So here it is, October, the month of baseball madness. 162 games have boiled it down to 8 teams. If you're a betting man or woman, take a Wild Card team as your World Series winner. But if you're like me, well, good luck with those hair patches after pulling your hair out trying to decide on a deserving World Series prediction. So let's get to the Wild Card round predictions- I still have some hair left to pull out before offering up my LCS and WS picks. Today, the ALDS.
New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers
Is that sound you hear Jimmy Leyland screaming into a pillow at the fact his team: a) spit the bit down the stretch and lost the divisional title b) gave up HFA in the ALDS c) now has to play the hottest team in baseball or d) all of the above?
While it's true the Tigers did not do themselves any favors giving up the A's for the Yanks, the fact of the matter is the Tigers MADE THE PLAYOFFS. Take the gate revenue from the extra game(s) and run! But this team has a chance. First, they are the AL Wild Card, and if they can pull a 2004 Red Sox or a 2002 Angels, they'll be fine.
Matchup to Watch
This whole series comes down to pitching. While the Yankees on paper have a distinct advantage in the batting order now that Sheffield and Matsui are healthy to compliment, Jeter, Cano, Damon, and Giambi, they can't pitch their team to wins like the Tigers. The Tigers starters (and team overall) boasted the best team ERA in MLB, which helped TIGERS' starters post the most wins of any rotation (1 ahead of the Yankees) and is complimented by the 6th best batting average against in all of MLB (2nd best in the AL). Here's the matchups:
Game 1: Robertson vs. Wang
Game 2: Verlander vs. Mussina
Game 3: Rogers vs. Johnson
The fact that the Tigers worst starter of its top 3 is pitching the 1st game against, arguably, the Yankees best pitcher this year, may decide this whole series. If the Tigers steal Game 1, an inconsistent Mussina and an aged, aching Johnson give the Tigers potential for a sweep, let alone taking this series while in Detroit in Game 4 (if necessary).
My Pick: Yankees in 4. Detroit's 1st foray into the post season after such a long layoff just doesn't bode well for Leyland & Co. If they come back to make the post season again next year, I may change my mind.
Minnesota Twins vs. Oakland A's
One thing can be said about all 4 teams in the ALDS, there is no shortage of pitching. The Yanks and Tigers may be good for the AARP (Johnson/Mussina) versus Cub Scouts (Verlander/Bonderman), but I'll stake my money on this series being the best pitching matchup in any of the 4 LDS matchups. IMAGINE what this would be like if Francisco Liriano could pitch? Instead, we're treated to #1 vs. #1 in Johan vs. Zito, and Bonzer vs. Loiaza, 2 guys who have been overlooked in the second half of the season as anchors to rotations that didn't have much after the #1's for a good strech post All-Star break. In the end though, the best pitching will come routinely after the 6th or 7th inning when both bullpens step in.
Matchup to watch
The closers. Which young closer shows he's got the stuff to be the next Mariano? The Twins' Joe Nathan has really be groomed for this spot in his career, while Huston Street of the A's is still that filthy raw and careless flame thrower who makes batters step back in the batter's box and extra 1/2 step. So which has more pressure? I say Nathan- he's been a top closer longer, his team has been to the playoffs in 4 of the last 5 seasons, but he's only 0-1 with 1 save and a 9.00 ERA, pitching 5 innings in relief for the Twins. Meanwhile, Huston Street hasn't been to the post-season and, in fact, is only in his second season, AND he's only 23 years old! Closing out the 9th inning, when the game is on the line in a deciding Game 5 is a lot to ask a 23 year old kid. Because of this, I say...
My Pick: Twins in 5. It's going to take a return trip to the Metrodome, but the Twinkies home record in 2006 (the best in baseball at 54-27) is no joke. Team defense and the sick relief pitching, anchored by Nathan, win it.
Tomorrow ... my NLDS picks.