Unexpected contenders fight for division series

At this point last year, if anyone would have said the teams that would participate in the National League Division Series would be the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies, both of whom finished last in 2006, to go along with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies, you probably would have been cast aside as someone who picks teams based on fruitful color schemes. Along with the great teams from the American League, this year will, no doubt, prove to be as unpredictable in the playoffs as it was in the regular season. Here are my predictions for this postseason, which will probably be wrong.

American League

Los Angeles Angels vs. Boston Red Sox

There are two clear advantages for each team in this series, which are Boston’s superior lineup, where they can create runs and hit for power, and Los Angeles’ bullpen, which has been probably the most consistent in the American League. Both Game 1 starters, John Lackey for Los Angelas and Josh Beckett for Boston, are in the running for this year’s Cy Young award, and, although the Angels have the clear advantage of having Kelvim Escobar pitch in Game 2, the Red Sox will counter in Game 3 with one of the best postseason pitchers of our generation in Curt Schilling. Because of injuries to Gary Matthews Jr., who will not play, and Vladimir Guerrero, who can only DH, the Angels, who would normally have a defensive advantage, are now probably equal to the Red Sox with their glove work.

Series Prediction: Red Sox win series, 3-1

New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians

The Yankees do have the best lineup in baseball, but people are sleeping on the Indians simply because they do not play in a major market. The Indians have the most consistent leadoff man in baseball in Grady Sizemore (Did anybody see Jose Reyes down the stretch?), the best hitting catcher by far in Victor Martinez, a shortstop with over 20 homeruns in Jhonny Peralta, and a designated hitter, Travis Hafner, who had the worst full season of his career, but still managed to drive in 100 runs. The Yankees still have the best lineup in the majors, which has many former All-Stars, including probable MVP Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, who does not even start any more, and Bobby Abreu, but the gap between the two teams offensively is not as big as one might believe. With slight edges on both defense and the bullpen, it would appear obvious that the Yankees should win this series. The problem is that I believe this series is going to come down to starting pitching, which the Indians have a stranglehold on with two Cy Young candidates in Fausto Carmona and C.C. Sabathia.

Series Prediction: Indians win series, 3-2

National League

Chicago Cubs vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

No one knows how the Diamondbacks got here with a lineup whose biggest run producer was Eric Byrnes with 85 RBI’s and season-ending injuries to two key parts of their offensive attack in Chad Tracy and Orlando Hudson, their only All-Star. The D-Backs have simply done it with pitching, defense, and a terrific bullpen. The problem is that in this series the Cubs have the best starting pitching after Game 1 with Ted Lilly and Rich Hill, which one of the things Arizona counts on to win ball games, where last year’s Cy Young champion Brandon Webb goes for the D-Backs, and a lineup, containing Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee just to name a few, that’s far superior, which has been nothing new for the D-Backs to overcome. The D-Backs advantages in the bullpen, with closer Jose Valverde, and defense, at almost every position in the field, should make all of these games close.

Series Prediction: Cubs win series, 3-1

Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies

This will be the closest and most frantic of all the series with the first team to 10 runs likely to win each game. Neither team has great, other than the Phillies with Cole Hamels in Game 1, or experienced starting pitching in the postseason, but Philadelphia would probably have the overall edge on this and defense based on one or two superior players. The bullpen of the Rockies is serviceable, and probably gets the nod over the one with all the castaways from other teams with the Phillies. Both lineups are extremely deep and talented with Rookie of the Year candidate Troy Tulowitzki and MVP contender Matt Holliday leading the likes of Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, and future Hall of Famer Todd Helton for the Rockies, and MVP candidates Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard (last year’s MVP winner) combine with the best second baseman in baseball in Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, and free agent to be Aaron Rowand, who can expect a big payday after the career year he has had. The Rockies, though, have the best defense in the playoffs, but the Phillies are not bad with the glove. I have been waffling back and forth on this series since this series was set, but I have this gut feeling that the magic for the Rockies will continue for at least one more series.

Series Prediction: Rockies win series, 3-2

The entire Major League Baseball season has been filled with surprise, which is evident based on the fact that seven out of the eight teams in this year’s playoffs were not there last year, so it would not be a shocked if any of these fascinating teams won the World Series.

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