Rockies .vs. Phillies
A lot of this comes down to home-field advantage as the Rockies have played and hit much worse away from Coors Field than at home, even accounting for park effects. The Rockies' offense isn't quite as good as Coors Field makes it look, but by the same token, their pitching isn't as bad, either. The Rockies have much better depth both in the bullpen and in the starting rotation, whereas the Phillies' rotation is Cole Hamels and several guys who shouldn't be pitching in a fly-ball park.
Still, I can't get past the home-field advantage and the Cole Hamels advantage. The Phillies have the best offense in the league, and playing three times in their home park with an ace that the Rockies don't have is enough of an edge for me. I predict a lot of offense, but still some close games where the bullpens play a big part. If the Rockies can keep the Phillies' offense quiet, they might be able to pull one out against the likes of Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer.
Prediction: Phillies in 5
Cubs .vs. Diamondbacks
This is probably the biggest mis-match in the division series. Not that the Cubs are that good, but that the Diamondbacks aren't. Arizona ranks 15th of 16 NL teams in Equivalent Average (.249), which takes into account their entire offensive output, which isn't very much when you consider they play in a hitter's park. The Cubs' offense isn't a whole lot better, but they'll benefit from the presence of 2 or 3 legitimate monsters in their order, whereas Arizona's best hitter is Conor Jackson (284/368/467) and their best player, Orlando Hudson, is out for the year with injury.
The D-Backs' best hope is Brandon Webb. Webb is the best starter on any NL playoff team, and if Arizona can win twice behind him, they'll stand a much better chance of upsetting the Cubs. The only trouble is that behind Webb, the D-Backs don't have a whole lot. It will be some combination of Micah Owings, Doug Davis, and Livan Hernandez, and that's not very comforting. Chicago, while lacking a truce ace like Webb, has a very strong 1-2-3 of Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Rich Hill (it's the hope of Cub fans everywhere that Jason Marquis doesn't start in the series).
So while the D-Backs may continue to surprise me, just as they did during the regular season, I'm doubtful that they will. Because after Brandon Webb, this is not a World Championship team.
Prediction: Cubs in 4
Red Sox .vs. Angels
This 2004 ALDS rematch will likely end with the same result. Because while the Angels have a better starting pitching lineup for the postseason, that's the only place they really have a clear edge over Boston. The Red Sox are the best team in the postseason, and what they lack in starting depth, they make up for with a far superior offense. While the Angels will be crossing their fingers over Vladimir Guerrero, the Red Sox will be pounding the ball with a deep and deadly lineup.
Also worth noting that the Angels' bullpen, usually their strongest point, has been less effective this year. The Red Sox haven't been excellent, either, but I don't see the Angels having a clear advantage there. And, man-for-man, I think I'd rather have Jon Papelbon closing than K-Rod.
The Angels' only hope is that their contact-hitting offense will be able to scratch across some runs, and their rotation will be able to slow down the Boston offense. And while I think the world of John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, I just don't see it happening.
Prediction: Red Sox in 4
Indians .vs. Yankees
This may be the best match-up of the Division Series. The Indians are a well-balanced ballclub lacking any one strong advantage. The Yankees have a devastating offense but a pretty disappointing pitching staff.
I think that the Indians will win, not just because of their balance, but because the move to October will help them especially. They won't have to worry about a 5th starter, which has troubled them all season, and they will also have Asdrubal Cabrera at second and a (possibly?) healthy Travis Hafner. In short, the Indians are probably a better team than their regular-season record indicates.
The Yankees can mash with any of them, and with their offense, you can never ignore the possibility that they'll just club their way to a pennant by winning several 10-8 games. But I don't have much confidence in their pitching staff. Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettite are a decent 1-2, but they're no match for C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. And while the Indians' 3-4 starters (Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd) aren't too promising, I'd rather take them over the unpredictability of semi-injured veterans Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. Most every commentator this October will probably mention what a "hoss" Clemens is and that he's a veteran the Yankees can count on in October. Actually, I'd rather have a healthy guy who's actually pitched well this season. The good news for Yankee fans is that they've got some younger, better options in the wings (Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy) if Clemens and Mussina either bomb out early or just can't pitch. And while you may have heard something about a guy named Joba with the Yankees, I much prefer Cleveland's underrated staff of middle relievers. Let's just hope that Eric Wedge has the good sense to use them in tight situations rather than "closer" Joe Borowski (5.07 ERA).
It will be interesting to see which way this series goes. But if I had to guess, I'll go with the Cleveland. They may not be the "team of destiny," but what the f*** does that matter, anyhow?
Prediction: Indians in 5
Back soon with end-of-year recaps, including my awards picks.