By the time you read this, Major League Baseball’s playoffs will have already begun. I am going to ignore this fact and preview them by looking at three important aspects in each series.
American League: Angels versus Red Sox
1. Baserunning: Red Sox catchers have thrown out less than ten percent of base-stealers this season, thanks in large part to their sticking with the cardboard cutout of Jason Varitek they have been using these past few seasons, and the Angels have long been known to run whenever possible. On the other side, Jacoby Ellsbury stole 70 bases this year, and I can’t even think of an Angels’ catcher off-hand. There could be a few stolen bases in this series. In my opinion, this is the only advantage the Angels have.
2. Starting pitching: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are scheduled for Boston against John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Scott Kazmir for the Angels. The playoffs are not going to be the time I start to trust a Weaver brother, especially against Josh Beckett. Buchholz is likely to make his first playoff start against the consistently inconsistent Kazmir. This is a toss-up in what will be a crucial game three. Expect more strikeouts from the Boston staff, which is usually a good playoff indicator of success.
3. Recent history: If this means anything at all, the Angels will not enjoy the 2009 playoffs; the Red Sox have bounced them in the first round the last two seasons in relative ho-hum fashion, winning the past two series by a combined six games to one.
American League: Twins versus Yankees
1. Expectations: The Yankees, as always, will have lots of them. The Twins just made the playoffs right now. Literally. That may have exceeded expectations right there.
2. The Dome: That damn dome, I just don’t trust it. The roof, the turf, the general crappiness of the stadium, it’s no place for baseball. The Twins, always described as a “scrappy” team, see their overall “scrappiness” go up about two hundred percent when they’re playing at home.
3. A-Rod: Yes, he is usually the focal point of any Yankee playoff discussion. Succeed, and he’s one of the best Yankees in their history. Fail, and he goes back to Worst Yankee Ever. Is this fair, or even logical? Probably not, but those are the rules.
National League: Cardinals versus Dodgers
1. The first two games: Obviously in a five game series they are rather important, but even more so in this series. The Cardinals will send out Cy Young Award frontrunners Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in games one and two in Los Angeles. Meaning, the series could effectively be over heading back to St. Louis. The Dodgers will have to beat one of them to keep this thing interesting.
2. Man-Ram: Of course, if the Dodgers do win this series, I’m guessing Manny Ramirez will have a large part in it. Even after a relatively quiet second half, I will not be surprised if Manny single-handedly carries this team to the second round.
3. The Machine: The Cardinals counter with Albert Pujols, who really needs no introduction. This could be the MLB playoffs-equivalent of LeBron vs. Kobe. Naturally, this means the series will be decided by everyone else.
National League: Rockies versus Phillies
1. Big names: Philadelphia has a lot of them, the Rockies, not so much. Not that this really matters for anything, except that, if the Rockies lose, people can go back to not paying attention to them. For the Phillies, a first round exit will not go unnoticed.
2. Brad Lidge: For whatever reason, Lidge was untouchable all last season, and a major factor in the Phillies’ championship run. This year, he has an ERA of 7.21 with 11 blown saves. Considering his rocky (no pun intended) past, I’m guessing the good season was the fluke season. Philadelphia fans will probably be very supportive during his rough times, though.
3. Oh yeah, um, about the Rockies: To be honest, I don’t know much. They do however, always seem to be hanging around. They hung around the NL Wild Card race as the Giants received a lot of the attention. They hung around the NL West race, and almost won it in the last weekend of the season. It seems likely that they will be a bother for the defending champs.