NEW HAVEN, Ct. — If Monday’s National League Wild Card tiebreaker at Coors Field is any indication on how this year’s postseason is going to be, then hardcore baseball fans will have just three words to say — “Bring It On!!!”
Actually, this year’s MLB postseason slogan is “There’s Just One October” and that may be just as fitting. With a mixed bag of teams set to open the playoffs Wednesday afternoon, all four opening series have their own set of questions and intrigue.
Today, we’ll take a look at the Division Series portion of the playoffs and try to answer some questions and give you our own unique take as to who should advance to the League Championship Series next week.
ROCKIES vs. PHILLIES
How did they get here: The Rockies won 11 straight and 14 of their final 15, coming from four and a half games back in the Wild Card race with two weeks to play to qualify for the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Phillies won 13 of their final 17 games to finish one game ahead of the Mets for the NL East crown.
Season series: Colorado 4-3.
What to watch for: The battle of the NL MVP candidates, Philly’s Jimmy “The Greek” Rollins and Matt Holliday of Colorado. While the votes may have already been posted, the player who has the better series will likely move on to the next round. Luckily, these are not one-man teams. Just ask guys like Howard, Tulowitzki, Utley, and Helton.
Playoff history: In their only other postseason appearance, the Rockies lost to the Braves in four games in the first round of the 1995 playoffs. Philly is in the playoffs for the first time since since 1993, when Joe Carter’s home run off Mitch Williams gave Toronto the deciding Game 6 win in the World Series. This is their first-ever postseason meeting.
Did you know: Philly out slugged every other team in the National League by at least 30 runs. The Phils trailed only the Yankees (958) in scoring offense.
Outcome: The battle of the “hot teams” means someone will have to cool off. Since both teams can hit, it will come down to the pitching. After Game One starter Jeff Francis (17-9), Colorado’s rotation is notch below the Phillies. It may have to go all five games, but Philly should pull this one out.
Phillies in five.
CUBS vs. DIAMONDBACKS
How did they get here: It’s the Cubs’ first trip to the postseason since 2003, when they last won the Central, and 15th time in franchise history. As for Arizona, they reached their fourth postseason in 10 years of existence after winning the West, earning home-field advantage through the NLCS in their first playoff berth in five years.
Season series: Arizona 4-2.
What to watch for: The contrasts between managers Lou Piniella (Cubs) and Bob Melvin (D-Backs) will be an interesting backdrop. The fiery “Sweet Lou” and the calm Melvin have both brought their teams some success much faster than most critics thought they would.Look for this to be a constant chess match. Ironically, it was Melvin who succeeded Piniella in Seattle when the latter went to Tampa Bay.
Playoff history: Arizona won the 2001 World Series, but have been bounced out in the NLDS in 1999 and 2002. Back in 2003, the Cubs were five outs away from the World Series before giving up eight runs in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS against Florida. The Cubs would lose the series, and the Marlins went on to win the World Series. This is their first-ever postseason meeting.
Did you know: The Diamondbacks won a franchise-record 32 one-run games this year.
Outcome: Both teams are evenly matched, despite the fact that Arizona won the season series. There are some that are discounting the Baby Backs because of their postseason inexperience. Those are probably the same folks that said that last year about the Tigers and look where they ended the season.
Diamondbacks in four.
ANGELS vs. RED SOX
How did they get here: The Angels are making their seventh postseason appearance in the franchise’s 46 years of existence after winning their third West title in the past four years. As for Boston, they won their first East title since 1995 and sixth since the divisional era (1975, ’86, ’88, ’90, ’95, ’07).
Season series: Boston 6-4.
What to watch for: The Angels’ overall depth. With Gary Matthews Jr off the playoff roster (knee), Mike Scioscia’s lineup has been juggled. Reggie Willits will be in center field with Chone Figgins in right field and Maicer Izturis at third base. Vladimir Guerrero, still not quite ready to throw effectively with triceps inflammation, will be the designated hitter.
Playoff history: This is the third postseason meeting between the two franchises. Both have been won by Boston. In the 1986 ALCS, the Red Sox overcame a 3-1 deficit and won a memorable seven-game series. Back in 2004, the Angels were swept by Boston in the ALDS which was ended by a David Ortiz 10th inning walk off homer.
Did you know: Angel Game One starter John Lackey lost both of his starts this season against Boston, with 20 hits allowed and an 8.38 ERA in 9.2 innings, dropping his career record against the Sox to 1-6.
Outcome: Boston enters this series with some injuries woes (Tim Wakefield) as well, but they still appear to be a much better balanced team heading into the postseason. An excellent setup staff that will help Boston get to closer Jonathan Papelbon in the late innings. Despite the Angels’ best efforts, Boston may be able to make this a very short series.
Red Sox in three.
YANKEES vs. INDIANS
How did they get here: After battling injuries and a a 21-29 start, the Yankees played 73-39 baseball after May 29 to run away with the AL’s Wild Card berth. As for Cleveland, they went 31-13 from Aug. 13 on. The Tribe posted the best record in baseball during that span, to bury the defending AL champion Tigers and win the Central by eight games.
Season series: New York 6-0.
What to watch for: While the world and New York tabloids will monitor ARod’s every move, it’s the “Jaba Chamberlain Rules” that will tell the story for the Yankees and their entire rotation. Eventually, the young relieving phenom will have to pitch in back-to-back games. How he reacts could be the turning point of this series and of the Bronx Bombers postseason fortunes.
Playoff history: Just like the previous ALDS match up, this is the third postseason meeting between the two franchises. In 1997, Cleveland prevailed in a five-game ALDS. One year later, the Yankees got their revenge by eliminating the Tribe in six games in the ALCS.
Did you know: During their six games against New York this season, the Indians were outscored to the tune of 49-17 in the process. However, New York did not face Game One starter C.C. Sabathia.
Outcome: Much like the Phillies-Rockies series, both clubs can bash the ball. The Yankees may have the playoff experience, but Cleveland appears to have a better and more consistent group of starters. Despite the regular season whitewash, the Tribe should have enough to overtake the Bronx Bombers. But it will go to the limit.
Indians in five.