2005 Division Series Preview
October 3, 2005
The hottest team in baseball since May picked the wrong week to start slumping, leaving the Cleveland Indians on the outside looking in this October. The Chicago White Sox held them off by winning early and winning often. Despite some uncertainty near the end, the White Sox took care of business by padding their record against below average teams and dominating their closest competition, taking 13 of 18 from the Tribe.
The other contenders in the AL, all finishing with 95 wins, provide some extremely competitive matchups. Among the four AL teams, Anaheim has the best records against its playoff counterparts, despite only being 2 games over .500 in those contests.
In the NL, St. Louis is getting properly rewarded with a first round matchup against the 82-80 Padres, while the Braves were likely hoping the Phillies would have pulled some magic out of their hats and knocked Houston out. Instead, Atlanta is faced with some of the same troubling matchups as last year, when Houston won in five games.
Every team has a few weaknesses this year, and while St. Louis and Chicago have the best records, there is no clear cut favorite to be holding the trophy three weeks from now. Before you can win the World Series, you have to get to the World Series, so let's take a look at who will take the first step.
Boston vs. Chicago
Surprising to some, the White Sox actually outhomered the Red Sox this year, 200 to 196. Add that to almost 100 more stolen bases from Chicago, and the offense appears to favor the White Sox. The most important offensive stat, however, is runs. It's not HOW you do it but HOW MANY, and the Red Sox have taken care of the "many," plating 900 runs to Chicago's 738. Balancing out the offense is Chicago's stellar pitching staff, with an ERA over 1 run better than Boston. If Chicago can avoid falling behind in games early, they will be able to pitch around Ortiz and Ramirez, keeping the games lowering scoring and in their favor. The series should go 5, and I foresee Chicago pulling out a close one as they have so many times this year.
Prediction: White Sox in 5
New York vs. Los Angeles (Anaheim)
The Yankees were thisclose to missing the playoffs, but instead they won the East for the 8th straight time. Despite the enormous payroll, you have to give credit to a team that constantly wins, regardless of the unbalanced playing field. The Angels proved in 2002 that they know how to win, also, and the nod goes to Anaheim's starting pitching in this series matchup. Despite Mariano Rivera, the Angels have a deeper bullpen than New York and Vlad should offset some of the offensive production New York's hefty lineup is sure to generate. Anaheim appears to be better balanced and will prevail in this short series.
Prediction: Angels in 4
Houston vs. Atlanta
15-30. That was Houston's record before the Astros deciding to start hitting the ball around mid-May. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Houston's poor early starts means they have gone 74-43 since. Not bad for a "wild card" team. This matchup is very similar to last year's matchup which Houston won in 5 games. This year, however, the Braves have some players (Francoeur, Johnson, McCann, etc.) who don't know any better. All signs point to Houston and its pitching prowess, but I have a hunch that Houston's bats will get silenced, failing to score more than 4 runs in any game, and the Braves will capitalize with their lineup of veterans (Jones, Jones, etc.) and youngsters.
Prediction: Braves in 4
San Diego vs. St. Louis
Some analysts are immediately writing off the Padres because of their record, but in a 5-game series, anything can happen. San Diego actually holds a one game edge on St. Louis this year in head to head competition. Truth be told, though, St. Louis' depth of hitting will eventually wear down the Padres and their capable bullpen. Jake Peavy will steal Game 1 from Carpenter and the Redbirds, but LaRussa and company will group to take the next three with relative ease.
Prediction: Cardinals in 4
Check out TCO's 2005 Season Preview for an April flashback to see how well The Commish predicted this season's outcomes. Hint: 6 of 8 correct playoff teams.