Say what? Mighty Yankees struck out!

Oct 10, 2006 6:32 AM

Wow.

Let me repeat that. Wow!

The New York Yankees have been eliminated once again from the playoffs — this time by a team that played below .500 baseball over the second half of the season. In fact, the divisional round showed just how little current form or momentum can mean when the "second season" begins.

Detroit and St. Louis were ice cold over the final month of the regular season yet both won their opening series in four games. St. Louis defeated what had been a very hot San Diego Padres team, sweeping the first two on the road before wrapping it up at home in Game 4.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were red hot over the final two months of the season but were swept in three games by the injury riddled New York Mets. The Mets were without two of their starting pitchers, Pedro Martinez and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, yet still managed to cool off the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS against the Cardinals.

Not only had Detroit played losing baseball over the second half of the season, was 19-31 over the final 50 games. After dropping the opener of the ALDS series in New York, the Tigers’ outstanding pitching frustrated the Yankees bats over the next three games to sweep and advance to the ALCS.

Oakland also advanced to the league championship series, but the surprise was in how they moved on. The Athletics swept the Twins, highlighted by their opening game win over Minny ace Johan Santana. That 3-1 victory set the tone as Oakland’s pitching held Minnesota in check. Once the team with best home record in baseball (Minnesota was 54-27 at home this season) lost a second straight home game, the result was inevitable.

So now we have a pitching rich ALCS and an offensively oriented NLCS.

After pulling our own A-Rod in going 0 for 4 in predicting the divisional series, let’s take a look at both pennant matchups.

NATIONAL

Cardinals vs Mets: The Cardinals’ edge in experience showed in getting by the Padres, a team they also eliminated last season. Under Tony LaRussa, the Cards are in their seventh NLCS. Their success in getting to the World Series has not been as spectacular.

Two seasons ago, St. Louis got into the Series only to be swept by Boston. The Mets last reached the World Series in 2000, when they lost to their cross town rival Yankees in what has been the Yanks’ last World Series title. The Mets are likely to be without Cliff Floyd in addition to starting pitchers Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez. However, that sets up the better betting possibilities for this season.

With Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds playing for the Cards and the Carlos duo of Delgado and Beltran leading a potent Mets attack, the ”˜over’ should cash more often than not. Especially with St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter likely to pitch no more than twice in this series. The Mets have had a solid though not spectacular bullpen. St. Louis has lost its main closer, Jason Isringhausen, for the season. A combination of replacements have fared decently.

Preferred plays: OVER 9 or less. Either team as +150 UNDERDOG. CARDS+120 against the Mets’ Steve Trachsel. METS IN 6.

AMERICAN

Tigers at Athletics: The story of this series should be the outstanding starting pitching, especially on the Tigers. Detroit has had a solid lineup all season although fading badly in September. Still, the veteran presence of C Ivan Rodriguez and OF Magglio Ordonez does give the Tigers some weapons.

Oakland has some power of its own in veteran Frank Thomas and relative newcomer Nick Swisher. Still, good pitching stops good hitting more often than not. Detroit had baseball’s best record and the same (49-32) that Oakland enjoyed at home. Detroit manager Jim Leyland has a huge edge in postseason experience and, along with Ivan Rodriguez, won a World Series with the Florida Marlins almost a decade ago.

Preferred plays: UNDER 8 or higher. +130 UNDERDOG except if Oakland starts either Esteban Loaiza or Kirk Saarloos. If they start, then go with TIGERS -130. Look for the young but talented arms of Detroit, outstanding bullpen and veteran leadership both on the bench and behind the plate. TIGERS IN 6.