Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia
This should be the NLCS in my opinion. I know San Francisco finished with a better record than Cincy, but the Reds just seem like a more well rounded team equipped for competing against playoff teams. Unfortunately, Dusty's Reds will be squaring off against the cream of the NL crop in Philadelphia.
It's no secret that Philly's combo of Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels is one of, if not the best, starting trios in the 2010 playoffs. Add in the prolific offense of Howard, Utley, Werth, Ibanez, Victorino, Rollins, etc., and it's hard to pick against the reigning NL champs. The key for Cincinnati is to manage one win in the first two games, because I think Game 3 with Cueto facing Hamels gives the Reds their best advantage. If that game can turn the tide in Cincy's favor, there will be some pressure on Philly's offense which has been known to disappear occasionally this year despite the big names in the lineup.
Keep in mind that Joey Votto had the best offensive season of any player on either team, so the Reds aren't exactly lacking in offense (they actually scored more runs than the Phillies during the season). Aroldis Chapman and his 105 mph fastball will be an asset late in the game for the Reds, but the worry is that there may not be a lead to protect in the first couple games. I expect close games, but I see Cincy winning only Game 3 and the Phillies slamming the door shut in Game 4 with an 8-inning outing by Halladay with Lidge finishing up.
Prediction: Phillies in 4
Atlanta vs. San Francisco
Atlanta did win its last game to get in, but make no mistake: the Braves are limping into this playoff series. As a healthy NL East lead disappeared almost instantly over the last six weeks, the Braves are focused on starting over, but they'll have to do it without many of their central cogs. Chipper Jones is out (ACL tear) and worse yet, his do-it-all replacement Martin Prado suffered a season-ending hip injury. Aging reliever Takashi Saito is off the playoff roster with arm trouble, starter Jair Jurrjens is ailing, and the least mentioned loss is Kris Medlen, the fill in starter/reliever with plenty of talent to pick up the slack wherever Atlanta needed.
Meanwhile, the Giants overtook San Diego and look strong with Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez in the rotation. Atlanta can still compete with its rotation, but I foresee a possible shutout or two as the Braves will need to rely on guys like Alex Gonzalez and Derrek Lee to come up big and help Heyward and McCann as the lone run producers.
San Francisco gets a bad rap on offense, too, but with the pitching they've been getting lately, many runs aren't needed. Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and the surprising Andres Torres will provide enough punch to compete. If someone like Sandoval or Burrell can come up a big hit now and then, it could be a quick series.
Prediction: Giants in 3
Texas vs. Tampa Bay
Matchups like these are why I hate five game series. The Rays are the class of MLB and have plenty of depth and talent to compete with anyone, but in a short series, a hot offense can negate that in a hurry. The big question marks are the health of Cliff Lee and Josh Hamilton. Both appear to be ready, and despite the talents of David Price and the rest of the Tampa staff, this series just feels like a shootout to me.
The problem for the Rays is that beyond Longoria, they don't have many weapons for a shootout. I believe Tampa Bay is the better team, but based on feel and because the favorite doesn't win every series, I'm leaning toward Texas. Besides Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero are a formidable duo and the lineup continues with quality bats down in the order.
Expect a pitcher's duel or two, but look for the Rangers to win at least one 9-7 type game and surprise some people as they head to the ALCS.
Prediction: Rangers in 4
New York vs. Minnesota
After hearing and reading all about New York's pitching problems, I was confident in picking Minnesota. Then I looked at their starting staff and was unimpressed. Liriano has struggled lately, and Pavano and Duensing are hardly Spahn and Sain.
I have also heard a lot about recent struggles by old favorites like Jeter, Posada, and Rivera. With stars like Cano picking up the slack, however, I'm not worried about the Yankees failing to score runs. Slumping or not, it's hard to pitch through Cano, Rodriguez, Teixeira, etc.
Minnesota has built a solid squad even without Morneau, but I think this is one time when the overspending by New York will pay off. Sabathia will be great, and regardless of who else struggles, at least a couple other well paid New Yorkers will come through and eventually win the opening series.
Prediction: Yankees in 4