Baseball’s preliminaries which are the divisional and wild card races have come to an end and 8 teams begin on the path to the World Series as the playoffs get underway this week.
In the National League, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and San Francisco were division winners with Atlanta earning the wild card. Philadelphia wound up with the best record in all of baseball and is the top seed in the NL, facing Cincinnati in the divisional series starting on Wednesday. Atlanta plays San Francisco in their best of five series that starts on Thursday. After losing the first two games at home over the weekend to San Diego, the Giants won the series finale, which eliminate the Padres who had led the NL West for much of the season.
Tampa Bay edged the New York Yankees for the both the AL East title and best record in the league. The Rays will face AL West winner Texas in the divisional series while the Yankees, as the wild card, will face Minnesota.
Philadelphia appears to be the consensus favorites to win the World Series as they seek a second title in three seasons (after defeating Tampa Bay in 2008) and a third straight appearance in the Fall Classic. They have a deep rotation that features a pair of starters not with them in the previous two Series: Roy Halladay (acquired by trade last offseason) and Roy Oswald (acquired in a trade this past July). Long noted for their offense, the Phillies arguably have the top starting trio of any playoff participant.
Their stiffest challenge may come from San Francisco. The Giants have perhaps the second best three-man rotation and arguably the best numbers four and five starters beyond that trio. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez form a solid top three with Barry Zito and rookie Madison Bumgarner providing solid backup. The Giants’ weakness may be at the plate where they are arguably the weakest of the 8 playoff teams, although their first round opponent, Atlanta, also has offensive deficiencies.
Based on reputation and pedigree, the Yankees are considered the team to beat in the American League. But whereas a couple of months ago they were clear cut favorites, the gap has narrowed and they do have some flaws, most notably in their pitching, that should give the other 3 AL contenders real hope. Age may also have taken a toll on the Bronx Bombers who played sluggishly down the stretch and were unable to win a number of key contests that could have given them the division title and the league’s top seed.
Here’s a look at each of the divisional series after which thoughts on how the playoffs might unfold will be shared.
Philadelphia vs. Cincinnati
The home team won 6 of 7 games this season, all of which were played in a two week stretch just prior to the All Star Break. The Phillies swept the Reds at home after Cincy had taken two of three as hosts. Philly’s final two wins were a pair of 1-0 gems. Three of the games went OVER while 4 stayed UNDER. The problem for Cincinnati much of the season was their inability to defeat the better teams they played, feasting on the weaker teams and playing in a six team division where 4 of the teams finished with losing records including Pittsburgh which had the worst record in all of baseball. The Phillies played their best baseball over the final third of the season, going 37-17. Philly has a huge edge on the mound with starters Halladay, Oswalt and Cole Hamels and are the highest priced favorites, by far, to win the opening round, priced at roughly -270. It’s hard to not like their chances and the pick here for Philly to win the series in no more than 4 games with a sweep quite possible. The Phillies are worth backing as favorites of -160 or less in starts by Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels with one exception. If the Reds return home down 0-2 in the series, they are playable as underdogs of +125 or more to avoid a sweep. Should they get the game three win to pull within 2-1, Philly is playable in game 4 at -150 or less in that road game. Also playable is the UNDER at Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup or UNDER 7 or higher in starts by Philly’s Big Three.
Atlanta vs. San Francisco
Atlanta won 4 of 7 meetings this season with the home team winning 5 times. The Totals were evenly split with 3 OVERs, 3 UNDERs and a PUSH as the teams averaged exactly 7 runs per game in the 7 meetings. San Francisco’s strength is their pitching and that should be the reason they ultimately get by the Braves in what should be a low scoring series throughout. The Giants’ Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez will likely be opposed by Atlanta’s Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson. Hanson and Hudson had very solid seasons while Lowe has saved his best for last and pitched extremely well over the past month or so. The preferred plays in this series will be UNDER 7 or higher as both offenses figure to continue their struggles. The Braves will be hurt by the loss of Martin Prado who was injured late in the season. Chipper Jones was already sidelined in mid season and his on the field leadership will be missed. Because this handicaps as a low scoring series, the underdog should make for solid plays. Atlanta is likely to be underdogs in the games at San Francisco and the Giants are likely to be +money in Atlanta. This series has the greatest potential for going the full five games as the teams have similar strengths and similar weaknesses. The call is for the Giants to win in five games so if there is a game 5 in San Francisco, the play would be on the Giants who would likely be favorites. They’d be playable at -140 or lower while a play on the Braves in game five might not be warranted unless they are at least +160.
New York Yankees vs. Minnesota
The Yankees have had great success against the Twins over the years and thus they may not be too upset at earning the wild card and facing Minnesota rather than Texas in the divisional round. The New Yorkers took 4 of 6 from the Twins this season, winning 2 of 3 both at home and on the road. The 6 games were played in a two week period in mid to late May when the Yankees’ pitching was much better and effective then than it’s been lately. The games produced 2 OVERs and 3 UNDERs with one game having no Totals result after being suspended and completed the next day, won by the Yankees 1-0. For the 6 games the Yankees outscored the Twins by a slim margin, 24 to 21. The two aces, New York’s CC Sabathia and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano will start game one in which the Yanks are -135. After those two it can be argued that the Twins have the edge in starting pitching. New York has the edge at the plate with Minnesota’s Justin Morneau still not available after suffering lingering effects of a concussion suffered in July. But the Twins have enough offense to warrant backing them as underdogs throughout the series. The call is for New York to win the series in four games, likely splitting the two games in Minny and taking the next two in New York. Thus the Twins are worth playing as underdogs in game one and, if they lose, again in game two. Should the Twins win game one then the Yanks would be playable in game two but only as underdogs or if favored by -120 or less. In New York the Twins are playable as underdogs of +150 or more unless they are up 2-0 in the series in which case the Yanks are playable at -160 or less to force a game 4. If there is a game 4 the play would be on the Yankees at -150 or less if they are seeking to end the series or pull even at 2-2. If there is a game 5 in Minnesota the Twins would be playable but only as underdogs. The OVER is playable at totals of 8 or less except in Game 1 where the OVER 7 is playable.
Tampa Bay vs. Texas
Tampa enters this series as the team with the postseason experience after losing in the 2008 World Series. The Rangers are in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The home team won 5 of 6 meetings this season with the lone road win belonging to Tampa Bay. Five of the 6 games went OVER the Total with the teams averaging just under 12 total runs per game. Only one game produced fewer than 10 runs. Tampa has the edge on the mound and Texas has the edge on offense. But both edges are not as great as perceived. The Rangers have gotten solid starting pitching all season from CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis, among others, and bolstered the staff with their trade for Cliff Lee in early July. Although Lee has not been sharp in many of his Texas starts, his big game ability last season for the Phillies makes him dangerous. Tampa is led by David Price but Matt Garza has been steady all season. Texas’ offense has had periods of drought but they’ve been very potent at home. Tampa led the majors with their 5.6 average runs per game scored on the road. Tampa is nearly a 3 to 2 favorite to win the series and they should advance in 4 or 5 games. Texas is worth backing as underdogs in game 1 and, should they lose, again in game 2. Unless the Rangers are up 2-0 heading home, Tampa is playable in both games 3 and 4 in Texas, quite likely as underdogs. The OVER is also preferred in this series with the exception of a Lee vs. Price matchup, such as in game 1. At Totals of 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Lee or Price, the OVER is playable.
The forecast is for Philadelphia and San Francisco to meet in the NLCS with the Phillies advancing to a third straight World Series. The ALCS should be between the Yankees and Tampa Bay although each should need 4 or 5 games to get past the Twins and Rangers. Upsets are more likely in the ALDS than in the NLDS as it’s easier to see the Twins and/or the Rangers advancing than for the Reds and/or the Braves.
The World Series forecast calls for a rematch of last season only this time it will be Philadelphia that triumphs over the Yankees, largely on the strength of the pitching advantage the Phils would enjoy.
Of course, these playoffs will be revisited next week. But for now, enjoy the opening few games of the 2010 playoffs.