The next round of the baseball playoffs gets underway today, and as much as this is probably going to shock some of you, the Houston Astros are still not playing. The teams still left are the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League, and the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox in the American League.
So let’s take a brief look at the Championship Series.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES:
Derek Lowe gets the start for the Dodgers today as they meet the Phillies in Philadelphia, and he matches up against Phillie ace Cole Hamels. Derek Lowe is a different pitcher on the road than he is in Los Angeles, which is reflected by a 2.30 home ERA and a 4.42 road ERA, but he hasn’t lost a game since August 26. And both teams have been hot, with both going 17-8 in September.
The Dodger pitching staff’s 3.68 ERA was the best in the majors. And Manny Ramirez has rejuvenated the Dodger offense. Ramirez was five for ten in the series against the Cubs, and he had an incredible OPS of 1.743.
The Phillies strength will be the bullpen, especially closer Brad Lidge who has been a perfect 43 for 43 on save attempts this season. The Dodger bullpen is in flux, and closer Takashi Soto might not even be on the roster come first pitch tonight.
The Phillies have the home field advantage. But the Dodgers have Manny Ramirez, and Manny Ramirez loves the playoff spotlight. For no reason that I can explain, other than I like seeing Tim McCarver have a conniption fit, I’m picking the Dodgers to win in six games, with Manny being Manny and being the star.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES:
But as much as the Dodgers/Phillies might be, I’m really going to be paying attention to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. Coming into this season, the Rays had never won more than 70 games in a season. Now they’re just four wins from the World Series.
The Rays and Red Sox have already played each other 18 times this season with the Rays winning 10 of those games, including eight games in Tampa Bay, and the Rays are 59-24 while playing at Tropicana Field this season. The Rays also took four of six games from Boston in September, and since the Rays won the AL East by only two games over the Red Sox, those September wins over the Red Sox made the big difference.
If you like pitching, you will like this series as the Rays’ ERA of 3.82 was the second best in the American League while Boston’s 4.01 ERA was fourth best. Boston outscored Tampa Bay by 845 runs to 774, but Tampa out-homered Boston by 180 to 173.
Boston has some injuries to contend with, primarily the one keeping 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell off of the roster. With Lowell missing, Kevin Youkilis will move from first base to third and Mark Kotsay will move from the outfield to first base.
Jason Bay has been good for Boston, and he went seven for 17 in the playoffs with two homers, two doubles, and five RBI. B.J. Upton was the playoff star for Tampa, hitting three homers and a triple.
This series starts on Friday night, and James Shields gets the start for Tampa Bay against Daisuke Matsuzaka.
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And for you Astros fans, don’t worry, the Astros are well-represented by the Rays in these playoffs. Former Astros on the roster include Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler, and Ben Zobrist. And Houston natives Scott Kazmir and Carl Crawford are key players.
The Tampa Bay coaching staff and front office also have strong Houston and strong Astros connections. Coaches Tim Bogar and Steve Henderson once played for the Astros, and pitching coach Jim Hickey was the pitching coach for the Astros squad that went to the World Series. And don’t forget Gerry Hunsicker who is the Astros former general manager. The guy in the GM role for Tampa Bay is Houston native Andrew Friedman. Also, Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats got his start with the Astros.
So, I’m picking the
Astros Rays to win this series in six games.
-- John Royal