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2011 Playoffs
Division Series Preview
September 30, 2011

The regular season ended in dramatic fashion not unlike anything seen in a long time.  Sure, they have been play-in games in recent years, but the timing of the events this past Wednesday was something to behold.

Now that Atlanta and Boston have completed the two biggest collapses in baseball history, will the late surges by St. Louis and Tampa Bay be enough to propel them through the playoffs?

Philadelphia appears unbeatable, but the short series and a recent 8-game slide prove than anything can happen.  Let's look at each series:
National League
Arizona vs. Milwaukee
Milwaukee finished just two games better than Arizona, but somehow the Brewers seem head and shoulders above the D-Backs in talent.  That's just what Arizona wants everyone to think.  One way or another, 94 wins is no fluke, and with starters like Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, the D-Backs have the ability to hang around in most games.

As solid as Arizona appears on the mound, Milwaukee matches up well with Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, and others.  Having K-Rod in the bullpen and a near perfect Axford available to close makes it tough for Arizona to muster any come from behind victories.  The Brewers have some holes in their own right, but the added 1-2 punch of Fielder and Braun will prove a little much for the upstart Diamondbacks. 

Don't expect any blowouts, but Milwaukee will find early leads and protect them like most solid postseason ballclubs do.
Prediction: Brewers in 4

Philadelphia vs. St. Louis
St. Louis is coming in on a high and also holds a 6-3 edge over Philadelphia in the season series, so an even matchup should be expected, right?  Right? 

The Cardinals have Pujols, but they also have Theriot and Schumaker and Freese and a bullpen well aware of how to blow a save.  And no Carpenter until Game 3.  The reality is that Halladay, Lee, and Hamels will just prove to be too much for the Cardinals in a short series.

Philly's lineup doesn't strike the same fear it did in the past when Werth was around and Ibanez was overachieving, but Howard, Utley, Rollins, new sparkplug Pence, and an always-ready-for-the-playoffs Victorino will be more than enough to back up the best pitching in the playoffs.
Prediction: Phillies in 3

American League
Texas vs. Tampa Bay
A rematch of the first round last season, the shocking Rays are ready to make amends for last year's failures against Texas.  Despite losing some major offensive production in the offseason, Tampa Bay managed to score enough to win and hold off the opposition with incredible depth at pitching, and the plan for the playoffs is no different for manager Joe Maddon. 

On Texas' side, however, lurks three hitters with 30+ HR each, so it's going to take more than good pitching to win this series.  Also hurting Tampa is the need to throw the green Matt Moore in Game 1 after having pitched all of 9+ innings in the majors to date.  David Price showed how to turn inexperience into a positive several years ago, however, so look for Moore's talent to eclipse his inexperience, at least for one night.

The Rangers have been "bend but don't break" steady all year, and I expect this series to play out the same way.  I don't think the road team will win every game like last year, but I do think it will come down to the final game again, and Tampa's luck will finally run out against a better offensive team.
Prediction: Rangers in 5

New York vs. Detroit
For all of the complaints about the lack of quality pitching in New York, the Yankees somehow managed to finish with the best record in the AL, so they must be doing something right.  Topping it off is CC Sabathia, starting Game 1 and the perfect offset for Detroit's biggest weapon, Justin Verlander.

Verlander is currently scheduled to pitch in Games 1 and 5.  If Verlander can get past Sabathia in Game 1, Detroit holds the obvious edge, but that first game holds the key.  As good as the Yankees' offense should be, ARod isn't his old self, Posada barely made the roster, and Jeter will need to do more than just be an emotional leader.  As always, though, the Yankees know how to reload, and Teixeira, Granderson, and Cano have been shouldering the load this season and figure to continue doing so for another week or three.

Detroit is balanced offensively, and the second half Doug Fister had (going from 3-12 earlier in the year to a final 11-13 record including 5-0 with a 0.53 ERA in September) makes him a scary pitcher to face in Game 2.  If New York wins Game 1, look for the Yankees to finish the series in four, but if Detroit squeaks by tonight, expect the Tigers to win it in five.  It's a tough call, but I expect Verlander to make the Yankees look foolish tonight and give the Tigers a close Game 1 victory, propelling them toward winning a close series.
Prediction: Tigers in 5