Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Championship Series Outlook

I like the title of this post - "outlook" is a lot safer to say than "prediction," don't you think? Mike Francesa of WFAN's "Mike and the Mad Dog" sports talk radio program out of New York made a great point last week. In the NBA, the better team usually wins in the playoffs. The Warriors upsetting the Mavs was a huge deal (bigger than most people made it) because of its rarity. In baseball, the better team doesn't always win, and they aren't always so easily distinguished.

Cleveland pitching was brilliant against New York, no? And the Yankees couldn't have gotten a win at Williamsport. But guess who led all playoff teams in homers in division series play? The Yanks, who hit seven (all solo except for Damon's three-run job in Game 4, which was coincidentally the team's lone victory). So Mike makes an excellent point: there's just little to no way of predicting the outcomes in these playoffs.

So, without further qualification and tip-toeing around the impossible, here are my MLB Championship Series predict--err, outlooks...

Red Sox 4, Cleveland 2
If it's pitching you want, it's pitching you've got in this series. Game 1 features the top two candidates in the AL for the Cy Young in Boston's Beckett and Cleveland's Sabathia, and Fausto Carmona went 9 innings of 1-run ball against New York and faces Curt Schilling in Game 2. No one is sure what Dice-K vs. Westbrook and Wakefield vs. Byrd hold, but neither side has tremendous edge in either of Games 3 and 4 with their starters.

If both the rotations and middle relief match up well, then it comes down to timely hitting and the closers. The edge has to go to Boston, whose timely hitters include one man who collects a clutch hit for every FrankTV commercial (David Ortiz) and another who has had reason to celebrate seemingly after every longball he hits this postseason in Manny Ramirez. (Are you like me? Can you picture Scott Proctor somewhere with a full beard and Bud Ice in hand throwing darts at a photo of Manny every time he raises his arms?) One thing is for certain about this series -- big-time hitters like Big Papi, like Manny, and like the Indians' Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore all need to be given the chance to win the game and have their clutch RBI hold up. And nobody is more apt to preserve a tie or a win than Jonathan Papelbon (37 saves, 1.86 ERA in the regular season; 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, K, 2 BB this postseason).

Arizona 4, Colorado 3
In a seven-game series, the D-backs have the luxury of throwing the best pitcher in the NL up to three times. Brandon Webb provided the lone blemish in the Rockies' biggest asset -- their momentum. They've won 17 of 18 but lost to Webb, who snapped the team's longest winning streak ever at 11 games, during the regular season. If Webb can dominate the same way in Game 1 and cool off Colorado, they'd need to bounce back and pick up some of that lost steam to have any chance of advancing.

Arizona and Colorado have a combined 11 players who started the season in the minors, so a loss in Game 1 would be a test for either club and, in a way, decide the series. Overcoming adversity at the Major League level is just something with which neither team has much experience. The righty with the game's heaviest sinker may be just what Arizona needs to gain THISMUCH advantage in a series that is so close even the players themselves can't decide who is the underdog.


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