LA? Boston? Philadelphia? The Tampa Bay Devil Rays? Is it just me or is the entire MLB fan base energized by a pretty interesting final four? Three newbies, one veteran side that has been here before and done it twice already this decade. A US national debt of interesting side stories. The ALCS and NLCS both have the potential to be draw droppingly good television.
So many good teams come and gone. Which of these final four is going to take that big, jagged looking trophy home? Who's going to win the World Series? How about we start with who is going to win each of the two Championship series. Let me break it down for you like a fraction.
Philadelphia against L.A
The LA Dodgers walked into the NLCS over the dead, rotting corpse of a wafer thin Chicago squad that was built on the shaky foundation of a wildly erratic pitching corps. Would you trust Carlos Zambrano with minding your kitten for the weekend, let alone trusting him with the hopes of an entire fan base? How about Rich 'my arm could fall off at any given second' Harden? The Cubs lineup was exposed too by a decent, if not superb, L.A pitching staff. Put it this way, the Phillies will be a completely different kettle of fish for the Joe Torre gang.
The Phillies have a deep, well balanced lineup with something resembling a bench. Their table setters and big boppers are all hitting form at the right time, and they have both pitching and defence, and will represent a huge challenge to LA, who have perhaps started to ‘believe they hype’ on their own post-season success. Home field advantage, hunger and a powerful lineup and pitching staff will see the Phillies cruise home past a shell shocked LA. Ma$$y Rami$ez will end up playing in the Bronx in ’09 and LA fans will be free to leave games in the seventh inning again.
Boston against Tampa
It's not a wild hypothesis to suggest this series might come down to the pitching. Tampa has taken a giant leap forward from a team that posted a 6.01 ERA in 2007, however Boston is going into the series with three men that can push them all the way to the big show. Lester, Matszaka and even Beckett at 80% of his usual self will lead Boston past the feisty Rays, starting with Matsuzaka befuddling Tampa tonight with his seven pitch attack, all of which he can throw for strikes in any situation, any count.
Tampa has had a great year, and are set to challenge Boston for years in the AL East, however while people talk about Tampa's young talent, they sometimes forget that Boston has built up a squad of young players that will grace Fenway for years. Pedroia, Papelbon, Masterson, Lester, Lowrie, Ellsbury and Youkilis are all superior players who would walk into any Major League teams roster in a heart beat. The Yankees would literally kill for that depth in young talent. Then there is the veterans. Beckett, Matsuzaka, Ortiz, Bay and Varitek. This team is built to succeed in October.
It’s funny, people eulogize at great length about this talented Rays squad, however, check out the names above, you think that roster is going to roll over for Longoria and Crawford, fine players no doubt, but hardly battle tested in October?
Much as the Dodgers blew away a very, very flimsy Cubs squad, Tamps disposed of an even shakier White Sox ‘old men’s club’ side that had no chance of progressing in the playoffs. Tampa will find Boston’s lineup, with its combination of speed and power, an altogether tougher prospect than the Ozzie Guillen tribute band, with its slow outfield and ageing sluggers.
Boston will win one in Tampa to put the pressure on and the young Rays will wilt at Fenway under the ALCS microscope.
On Matsuzaka, tonight's starter, a reader comment;
After a 3 day hiatus - we're back in the game tonight! Any thoughts on Dice-K? I know he does better away from home etc but still, he's not your go-to guy when you're staying up until 1.30AM. Anyway, looking forward to some more playoff action, processed snacks and coffee at the ready!I challenge the media perception that Dice-K is not a go to guy. From what I have seen of the lad Dice-K is still figuring out new ways to get Major League hitters out. The thing is, he is succeeding. Sure, he gets into trouble plenty, however he invariably manages to figure out a way to wiggle out of those self-made messes. He appears gutsy, full of heart and possesses a mind boggling array of pitches that help him keep Major League hitters honest. He is unique, but that’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace the lad! He might be the key to getting back to the World Series.