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2009 Playoffs
Division Series Preview
October 7, 2009

2009 hasn't exactly been the most thrilling year in baseball history, but the playoffs are finally here, and that provides a clean slate for drama, history, and excitement.  The New York Yankees are unquestionably the head of the class, but I believe that six, maybe seven, teams have a legitimate chance at winning the World Series this year.

I am excluding the Twins from contention because I just don't believe their talent is on par with the rest of the American League playoff teams.  Then again, I gave the 2006 Cardinals a 0% chance at winning, and look what that 83-78 team did.

I don't see a standout team in the National League, so I'm expecting to see the potential for some long series.  Whoever emerges should have a legitimate shot at beating the AL champ, but that's still a few weeks away.  In the meantime, let's prognosticate so you know who will be advancing!
National League
Colorado vs. Philadelphia
Getting to the playoffs was a good test for Colorado as they calmly held off San Fran, Atlanta, and everyone else gunning for the Wild Card spot.  The pitching depth that was such an asset during the year will not be as formidable in the postseason because of injury concerns and extra days of rest for the less-deep rotations.  With Marquis struggling and De La Rosa dealing with a groin injury, the Rockies will be leaning on Jimenez, Cook, and Hammel.  That doesn't quite measure up to Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

BUT! Lee has slumped the past month, Hamels is clearly not what he was last year, and Lidge is... well, not closer-worthy at this point of the season.  The Phillies lineup looks unbeatable until you realize that Jimmy Rollins hasn't done much in the way of getting on base this year.  Still, it's tough to get by Utley, Howard, Ibanez, and Werth (one of the more underrated players in the game today).  Helton and Tulowitzki has regained their form, but a slumping Brad Hawpe will hurt a lineup that will already struggle against Philly's lefthanders.

Despite a strong finish, this matchup doesn't favor Colorado, and there's just too much punch in Philly's lineup.  Low scoring games might favor the Rockies and their stable bullpen anchored by Street, but I'm predicting several high scoring affairs, and the Phillies have the weapons to keep adding runs at any time in any game.
Prediction: Phillies in 4

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles
Last year, I gave the Dodgers no chance of surpassing the Cubs because of a lackluster pitching staff.  I won't make that same mistake again.  LA definitely has some issues to address on the mound, but the Cardinals aren't perfect either.

Sure, St. Louis boasts two Cy Young candidates in Carpenter and Wainwright as well as two MVP-type players in Pujols and Holliday, but this Dodgers team just feels like it's built to advance.  In Juan Pierre and Jim Thome, LA has bench players with experience and good attitudes.  Ron Belliard is also good enough to steal some time from Hudson, so the bench runs deep.  With Torre at the helm, the Dodgers will be prepared for all of the odd scenario a playoff series can bring.

LaRussa is no stranger to success and he will have the Cardinals ready to play.  Carpenter and Wainwright give St. Louis an edge early, but I believe the Dodgers will keep the games close and take advantage of having two closers in their bullpen (Sherrill and Broxton).  While everyone wants to promote the attack of Pujols and Holliday, people seem to forget that, struggling or not, LA has a guy known for playoff heroics in the person of Manny Ramirez.
Prediction: Dodgers in 4

American League
Boston vs. Los Angeles
We've been down this road before, and last year I was wrong in picking the Angels.  This time around, I'm a year older and a year smarter (that part's debatable).  After losing three ALDS matchups between these two teams this decade, I'm avoiding the Angels but not for the reasons you might think.  I'm picking Boston, but not because "they have the Angels' number" or "Los Angeles chokes" or "the Angels have a mental roadblock in getting past Boston."  I'm picking the Red Sox because on paper, they are simply better.

Boston's starting pitching is marginally better, and the bullpen is significantly better.  Papelbon can be dominant in the late innings, but it should be said that Brian Fuentes has been a great find for Los Angeles as they attempted to replace Francisco Rodriguez.  It's Boston's middle relievers (Okajima, Ramirez, Saito, Wagner, etc.) that really make the difference, however.

On offense, the Angels figure to run on the Red Sox as often as possible, and a steady diet of baserunners will be LA's best chance for success.  Even though Boston's pieces don't fit together as well as they should (acquiring what seemed to be a non-stop flow of catcher/corner infielders), the fact is there is plenty of talent in the lineup and on the bench.  The Angels have some depth, but the overall talent isn't quite on par with Boston.  Looking at guys like Gary Matthews Jr. and Izturis waiting on the bench is hardly reason to worry if you are the opponent.

Give Mike Scioscia a ton of credit for achieving plenty of success this year with some major departures (K-Rod, Teixeira, etc.), but acknowledge that Boston has the better team and will show that this week.
Prediction: Red Sox in 4

Minnesota vs. New York
Just a hunch, but I believe the Twins will win a game in this series, and I think it will come in Game 1.  The Twins will take advantage of a shaky start from Sabathia, the New York media will be in a frenzy, but the Yankees will regroup and win the next three games.  

As exciting a story that Minnesota presents, New York has been putting their talent and payroll on display all year long and doesn't figure to let up.  I don't see any pitching matchups that Girardi's squad can't handle, and in games where Jose Molina catches (when Burnett pitches), having Posada on the bench as a pinch hitter/replacement only makes the team deeper.

Minnesota has been playing very well of late, but losing Crede and Morneau don't give the Twins any room for error.  Ron Gardenhire always seems to get the most out of his players, but this time around, even the most won't do.  Look for Mariano Rivera to put his stamp on this series, shutting the door in Game 4 and readying the Yankees for the ALCS.
Prediction: Yankees in 4