Move over Gene Mauch. You have company.
The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies have long been used as the standard for measuring the ability of a team leading its division or league to totally collapse over the final few weeks of the season.
Less than three weeks ago the New York Mets led the NL East by 7 games over Philadelphia. The Mets had been leading the division basically all season. The Mets proceeded to go 5-12 over their final 17 games while the Phillies went 13-4 to edge the Mets by a game and win the East. The Mets’ collapse also left them one game short of tying for the NL Wild Card.
As expected, Arizona held on to win the NL West and Chicago’s Cubs did the same to win the NL Central. Both divisions were clinched over this past weekend. The NL Wild Card went to a playoff Monday between San Diego and Colorado.
The AL playoffs are set with Cleveland opposing the New York Yankees on Thursday and Boston facing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Other Thursday games will see Philadelphia host either San Diego or Colorado, and the Cubs visit the D’backs in Arizona.
The playoff teams were very tightly bunched with just two games separating Boston and Cleveland (96 wins each) from the Yankees and Angels (94 wins each) in the AL. It was almost as tight in the NL where Arizona’s 90 wins were just one more than the 89 games won by Colorado, Philadelphia and San Diego. The Cubs are the "weakest" playoff team, having won just 85.
But as St Louis showed last season when they won the World Series despite just 83 regular season wins, the team with the best record is not always the team to beat.
A look at recent momentum shows that over their last 20 games, Colorado has gone 15-5. Cleveland, Philadelphia and the Yankees are 14-6. Both Boston and the Angels have each split their last 20.
Early series odds have the Yankees nearly 2/1 favorites over Cleveland and Boston roughly -170 against the Angels.
In the National League the Cubs are about 6/5 over Arizona and there is no price yet on the Phillies.
When the season started the prediction in this column was for the Mets to defeat the Yankees in the World Series. The Yanks are now the overall favorite at 3/1. The National League is wide open, but the Cubs have the best balance of offense and pitching. And in Lou Piniella they have the most accomplished manager of the group. In the end the forecast is for the Yankees to defeat the Cubs in 5.
Of course, this projection is subject to revision in another week or so. Let the playoffs begin!
All first round matchups are best of five.
Here’s a look at each of the four Divisional series.
Red Sox vs. Angels: The home team won 7 of 10 meetings this season with Boston holding an overall 6-4 edge. The teams combined to average 10.6 runs per game. Games are managed differently in the playoffs and as a result pitching is even more of a factor with several starters often called upon in relief. Most teams will use just a three man rotation. The Angels have an excellent chance of upsetting Boston with their excellent starting pitching combination of John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar on a par with Boston’s Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. Both teams have excellent bullpens. Boston’s Manny Ramirez missed most of the last month of the season with a nagging injury and is likely to be at less than 100 percent.
”¡ The underdog at +140.
”¡ UNDER at 8 or higher
”¡ Look for the Angels to take one of two in Boston.
”¡ ANGELS win both games at home, advancing to the ALCS in 4.
Indians at Yanks: New York took all six meetings with Cleveland this season including a remarkable bottom of the ninth comeback win in April. The teams combined to average 11 runs per game. The Yankees scored 5 runs in each game. Surprisingly, the Yanks have not faced Cleveland ace C C Sabathia since 2004! He and young Fausto Carmona have each had outstanding seasons and are as powerful a 1-2 tandem as any in the playoffs. This should be a high scoring series.
”¡ OVER 9 or less.
”¡ YANKS as underdogs at any price.
”¡ INDIANS as +125 underdogs in any matchup.
”¡ INDIANS as +110 underdogs in starts by Sabathia or Carmona.
”¡ Look for the Yankees to win at least 1-of-2 in Cleveland, split the two games in New York.
”¡ YANKS win Game 5 and advance to ALCS.
D’backs vs. Cubs: The teams had two series this season with Arizona, taking 2-of-3 each time. The teams combined to average just 6.2 runs per game and neither scored more than 6. Arizona is a young team while the Cubs are more veteran, explaining why they are slight favorites to win the series. The combination of Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly give the Cubs an edge over Arizona’s Brandon Webb and whoever would be considered second best on the staff (Micah Owings or Doug Davis). Even the Cubs’ third starter, Rich Hill, has a decided edge. The bullpens are fairly even overall.
”¡ CUBS as underdogs in Arizona.
”¡ CUBS at home as -140 favorites or less.
”¡ The Cubs should take at least 1-of-2 in Arizona, possibly winning both. They should win the series at Wrigley in at most 4.
Phillies vs. Rockies: Colorado took 4-of-7 games from the Phils with the teams averaged 11.9 runs per game. Both teams are based more on offense than on defense although each has gotten solid seasons from their respective aces Cole Hamels and Jeff Francis.
”¡ Play on either Hamels or Francis as an underdog.
”¡ Play UNDER 8 if they face each other.
”¡ OVER if the total is no higher than 10 in Philly and 11 in Colorado.
”¡ This series would be the most likely to go 5. In a fifth game at Philadelphia, the Phillies would be the play unless Francis gets the start for the Rockies and made a +125 dog.
”¡ The PHILS should advance to the NLCS unless Colorado has Francis start in Game 5 against any Phillies pitcher other than Hamels.
”¡ In a Game 5 matchup of Hamels vs. Francis, the play would be Philly -130 tops.
Phillies vs. Padres: Philadelphia took 4-of-7 meetings from San Diego with the road team winning five times. This is a matchup of San Diego pitching against Philly’s hitting. The Padres trio of Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Greg Maddux rate a solid edge over Philly’s Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Lohse. Peavy started the Wild Card game for the Padres and might not start in this series until Game 2 or 3. Pitching usually trumps hitting although the Padres’ pitching edge over the Philly offense may be more than offset by the weak San Diego offense. Padres have a great pen.
”¡ Philly is playable in starts by Hamels if not favored by more than -140.
”¡ PADRES as underdogs of any price in starts by Peavy, Young or Maddux.
”¡ PHILLIES +120 at home and +140 on the road against this Padres pitching trio.
”¡ PADRES advance in 4.