-The baseball playoffs kickoff today with three of the four Division Series starting up with the Phillies hosting the Brewers, the defending champion Red Sox visiting the Angels and the Cubs taking on the Dodgers.
Last night, the White Sox became the eighth and final participant thanks to splendid pitching from John Danks, who limited the Twins to two hits over eight shutout frames en route to a 1-0 win in their one-game playoff last night in the Windy City to clinch the AL Central. Jim Thome’s 34th home run of the season off Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn which ledoff the seventh was the difference in a game that saw both teams combine for a run on seven hits.
The White Sox got a big defensive play by veteran center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. who with the game scoreless tossed out Michael Cuddyer at the plate on a short fly to complete a 9-2 inning ending double play. The much likable future Hall Of Famer deflected attention paying homage to veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski for catching the ball and in one motion applying the tag on a throw which he caught on the third base side of the plate:
â€œThat play, all I had to do was make a good throw. The credit is all A.J. I put a two-hopper in there and he was able to get it and block the plate. Thatâ€™s the key there. He put his body on the line for us.â€
“He did a heck of a job,â€ Thome added of Griffey, who’s making his first postseason appearance since 1997 with Seattle. â€œIâ€™m so happy for him, too.â€
Closer Bobby Jenks came on to work a perfect ninth for his 30th save.
For the Twins, who dealt away ace Johan Santana for a four-player package which included speedy center fielder Carlos Gomez, it was a disappointing conclusion to what was a good year where they came oh so close to still making October.
â€œYou never want to put 162 games all into one game, but thatâ€™s what ended up happening,â€ Twins first base slugger Justin Morneau lamented despite a great second half finishing one RBI shy of AL leader Josh Hamilton. â€œItâ€™s going to hurt for a while and itâ€™s going to be a long night for sure.â€
Even in not the most productive lineup, the 27 year-old former 2006 AL MVP had a terrific season finishing at .300 with 23 dingers and 129 RBI’s- one shy of his career best two years ago. Morneau’s proven himself as one of the best young sluggers in the game and along with great hitting catcher and teammate Joe Mauer, whose .328 mark was good enough for the batting title should continue to lead Minnesota forward into their new stadium.
Ron Gardenhire did another tremendous job and should merit some AL Manager of The Year consideration though ultimately, Tampa’s Joe Maddon will justifiably take it home. One of these years, it’s all going to come together for the Twins which is a credit to Gardenhire and his staff.
-In assessing the four series, here’s who I like:
A.Cubs vs Dodgers- LA matches up well despite getting in via the most pathetic division. Their potent lineup has vastly improved since Manny Ramirez came over strengthening teammates James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. The key will be for Cubs pitchers to keep the guys in front of Manny off base so he can’t do much damage. Lou Piniella won’t let him beat them. So, it will be up to Manny’s teammates to come through.
The Cubs have a balanced attack with Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa and certain NL ROY Geovany Soto. The pitching is about even with the red hot Derek Lowe taking on Ryan Dempster, who went 14-3 at Wrigley Field this year. Chad Billingsley faces Carlos Zambrano in Game 2 with Rich Harden battling Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3 and Greg Maddux getting the ball against Ted Lilly for Game 4. If it goes five, Lowe and Dempster would face off again.
The pens are about even with Chicago using the trio of rookie Jeff Samardzjia, setup man Carlos Marmol and closer Kerry Wood to shut the door. Rookie Cory Wade sets up while either Jonathan Broxton or Takashi Saito closes depending on Joe Torre.
The Cubs should have an edge in experience which could be huge at the plate if some of the younger Dodgers aren’t patient. This shapes up to be a good series but there’s too much at stake for the Cubs here.
Series Prediction: Cubs in 5
B.Phillies vs Brewers- Last year, the Phillies had a remarkable run to their first division title in 14 years stunning the Mets. The euphoria from that comeback was too much as the Rockies swept them. This October should be different because of last year’s experience. The goal wasn’t just to get there again but to win. This time, the Brewers are playing that role after winning five of six to slip past the Mets for the wild card clinching their first playoff berth since 1982 when they were in the AL East.
With C.C. Sabathia unable to pitch until tomorrow, that should be an edge for the Phils who even seem to have an advantage in starters with ace Cole Hamels dominating today’s first game fanning nine in eight innings. Not surprisingly in just his fourth outing this season, Yovani Gallardo struggled allowing a three-run third with Chase Utley’s two-run double and Shane Victorino’s bases loaded walk the difference. With Ben Sheets out for this round, the pressure falls on Sabathia who again will go on short rest against Brett Myers tomorrow. Jamie Moyer faces Jeff Suppan in Game 3 and Hamels returns for Game 4 against Dave Bush. If it goes five, it would be Myers against Sabathia with all bets off.
It’s hard not to like the Phils in this series due to a lethal attack of Utley, possible NL MVP Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins along with underrated contributors Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino. They should hit. Taking nothing away from Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart but this just isn’t their time.
Philly’s pen is also stronger with Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero setting up closer Brad Lidge, who took NL Comeback Player of The Year by going 41-of-41 in save opportunities. It’ll still be interesting to see how the ex-Astro fares in October with memories of Albert Pujols taking him yard. He didn’t look great today giving up a run while putting the tying runs in scoring position before K-ing Hart to save it for Hamels. The Brewers rely on Guillermo Mota to setup closer Salomon Torres who was very shaky in September. It might be wise to use Todd Coffey and Mark DiFelice more. Starter Manny Parra also is available.
All signs point to the Phillies. They have a better offense, more pitching, a solid bench and valuable experience.
Series Prediction: Phillies in 4
C.Angels vs Red Sox- This is the hardest match-up to call as it pits the experienced defending champion Red Sox against baseball’s best team during the regular season, the Angels who hit the century mark in wins.
For Mike Scioscia’s club, the pressure is on to get the monkey off their back versus a team that’s historically owned them in October. Dating back to 1986 when they rallied from 3-1 down to advance to the World Series, Boston’s won nine straight postseason games against the Halos. Something’s gotta give.
Their lineup is improved with first base slugger Mark Teixeira added to a middle of the order featuring vets Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero trying to get in table setters Chone Figgins and Garret Anderson. They better hit because even post-Manny, a Red Sox lineup that includes MVP candidates Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis along with always dangerous slugger David Ortiz will. They also got good news as J.D. Drew pronounced himself ready to go if needed for tonight’s first game. Mike Lowell probably should be back too. Toss in deadline pickup Jason Bay and speedy rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Boston’s loaded.
The pitching match-ups are intriguing with John Lackey facing Jon Lester tonight, Dice-K versus Ervin Santana Friday and Joe Saunders taking on Josh Beckett in Game Three. Lackey and Lester will also go in Game 4 and ditto for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Santana if it goes the distance. Both teams possess good starters but I’ll give a slight edge to the Red Sox trio.
The Angels will have an edge in the pen with Scot Shields setting up record setting closer Francisco Rodriguez (62 saves). Rookie Jose Arredondo and Darren Oliver also are frequent contributors. Terry Francona will rely heavily on the duo of Hideki Okajima and closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was up and down in the final month due to coming in a few games in the eighth. He might be gassed. Manny Delcarmen and Javier Lopez should also be called upon out of the pen along with promising rookie Justin Masterson.
This series could depend on if the Angels hit. They never have had much success against Boston. Either way, it shapes up as a five-game series.
Series Prediction: Red Sox in 5
D.Rays vs White Sox- You have the new kids on the block against a very experienced bunch who have been here before. If the AL East winning Rays aren’t fazed by their first ever October, they should have enough to get through the White Sox.
Joe Maddon’s scrappy bunch pitch better and find ways to win games despite only two consistent power threats in certain AL ROY Evan Longoria and 101 RBI man Carlos Pena. The good news is that Carl Crawford is back which should give the lineup a boost. Speedy center fielder B.J. Upton (67 SB) and backstop Dioner Navarro also are part of the mix. Veterans Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske provide leadership. Hinske usually comes off the bench as does utility specialist Willy Aybar.
The White Sox will have a huge power advantage with veterans Ken Griffey, Jr., Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Nick Swisher all threats to go deep. Toss in talented rookie second baseman Alexei Ramirez (21 HR, 77 RBI, 13 SB) and Ozzie Guillen’s club has plenty of offense. A.J. Pierzynski might be universally hated but can get the job done. Just imagine if they had first base slugger Carlos Quentin.
The question is are the White Sox too reliant on the home run? The Rays boast a good pitching staff with 14-game winner James Shields matching up against Javier Vazquez in Games 1 and 5. Scott Kazmir goes against Mark Buehrle in a battle of southpaws for Game 2. Game 3 pits Matt Garza against Gavin Floyd in what promises to be a good match-up between young hurlers. Andy Sonnanstine gets the ball in Game 4 versus White Sox hero John Danks.
The White Sox pen is basically Octavio Dotel handing off to closer Bobby Jenks. Matt Thornton and Scott Linebrink also contribute. Tampa has a distinct edge with the trio of Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell and veteran sidearmer Chad Bradford setting up for veteran closer Troy Percival. There’s also Dan Wheeler who saved 13 while Percival was out. Plus lefty Trever Miller. If a starter gets into trouble, Maddon can also bring in former 2007 first overall pick David Price, who was very sharp after being recalled posting a 1.93 ERA fanning 12 in 14 innings with opponents hitting just .176.
If a game is tight late, you have to like the Rays.
Series Prediction: Rays in 4
Here are the rest of my October picks:
ALCS: Red Sox over Rays in 6
NLCS: Cubs over Phillies in 5
World Series: Cubs over Red Sox in 7
WS MVP: Aramis Ramirez, Cubs