Division Series Preview
October 3, 2007
The playoffs haven't even started, but Colorado and San Diego already made it feel like it thanks to Monday's game. It is a strange but exciting season where there seem to be two tiers of quality in the playoffs: American League teams and National League teams. Of course, as St. Louis showed the world last year, you don't need the most overall talent to win the World Series.
As a whole, the AL teams are all solid with perhaps only one weaknesses per team. The NL teams have more holes but the teams that survived the wild finish happen to be the teams playing the best baseball right now, so no one can be ruled out.
With eight teams and no clear favorite, a betting man would be wise to take the underdogs because very little separates the teams in the four Division Series. Despite the difficulty in predicting these series, I, your esteemed "Commish," have learned from last year's mistake ("...you already know that one team who won't be taking any trophies home is the St. Louis Cardinals") and I shall guide you through these best of 5 series so you know exactly what will happen before the games even start. I'm like that Early Edition show where the guy from Friday Night Lights gets the Sun-Times a day early, except that he used it to save lives and my predictions are often wrong. Disregard my past history and take a leap of faith as I present my can't miss predictions for the 2007 Division Series!
New York vs. Cleveland
The problem with a five-game series is so much depends on Game 1. In this case, a Yankees win over Sabathia Thursday would make it extremely tough for Cleveland to bounce back. Sabathia rarely gets rattled, however, and I expect the Indians to rally on his behalf and take Game 1, putting the pressure on New York early.
The vaunted New York lineup will likely bring Fausto Carmona back to Earth in Game 2, but the Indians have a steady lineup that should give Pettitte fits as well. Game 3 might get ugly for Cleveland as Jake Westbrook will have trouble with Arod, Jeter, and the rest of the Bronx Bombers.
In the end, I see C.C. Sabathia making a name for himself in this series, winning two games with gutsy performances. The Indians will find a way to scrap out a win elsewhere, giving New Yorkers the offseason to ponder how so much money can lead to so little success in the playoffs.
Prediction: Cleveland in 5
Los Angeles vs. Boston
Too many factors go against the Angels this series, even for Mike Scioscia to manage his way through. For starters, most people are familiar with John Lackey's difficulties pitching in Fenway (1-4, 7.68 ERA), and injuries to Bartolo Colon and Gary Matthews Jr. already give Boston an edge.
Los Angeles boasts a more well-rounded lineup, with plenty of speed (Willits, Figgins), some power (Guerrero), and RBI production (Anderson), but Boston boasts Manny, Big Papi, Mike Lowell, etc., and even though they don't run, they only need to jog when they hit the ball out of the park.
Josh Beckett will handle the Angels lineup without much trouble in Game 1, and Curt Schilling, love him or hate him, will find a way to win Game 3. By Game 4, the Angels will have a tough hill to climb, and an early lead in that game for Boston will put the series away for good.
Prediction: Boston in 4
Chicago vs. Arizona
Despite an entire team of square blocks trying a fit into round roles (strikeout heavy, power-hitting outfielder who refuses to bat anywhere but leadoff, a closer who makes every game an adventure but somehow gets the job done, an "ace" who leads his ballclub by being, well, crazy, the lack of a right fielder who can hit a cutoff man, etc.), Chicago has found a way to win when it matters. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, they were able to do it against poor teams in the regular season, but now they must face quality teams day in and day out. With a record of 32-37 against teams above .500, a long playoff run doesn't bode well.
Nevertheless, the stubborn team from the north side finished strong and ace Carlos Zambrano began to show signs of his former self (the talented one, not the crazy one). Game 1 will be a doozy against Brandon Webb. Even though the Cubs have more playoff experience than the youngsters on Arizona, Webb will come in with a workman-like attitude and shut down a dangerous Chicago lineup. Zambrano, who has already had some postseason struggles, will see that trend continue as his baserunners run roughshod on Chicago's catchers.
Game 2 will go extra innings, with solid performances by Lilly and Davis. The wild card of the series will be Arizona pitcher Micah Owings. Expect to see him win a game in some fashion NOT with his arm but with his bat. The Diamondbacks somehow managed to finish with the best record in the NL despite being outscored over the course of the season. The same thing might happen in this series. The Cubs will win a blowout game or two, but Arizona will win the close games, earning the D-Backs a date with the NLCS after a difficult battle with Chicago.
Prediction: Arizona in 5
Colorado vs. Philadelphia
Ok, I'm not going to beat around the bush on this one: the Rockies are going to win this series. Everyone loves to talk about how the Phillies caught the Mets, but the fact is Colorado has won 14 of its last 15 games, and no team is hotter. Make no mistake, Colorado's resurgence isn't just a two week fluke: since June 1, Colorado has gone 65-43 while Philadelphia has gone 63-45 in the same timeframe. Impressive on both accounts, and an indication that both of these teams have been successful ever since a rough start.
Philadelphia will come at Colorado with a myriad of offensive weapons, from Rollins and Utley to mistake hitting Ryan Howard. Colorado can answer with Holliday, Helton, Atkins, and others. Don't expect any shutouts in this series, especially with starting pitching the likes of Kendrick, Morales, Jimenez, Lohse, Fogg, and Moyer. Yikes.
There's really no point to look at the starting pitching matchups except for Game 1 (Francis has been effective all year but Hamels is clearly the class of this series) other than to say a lot of runs will be scored. The Phillies have some experience on their side in Lohse and Moyer, those are just the type of pitchers Colorado hitters can feast on.
If you add it all up, the Phillies probably have a couple more weapons, but Clint Hurdle has his team in a non-stop winning mode right now, and that is going to be hard to contain. Top it off with Colorado's defensive wizardry (highest single season fielding percentage in history), and I believe errorless ball just might be the difference maker in what promises to be a slugfest of a series. Last year's Tigers team can tell you the damage that can be done when you give another playoff team extra outs.
The 2007 Rockies remind me of the 2003 Marlins in terms of attitude. There are a couple veterans surrounded by young guys who don't seem to know any better, and I don't think the spotlight of the playoffs is going to bother them. Like Game 163 for Colorado, expect an unknown hero to make the difference in the deciding game this series.
Prediction: Colorado in 5