The beginning of October means only one thing for baseball fans: the boys of summer are gone, and the playoffs have only just begun. After an unpredictable season, some teams flourished down the stretch (Hint: Rockies), while others just imploded (Hint: Mets). The 2007 race for the pennant features a few surprises. so get yourself acquainted with the playoff match-ups, courtesy of The Beacon.
The Angels stumbled down the stretch, losing six of their final nine games of the regular season. As always, L.A. will try to win games by manufacturing runs through "small ball," relying heavily on their ability to bunt and steal bases. However, the Angels do feature some power in their lineup, led by perennial MVP candidate Vladimir Guererro.
The Red Sox feature a lineup of big names with equally large contracts. Red Sox fans can expect David Ortiz and Mike Lowell to come through in the clutch, but the true X-factor could be J.D. Drew, whose strong September (.342 average, 18 RBIs) was a bright spot during an otherwise dismal season for the right fielder.
Ultimately, though, each team will rely on pitching to win the series. They both have two reliable starters: John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar for Los Angeles, and Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling for Boston. Both also have lights-out closers in Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon. The key will be what each team gets out of the rest of its staff.
In the end, the Red Sox have a few more quality arms than the Angels, and that will be the difference. It won't be easy, but the Red Sox will win in five games.
YANKEES VS. INDIANS
The Yankees, at one point considered an enigma due to their surprisingly poor play, have been baseball's best team in the second half. Alex Rodriguez continued his monster season, and will most likely be rewarded as the American League MVP. The real credit, though, goes to Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu, whose strong finishes made up for lackadaisical starts by the lefty trio.
Cleveland is led by center fielder Grady Sizemore, the club's sparkplug of a leadoff hitter. The Indians get their power in the middle of the lineup from Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, two sluggers who are capable of putting the ball into the seats anytime.
Cleveland's hope lies in the hands of their two best starters, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. The Indians will need strong outings from both of those pitchers to compete with the Yankees. The key player to watch could be Joba Chamberlain, New York's flamethrowing rookie. With New York now allowing Chamberlain to pitch whenever needed, he could give fits to Indians hitters.
New York will just be too much for the Indians to handle in this series. The Yankees will finish off Cleveland in four games.
PHILLIES VS. ROCKIES
Philadelphia is one of the hottest teams in baseball coming into the playoffs, after overcoming a seven-game September deficit to the win the NL East. Their lineup is stacked with three potential MVPs in Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, so scoring will not be a problem for a team that led the NL in runs this season.
Colorado, however, enters the postseason winning 14 of 15, including a dramatic 9-8 victory over San Diego to earn the NL Wild Card spot. Matt Holliday, the NL batting average and RBI champion, leads a potent lineup that finished second in the league in runs scored.
With both offenses a threat to put up runs in bunches, pitching will have to make the difference in this series. Unfortunately, both sides are thin in that department. Philadelphia will count on strong starts from Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, and hope someone else can step up to the challenge. The Rockies will counter with ace Jeff Francis, who led the team with 17 victories.
Colorado's exhausted pitching staff, coupled with Philadelphia's multiple days of rest, will be the difference. Philadelphia will take the upper hand in five games.
CUBS VS. DIAMONDBACKS
The Arizona Diamondbacks caught many by surprise this year, finishing with the best record in the National League. The Diamondbacks rely heavily on timely hitting, and their offense ranked 26 in the majors in runs scored. Their main production comes in the form of Eric Byrnes, who led the team with 83 RBIs, and Chris Young, who slugged 32 home runs.
Chicago spent over $300 million improving their roster during last off-season, and they were rewarded with their first playoff berth since 2003. Leading the charge for the Cubs will be Alfonso Soriano, whose 14 home runs in September were a Cubs record. Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee can also be counted on for veteran production.
Arizona will expect strong pitching from Brandon Webb, the reigning NL Cy Young winner. The Diamondback bullpen is anchored by Jose Valverde, who led the majors with 47 saves this season. Chicago will counter Webb with Carlos Zambrano, a power pitcher who led his team with 18 victories.
The Cubs look better on paper, but Arizona has been winning games all season against statistically superior opponents. The Diamondbacks will squeak by in five games.