Red Sox nationwill turn ‘Pale’

Oct 4, 2005 5:36 AM

Welcome to the playoffs, an event 22 teams will have to watch on television.

As for the remaining eight, they will begin competing Tuesday for the right to be acclaimed as baseball’s best for 2005. Six that made the playoffs last season have returned with San Diego and the Chicago White Sox replacing the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota. The White Sox had the American League’s best record with 99 wins, one less St. Louis.

Atlanta won a 14th straight Divisional title, doing so by winning in baseball’s best, or certainly deepest division, the NL East. Last place Washington finished 81-81. Though finishing nine games behind the Braves, the Nationals would have been just a game out in the NL West. Easily baseball’s worst division overall, the West was taken by San Diego at 82-80.

The Divisional Series that begin Tuesday are best of five with a 2-2-1 format. Here’s our look at each of the four series.

SAN DIEGO-ST. LOUIS: Everyone starts the playoffs 0-0, so the Padres have a chance to win the World Series. But very remote. Aside from Jake Peavy the Pads have no starter capable of overcoming a severe lack of offense. Peavy starts Tuesday and that may be the best chance for an upset win. The Padres did take four of seven from the Cardinals this season.

Peavy pitched in only one game, a 2-1 home win in late July. Surprisingly the ”˜over’ was 4-2-1 in the matchups, with the teams combining to average more than 10 total runs per game. Still, this shapes up as a low scoring series, especially the games played in San Diego.

Preferred plays: Game 1 UNDER 7½. Remaining games UNDER 7½ or higher. St. Louis is -400 to win the series. Normally there is a case for the underdog, but it would be a major surprise if the Padres won more than one game. If down 0-2, SAN DIEGO +125 at home. Otherwise, ST. LOUIS IN 4.

HOUSTON-ATLANTA: The fact that the odds makers have made this essentially a pick ”˜em series shows how much of an edge the Astros have on the mound. Atlanta cruised over the final week of the regular season, dropping its final four games after clinching the division. The Braves won five of six meetings, including a 1-0 win over Roger Clemens and a 4-1 decision over Andy Pettitte.

Totals were evenly split at 3-3 in the ”˜over / under’ breakdown. The teams averaged nine runs per game in the six matchups. Atlanta has the edge on offense, but Houston has a big advantage in both starting pitching and with closer Brad Lidge. Expect this series to be low scoring. Neither team has had a sparkling record in post season play but Atlanta’s overall experience, despite the great number of rookies on the roster, rates the edge with Manager Bobby Cox again getting the most out of this team.

Preferred plays: UNDER 7 or higher. HOUSTON as a +125 road underdog and a home dog of any price in starts by Clemens, Pettitte or Roy Oswalt. ATLANTA as a +130 road dog against Houston’s big three. ATLANTA, but no sweep.

BOSTON-CHICAGO: The most intriguing series of the four. The White Sox played well down the stretch, holding off a strong charge from Cleveland. Boston won four of seven meetings with four exceeding the posted total. Boston has the clear edge on offense, but Chicago has a similarly large advantage in pitching. And in a short series pitching often makes the difference as several starters are used out of the bullpen.

The White Sox had a solid starting rotation all season, anchored by Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland. Boston’s ace, Curt Schilling, was more bad than good but can be counted on in a big game. Matt Clement was far less effective in the second half of the season than he was before the All Star break. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was solid down the stretch. Boston is slightly less than a 3-2 favorite to win this series, but there is a strong case to be made for the underdog White Sox. Chicago has the home field advantage and the better closer.

Preferred plays: CHICAGO in 5. UNDER at 8 or higher, OVER in Boston at 10 or lower. WHITE SOX as an underdog of any price at home and +140 at Boston.

NY YANKS-ANAHEIM: Despite similar records the Angels get the home field advantage based on winning the season series with the Yankees 6-to-4. The ”˜over / under’ was a 5-5 split with the teams combining to average exactly 10 runs per contest. Starting pitching has been a concern of the Yankees all season although Randy Johnson has delivered over the second half of the season. Unfortunately, he is scheduled to start only Game 3 barring rainouts.

Aaron Small and Shaun Chacon have been pleasant pickups for New York but their contributions in the post season are questionable. Mike Mussina has struggled much of the season including several starts following his return from injury. New York clearly has the edge on offense and they an edge with closer Mariano Rivera. The Angels may have the edge in the rest of the bullpen, considering starters Ervin Santana and Paul Byrd are likely to be used in relief. In winning the World Series in 2002 the Angels eliminated the Yankees in this round in just four games so they will enter this series with confidence.

Preferred plays: It would be easy to call for the Yankees and their $210 million payroll to advance. But the Angels have a real chance, even if they head to New York no worse than 1-1. ANGELS as +130 underdogs at Yankee Stadium (+150 vs. Johnson) and at any price at home. OVER 8½ or less. UNDER 9½ or higher. The Yanks starting pitching comes up short against the Angels trio of Bartolo Colon, John Lackey and Jarrod Washburn. ANGELS in 5.

Further on: AL: Chicago. NL: St. Louis: World Series: St. Louis in 6.

A fitting goodbye to Busch Stadium. Of course, we may have to revise these projections next week if the divisional series are decided.