Devil Rays: I missed the opening game in this series,which would be a problem if I was planning on picking Tampa Bay, because who would believe me? But since my pick is the Rangers, it’s not an issue. It’s hard not to be impressed by the Rays and their spectacularly good organization. But it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Rangers have been about 80 runs better and are good on both sides of the diamond while the Rays were outscored by the Royals. The series is not as much of a mismatch as the run differential indicates, as the Rays play in by far the best division in baseball and the Rangers play in a division where the other three teams have approximately no good hitters between them. Still, the first game notwithstanding, the Rays just don’t have enough offense for me to pick them. RANGERS IN 5.
St. Louis v. Philadelphia. Now this looks like a mismatch, a 102-win team with a historic rotation against scraped into the playoffs on the last day during a historic choke by the competing team. Amaro has done a terrific job keeping the Phils in top, recognizing the team’s narrow window and getting top-shelf talent without paying a huge price. The fact that Tony LaRussa does a lot of irritating stuff has lead to a common pundit’s fallacy in which people want to deny that he’s a great manager, but he and Duncan’s tape and baling wire rotations tend not to hold up so well in a short series against an outstanding offense. And yet, as Rany Jazayleri notes in his contrarian analysis, the Phillies offense is in fact mediocre — lest you think that’s an exaggeration, they were outscored by the Mets in neutral parks by 50 runs. And while I was aware of that I didn’t know that the Cards’ offense was the best in the league by a fair margin. Combined with the fact that great rotation teams (not just the Cox Braves but the Weaver Orioles, Beane A’s, ’54 Indians) haven’t necessarily fared well in postseason play, and the contrarian case becomes rather compelling. Still, I’m not ready to go there. The fact that the small handful of comparable teams lost some series in which they were favored doesn’t really prove anything, and I’m inclined to believe that front-line pitching is a pretty good strategy for post-season success (cf. the 2010 Giants, who make the Phils offense look like the ’95 Indians.) If Holliday was healthy and the Phillies hadn’t acquired Pence I would pick the Cards — but as is, I think the Phillies win a somewhat closer-than-expected series. PHILLIES IN 4.