Probably the highest-profile matchup of the first round - and thus the one you’ll see in prime-time TV the most - this pits two conventional contenders against each other. The winner will be the favorite to go to the World Series, especially if the Angels prevail and have home-field advantage in the ALCS. Los Angeles has one of the majors’ best home records, so the Red Sox will have to steal a game in Anaheim to win the series.
Rays vs. White Sox: The 2005 world champions, after winning the AL Central in a one-game playoff with the Twins on Tuesday, take their high-powered lineup to Florida to face this year’s surprise team. The Rays’ deep pitching staff against the White Sox’s bats is the matchup to watch here. Tampa Bay doesn’t have the offense to keep pace if Chicago starts hitting home runs, but 47 percent of the White Sox’s runs came off home runs.
Phillies vs. Brewers: Three years ago, this would have looked like a therapy session for two beleaguered baseball towns. But now Philadelphia has won two straight division titles, and Milwaukee is in the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Ben Sheets won’t pitch in the playoffs, so the Brewers will be counting on CC Sabathia one last time before he bolts in free agency. He’ll have to win his Game 2 start for Milwaukee, which outlasted the Mets for the wild card only after firing manager Ned Yost, to have a chance of advancing.
Cubs vs. Dodgers: There couldn’t possibly be more pressure on Chicago, which has the best record in the NL on the 100th anniversary of its last World Series victory. So the presence of Manny Ramirez and Joe Torre, two proven playoff winners, can’t be a source of calm for the legions of anxious Cubs fans. Ramirez has been brilliant for the Dodgers, who could ratchet up the pressure on Lou Piniella and the Cubs with a Game 1 win on Wednesday night. In that game, Derek Lowe - another veteran of the Red Sox’s AL East playoff wars - starts for the Dodgers. Stay calm, Bleacher Bums.
- Ben Goessling