Leaves are changing colours, the air is crisp, and the days are getting shorter—it must be time for the MLB playoffs. Only fools would bet on baseball in October, but we’ll take a stab at predicting it.
A.L. Divisional Series
Rays vs. Rangers—The Texas Rangers (90-72) are one of only three teams tthat have never made it to the World Series. Cliff Lee leads a strong pitching rotation of C.J Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis, but he’s the only one with significant playoff experience. The Rays’ David Price, Matt Garza, James Shields, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann form arguably the deepest pitching staff in the post-season. Rangers MVP candidate Josh Hamilton looks to return to a potent lineup that includes Vladimir Guerrero and Michael Young. Evan Longoria is looking to return and help a struggling Rays batting lineup that is led by Carl Crawford. Ultimately, whoever is healthier should win this matchup. While the Rangers are excited to return to the playoffs, the Rays’ great pitching depth, excellent defence and ability to manufacture runs will result in a hard fought win. Tampa Bay in 5.
Yankees vs. Twins—The Minnesota Twins had an incredible stretch in August and September but will be missing Canadian slugger Justin Morneau for this series. The injury leaves the Minnesota offence with little depth behind last year’s MVP Joe Mauer. Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and Michael Cuddyer need to step up if the Twins are to compete with the Bronx Bombers. Twins ace, Francisco Liriano, leads an unproven rotation of Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker. They might have trouble against New York’s lineup, which is easily the best in baseball. Though the Yankees’ pitching rotation looks very shaky behind Cy Young frontrunner C.C. Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA), the Mariano Rivera-led bullpen should be able to hold enough leads to beat the Twins despite not having home field advantage. New York in 4.
N.L. Divisional Series
Phillies vs. Reds—The Phillies are absolutely the team to beat. Roy Halladay’s finally pitching in the playoffs, but he’s already logged 250 innings this season. Can his arm hold up? The whole team could get tired; no regular is under 30 years old. With a suspect bullpen after Brad Lidge, and the wicked Cincinnati lineup featuring the terrifying duo of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, late-inning drama is guaranteed in this classic pitching-hitting matchup. Cincy has the best offence in the N.L., and if anyone can get to the Phillies aces, it’s them. Plus, their playoff rotation of Edinson Volquez-Bronson Arroyo-Johnny Cueto finished the season strong, and could keep them in every game. Still, Phillies in 4.
Braves vs. Giants—The Braves won’t go down easily in Bobby Cox’s last season, although they limped into the playoffs, going 14-16 over their final 30 games. Against playoff pitching their hitting might not be consistent enough to win. Unfortunately for the Braves, the Giants have two legit aces at the front of their rotation. If pitching wins championships, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain could take the Giants far. But which Giants will hit Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson? Their best hitter is a rookie catcher who’s never played this far into a season. Don’t forget about the Hinske effect: utility man Eric Hinske is in the playoffs for the fourth straight year with a fourth different team. The past three won the pennant. Braves in 5.
The Big Picture
The Yankees and Rays should hook up in the ALCS. The series will be tight but Joe Maddon’s rotation will be enough to get the Rays to their second World Series.
On the Senior Circuit, the Phillies and Braves will lock horns in the NLCS. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt should neutralize Jason Heyward and the upstart Braves to secure the Phillies’ third straight pennant.
In a rematch of the 2008 World Series, the Phillies and Rays will give us a duel for the ages. Two outstanding pitching staffs will go up against two high-powered offences. Something’s got to give. Look for these more mature Rays to avenge their loss from two years ago and win their first-ever World Series.