I was looking through some old magazines yesterday and I came across a 2010 Baseball Preview issue. With the regular season coming to an end, I thought I would check up on the experts to see how their picks turned out. To put it simply, they were not good. The only division winner they picked correctly was the Phillies. Of their five other picks for division winners, only one of those teams (the Yankees) is even in the playoffs. The Tigers, Angels, Dodgers, and Cardinals all slipped into mediocrity, with the Seattle Mariners, these experts' pick for the AL Wild Card, finished with the worst record in the American League, losing 101 games. They did pick the Braves for the Wild Card in the NL, so there's a feather in their cap. They picked both the Giants and the Reds to finish 4th in their respective divisions, and the Rangers and Rays to be 3rd place finishers. The perennial under-the-radar Minnesota Twins won the AL Central, defying the writers who had them coming up short and finishing in 2nd place in that division.
Now that I have properly dissected everything that is wrong with baseball predictions, here's my October preview. We'll start in the American League:
New York Yankees (95-67) vs. Minnesota Twins (94-68)
The Yankees swept the Twins out of the playoffs in the 2009 ALDS. As a matter of fact, including the regular season, the eventual World Champs were a perfect 10-0 against the Twinkies last year. This season, the Twins managed to pick up a win in the finale of each series against the Yanks, with Nick Blackburn getting the W in both games. The problem for the ALDS, however, is that Blackburn is not slated to pitch until Game 4, and by then it might be too late. CC Sabathia goes up against Francisco Liriano in Game 1. While Liriano made a nice comeback this season, getting close to the dominance he had in 2006, Sabathia is a legitimate Cy Young candidate, notching 21 wins against only 7 losses. With Justin Morneau out for the Twins and Joe Mauer still feeling the pain in that left knee, CC will overpower the Twins and steal Game 1 on the road.
Game 2 is up in the air, with former Yankee Carl Pavano facing one of the Yankees' current young guns, Phil Hughes. It could go either way, but with Pavano having a career ERA of almost 5 against the Yankees, I would give the slight edge to the Yanks. Game 3 features Andy Pettitte vs. Brian Duensing and it looks to be another toss-up. Pettitte has not looked sharp since coming off the DL on September 19 and Duensing has put together a nice season, going 10-3 in 13 starts this season. The edge in Game 3 goes to the Twins, even though Pettitte has had great success in the playoffs and the game will be played in Yankee Stadium.
Game 4 brings the return of CC Sabathia. He'll face off against Nick Blackburn at the Stadium next Sunday. The stage is set for Blackburn to improve to 3-0 against the Yankees, but I think he'll hit a very large bump in the road in CC and the Yankees hitters will finally figure him out. Yanks take the series, 3 games to 1.
Texas Rangers (90-72) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
Aside from former top-pick David Price, the Rays starting pitching has been shaky at best. Going up against a 1-2 like Lee and Wilson could prove to be a challenge for the AL East Champs. Of course the Rays have the home-field advantage in this series, and throughout the AL playoffs, but if they continue to fill only 52% of the seats at the Trop, that home-field advantage ends at catwalk ring A.
Having Lee and Wilson going against the Rays is a huge lift for the Rangers. The Rays' offense goes into hibernation at times, evidenced by the fact that they were no-hit twice this season, one of those being Dallas Braden's prefect game in Oakland. Don't forget that Mark Buehrle also had a perfecto last season against basically the same Rays lineup. If Carl Crawford can go on a tear and steal some bases, the Rays will have a real shot. Otherwise, the fair-weather fans in Tampa-St. Pete might just sink back to the cellar with Crawford likely leaving for Anaheim this off-season.
A big question mark for the Rangers will be Josh Hamilton. Will his broken ribs prevent him from being a true offensive threat? And if so, will Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero be able to pick up the slack? I think so, and I think they will be too much for Rays pitching. Rangers shock the world, sweep the Rays.
ALCS: Yankees vs. Rangers
Yankees defend AL crown, win 4-2
Atlanta Braves (91-71) vs. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
Both teams are back in the playoffs for the first time in a while after battling with the Padres for a place in the sun. The young Giants are looking to make a statement while the fighting Coxes will try to “win one for the Gipper.” In Cox's final season as Braves manager, he led the team to the NL Wild Card, despite losing team leader Chipper Jones to a knee injury that might end his career. A nice sub-plot of this series will be the production of rookies Jason Heyward (Atlanta) and Buster Posey (San Francisco). Both have a great chance to take Rookie of the Year honors (my vote goes to Posey).
This series is a lot like the Rangers-Rays. Up and down the rotation, los Gigantes have great pitching. Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and the reincarnation of Barry Zito always give the Giants a chance to win. I think the Braves will win one in Atlanta, but the Giants' pitching will be too much for them to handle. Not even the sentimental value of winning it for Bobby will be enough. Giants win, three games to one.
Cincinnati Reds (91-61) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
The two-time reigning National League Champions earned home-field throughout the playoffs since they had the best record in the NL and because the Senior Circuit finally knocked off the AL in the All-Star game (see, this one does count) even though Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard were the only Phils to actually play in the game. The Cinderella Reds got back into October baseball after winning the NL Central for the first time since 1995, and while they are not quite the Big Red Machine, they have a nice balance of young talent with a veteran presence. Hats off to Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker, who should win GM and manager of the year, respectively.
The Phillies' rotation has two playoff-proven pitchers in Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Don't forget about the other Roy, either. Halladay is probably in line for his second Cy Young award after going 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA in his first season with the Fightin' Phillies. The atmosphere in Philadelphia is electric (Scott Rolen might remember that) and the Reds should consider themselves lucky if they leave Pennsylvania with all of their limbs intact. Phillies take the series easily, three games to zero.
NLCS: Giants vs. Phillies
Giants get back to World Series, take down the Phillies in 7.
World Series: Yankees vs. Giants
The Yankees and Giants face off in the World Series for the first time since 1962. Just like that year, the series will go seven games, with the Yankees coming away winners.
There are my predictions. Who knows, they could all be wrong, but at least I got all the playoff teams correct.