Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Useless Attempt at MLB Playoff Prognosticating

I preface my writing with the knowledge that my predictions (for sporting picks in general) are correct slightly better than 50% of the time. Given my invested time in watching / analyzing baseball, though, my stats are only slightly better. Last season, I managed to pick four out of the six division winners and one of the wild card teams. For whatever reason, I didn't formally declare preseason picks this season. I can honestly say here's what I probably would have picked (in hindsight) had I made those choices: NL Central - Cubs or Brewers, NL West - Diamondbacks, NL East - Mets, NL Wild Card - Brewers or Cubs; AL Central - Indians, AL West - Angels, AL East - Red Sox, AL Wild Card - Tigers. As you can see, I would have missed badly on a couple of those picks, but I still would have hit about 50% overall for the postseason (if not quite in the right spots). But, enough of my backwards-looking, forward-thinking writing ... on to the future picking.

AL Playoffs
Angels vs. Red Sox
I am a major fan of the baseball that Mike Scioscia's Angels play. The team scores runs in a variety of ways (particularly adept at advancing runners and scoring runners from scoring position), and their addition of Mark Teixeira only made the offense better. In no way do I belittle the accomplishments of the Red Sox, but this Angels team is as solid as they come from top to bottom. No Josh Beckett for the starting rotation (possibly only in Game 3, at best) does not bode well for the Sox. John Lackey has had his own share of ups and downs throughout the season, but he is formidable ace of the Angels staff. I'll take the Angels in 4 games, 3-1.

Rays vs. AL Central Champ (Twins or White Sox)
OK, how confident am I in what the Rays have accomplished this season? Manager Joe Maddon is a leader in the style of Scioscia in LA, no less, and has managed to keep this team afloat, and successful, despite injuries to key offensive players throughout the season. The same can also be said of other managers, but none have done it better than Maddon. This team was expected to be better, but it wasn't expected to be the AL East champion. Regardless of who the Rays play, neither the Twins nor the White Sox will match-up well with them in a series. If the Twins make it, I think they pose the better threat (the generally one-dimensional White Sox offense is simply not the same without Carlos Quentin) but still fall short. I choose the Rays in 4 games, 3-1.

Assuming my two previous picks come to fruition, a Rays-Angels series looks quite interesting. Similar managerial styles and similar playing abilities (more or less) make this one tough to call. I lean towards the team with more depth, and overall experience, by choosing the Angels in 6 games, 4-2. My head says the Angels, but my heart says the Rays figure out a way to overcome experience. Maybe this one even goes seven games ... I'll be watching either way.

NL Playoffs
Phillies vs. Brewers
On paper, this looks like a potential mismatch in many ways. The Phillies dominated the regular season series 8-1, and CC Sabathia will start Game 2 (at the earliest) after having to start Sunday's clinching finale. The rest of the Brewer starting rotation is a mess, particularly with Ben Sheets being a big question mark. Yovani Gallardo may have been a solid starter from a year ago (before injury) ... can he really be a factor now? I'll give the Brewers' heart a factor here but not enough to overcome. My pick is the Phillies in 5 games, 3-2. (which might be generous to Brewer pitching ... Phillies bullpen can be lights out)

Cubs vs. Dodgers
In a short series, LA could play Chicago tough, but I don't think Dodger pitching can stop the Cub offense. Conversely, Chicago pitching is more than up to the task of shutting down the Dodger offense (just keep pitching around Manny). I'll go slightly out on a limb here and say Cubs coast to 3-0 sweep. Zambrano might be the only real question mark I have ... Harden, Dempster, and Lilly are solid in my book.

Again, assuming good choices in the first round, a Cubs versus Phillies matchup poses some intrigue (and likely better ratings than the alternative ALCS, which won't get much if the Red Sox aren't in it). In a longer series, the depth of the Cubs will be even more obvious, although strong pitching (Cubs) versus strong offense (Phillies) can be counteractive ... pitching still usually wins. I'll choose to see this one go longer, but I still pick Cubs in 6 games, 4-2 to make their first World Series in over half a century (since 1945).

World Series
Making a pick this far out is even tougher, as I have to bank on my previous choices being right. A series featuring the Cubs and Angels would not be devoid of interest ... but I'm sure a Red Sox - Cubs matchup would draw gigantic ratings. The Angels are not likely to be quite the draw (if their 2002 WS ratings are an indication), but anything involving the Cubs, who draw on the same "inspiration" as the 2004 Red Sox did, will probably draw viewers. I truly believe this is it ... the year (100 years to the last time) that the Cubs win the series, in 7 games, 4-3. No team has gone longer between Championships (excluding, of course, franchises that have never won a title), so why not the Cubs and why not now?

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