If I have learned anything watching the National League playoffs unfold, it is this. The New York Yankee book of How-to-Win-a-Baseball-Championship does not work. Spend your money wisely; do not simply just spend it. Case in point, Colorado, 25th in the major leagues with a $54 million payroll, eliminated Philadelphia, and Arizona ranked 26th at $52 million eliminated the Cubs, in case you forgot the outcome of that series.
What does work is this, developing young, talented players combined with a couple of veteran leaders. (Jim Hendry, I am available if you want to talk.) This series is not exactly made in TV ratings heaven. It is a series I think will be fun to watch. Let me set the stage. The Rockies caught fire late and are hot having won 17 of their last 18 games. In that span, guess what team handed the Rockies their only loss? You guessed it, the Diamondbacks. The Rockies won the season series, 10-8, while outscoring the Diamondbacks, 86-72. However, 12 of the games were decided by two runs or less, with each team winning six. This has the making of a seven game series. Heres why:
NLCS – Colorado Rockies vs Arizona Diamondbacks
The Rockies are playing baseball as it should be played. Good pitching and timely hitting. They are getting hits with runners in scoring position (I am talking to you Aramis). Leading the way for the Rockies is Matt Holliday, who belted 36 home runs and led the league with a .340 average and 137 RBI. He did however struggle against the Phillies hitting two home runs and an average of .231. I have no doubt he will be big in this series, even using his face to slide into home plate if needed. I doubt Troy Tulowitzki has another series batting. 167 and Todd Helton plays well against the Diamondbacks. In 160 games against them, Helton is hitting .327 with a 29 homers, 103 RBI and 116 runs scored.
Do not look past the Diamondbacks. When a team has Augie Ojeda hitting .444 against the Cubs, they must be doing something right. Obviously keep an eye out for center fielder Chris Young, who will, if thrown a fastball, HIT IT OUT. (Now I am talking to you Rich Hill) while Stephen Drew hit .500 with two homers and four RBI in the three games against the Cubs. Edge: Rockies
I have to give the starting pitching edge to the Diamondbacks. Even though Brandon Webb has a 5.77 ERA against the Rockies this year, he is still Brandon Webb and he can win twice in a seven-game series. If push comes to shove, Webb could even pitch three times. He is slated to go in Game 1, but could then return on short rest in Game 4 before starting a potential seventh game on full rest. My advice would be just don’t save him for a Game 4 while he is in the middle of pitching strongly in Game 1*. (Taken from the Lou Piniella guide to playoff pitching.) Jeff Francis won 17 games this season and I barely know his name. He is a 7-2 lifetime against the Diamondbacks with a 3.54 ERA in 14 starts. After Francis, the picture is a little cloudy with names like Josh Fogg, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. Um, who?Edge: Diamondbacks
Both bullpens are performing exceptionally well. In the ninth inning, The Diamondbacks Jose Valverde has proved to thrive on the pressure, recording the NL-best 47 saves this season. Arizona skipper Bob Melvin just has to remember not to call up Juan Cruz to early and the bullpen will be tough. The Rockies Manny Corpas was lights out against the Phillies, recording the save in all three games. Corpas posted 19 saves and a 2.08 ERA in a team-high 78 appearances this year. Interestingly enough, the Diamondbacks are just 3 for 36 lifetime against him. Edge: Even
I predict the Rockies, in seven. If the extended days off did not damper the Rockies momentum, they are really going to be a tough team to beat. Their potential has been there all season, they just clicked at the last and best possible moment.
ALCS – Cleveland Indians vs Boston Red Sox
While the NLCS is highlighting the young and talented, the ALCS will highlight the 1-2 punch. The two teams in my mind are pretty evenly matched on paper, but as we all know that does not always translate out onto the field. The Indians may have a deeper lineup, but the Red Sox have Ramirez and Ortiz. The Indians may have Sabathia and Carmona but the Red Sox have Beckett and Shilling. Lets see how it plays out:
Two words. Ramirez and Ortiz. Ok, that was three words but you get my point. Ortiz batted .714 with three RBIs and two homeruns in the ALDS. Manny hit a game winning shot in Game 2 against the Angels and hit .375. (Note to Soriano, Lee and Ramirez – those are what playoff statistics should look like) Mike Lowell also batted .333 against the Angels. As good as the big three are performing; the supporting cast needs to step it up. According to the Sports Network, Crisp (.200), J.D. Drew (.182), Jason Varitek (.182) and Dustin Pedroia (.154) all hit .200 or below.
The tone is set for the Indians offense by none other than Kenny Lofton. Doesn’t it seem to be that way with every team he plays for. Lofton hit .375 against the Yankees, and was 5-for-7 through the first two games with four RBI and two runs scored. Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez both had good series and look for them to continue that. The Indians need Travis Hafner to step up his production to be able to stay competitive with Boston’s powerhouses. Edge: Red Sox
It just doesn’t get better than this, two Cy Young award candidates, Josh Beckett versus C.C. Sabathia. Number one versus Number two, who will win? I really don’t have enough room to write about Beckett’s post season resume but take this into consideration – in his seven postseason appearances, spanning 51 2/3 innings; Beckett has pitched to a 1.74 earned run average. In Game 1 against the Angels, he held them to four hits with eight strikeouts in a 4-0 win. Dust off a place for your award Josh? I imagine following Beckett cant be to fun but that is exactly what Shilling will do. Say what you want about Schilling, the man knows how to pitch in the postseason.
Although the Indians Sabathia won his start against the Yankees, he did not seem to have his best stuff and was in and out of trouble all night long. (and no, I did not forget I picked him to win the Cy Young a few weeks ago.) For his career, Sabathia is 2-4 lifetime against Boston with a 3.91 ERA in seven starts. Carmona, meanwhile, pitched brilliantly in the ALDS. He gave up just a run and three hits in nine innings, while striking out eight. If Manny and Big Papi stay as hot as they have been, it is going to be a long series for the Indians pitchers. Edge: Red Sox
Who would have though only three months after the acquisition of Eric Gagne, he would hardly be a factor in the Red Sox bullpen. That hurts. Instead, the Red Sox will rely on Jonathan Papelbon, who posted 37 saves and a 1.85 ERA this season. He was only needed once against the Angels and got the win. Hideki Okajima has also seemed to get some much needed rest and has pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
For the Indians it all comes down to an ex Cub factor. This time it is Joe Borowski, who led the AL with 45 saves despite pitching to a 5.07 ERA. (Maybe we can call it the Ryan Dempster effect, plenty of saves but plenty of earned runs too.) Borowski will most likely be called upon in a key moment of this series and you are not really sure what you are going to get. Will he give up a home run or will he get the out. (Again, that sounds awfully familiar.) Stay tuned. The Indians three set up guys, Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt, have been spot on and I am exited to see Perez match up against David Ortiz.
I predict the Red Sox in six. If the Manny and Big Papi stay hot, maybe 5 and no doubt Boston will win a game with a walk-off. The Indians are clicking but I just don’t think it will be enough. Sabathia and Carmona are good but Beckett and Shilling may just be better. Edge: Red Sox
Jacki’s column, Seven Up, Seven Down runs every Friday and highlights top stories in the world of baseball