Phillies v. Reds: I’ll be rooting for the Reds, but…this is probably the biggest mismatch in the first round. This isn’t about the Reds, who you could argue enter the playoffs as the second-best team in the NL. But the Phillies are not merely easily the best team in the league, but with a power offense and three aces they’re particularly well-built for the playoffs. Unless Lidge takes another downward turn, their main vulnerability is against lefthanded starters…and the Reds won’t be starting one. Admittedly, Arthur Rhodes did have an excellent year and maybe you could spot him against Utley and Howard in a high leverage sp…whoops, sorry, the homer that Dave Justice hit off Rhodes in the 2000 ALCS just whizzed by my head. PHILS IN THREE.
Giants v. Braves. In terms of performance, the Braves were probably the #2 team in the NL, but with their infield decimated and Hanson running on fumes it’s not clear that they are now. Neither team has an impressive offense, although the Braves are definitely better, and given how much of the Giants’ surprising return to offensive mediocrity was driven by veterans who were horrible last year I like their bats going into the series more. Starting pitching, obviously, is an edge for the Giants. So it’s pretty much a wash, and I’ll pick the Braves on the grounds that it’s time for Cox to catch a break in the postseason. BRAVES IN 5.
Rays v. Rangers : Although I hate the region and the market that has never merited a major league team, I like the Rays a lot, and would love to see them win another pennant. They have deep pitching, and their offense was 3rd in the league in runs in a pitcher’s park, a very impressive combination. The odd thing, though, is that the Rays’ offense doesn’t do anything especially well except 1)walk, and 2)run the bases. Since the Rangers’ ace takes the first out of the game and teams based on aggressive baserunning have a bad postseason history, I’m not sure if the offense can be expected to be as good as it looks in the playoffs. At a minimum, they’d better finish the Rangers off before they have to face Lee in a Game 5…and I’m not sure that they well. This may be overcompensating for being utterly wrong about Texas before the season, but I smell an upset here. RANGERS IN 5.
YANKEES V. TWINKIES: For the sake of argument, let’s leave aside the Twins’ horrible record against the Yankes under Gardenhire — as the Angels showed twice last year, teams have hexes over another until they don’t. Let’s just compare the teams. Offensively, it’s a huge mismatch. Only two Twins would start for the Yankees, and in one of those edges the Yanks have a Hall of Fame-caliber player coming off a good year and the Twins star doesn’t seem close to 100%. Worse, without Morneau the Twins are mostly composed of the kind of tweeners who are unlikely to beat good pitching, and Thome — one of the exceptions and the other Twin good enough to start for New York — doesn’t hit lefties very well, which is a problem when you face 4 in 5 games. And, oh yeah, the fact that he doesn’t deserve the Cy Young shouldn’t blind us to the fact that the Yankees still have the best pitcher in the series, and he figures to match up especially well against the Twins. If I try to be optimistic, I can wonder about whether Pettite will be able to get through six innings, and also note that in Game 1 the Yankees will have to choose between having too many lefties in their lineup and blowing up their outfield defense. But still — the Yankees have a much better offense that’s much better suited to post-season baseball and a much better closer, and while the Twins have the better of the secondary starters Pavano, Duensing and Blackburn aren’t going to scare a good offense either. Even starting on the road, it’s easy to see where this is heading. MOST PROFOUND MANIFESTATION OF EVIL IN THE WORLD WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF MICHAEL BAY IN 4.