Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Baseball's Final Four

The League Championship Series will start tomorrow, with the Dodgers taking the on the Phillies. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox will be taking on division rival Tampa Bay. Here is a preview of both series:

Red Sox vs. Rays

Boston Red Sox

This is a very intriguing series between two very good teams from the AL East. Boston pitching depth is probably unmatched in the majors, but Tampa's is a close second. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester are two of the most dominating pitchers in the game. Josh Beckett isn't 100% but he will start at least one game in this series.

Boston's lineup has a great mix of veteran players and blossoming stars. Everyone knows Big Papi (above) is their power hitter, but he is suffering from a wrist injury. He hasn't been hitting all that well. Jason Bay has been a great run producer since coming from Pittsburgh. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia batted .326 with 17 homers and 83 RBIs. That .326 average was good for second in the American League. He should be the AL MVP. The rest of the lineup is stacked.

One major loss for the Red Sox is veteran third basemen Mike Lowell. Lowell was last year's World Series MVP, and a real leader. Lowell is certain that he will not play in any remaining playoff games.

Tampa Bay Rays

I have to confess that I thought the Rays would crumble in the second half. They sure showed me. The Rays young pitchers have really pitched well in big games this season (and in the playoffs). James Shields pitched well during the season, and had a nice outing against the White Sox last week. Scott Kazmir didn't have his best season this year, but he still a feared lefty.

The Rays seem to have great teamwork in a sport that significantly lacks real teamwork. Their young (and loaded-with-talent) players score runs with ease. Evan Longoria is a all-around player at third base. He homered in his first two postseason at-bats. Not bad for a rookie. Carlos Pena is the only player on the Rays with 100+ RBIs. He also knocked 31 balls over the fence during the season.

My Prediction: Rays in 7

Phillies vs. Dodgers

Philadelphia Phillies

Everyone knows about the Phillies prolific offense. I don't think I need to give you the stats of guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell. But a lot of the Phils' role players have been stepping up in the postseason. Shane Victorino has been terrific in October, knocking in five runs in four games. Jayson Werth has been a player that has created opportunities. His speed and timely hitting helped carry the Phils to the playoffs.

The starting pitching for the Phillies has been rather inconsistent. Cole Hamels is the team's ace. And he pitched a gem in the Game 1 of the NLCS, throwing eight shutout innings. Brett Myers looked very good in Game 2, but he has a tendency to blow up. Jamie Moyer pitched poorly in Game 3, but he usually is money. The Phillies bullpen is shaky if the starters don't go at least six innings.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Manny Ramirez is absolutely dominant in the playoffs. The Phils cannot pitch to him. He hit two homers in the Cub debacle. He has 26 dingers in the playoffs in his career. The Dodgers power ends with Manny. Andre Eithier is second on the team in homers with a parsley 20 (Note: Eithier would be fifth on the Phillies). Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin are the fuel that drives the Dodger offense.

The Dodger pitching isn't all that great either. Manager Joe Torre will start Dereck Lowe, who was 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA during the regular season. Chad Billingsley is the team's best starter, going 16-10 with a 3.12 earned run average.

My Prediction: Phillies in 6

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