Thursday, October 15, 2009

Down to Business - LCS Previews


So I didn't do too well with my LDS predictions, going 1-for-4 and losing my favorite team in the process. I'll try to do better with my LCS picks. Let's start with the Senior Circuit, a rematch of last year's NLCS.

PHILADELPHIA vs. LOS ANGELES
Behind the prolific pitching of Cole Hamels, the Phillies surprised a lot of observers in 2008 by handily taking down the Dodgers in the NLCS on the way to their first World Series title in 28 years. The clubs find themselves here again, with Hamels set to go tonight against Clayton Kershaw.

The success for Hamels last year seems like a distant memory. Finishing 2009 a mediocre 10-11 with a pedestrian 4.32 ERA, the urgency to deal for a top hurler like Cliff Lee probably wouldn't have existed had Hamels pitched up to his capabilities. In NLDS Game 2 against Colorado, he again struggled, yielding four runs on seven hits in five innings in Citizens Bank Park.

It seems like the Dodgers are relishing the chance to face the Phillies in this spot after destroying the Cardinals in three NLDS embarrassments. They want revenge after what happened a year ago, and beating Hamels is a great place to start. With Hamels on the ropes, he'll need to be significantly better to avoid putting his club in an early hole.

But luckily for the Philles, they do have Cliff Lee, who was exceptional in both his NLDS starts, allowing just two total earned runs. He's expected to go in Game 3 back in Philadelphia, and he's clearly the best pitcher in this series. Pedro Martinez is chomping at the bit to get a start and it could come as early as tomorrow. The Dodgers will welcome Hiroki Kuroda back to face Lee, while Vicente Padilla's predictable dominance of the NL is probably causing Ron Washington to go gray.

If there's a significant mismatch between these clubs it's definitely the bullpens. All year the Dodgers were dominant at the end of games, and the NLDS was no different. L.A. relievers allowed just two runs in the three contests. While the Phillies' bullpen wasn't terrible against the Rockies, Brad Lidge's well-documented struggles could flare up at any time. We've seen already bullpens play a pivotal role in these playoffs. I'd be feeling pretty confident if I was a Dodger fan.

The offenses are relatively even, with the Phillies slugging their way past the Rockies thanks to timely knocks by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and the insanely clutch Jayson Werth. The Dodgers are enjoying major production from Andre Ethier and Rafael Furcal and we're beginning to see Manny Ramirez break through his season of tumult and disappointment. Ramirez is the most important player in this series because he could win it for his team all by himself. If Manny gets hot, and hits the way I've seen him hit in these spots before, the Phillies are done. Repeat: done.

There's also a possibility that Pedro could face Manny in one of these games. Which could then lead to this for me and many other Red Sox fans (probably NSFW).

Anyway, I think the Dodgers have the edge. They've got home field, the stronger bullpen, the most dangerous hitter and their starters were very effective against a Pujols-Holliday offense. Their drive and desire to get to the finish line will win out.

Dodgers in six.

Onto the ALCS, beginning Friday in The House That George Built:

LOS ANGELES vs. NEW YORK
There's a player in this series who hit .455 with two homers, six RBI and four runs scored in his ALDS and also came up with several game-breaking clutch hits. Who is this player? It's gotta be Derek Jeter, right? No, even though Jeter hit well against the Twins. OK, well then it's gotta be Torii Hunter. No? What about Mark Teixeira? It has to be him! It isn't? Well then, how about Vlad Guerrero? He came up with the big hit in Boston, but it's not him. Alright, then, who is it?

You better be sitting down. The answer is Alex Rodriguez.

Yes, that Alex Rodriguez. The same Alex Rodriguez who'd done nothing in the postseason since the middle of the 2004 ALCS and wilted in almost every key spot with a bat in his hands. Sure, he's great at launching three-run bombs when the Yankees are up already up by seven runs. But I'm not sure I want to live in a world where A-Rod is getting huge postseason hits and putting up big numbers for a team with an already-ridiculous offense.

Why is this happening? Perhaps it's because of Red Sox fan Seth Meyers' joke on "SNL" about how his reported impregnating of Kate Hudson represents "the only time he's produced in October." Maybe someone hypnotized A-Rod into believing that he's actually playing a meaningless May series against the Royals, except that it's unseasonably cold. Either way, when A-Rod is playing like it's May, it's bad news for everyone else. Like his buddy Manny, Rodriguez is the most important player in his LCS for this reason.

Tomorrow night the aces will square off in New York, with John Lackey and CC Sabathia ready for battle. Joe Girardi has hinted that he might go with a three-man rotation in the ALCS, making it so Sabathia could potentially pitch Games 1, 4 and 7. Past experience tells us that Sabathia is extremely less effective when overworked in the playoffs, so Girardi should tread lightly. Perhaps dusting off Chad Gaudin won't be a bad idea in this series. Scott Kazmir will be going in Game 4 for the Angels, so throwing Gaudin might be safe.

No question these teams are evenly matched. The Angels are better on defense and obviously run more, but the Yankees are dangerous one through nine and can break games wide open with their awesome power. Both starting rotations and bullpens are great but not flawless (the Yankees need to be concerned about Phil Hughes' struggles against Minnesota). Hopefully this closeness in talent leads to an epic series.

But both clubs also have intangibles on their side. The Angels have been inspired by the memory of Nick Adenhart, the up-and-coming starter killed by a drunk driver in April. They've paid tribute to him all season, hanging his jersey in the dugout and voting his family a full playoff share. I felt in years past that the Angels would often give up against tough playoff opponents when they got down. That won't happen this time around.

For the Yankees, there's a sense of unity and togetherness from the Pinstripes I haven't seen since the heyday of the Brosius-O'Neill-Martinez era. They're loose, they have fun, and they really seem to like each other as teammates. Needless to say, this was missing when the likes of Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield were around. These Yankees aren't concerned about the checkered recent past of their franchise. They're playing in the here and now, and they're going to be nearly unbeatable in their park.

I'm rooting for the Angels, of course. But these Yankees...they're different. They're going to the World Series after a classic ALCS.

Yankees in 7.

(Now do your work, Reverse Jinx Gods!)

1 comment:

Tom said...

thanx for jinxing my dodgers Jake, my fear is the fills lineup, I believe it superior.... nonetheless I will be heavily medicated this evening and coaxing my best cheers