National League Championship Series:
Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies
This promises to be a very good series. Each team offers very similar style and are playing the best baseball of their season right now. They have two managers in Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel that have been in the postseason a great deal in their day, and they each have offenses that can mash the ball, with a slight advantage to Philadelphia if Pat Burrell is indeed getting his stroke back (2HR's in Game 4 of the NLDS vs. Milwaukee). The Phillies and Dodgers both have the offensive talent but the Phillies offer something that Joe Torre cannot counter with, a bonafide ace in Cole Hamels while the Dodgers counter with one of the best postseason hitters in baseball history in Manny Ramirez. In the playoffs however, good pitching beats good hitting most of the time and the Phillies absolutely have an edge with Hamels in potentially three games if necessary. In the battle of late inning relief, Brad Lidge has been amazing this season and Takashi Saito is not on the Dodgers roster because of an elbow injury which will weaken their bullpen greatly. Those two factors are going to make the difference in this series -- Hamels and a dominant closer in Philadelphia countered by average starting pitching and relief pitching. Whichever team makes it to the World Series will have their hands full with their American League opponent.
Phillies in 6
American League Championship Series
Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays
Oh how great it feels to type Tampa Bay Rays in for another playoff series. This is a team that has amazed all season and now things are getting serious. They are 8 wins away from the right way to end such an incredible story of worst to first while having such a low payroll which is doubled (Jays), tripled (Red Sox) and quintupled (Yankees) by teams in their own division. The Rays are going to have to really test their mettle with this series against defending champion, Boston. The Red Sox bring a better offense, better rotation and better closer than the Rays, yet they need to be afraid because the Rays have found a way to get to 100 wins (including post-season play) on clutch hitting and solid pitching performances, they also outmatch the Red Sox with a deeper bench and better middle relief. The bottom line to this is that the Rays and Red Sox make a great match up with the Rays taking 10 of 18 in the regular season.
It will come down to the starting pitching match ups from my point of view. The Rays will send James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine out in the first four games of the series countered by Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield. I thought that the Rays had a great chance to take the first three games of the series or at least be up 2-1 on Boston with a rotation of Shields - Garza - Kazmir because the first two games would give an advantage to the Rays as Shields is far more consistent than Matsuzaka and Garza has been much better at home than the road versus an uncomfortable looking Josh Beckett. Then Kazmir, who has not looked comfortable with a 5.19 ERA in September and an ugly win versus Chicago could come out of nowhere and be the dominant pitcher that he is capable of being and take on Jon Lester head to head. I really think that with that rotation, the Rays were just about guaranteed 2 or maybe even 3 wins.
Instead, with Kazmir against Beckett in game 2 and Garza and Lester in game 3, I now think that the Rays will be down 2-1 in Boston, which can mean death for some teams. Kazmir/Beckett looks like a match up that will become a battle of the bullpens, though either or both pitchers can be scintillating. Then Jon Lester should be able to continue his playoff dominance in Game 3 as a pitcher who is better at home against one who is far worse on the road. Despite the 2-1 advantage that I predict Boston to have, I think that the Rays will take one of the next two games in Boston with Wakefield's knuckleball in cold weather and Matsuzaka's erratic nature, though I do not expect Matsuzaka to lose to the same team twice. This means that the series will be going back to Tampa where the Rays have lost just two games all season with sellout crowds. Facing Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Boston's two best pitchers, I have to think that the Red Sox will take this series. I can guarantee one thing here though, this series is going to be phenomenal and the best moments are going to happen in Tropicana Field, I hope Bud Selig joins in on the fun. Enjoy fans...
Red Sox in 7