Wednesday, October 1, 2008

2008 Playoffs

Ok, so I'm a terrible blogger - sue me. It has been exactly two weeks since I last posted, but don't think that this is an apology and a promise to start posting more regularly. It isn't. I have come to realize that there is far too much going on in my life to have decent posts on a daily basis, so I am going to revert to posting whenever I attend a game, watch a particularly interesting game or have a post idea that particularly interests me. It may be three times a week, once a week or once a month. I apologize for the inconsistency, but that's life. If you don't want to visit the blog every day just to see if something new is posted, send me an email (roarke49 at hotmail dot com) and I will send out a notice whenever I post something new.

So, the playoffs start today (really they started a couple of days ago with the White Sox make up game and the tie-breaker game). Even if your favorite team is not involved, there is a reason to watch each of these series. Playoff baseball is usually very intense and every pitch takes on more meaning. Here are your reasons to watch each series, a breakdown of who should win and who I would like to win.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies

I picked the Brewers from the beginning of the season, believing that Ben Sheets would have a Cy Young caliber season and lead the team to the promised land. Sheets did pitch well, but got injured and now will miss the playoffs. No matter, the team picked up CC Sabathia and he led them to the playoffs. This is a fun team to watch with young sluggers like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart (whose second half swoon cost me in my wager) and savvy veterans like Mike Cameron and Ray Durham.

The Phillies are also a fun team with a balanced combination of speed (Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino) and power (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell). They also have Cole Hamels as their ace pitcher to match up with Sabathia.

One weak point of both teams is starting pitching depth as Philly will send out Brett Myers (who re-discovered himself after being sent to the minors this season), Joe Blanton and Jaime Moyer while the Brewers have Yovani Gallardo (making his first start in a couple months today), Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush. In the bullpen the Phillies have the advantage, with Brad Lidge being one of the best closers in the game. The Brewers try and get by with Salomon Torres.

I'm going to give the edge to the Phillies because of I like their pitching staff better, but as a fan I'm pulling for the Brewers to win the series because I like their youngsters.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs

A lot of people are pulling for the Chicago Cubs because they have a chance to win for the first time in 100 years, but, beyond my St. Louis bias against the Cubs, there is a very valid reason to be interested in the Cubs losing this series: think about the Red Sox - ok, got 'em in your head? You don't like them very much do you? Their fans are smug, they seem to get an inordinate amount of attention in the media and they spend almost as much as the Yankees do on their payroll. Well, the 2008 Cubs are a lot like the 2004 Red Sox. Both teams inflated their payroll in order to overcome a decades-long World Series drought and both teams became the media darling during the season. The world will be a better place if the Cubs don't replicate the Red Sox success of 2004.

On paper the Cubs match up well against the Dodgers. The Cubs have Zambrano, Dempster, Harden and Lilly as starters who are quite a bit more fearsome than the Dodgers starters: Lowe, Billingsly, Kuroda, Maddux. The Cubs also have a balanced offense built around Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. They are surrounded by veterans like Mark DeRosa, Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome and youngsters like probable ROY Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot.

The Dodgers hopes rely on the hot bats of Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier and solid performances from Russell Martin, Matt Kemp and James Loney. One wild card is the health of Rafael Furcal, who will be playing for the first time in a long time (and trying to earn himself a pile of cash in free agency). Healthy and motivated, Furcal could be a huge difference maker in this series.

I think the Cubs will probably win the series - they just have an edge in talent, especially their pitching staff (and I didn't even talk about Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol in their bullpen), that will be difficult for the Dodgers to overcome. Of course, I will be rooting for the Dodgers to beat the snot out of the Cubs at every turn.

Anaheim Angels vs. Boston Red Sox

Despite what I wrote above about the Red Sox, they are becoming more likeable. How can you not root for cancer survivor Jon Lester? How can you not like the shrewd trade of Manny Ramirez (and other spare parts) for Jason Bay? [ok, Manny has been great for LA, but in the long run the Red Sox did very well for themselves in getting Bay to replace Manny. He's maybe 75% of Manny offensively, but he's a lot better defensively and from a money standpoint they are getting much more value per dollar with Bay than with Manny] While the Red Sox could not pull out the division title, they are very dangerous as a Wild Card team. They have excellent pitching with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and hopefully a healthy Josh Beckett. They have a good bullpen with Jonathon Papelbon closing out games. And they have a solid lineup with sparkplug Dustin Pedroia, Big Papi, Bay, Ellsbury, Youkilis and a hopefully healthy JD Drew and Mike Lowell.

The Angels have been on cruise control this season, blowing away the AL West. They grabbed Torii Hunter in the offseason and Mark Teixeira during the season to go with Vladimir Guerrero and they have the strongest pitching staff in baseball with John Lackey, Jared Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Jon Garland starting and K-Rod closing games.

This should be a very interesting series and I think it may hinge on the health of several Boston players, most notably Josh Beckett. If Beckett can pitch and Lowell and Drew are at full strength, I think the Red Sox have a chance. Otherwise the Angels pitching will be too strong for them. I'm picking the Angels to win and that's who I'm rooting for, as well (yeah, yeah I know what I said about Lester and Bay, their fans are still too obnoxious to every root for that team).

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox bring out conflicting feelings in me. On one hand I can't stand Ozzie Guillen's arrogant attitude (and his managing decisions are very Tony Pena-esque - just with better talent to employ). But on the other hand, it is difficult for me to root against good guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jim Thome trying to get their first World Series ring. The White Sox have a big hole in their lineup due to the injury to their team MVP, Carlos Quentin (.288/.394/.571 with 36HR in the 130 games before he broke his wrist) and Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko will have to step up to fill the void (the team went 11-14 in September after Quentin went down).

The Rays are one of the most exciting young teams in the majors with talented players like BJ Upton and Carl Crawford, who can do everything on the field and veteran Carlos Pena who crushes the ball. They also have a very talented pitching staff with James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza leading the staff. Possibly the two best players on the team, however, are rookies that started the season in the minor leagues. Third baseman Evan Longoria is a power-hitting, gold glove caliber fielding stud that will be in MVP discussions for years to come (and should win the ROY this year) and LHP David Price was the first pick overall in 2007 and has the chance to dominate the league.

I like the Rays offense in this series, but the White Sox pitching (Burle, Vazquez, Danks, and Floyd starting and Jenks closing). I usually take the pitching over the hitting, but I think the White Sox are really going to miss Quentin in this series and the Rays will take it. I really can't say who I'll root for because I like the Rays young players, but I would like to see Griffey and Thome get their rings. Tough.

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