The MLB playoffs are about to start this week and it’s worth a glance at what match-ups to watch.
As of this writing all but three playoff spots were yet to be fixed with two of those being in the perennially tight NL.
The AL will feature AL East champions Tampa Bay, AL Wildcard holder Boston and AL West winners the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Central is a toss-up between Chicago and Minnesota but no matter who comes out on top the playoff format is certain.
The AL Divisional Series should see the Rays up against the Angels while Boston will tangle with either Minnesota or Chicago.
I’m looking for a great series between Tampa and LA simply because both are hard-working, fundamentally sound squads.
Both also boast effective offenses that do what it takes to get runners on base and into scoring position. Expect to see plenty of stolen bases and sacrifices from both sides.
However the series will be a gem with all the great pitching on tap. James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza have the potential to frustrate the Angels.
Meanwhile LA will counter with the likes of Ervin Santana, John Lackey and Joe Saunders who are good at changing speeds and fooling hitters.
I don’t know if Tampa can push LA to five games but I expect to at least see a four game series.
In the other series, look out for plenty of offense to be on display. Mind you Boston have a pretty solid pitching staff.
Josh Beckett did not show dominating stuff this year but he’s a force in the post-season, Daisuke Matsuzaka has emerged as the staff ace with 18 wins and an ERA below 3.00 and Jon Lester has incredibly good command of the strike zone.
Nevertheless the likes of David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell will make or break Boston’s run at a repeat title. If they can match their opponents’ output then they can give their bullpen a chance.
Both Chicago and Minnesota have good pitching as well and their offenses are very strong. The White Sox have some five players with at least 20 home runs while the Twins has a force in the middle in Justin Morneau.
Ultimately the series seems destined for five games no matter who Boston have to handle.
In the NL the picture is very much muddled. The Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers are already sure bets. However three teams are battling for two spots.
The result is that the playoff format for the NL Divisional Series is anything but concrete.
If Philadelphia and New York make the playoffs then the top team of the two will take on Los Angeles while the other will tangle with the Cubs.
In that scenario expect to see an excess of offense in the Dodgers series. LA have legitimate power as four players have at least 75 RBIs on the year.
Meanwhile the Phillies boast the MLB leader in home runs and RBIs in Ryan Howard and the Mets have a deadly trio in Carlos Delgado, David Wright and Carlos Beltran.
Even so neither team ha ve a pitching staff on the same level as the Cubs. Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden are lights-out pitchers who bring intensity and poise to every start.
The Cubs might drop a game to either of them but should be able to take care of business in four games.
For the Dodgers it will depend if their offense can remain in high gear consistently enough to outlast the offensive outbursts typical of the Phillies and sometimes seen by the Mets.
If the white and blue step up then look out for a four game series, otherwise a five game battle seems to be on the cards.
Now if Milwaukee make it in, things will be much different. The Brewers would face either Philly/New York while the Cubs would take on the Dodgers.
The Brewers offense could make any series interesting with the likes of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun but their pitching, led by C.C. Sabathia, could make all the difference.
Look for them to stretch the series to at least four games if not five.
The Cubs would enjoy taking on the Dodgers as their offense is too much for the LA arms. Ramirez and company could make it interesting but look for a short three-game series.
In the end, this year’s playoffs may be as much a mystery as a joy to behold. Either way baseball fans should have plenty to watch for in October.