Let’s apply the Washington Nationals test to pick the favorites in the National League division series.
The Philadelphia Phillies finished this season with a 12-6 record against the Nationals, and the Milwaukee Brewers went 6-2. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, each managed only a 3-3 mark.
No team that plays .500 ball against the lowly Nationals ought to have a shot at the World Series, leaving the winner of the Phillies-Brewers series the favorite to advance from the National League.
And since the Brewers hold a slightly better winning percentage over the Nationals than do the Phillies, they should triumph and play their way into the World Series.
That doesn’t work, does it?
The Brewers, in fact, appear to have the smallest chance of coming out of the division series a winner.
The Phillies hold home-field advantage in the best-of-five series and open Game 1 on Wednesday with ace Cole Hamels on the mound. The Brewers, meanwhile, limped to the wild-card berth after a late-season collapse and will counter on Wednesday with untested youngster Yovani Gallardo.
That seems like a huge mismatch, and if the Brewers can’t trot out their superman, CC Sabathia, until Game 3, the Phillies could be up 2-0.
Sabathia may give them that win, but you have to like the Phillies in this series. Just reaching the postseason for the first time since 1982 before losing both Sabathia and fellow hurler Ben Sheets to free agency is the Brewers’ version of the World Series.
(By the way, keep your eye on former Brewers manager Ned Yost. He was a coach on Bobby Cox’s staff in Atlanta under Stan Kasten from 1991 to 2002, and he would have to be a candidate to take a similar spot in the District.)
As for the Cubs and Dodgers, neither team, it would seem, deserves even to be in the playoffs after playing .500 ball against the Nationals. That’s particularly the case for the Dodgers, who were embarrassed in a three-game sweep by the Nationals in August when they were battling for the NL West lead.
But the Dodgers rebounded from that debacle to win the division over the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they do have something special going for them - Mannymania.
You can assume Manny Ramirez is as motivated as he’s been in quite a long time, and that makes him perhaps the most dangerous hitter in the postseason.
And while everyone fawns over the Cubs pitching, led by Carlos Zambrano, the fact is that Derek Lowe was the best pitcher in baseball in the final weeks of the season, posting a 6-1 record and a 1.27 ERA.
Zambrano is hurting and, despite a late-season no-hitter, was hit hard in his last two starts. The Dodgers have a better bullpen, one that will only be stronger if Joe Torre decides to start Lowe on short rest in Game 4 and use Greg Maddux in relief.
The Red Sox West will upset the Cubs, and Torre eventually will wind up back in the World Series - this time in Dodger blue.
So much for Nationals factor. Now how about the ex-Nationals factor?
That’s a tough game to play: Odds are against any team that includes a former Nationals player even making the playoffs.
Of the four National League postseason teams, three have no former Nationals on the roster. One, the Cubs, has two - Daryle Ward and Alfonso Soriano.
That, with the Curse of the Billy Goat and Mannymania, makes the Cubs losers and the Dodgers the winners who will face the Phillies in the National League Championship Series.