October to Remember or Winter of Discontent? The 2008 MLB Playoff Breakdown
Tuesday, October 14, 20080 Comments
Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The MLB’s lone team to reach 100 wins this season ought to be the favourite in any series. However, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are coming off of a very disappointing opening round sweep at the hands of the very same Red Sox last season. Any time a team has to face the defending champion they’re in for a tough go of it. The Angels built their successful run this year around a strong fundamental game and solid pitching. Francisco Rodriguez’s 62 saves were a modern-day record and his ability to close out games gives the Angels the upper hand if they can take the lead into the late innings. The mid-season acquisition of Mark Teixeira, maybe the game’s best switch hitter, gives them a very strong run producer and some protection for former Expo Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup.
The Red Sox have won the World Series twice within the last 4 seasons, including last year’s win. This team always seems to be dangerous, as hitters 1 through 5 are capable of doing some extraordinary things. While their power is certainly worth noting, maybe their greatest assets come from their ability to get on base. Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the most dangerous players today on the base paths, and Pedroia, Ortiz, Youkilis and Bay all reach base at an impressive rate. The team’s pitching staff is strong, but probably as a whole not quite as good as the Angels. The one interesting intangible here is that with the exception of Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie, every projected starter for the Red Sox has a World Series ring. It’s amazing what a championship can do to a team’s confidence.
Sweet says: This series will come down to the wire, but much to the delight of my friends in Red Sox nation, I can’t go against the champs. Clutch hitting will give the Red Sox the series in 5.
Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
This matchup took the longest to set up, as the Chicago White Sox became the first team to ever play – and win – two games following what was considered the end of the regular season. After finishing the season a half game behind the Minnesota Twins, the ChiSox were given a chance to even things up by making up their previously rained out game against the Detroit Tigers. Chicago won easily, 8-2, and set up a one-game playoff on Tuesday night, the night before the other 3 series would begin, at home against Minnesota. Jim Thome’s homer was the only run of the game, as Chicago’s 1-0 win saw them through to play upstart Tampa in the first round.
The Rays had one person pick them to win the division at the beginning of the year – ace pitcher Scott Kazmir. Kazmir helped lead a pitching staff that proved to be extraordinary this season, making up for only ordinary hitting. Previous castoffs such as Cliff Floyd, Gabe Gross, Eric Hinske and Carlos Pena helped to provide enough offense and solid fundamental baseball to see Tampa through to the post-season, beating their previous best divisional finish heretofore, which was 4th.
This might be the hardest series to get a read on. Chicago went 10-15 in the month of September, and had lost 5 of their last 6 games before pulling off emotional playoff victories over Detroit and Minnesota. If that momentum continues, they may be a tough team to beat. Not very much is expected of Tampa, since no one figured they’d even come close to the playoffs, but sometimes that’s a good thing, and even though they’re the home team in this series, they’ll be considered an underdog to almost everyone around.
Sweet says: Chicago may have Dye, Thome and Griffey, but they’re no different than any other team who looked like they were better than Tampa this year. Give this series to the Rays in 4.
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies
This is a matchup of a couple of teams who expected to be here, but had a little bit of a scare earlier this season. Philadelphia took over the East Division lead later in the year and managed to hold off the choking New York Mets for the title. Milwaukee was in a 4-horse race with Chicago, Houston and St. Louis until they traded for C.C. Sabathia, who will go down as one of the best, if not the best, mid-season acquisition ever. Sabathia, who will likely challenge for the NL Cy Young despite playing about half of his season in the American League, carried this team down the stretch and into the playoffs. If Sabathia (and fellow ace and future free agent Ben Sheets) were carrying the pitching load, then Ryan Braun was picking up things on the hitter’s end. Braun was instrumental when it came time for a big hit throughout the month of September and his home runs on the final weekend sealed the deal for them.
The Phillies are a well-balanced team, but like any good Philly team, they rely on brute strength. Between Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Pat Burrell, they’re one of the hardest hitting teams in the league. A solid pitching staff, thanks to the re-emergence of Brad Lidge, sees the team solid in pretty much all facets of the game. This series will feature plenty of Canadian content, with Eric Gagne and Matt Stairs playing for the Brewers and Phillies respectively, not to mention Brewers GM and Assistant GM, Canadians Doug Melvin and Gord Ash. And the GM for the Phillies? Pat Gillick, the engineer behind the Blue Jays World Series teams of 1992 and 1993.
Sweet says: It looks like the Phillies have the edge, but something is pulling me towards those Brewers. Maybe it’s the fact that they have Sabathia, Sheets and Gallardo as starting pitchers at their disposal, or maybe it’s the fact that Wild Card teams have historically fared very well in post-season play. Milwaukee in 5.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
The networks will love this one. Short of a Dodgers-Yankees series, this would probably be the next best thing. The Los Angeles Dodgers play in the Southeast Division’s baseball equivalent, the NL West, where a positive attitude, good hygiene, and a .500 record is usually all you need to get in. The Dodgers, who at 84-78 finished 2 games behind the Blue Jays, have Manny Ramirez to thank for their playoff position. Ramirez tore up the National League in his brief stay, batting .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI’s. Best of all, the field at Dodger Stadium doesn’t have any doors or openings of any sort, so Ramirez won’t be tempted to run in there to make a call or answer the call between pitchers.
Beyond Ramirez though, there isn’t a ton of support. Andruw Jones baffled everyone by batting a pathetic .158 this season, getting about 2 hits per million dollars spent of him for this season. Andre Ethier has picked up the slack in the outfield, but beyond him there aren’t a ton of great ballplayers. This team’s calling card is their pitching. Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe and Hiroki Kuroda lead a strong rotation, and Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel and Hong-Chih Kuo make up a very solid bullpen. If the Dodgers stand a chance in this series, it’ll be in low-scoring games.
The Chicago Cubs come in as sentimental favourites this year. It’s been exactly 100 years since the Cubs last won the World Series. It’s strange to think that Wrigley Field has been open for 94 years, and yet it’s never seen a Cubs championship. Still, a Cubs ticket is the hottest ticket in town, and even with their city rivals playing in the somewhat sketchy south side of town, the Windy City is the Cubs’ city. The team has six 20+ HR hitters in their lineup, and has three (maybe four if you consider Ted Lilly) sensational starters. Kerry Wood has finally found his place in the baseball world as an elite closer, and the Cubbies have all of the pieces in place. The only thing left to do is implement a buddy system at the stadium to ensure that no one reaches into the field of play this year.
Sweet says: The Cubs always seem to find a way to blow it, but they won’t do so in the first round. I’ll take the far more dominant Cubs in 4 games, given that Manny and solid pitching may steal one for L.A.