National Pastime staff
October 9, 2008
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” Those were the words uttered by Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay moments after he scored the American League Division Series-clinching run against the Angels Monday night, but they could just as easily apply to the National Pastime staff’s Division Series predictions. The four of us who write for this site - Jay LeBlanc, Nick Leco, Sean Raposa and Tom Stad - agonized over our selections, crunching numbers, examining matchups and taking into account other factors like home-field advantage and playoff experience. Jay’s girlfriend Amanda has a clue about baseball but that’s about the extent of it, and just went with her gut feeling. Guess who correctly predicted the winners of all four series?
Jay was the runner-up, accurately predicting the Red Sox’ four-game win over the Angels, the Rays’ triumph over the White Sox and even the Dodgers’ stunning win over the mighty - and cursed - Cubs, though even he didn’t see a sweep coming. Sean takes the bronze by correctly foreseeing the Rays’ and Phillies’ wins, and even that both series would go four games. Tom nailed his Red Sox-in-four pick and also predicted that the Phillies would move on to the NLCS. Nick’s crystal ball was the foggiest, as he was right on only one of his four picks (Rays over White Sox). Fortunately for all of us - with the exception of Amanda, who could see her perfect record tarnished - the League Championship Series provide a mulligan. Here are the National Pastime staff’s LCS predictions. Enjoy.
RAYS vs. RED SOX
Jay: The Rays are a lot like the Red Sox’ Division Series opponent, the Angels, in that their bats lag well behind their arms. The Rays have one of the game’s best young pitching staffs, but their hitters ranked ninth in the American League in runs this season and second to last in batting average. Boston can match Tampa Bay in the pitching department and boasts the superior offense, as the Red Sox ranked second in the A.L. in runs, batting average and slugging percentage during the regular season. The loss of third baseman and 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell won’t hurt Boston as much as it appears, as Lowell - who deserves credit for trying to play through pain - wasn’t much help in his injured state anyway. And while the Rays are postseason newbies, the Red Sox won it all in 2004 and 2007 with many of the same key players on this year’s squad. The teams split the first two games at Tropicana Field, and Boston takes two of three at Fenway before heading back to St. Pete and ending the Rays’ storybook season in Game 6. Red Sox in six.
Nick: The Rays won the season series against the Sox 10-8 with both teams dominating at home. Expect to see much of the same in this series. Mike Lowell will not play in the ALCS after being taken of the postseason roster and it will be interesting to see how the Red Sox defense holds up without him. Jon Lester continues to thrive in the postseason and is dominating hitters right now. It might not be long before he ranks up there with Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett in the annuls of Red Sox playoff heroics. The Rays continue to be the feel-good story of baseball. B.J. Upton has turned in an excellent postseason after a somehwat disappointing regular season as he belted three homers against the White Sox, including two in the clinching fourth game. The Rays got decent starting pitching in the ALDS but will need to step it up if they want to match the Red Sox’ guns. Only James Shields (6 1/3 innings pitched) made it past the sixth inning in the ALDS. Troy Percival’s availability is still up in the air for the ALCS, but the Rays’ bullpen did a good job without him in the first round. Red Sox in six.
Sean: Alright, so I only went 2-2 in the first round, but hey, it’s like trying to hook up on the weekend - one out of two nights ain’t bad. All season I joked with my Yankees fan buddies that the Sox and Rays were the new A.L. East rivalry. It wasn’t until the bench-clearing brawl in early June that I started to believe it was actually going to play out this way. So who wins the main event? Both teams play good defense and have great pitching. Both offenses are clicking and between Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, these teams have two of the league’s best field generals. This series boils down to home field advantage versus experience. I’ll take the battle-tested Sox in six.
Tom: They’ve defied the odds all year, so why not one more time? The Rays are just young enough to have no idea that they aren’t supposed to be here. They won the A.L. East by two games over the Red Sox, so confidence is not an issue. Tampa Bay has home-field advantage, a healthy Carl Crawford and the pitching to go with a resourceful lineup. So why shouldn’t this Rays team make the first World Series appearance in franchise history? They have the defending champs staring them in the face, that’s why. Battered yet determined, Boston found a way to overcome injury and the league’s best regular-season club in four games. Jon Lester is a major reason why. The left-hander has yet to allow an earned run in 14 innings of work and would be 2-0 this postseason if the bullpen didn’t cough up a lead in Game 4. Lester went unbeaten in three starts against Tampa Bay this year, giving up just two runs in 20 innings, and he figures to pitch at least twice for Boston. With Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka behind the new Red Sox ace, even the baby-faced Rays won’t be able to stop the champs from officially defending their crown. Red Sox in five.
Amanda: Red Sox in five.
PHILLIES vs. DODGERS
Jay: The Dodgers’ unheralded pitching staff posted the National League’s best ERA during the regular season and then shut down arguably its best lineup in the Division Series, but the Phillies’ starting rotation is solid from front to back as well. The Dodgers are stronger in the middle-relief and set-up departments. On paper, Brad Lidge and his perfect record in save chances this season give Philadelphia an advantage at the closer position, but given Lidge’s postseason track record and the way Broxton pitched in the Division Series, it’s a very slight edge if an edge at all. Philadelphia’s hitters put up better numbers during the regular season, but Manny Ramirez’ presence has given the Dodgers’ lineup a boost that goes well beyond his individual production. L.A. is the hottest team in baseball right now and benefits greatly from manager Joe Torre’s extensive postseason experience. This is an evenly matched, intriguing series, but the Dodgers will do the little things to win out in the end. Dodgers in six.
Nick: The Phillies and Dodgers are both playing their best baseball of the season right now, having easily dispatched the Brewers and Cubs, respectively, in the NLDS. The return of Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers’ lineup can not be overlooked. He batted .333 and drew three walks in the NLDS, and before going out with a back issue in early May, he was clearly the team’s best offensive weapon. Derek Lowe has signficant playoff experience and will start at least two games in the series, including the opener. The Phillies struggled somewhat offensively in the NLDS and went only 5-for-31 with runners in scoring position, but they have the ability to put up runs in bunches with the likes of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell in their lineup. Cole Hamels is on the verge of becoming one of those big-time pitchers who only get better once the postsesason rolls around. Look for a pitchers’ duel in Game 1 between him and Lowe. Dodgers in seven.
Sean: This series should be a doozy. Lots of big hitters, plenty of fast runners and two hoards of hungry fans. It seems apparent that the networks want to see Manny Ramirez return to Boston to face the music but like my man named Earl, I’m a karma-holic and after the sabotage job Ramirez pulled in July I think his glory run comes to an end here. I also pegged the Phils for the Series back in early August, which would be a cool bonus. Lastly, with the Cubs once again having their hearts ripped out Temple of Doom-style and my above elimination of the miracle Rays, we need one feel-good story. Phillies in five.
Tom: There may be no team hotter than the Dodgers. Winners of 20 of their last 28, Los Angeles gave Cubs fans yet another offseason of heartache to deal with by sweeping Chicago right out of the first round. Teams that are playing like this are usually pretty successful in October. With Rafael Furcal back at the top of the lineup and Jonathan Broxton closing out games again, the Dodgers are back at full strength. I haven’t even mentioned the two deadline additions. Casey Blake has solidified the hot corner for the Dodgers and everyone knows what Manny Ramirez has done since coming over from Boston. It won’t be easy for Joe Torre and his troops, though. The Phillies have the pitching and offense to compete with L.A., with Hamels, Myers, Blanton on the mound and Burrell, Howard, Utley and Rollins at the plate. If Philadelphia is going to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1993 they are going to need the same type of effort they got in the NLDS against Chicago. I’m not sure they have it in them. Dodgers in six.
Amanda: Phillies in six.
Photos by The Associated Press