Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are all about southpaws, on both sides of the ball. The combo of left-handers, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, who will pitch three of the five games, match up very well against a Rockies lineup which is very left-handed. Brad Hawpe hit just .243 (775 OPS) against lefties this season, worse even than fellow lefty outfielders Seth Smith (.259, 868) and Carlos Gonzalez (.276, 809). Jim Tracy has a difficult decision to make. Hawpe is the most established hitter outside of Todd Helton in the Colorado lineup, but he had a very mediocre second-half, capped off by a terrible September (.194, 2 HR). Meanwhile, both Gonzalez and Smith excelled down the stretch.
Worse yet for the Rockies, the Phillies lefties will exploit their third base platoon. Ian Stewart doesn't hit lefties (.178, 664), but Garrett Atkins has had the worst year of his career and is only hitting .268 with a 790 OPS against southpaws. Even Helton, although he still hits lefties to the tune of a .311 average, has only one homer against a left-hander this season.
Meanwhile, Jorge De La Rosa's injury will sting even more every time Jason Hammel and Jason Marquis have to face the lefty-laden Phillies lineup. De La Rosa allowed a stingy 568 Opponents OPS against lefties this season, compared to 747 for Marquis and 785 for Hammel. Those Jasons will have to face five straight left-handed (or switch) hitters at the top of the Philadelphia order: Rollins (728 OPS v. LHP), Victorino (787), Utley (877), Howard (1088), and Ibanez (859).
All this should suggest that I'm sticking with conventional wisdom and picking the reigning champs. They also have home-field advantage and Colorado was not that good (27-26) away from Coors Field this season.
Phillies in four.
Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees
Lest you believe that I'm going to stick for too long with the conventional wisdom, I'm going to come right out and say this: the Yankees are going to lose to the Twins. I don't know why, I don't know how...well, actually...
Fans in the Bronx should be very pleased the Girardi elected to go with two games of A. J. Burnett, rather than two games of Andy Pettitte, despite Pettitte being one of the New York darlings. Several of the Twins have hit Pettitte very hard over the course of their careers. Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and Brendan Harris all own OPSs over 1000 against him. The combined OPS for all Twins players is 946 against Pettitte, only 669 against Burnett. (It is, by the way, only 584 against Sabathia.)
So, the Twins rough up Andy Pettitte in game three at the Metrodome. That's still only one win. Only a couple of days ago I had a long post which detailed how much better the Tigers faired against the Evil Empire than the Twins, which included C. C. Sabathia's long history of success in Minnesota. Nevertheless, I like the fact that the Twins have absolutely nothing to lose, while the Yankees are overwhelming favorites, not only to advance, but to win the World Series. The Yanks have been playing loose since June, but I don't expect that to continue. These are not your older brother's Yankees. The last time the Yankees went to the playoffs, in 2007, the dynamic duo of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada combined to hit .156 with one extra-base hit, a double, and zero RBI. A. J. Burnett has never thrown a pitch in the postseason. C.C. Sabathia has an ERA of 7.92 in 25 playoff innings. Andy Pettitte hasn't won a postseason start for the Yankees since 2003. And, of course, there are the infamous struggles of "April-Rod." The last time Joba Chamberlain took the mound in the postseason, he was greeted by a swarm of locusts (well, actually, they were midges, but you get the picture). Looming on the horizon are two teams, the Red Sox and Angels, which have had their way with the Yankees in the playoffs for most of this decade. They aren't exactly the Chicago Cubs, but this is a team that needs to unload some baggage, and that usually doesn't bode well.
Minnesota in four (that's right, they don't even take it back to New York).
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
This is certainly the series I'm most looking forward to. Two of my favorite franchises, both with very exciting rosters, and two the sport's greatest managers squaring off. I'm never willing to rule out a Joe Torre team in October and the Dodgers are quite underrated, despite leading the NL in wins, but the two-headed monster of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright is pretty hard to argue against, particularly in a five-game series.
You'll probably see these numbers a lot on TBS this evening, but that's because they're pretty incredible. Carpenter is 5-0 against L.A. on his career with a 2.20 ERA. The particular set of players on the Dodgers current roster hits only .216 against him, with a 626 OPS, and Manny and Thome are the only Dodgers ever to homer against him. They both did it before they joined the Dodgers. In his last four starts against L.A., dating back to '06, Carpenter has allowed three earned runs in 29 innings (0.93 ERA). And, let us not forget, Carpenter is battle-tested in October (5-1, 2.53 ERA). Tony LaRussa has sent his Ace to the mound eight times in October and come away with seven wins. The only time Carpenter failed to secure a victory was in Game 6 of the '07 NLCS against the Mets and even then he scattered just two runs over six innings.
It's not going to get much better tomorrow night. In Wainwrights last three starts against the Dodgers, he's allowed just three runs in 22 IP (1.23 ERA). Manny Ramirez is 0-for-5 against him. Matt Kemp is 2-for-8, both singles. The good news is that Ethier, Furcal, Russell Martin, and James Loney have all hit him fairly well.
I'm betting on St. Louis in five.
Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have lost to the Red Sox in four straight postseason series, including each of the last two years. This Angels team, however, is better than probably any of the previous squads which faced Boston. The problem is, Boston may be better as well.
Largely because they went 1-9 against the Yankees, people haven't noticed how good the Red Sox have been in the second half. At one point in September they won seven straight and ten out of eleven, with six of those games coming against the Angels and the Rays. Then they finished off the season with a four-game sweep of the Indians. After the All-Star Break, the Red Sox featured five regulars who hit over .300, five guys who hit 11 or more homers, and eight guys who drove in 30 or more runs.
Much will continue to be made of Big Papi's "poor" season. Don't listen to it. From June 1 on, Big Papi hit 27 homeruns, that was tied (with Adam Lind) for the most of any player in the AL during those four months. Over that span he also drove in 81 runs, trailing only Bobby Abreu and A-Rod (who need 7 RBI in his final game to pass Papi). His OPS over that span was 904.
The Red Sox lineup, especially if Jed Lowrie is healthy, may be even deeper than the Angels and the Yankees. And, it gives opposing managers fits, because of its perfect balance. Theo Epstein has carefully designed a team well-suited to playing matchup baseball in critical games. Francona has at his disposal when making out his lineup card, three excellent lefties (Ortiz, Drew, & Ellsbury), four excellent righies (Youkilis, Pedroia, Bay, & Lowell), and three switch-hitters (V-Mart, Varitek, & Lowrie). He also has additional pop on the bench in the form of Casey Kotchman (L) and Rocco Baldelli (R). Francona is similarly loaded with balance on his pitching staff, with two rightes (Beckett & Matsuzaka) and two lefties (Lester & Buchholz) in the rotation, as well as three lefties (Okajima, Saito, & Billy Wagner) and three righties (Bard, Ramirez, & Delcarmen) in his late inning relief corps.
The Angels will run wild on Martinez and Jason Varitek. The Red Sox will exploit Mike Napoli. So one of the keys to this series will be keeping men off base. That may be why Terry Francona elected to start Clay Buchholz ahead of Dice-K, who love to put runners on base, then ignore them. The Red Sox have four regulars with OBPs over .380 and all nine hitters with OBPs over .330. The Angels also have nine guys over .330, but only two guys above .370, Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu. While Boston's team OBP was consistent throughout the season, the Angels went from a season high of .379 in July, to .360 in August, and .340 in September, not a good trend.
Boston in five.