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D’backs to win NL

Oct 9, 2007 6:46 AM

The opening round of the 2007 Playoffs was filled not with surprises but with shockers.

Three of the four best-of-five League Divisional Series resulted in three game sweeps, two of which were pulled off by the underdog. Both occurred in the National League where the two playoff teams from the Western Division survive.

After winning the first two games on their home field the Arizona Diamondbacks won Game 3 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field to complete the sweep and advance to the NL Championship Series that begins Thursday at home.

At the same time the red hot Colorado Rockies, after winning the Wild Card with an exciting extra innings home victory over San Diego last Monday, took the first two games of their series in Philadelphia before returning home to complete their sweep over the Phillies.

In the AL, Boston swept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim out of the playoffs with a trio of solid pitching efforts from starters Josh Beckett, Daisake Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling.

The Red Sox now await the winner of the series between the Yankees and Cleveland. After winning the first two games in Cleveland the Indians dropped Game 3. in New York on Sunday but still led 2-1.

The AL Championship series is scheduled to begin Friday in Boston and the Sox will be able to manage its starting rotation, having been off since last Saturday.

Here’s a look at the NLCS between Arizona and Colorado and the two potential AL series.

Colorado vs Arizona:

The Rockies have won 10 of 18 regular season meetings with the home team each winning nine times. The teams combined to average just 8.8 runs per game with scoring almost identical in Arizona as in Colorado.

In fact, 6 more runs were scored in the 9 games in Arizona than in the 9 games in the Rockies. Colorado has been incredibly hot for more than a month, winning 17 of their last 20 games and 29 of 40.

Arizona has also played well but not to that extent, going 11-9 and 22-18 over those same time frames. Both teams have young, maturing lineups with pitching that appears to be merely average but which has performed at a high level over the second half of the season, especially both bullpens.

Arizona has the best overall starting pitcher in the series, Brandon Webb, but Colorado’s Jeff Francis has been solid as have youngsters Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. Arizona counters with a pair of veterans, Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez, who despite some pretty mediocre statistics seem to have a knack for pitching out of jams. Colorado has the better balanced offense which is offset by an overall better pitching staff of Arizona.

On paper these are two fairly weak teams but both have made it past supposedly stronger first round opponents. Despite opening on the road Colorado has been made a 5/4 favorite to advance to the World Series, largely because of its great current momentum.

TIPS/FORECAST

”¡ These teams are relatively evenly matched with similar strengths and weaknesses. Arizona’s Webb is the true lone ”˜ace’ in the series and a moderate favorite to win Game 1. Look to play on Webb if the price stays below -130. Play the loser of Game 1 in Game 2 if made the Underdog.

”¡ In Colorado, look to play either team as an underdog of +125 or more.

”¡ In starts not involving Francis or Webb, play OVER 9 or lower. These teams were separated by just one game in the standings over the 162 game season.

”¡ ARIZONA IN 7.

Boston vs. Cleveland

The Red Sox should be favored over both New York and Cleveland, having the home field advantage over both.

Boston went 5-2 against Cleveland this season with 5 of the 7 games staying below the total, averaging just under 8.5 runs per game. Both teams are anchored with solid starting pitching as Cleveland’s tandem of C C Sabathia and Fausto Carmona can more than hold their own with Boston’s Josh Beckett, Daisake Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling.

Boston has the better bullpen and the offenses rate about even, although Cleveland is given a slight edge by some experts. The teams did trade a pair of 1-0 wins on back to back nights when the teams met in Cleveland in late July.

TIPS/FORECAST

”¡ Boston has a big edge in experience and with sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in fine form in the sweep of the Angels. The Red Sox will be tough to beat. Cleveland’s best chances will come in the first two games if they are able to start Sabathia and Carmona, although one may not be available if the series against New York goes to five games or is delayed due to weather.

”¡ INDIANS when Sabathia and Carmona start if made underdogs on the road or favored by no more than -120 at home.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Sabathia or Carmona start for Cleveland and are opposed by Boston’s Beckett, Matsuzaka or Schilling.

”¡ If none of these five pitchers start, OVER 10 or less.

”¡ RED SOX IN 5.

Boston vs New York:

After losing 5 of 6 to Boston in their first two series of the season the Yankees won 9 of the next 12 to finish with a 10-8 season edge. In those first 6 games, 5 went OVER the Total while over the final dozen meetings there were 6 OVERs and 6 UNDER. Much of New York’s early season woes were related to their starting pitching problems which meant that the bullpen was taxed in the season’s first few months.

Since the All Star break the Yankees have gotten both excellent starting and relief pitching while the offense has been explosive. Yet it has been shown that strong starting pitching was able to contain the New York bats, look no further than the first two games of the ALDS series against Cleveland and the success C C Sabathia and Fausto Carmona had against the Bronx Bombers.

TIPS/FORECAST

”¡ While Boston has three outstanding starters the Yankees do not have a true ace with perhaps Chin Mien Wang and Andy Pettitte being the two most reliable starters. Boston’s Beckett is the best starter on either staff with Schilling and Pettitte arguably a standoff.

Look to play on Beckett, Matsuzaka and Schilling as underdogs for Boston and on Wang and Pettitte as underdogs for the Yankees.

”¡ Matchups involving two of the five may be played UNDER 9 or higher.

”¡ Matchups involving none of the five may be played OVER 10 or lower.

”¡ There is a long history between these teams and a case can be made for both teams to advance to the World Series.

The overall depth of the Yankees’ lineup is the difference.

”¡ YANKEES IN 6.