When done, it’s Yanks

Oct 3, 2006 7:50 AM

The appetizer that was the regular season has been digested. The playoffs are about to be served.

Eight teams are in. The two New York teams tied for the most wins (97) in the majors. The other three AL teams won at least 93. None of the remaining three from the NL took more than 88.

San Diego has played the best baseball over the past three weeks, going 14-6 in the last 20 games. Minnesota and the L A Dodgers each were 13-7. The Tigers and Cardinals were each just 13-17 in the last month, while the Mets played .500 ball (15-15). Keep in mind the Mets were playing out the string with a double digit lead in the NL East since late spring.

The divisional series are a best of five format so anything can happen. As is often the case, pitching is a huge advantage. Several of the leading contenders will be without key members of their staffs or with pitchers having struggled down the stretch. The postseason games should be wide open, despite the Mets and Yankees having long been the favorites to meet in the World Series.

Here’s a look at each of the four divisional playoff series.

CARDS / PADRES: San Diego took two of three games in each of their two series, going 2-1 in St. Louis during a critical matchup in the regular season’s final week. The Cards have Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen in the lineup, Chris Carpenter on the mound, and little else. St. Louis struggled mightily down the stretch and is without regular closer Jason Isringhausen.

San Diego has better pitching depth with Jake Peavy the staff ace along with veterans David Wells and Woody Williams to give six solid innings. Then the solid bullpen takes over. The Padres finished eight games better than the Cardinals over the final 30 games of the season and should avenge last season’s NLDS loss to the Redbirds in which the Padres were swept.

Preferred plays: PADRES in 4. Best chance for Cards to come Game 3 back home if down 2-0. PADRES -140 or as underdogs except in Game 3 if going for sweep in St. Louis. OVER 8½, UNDER 9½. PADRES at -150 or less to win the series.

DODGERS / METS: The Mets took four of seven with the ”˜under’ going 4-3. Mets ace Pedro Martinez will miss the entire postseason and much of 2007 due to arm surgery. That leaves the Mets very vulnerable, although veterans Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez having plenty of prior post season experience.

The Dodgers have been streaky all season, but enter the playoffs with great momentum. LA has a solid lineup and a well balanced starting rotation. Takashi Saito has emerged as a quality closer, which gives the Dodgers a real chance at pulling a major upset.

Preferred picks: This series should go the full 5. Dodgers having a great shot at pulling upset as they did in 1988. DODGERS +150 or more. OVER 9 in all matchups. DODGERS in 5 if line hits +150 or more.

A’S / TWINS: The home team won 8-of-10 meetings this season with the Twins holding an overall 6-4 edge. Minnesota has Johan Santana and the home field. Oakland has the better balanced pitching staff. Neither team is strong on offense although the Athletics do have power with Nick Swisher and Frank Thomas.

The Twins have better offensive depth with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau enjoying breakout seasons. Minnesota will be without lefty Francisco Liriano but the Twins do have veteran Brad Radke back. Minnesota has won four division titles in five seasons. Oakland is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

Preferred plays: Oakland +125: against anyone other than Santana. The Twins are good enough to win at least one of two games in Oakland, provided they are an underdog of at least +115. UNDER 8. TWINS in 4, but spread too thin to recommend a series play.

TIGERS / YANKS: New York won five of seven meetings this season and is a huge favorite to advance. Detroit had an incredible first half of the season and was on a pace to win better than two of every three games as late as July. But they faded badly down the stretch as their young pitching arms got fatigued and the lineup went cold for stretches.

The Yanks have the best lineup in baseball, strong enough to overcome some concerns in starting pitching. Randy Johnson is battling an injury that could cause him to miss a start in this series, leaving it to Mike Mussina and Chin Mien Wang to shoulder the burden. Both are capable although Wang is untested. Detroit’s ace Kenny Rogers has never been a big game or playoff pitcher.

Preferred plays: YANKS -150. Above that price look to play New York -1½. OVER 9. YANKS in 3. TIGERS as Game 3 underdogs. For the series the Yankees are actually a bargain at -300.

World Series: Yankees at 2-1 have some value. LA legitimate longshot, if you get at least 10 -1.

Prediction: Yanks in 7 over LA. In the end Joe Torre’s ability to manage his roster and Mariano Rivera’s closing ability will be the difference. At 10-1 on the Dodgers, you’ll get a good run with a chance to hedge back in the World Series if you so choose.