ALCS: Chicago White Sox .vs. Los Angeles Angels
There's not really a clear favorite here. The White Sox had the better regular season record, but it's not clear that they were the better team. Chicago has had a good rest before the Series, whereas the Angels are running on very little sleep. But who is really better?
The White Sox have the edge in starting pitching. Contreras/Buehrle/Garcia/Garland is a pretty solid bunch, although the Red Sox managed to get to Buehrle and Garcia. They're not indestructible, but they're a pretty sound bunch. The Angels will probably send out Byrd/Lackey/Colon (with I guess Santana a possible starter, if Washburn is still sick or if Colon's injury is significant). That's a pretty good troika as well, although a step below the Sox.
I'll give the Angels the edge in the bullpen, but not by as much as you'd think. K-Rod is good, but not as good as everyone's been led to believe. And Bobby Jenks has been darn good so far. The Angels have great inning-plus guys like Shields and Escobar, whereas the Sox can throw out superb 1-inning men like Cotts and Politte. There won't be a whole lot of late-inning scoring in this Series, I fear.
The offense goes to the Angels. Even hitting in a much tougher ballpark, the Angels outscored the Sox during the regular season, at 4.70 R/G compared to Chicago's 4.57. So while the Sox have "smart ball" and homers, the Angels actually have a decent bunch of hitters. It's entirely possible that one offense or the other will be shut down by opposing pitching. But it's worth noting that both teams did a good job of hitting in the ALDS (albeit against two sub-par pitching staffs).
It's a close bet, but I'll cast my lot with the Angels. I don't think the Sox's HR-happy offense will last as much as the Angel bunch will. It would be nice to see the Sox make it to the Series for the first time SINCE 1959 or win their first World Series SINCE 1917. But I see Los Angeles making a return to the Fall Classic.
Prediction: Angels in 7
NLCS: St. Louis Cardinals .vs. Houston Astros
We've got an NLCS rematch here. This is the first time two teams have faced off in consecutive NLCS since the Braves beat the Pirates in 1991 and again in 1992. So is there any reason to think that the Astros have gained the extra step since last year?
Well, neither team is what it was a year ago. And while the Astros have gained the edge in starting pitching, I don't think they're as good as the Cardinals. That doesn't mean they won't win the Series. It's possible that the Houston pitching will dominate and send them to their first World Series ever. The Astros are the oldest NL franchise never to make the World Series (the Senators/Rangers are a year older). This year may be their best chance, as the Cardinal offense is weakened with the loss of Rolen and the effects of age on Larry Walker, Jim Edmonds, & Co. And I don't think (especially after their NLDS troubles) that the Cardinal pitching staff is as good as it was last year. They do have Chris Carpenter, who was great during the regular season, but Carpenter has just not been himself lately. We can't be too surprised that he turned out to be mortal, and sadly the rest of the staff is shaky. It's possible that Mark Mulder, Matt Morris, and Jeff Suppan will all be above-average and quality. But it's almost certain that one of them will stumble, and it's entirely possible that more than one will stumble, given their good-but-not-that-good regular season performance.
Having said that, I just don't see Houston winning. Their offense is just not that good. And it will have to be good to keep up with the Eckstein-Walker-Pujols-Edmonds-Sanders Cardinals. It's all about Ensberg and Berkman, with maybe Craig Biggio pitching in. But Brad Ausmus and Chris Burke simply aren't as good as they looked in the NLDS. And Willy Taveras and Jason Lane are pretty one-dimensional hitters. So who's going to score runs?
I will say that it's entirely possible that the Houston pitching will take control, enabling the Astros hitters to survive. Or the hitters might enjoy the same good luck they did against the Braves. But I've got to make a prediction based on the best available evidence, and the best available evidence says that the Cardinals are just the better team.
Prediction: St. Louis in 6