Way back in April, I picked Colorado, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Anaheim, Minnesota, New York, and Boston to make the playoffs, which puts my grade at 50%, failure by any professor’s standards. However, in baseball speak, I batted .500, which is impossibly good – it’s all about perspective. (For perspective, Sports Illustrated and Baseball Prospectus were also 4-for-8.)
Hopefully I’ll be more on the ball in my playoff predictions, but let me first start off with the disclaimer that the playoffs are, in the immortal words of Moneyball author Michael Lewis, “a giant crapshoot.” The Major League Baseball season is 162 games long; it’s a marathon that specializes in wearing teams down and weeding out the weak and injured, letting the elite emerge with the best records. However, anything can happen in a small sample-size like the 5-game League Division Series’, or the 7-game League-Championship and World Series.
That said, I’m going to take a stab at predicting the outcome – after all, there’s a 12.5% chance I’ll guess right!
The playoff schedules weren’t set until Sunday afternoon when the last three teams clinched, and the Division Series’ will start Wednesday, with the AL East champion Rays hosting the AL West champions Rangers, the AL Central champion Twins hosting the AL Wild Card entry Yankees, and the NL East champion Phillies hosting the NL Central Reds. Thursday evening will see the NL West Champion Giants hosting the Wild Card entry Braves.
In the first round I’m taking the Giants and Rangers in 5 games, and Yankees and Phillies in 4. Really, it’s all about pitching, and all four of these teams have a legitimate ACE: Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and Roy Halladay, respectively. All of these pitchers are capable of absolutely dominating, and the lineups behind them are hardly something to scoff at.
The Championship Series’ should see both New York and Philadelphia defending their 2009 Pennants, with mixed success. Philly and San Francisco match up pretty evenly on paper, but the Phillies should take it in six games. The Giants have Lincecum and Matt Cain, but the Phillies will counter with Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. Sure, you could argue that Halladay has never even been in a postseason game before, but its not like he’s a stranger to high-pressure situations, having pitched in the competitive AL East for most of his career.
As for the American League Pennant, I’m picking Texas in seven games. Again, this mostly comes down to pitching. CC Sabathia is close to a sure thing, but he was beaten last postseason by Cliff Lee (then with the Phillies), and after Sabathia the Yankees rotation is anything but steady. Andy Pettitte is coming off of a torn groin (and he’s 38-years-old), AJ Burnett is an enigma at best, and Phil Hughes has more than doubled his innings from last year. On the other hand, Texas has four reliable starters in Lee, CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Tommy Hunter. Both lineups are formidable, but the return of Josh Hamilton should tip the scales in the Rangers’ favor.
Because the National League won the All-star game for the first time since 1996 (2002 ended in a tie), the World Series will be hosted by the National League Pennant winner, which in this projection is Philadelphia. The Phillies have distinct advantages in a number of areas: their team ERA is nearly half a run better than the Rangers’ team ERA; they have a wealth of postseason experience, as this could be their third straight NL Pennant; and they have home-field advantage. That said, this should be a close series, going to six or even seven games. The two teams have comparable lineups, and they each boast one of the top-five starting pitchers in the game. The Rangers have the better bullpen, which could allow them to steal a game or two if they can wear down the starters early. However, all things considered, the Phillies should be able to top the Rangers and win their second World Series in the last three years. After all, Philadelphia finished the regular season with baseball’s best record, it would only be fitting if they finished the postseason with baseball’s highest prize.