Major League Baseball’s 2009 regular season is over and eight of the 30 teams made it past the 162 individual games to the postseason.
The American League will be represented by the New York Yankees as the regular season leader in wins, the Boston Red Sox as the wild card out of the AL East, the Los Angeles Angels as the runaway best in the AL West, and either the Detroit Tigers or the Minnesota Twins out of the Al Central.
The National League will bring their elite teams to the postseason in the Los Angeles Dodgers with the best record in the NL out of the West along with the Colorado Rockies as the Wild Card, last season’s World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies out of the NL East, and Albert Pujols’ St. Louis Cardinals from the NL Central.
The match-ups are almost set and start Wednesday as we finally get into the games that matter. Though it’s hard to predict the outcome of some of these best of five game match-ups, let’s have a go at it as the last month of baseball kicks off.
The American League Division Series
The New York Yankees versus the Detroit Tigers or the Minnesota Twins
The Yankees come into this series as the clear favorites, regardless of their opponent. They have the best record in baseball at over 100 wins, and lead the league in homeruns (244, setting a franchise record), runs (905), and RBI (872), and are second in the league behind the Angels in hits (1592) and average (.283). Thanks to the arms of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte, along with an All-Star packed lineup at the plate, the Yankees are (on paper) favored to win it all this season. In the first round of the playoffs the Yankees may face the Tigers or the Twins, who are fighting it out for the last wild card in a playoff Tuesday, but neither team had much luck against the Bronx Bombers this season.
The Tigers were 1-5 in two series versus the Yankees this season and the Twins were 0-7 in two series sweeps. The Tigers don’t have the tools to make much of an impact on the postseason. Their main threats this season have been first baseman Miguel Cabrera, with a .325 average and 33 homeruns on the season; center fielder Curtis Granderson, who has hit for 30 homeruns with a .249 average, and pitcher Justin Verlander, who’s 19 wins on the season matches the Yankees’ Sabathia. The Twins have potential 2009 MVP Justin Morneau on the team, who leads the league with a .366 average and is dangerous with 28 homeruns and 96 RBI. They also have all-star first basemen Justin Morneau, who has racked in 100 RBI on the season and hit 30 homeruns; designated hitter Jason Kubel, who has hit for a .296 average and 96 RBI, and starting pitcher Scott Baker, who had earned 15 wins on the season. Though each team has a handful of game-breakers, the Yankees as a whole are a wrecking ball of a team and should defeat either of these teams with ease.
Prediction: The Yankees in four games over either team
The Los Angeles Angels versus the Boston Red Sox
This should be the more interesting series in the first round battles. The Red Sox may be coming in as the wild card, but that’s only because they play the same division as the Yankees. The Angels will begin this series with a better regular season record than the Sox, but they come slightly over-matched. The Red Sox have a better pitching team in Josh Beckett (17-6) and Jon Lester (15-8), and with David Ortiz (28 homeruns, 97 RBI), the newly acquired Victor Martinez (23 homeruns, 103 RBI), Kevin Youkilis (.305 average, 94 RBI), and Jason Bay (36 homeruns, 118 RBI) on offense, the Red Sox are an imposing clubhouse to face in the first round.
The Angels have faced the Red Sox three times in the past six years in the divisional series and lost each time. In its fourth series the Angels will face another uphill battle. They match up well in starting pitching with four 10-plus win starters available in Jared Weaver (16-8), Joe Saunders (15-7), John Lackey (11-8), and the newly acquired Scott Kazmir (10-9). That won’t help them if the team can’t out-bat the Red Sox. The team’s personal MVP Kendry Morales came in to replace Mark Teixeira and filled the spot up nicely with 34 homeruns and 107 RBI. The clubhouse’s only other truly valuable assets on offense are the former Yankee Bobby Abreu (102 RBI, .295 avg.), and eight-time Gold Glover Torii Hunter (.89 RBI, .298 avg.). The Angels have dominated their weak division, but don’t have enough to battle against the Red Sox from the strongest division in baseball today.
Predication: The Red Sox in five games over the Angels
The National League Division Series
The Los Angeles Dodgers versus the St. Louis Cardinals
This should turn out to be the most interesting match-up of the National League divisional series. The Dodgers were the most successful team in the NL this season, but the Cardinals come in with the strongest pitching tandem in baseball today. The Dodgers were driven in part by the addition of former Red Sox Manny Ramirez, but it was Joe Torre’s ability to manage a team that turned this fourth place 2007 team into a NL West league leader the next two years. Ramirez started the season hot, but ended it in a slow chill after becoming embroiled in a steroid scandal that cut his season short by 50 games earlier this season. It was really the bats of center fielder Matt Kemp (.298 avg., 26 homeruns, 101 RBI), first baseman James Loney (.282 avg., 90 RBI), and right fielder Andre Ethier (31 homeruns, 106 RBIs) that made this team a 95 game winner this season. Still, these bats aren’t going to be enough to battle the arms of the Cardinals’ starting pitchers in a five game series.
Cardinals’ pitchers Adam Wainwright (19-8) and Chris Carpenter (17-4) have been the top two most dominating pitcher in the National League this season. Carpenter’s 2.24 ERA leads the league and Wainwright is fourth with a 2.63 ERA. This pair of starters must have felt lucky to have some run support behind Pujols and Matt Holliday as they wrapped up the NL Central division this year. Pujols has been a perennial MVP and continues to be so in the best season of his career with 47 homeruns (MLB leading), 135 RBI (third in the MLB), and a .329 average (fifth in the MLB). He’s not alone on offense with Matt Holliday (.313 avg., 107 RBI, 24 homeruns) in left field. The Cardinals are coming into this series as the favorites as the Dodgers shaky offense should prove to be the downfall of clubhouse in the end.
Prediction: The Cardinals in four games over the Dodgers
The Philadelphia Phillies versus the Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies have done it again. In 2007 the Rockies were fourth place in the West by August, but went on a 20-8 September to clinch a wild card berth. While their return to the playoffs as a wild card wasn’t as dramatic this year, the race had been tight throughout most of the end of August and September. The San Francisco Giants, led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, made a run for it through most of September, narrowing the gap to one game at one point, but they lost control of their season with their limited offense and gave up the race by late September. The Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins held on and kept the wild card race interesting, but the Rockies made a run toward the end of the season with a 9-3 record that pushed them to the postseason. The Rockies have a fairly solid core of bats to work with in Todd Helton (.325 avg., 86 RBI), Troy Tulowitzki (32 homeruns, 92 RBI), Brandon Hawpe (22 homeruns, 85 RBI), and Clint Barmes (23 homeruns, 76 RBI), but their real strength comes with their pitching where Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Marquis, and Jorge De La Rosa all sit as 15-game plus winners. That’s all they have to defend themselves against a Phillies team looking to defend their World Championship.
The Phillies come into this series with one of the most potent offenses and most dangerous pitching lineups in the league. They may not have been the talk of the MLB this season, but they’ve certainly developed into a NL favorite going into the postseason. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Werth have all hit more than 90 RBI to back up their starters (five of which have earned more than ten wins this season, and one, Pedro Martinez, has reinvigorated his career with a 5-1 season with the Phils). The Phillies are even stronger than they were last season and they match up well against a Rockies team that probably won’t be able to overcome pitchers Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
Prediction: The Phillies in five games over the Rockies