It’s October once again, the time of year for the MLB playoffs.
When the 2009 season started out, the standings seemed to all be reversed, with the Blue Jays, Royals, and Mariners all leading their respective divisions at some point in April and May. As the season went on, however, everything returned to normal. Sure, we saw our share of interesting headlines, from Manny being suspended (and his excuses) to Zach Grienke’s otherworldly dominance, but this year, there was no dramatic September collapse by the New York Mets and no failure to make the playoffs by the highest-paid team in baseball. Instead, the only close division finish will be that of the American League Central, where the Twins and Tigers tied and will face one another in a one-game playoff.
Anyways, here’s a look at the teams advancing to the postseason and the matchups which will occur in the first round, best-of-five Division Series.
New York Yankees (103-59, AL East Winner) vs. Detroit Tigers/Minnesota Twins (87-76, AL Central Winner):
After missing out on the playoffs last season, the Yankees are back. After a slow start to their 2009 campaign, New York’s big-ticket offseason acquisitions CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira stepped up and led them to the AL East Title and the best record in the majors. For the second straight year, the AL Central title will be decided on a one-game playoff. Both teams won Sunday, and the final game of the regular season — number 163 for each team — will be played Tuesday night at the Metrodome to determine the last postseason berth. The Yankees have the best offense in baseball and a better pitching staff than either Minnesota or Detroit, and should be able to advance without too much difficulty.
Prediction: Yankees in 4
Los Angeles Angels (96-65, AL West Winner) vs. Boston Red Sox (95-67, AL Wild Card):
The Angels continued their run of dominance in the AL West, winning the division for the fifth time in the past six years with the biggest lead in baseball. The Red Sox are back in the playoffs again as the Wild Card winners in the American League. They looked in trouble in early August, but, then, the offense came alive, led by midseason acquisition Victor Martinez, and the Red Sox cruised to the Wild Card berth. The Angels have the better record and home-field advantage, but have lost to Boston in the playoffs seemingly every single season.
Prediction: Red Sox in 3
Philadelphia Phillies (93-69, NL East Winner) vs. Colorado Rockies (92-69, NL Wild Card):
The Phillies held a firm lead practically all year, and the Mets decided to ruin the excitement in the NL East by choking in July instead of September. The Rockies are in the playoffs on another September run. Despite being over 15 games behind the Dodgers in June, the Rockies heated up late in the season. Entering the final weekend in regular-season play, the Rockies had a chance to win the division with a sweep of the Dodgers, but failed to do so and settled for the Wild Card. The Phillies’ hopes of repeating as World Series champions will depend on their bullpen, which has had trouble this year (especially Brad Lidge, who leads the NL with 11 blown saves). The Rockies will once again look to channel their postseason “Rocktober” mojo and repeat their 2007 run to the World Series.
Prediction: Phillies in 4
Los Angeles Dodgers (94-67, NL West Winner) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (91-71, NL Central Winner):
Although Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games at the beginning of the season for taking fertility drugs, the rest of the Dodgers’ lineup stepped up. Matt Kemp and James Loney provided the RBIs, Andre Ethier provided the walkoff hits, and Juan Pierre even made himself useful replacing Manny. The Dodgers were the best team in baseball for much of the summer, and despite losing seven of their last ten games, enter the playoffs with the best record in the National League. The Cardinals started slowly, dealing with injuries and at one point having 13 rookies on their roster. Despite this, the Cardinals returned to form and were one of the first teams to secure a playoff berth. The Cardinals have not only two NL MVP candidates in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, but also two of the NL’s best starters in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, who should be able to get three wins for St. Louis in the series.
Prediction: Cardinals in 5