the Philly-Colorado series, and I just can't. They're both awful. Philly has a better ace and a better closer, in my opinion, so I probably give them the edge, and in a game five after what will likely be a series full of Broncos vs. Eagles scores, I think that's enough. The Pick: Phillies in 5.

ALCS: I hate making this pick. I don't want to jinx it, but I don't want to come off as a homer, either (Ross doesn't have this problem, by the way). I guess I should just look at the results in August/September. Bah. The Pick: Yankees in 6.

NLCS: The Phillies may be able to slug their way through Colorado, but in a seven-game series against a team with a better ace and a better bullpen, I think they'll need some help from the pitching, and I don't see it. Plus, Charlie Manuel is involved. The Pick: Diamondbacks in 6.

World Series: First of all, if this is really the World Series, I'm going to throw up. Second of all... actually, that's all I've got. The Pick: Yankees in 5.

Wait a second... did I just predict that Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Kyle Farnsworth, Alex Rodriguez, et al would win the World Series? That can't happen, can it? There's no chance, right? But who can beat them? The Red Sox and Indians could, I guess, but... damn it. I don't think rationally when the Red Sox are involved. I'm just going to leave it as is and hope that I go 1-for-7 this year. Hey, it would be an improvement...

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