This N’ That with Tony Mack: MLB PLAYOFF PREVIEW

By Tony McClean
Updated: October 5, 2004
NEW HAVEN, CT.—The skinny: Anaheim wins AL West crown for first time since 1986. They lost a memorable 7-game ALCS that year to the Red Sox. Boston reaches the playoffs for the third time in last six seasons (2-2 all-time in ALDS).
Analysis: This has the makings of being the best matchup in the first round. Both teams have the booming bats (Ramirez, Guerrero, Ortiz, Anderson, Varitek, Glaus, etc.). But as always, it will come down to pitching. Again, both starting staffs are excellent so the bullpen will be a key.
For what it’s worth: Boston was 5-4 against the Angels during the season, including a three-game sweep in September at Fenway.
Key to the series: No matter who his daddy may be, the Red Sox hopes will still hinge on a healthy Pedro (mental or otherwise).
Prediction: Angels in 5. The curse lives while Vladimir Guerrero re-introduces himself to the national spotlight.
The skinny: Despite injuries, the Twins owned the AL Central for a third straight season behind pitching and strong defense. The Yankees had the quietest 100-win season en route to their 7th straight AL East crown.
Analysis: New York power versus Minnesota pitching. You know the old adage in a short series. Most times, good pitching can defeat good hitting. The Twins bats must strike early and often.
For what it’s worth: In last year’s ALDS vs. the Yanks, the Twins won Game 1 (3-1 behind Johan Santana) at New York. Minnesota then got outscored 13-3 in the next three games of the series, bowing out in 4 games.
Key to the series: Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Kevin Brown. Despite their past post season successes, these two Yankees will have a lot to prove to themselves and the fans of New York.
Prediction: Twins in 5. Mystique and aura just don’t cut it anymore. Besides, you get the feeling that Minnesota won’t play scared.
The skinny: After being 56-60 on August 15, the Astros went a blistering 36-10 the rest of the way to capture the NL wild card spot. In Atlanta, it was business as usual as the Braves took another NL East crown going away.
Analysis: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Clemens and Oswalt. Ortiz and Wright. Not mention closers Lidge and Smoltz. This has the makings of being a barrage of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 nail biters.
For what it’s worth: Boston has the Curse of the Bambino. Houston has the Curse of Chief Nocahoma. They’re 0-3 all-time in the NLDS versus the Braves.
— 1997: Swept in 3 games
— 1999: Lost in 4 games
— 2001: Swept in 3 games
Key to the series: The Killer B’s (Biggio and Bagwell) must shake their post season doldrums. In 14 career NLDS games each, the pair have a combined .150 BA (15-for-100) with just 3 runs scored and 5 RBI.
Prediction: Astros in 4. Just a hunch that Houston’s hot finish will be enough to overtake the Braves.
The skinny: L.A. was able to outlast the Giants and Padres to take their first NL West crown since 1995. The Cardinals had the Central wrapped up by Labor Day, but struggled a bit following the clincher.
Analysis: St. Louis’ depth in their starters, bullpen, and bench have made them the clear favorites entering the post season. However if they sleep on L.A., the Cards will be napping all the way to Spring Training.
For what it’s worth: Since upsetting the A’s in the 1988 World Series, the Dodgers have lost six straight post season games.
— 1995: Swept in NLDS by Reds, 3-0
— 1996: Swept in NLDS by Braves, 3-0
Key to the series: The Dodgers chances hinge Eric Gagne’s tired arm. If he doesn’t get a chance to come out of the pen, it will be a very short postseason for Jim Tracy’s gang.
Prediction: Cards in 4. Look for St. Louis to bounce back from their recent offensive woes.