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Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays to live another day

Sep 30, 2008 7:03 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | The National League playoffs are all set as Wild Card winner Milwaukee will face NL East Champion Philadelphia and NL Central champ Chicago takes on the West division winner Los Angeles.

In the American League, the West champion LA Angels will face Wild Card winner Boston. East champ Tampa Bay faces either Chicago or Minnesota.

The playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday with both NL series getting underway in addition to the Angels-Red Sox series.

The Divisional Series are best-of-5, then expand to best-of-7 for the League Championship Series and the World Series.

Here’s a preview of the three known series and the two other potential series:

Cubs vs Dodgers: The Cubs took 5 of 7 meetings between the teams with the under going 5-2. The teams averaged 5.3 total runs per game. Since then the Cubs have strengthened their starting pitching when they traded for Rich Harden. The Dodgers strengthened their offense when they acquired Manny Ramirez at the trade deadline from Boston.

The Cubs won a staggering 13 more games than did the Dodgers in the regular season as Los Angeles won the NL West with just 84 wins. The Dodgers have more than a tiny chance of eliminating the Cubs with the experience on the bench of manager Joe Torre and the post season experience of Ramirez. The opening game matchup at Wrigley Field has the Dodgers’ Derek Lowe opposing the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster with Chad Billingsley expected to oppose the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano in Game 2.

Preferred plays:

• Cubs -150 to win the series.

• Dodgers +200 to win series.

• Dodgers to win at least one of two games in Chicago as solid underdogs.

• Dodgers in Game 3 if down 0-2 in the series or up 2-0.

• Chicago in Game 3 if series is 1-1.

Under throughout the series.

Brewers vs Phillies: The home team has won 5 of 6 games. Milwaukee is riding the left arm of starting pitcher CC Sabathia, but their other ace Ben Sheets is injured and his effectiveness has to be questioned. Beyond those two the Brewers’ pitching is weak. Philadelphia’s top two starters, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, have generally pitched well over the final month of the season. Ryan Howard had a sensational September for the Phillies and righty closer Brad Lidge was a perfect 41-for-41 in his save tries during the regular season.

Preferred plays:

• Phillies -175 to win series.

• Brewers +225 to win series.

• Phillies -160 in both Game 1 and 2 with Hamels and Myers.

• Brewers in Game 3 with Sabathia on the 1½-run line.

• Brewers -140 against Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton.

Over 8 or lower except in Sabathia’s start.

Red Sox vs Angels: The Angels won 8 of 9 games between the two teams. Boston swept the Angels in the 2004 and 2007 ALDS, their only postseason meeting since 1986. This should be a very competitively priced series. Boston is not as strong at the plate as in recent seasons. Jason Bay has been a nice replacement but he is no Manny. Big Papi (David Ortiz) has battled injuries all season.

The top of the Boston lineup is strong and their ability to get on base will be critical to the chances of the Sox to advance to the ALCS. The Angels have the better overall starting pitching especially with Boston ace Josh Beckett nursing an injury that will limit him to one start in this series. Both teams have solid closers with the Angels’ Francisco Rodriguez setting an all time saves mark this season with 62.

Preferred plays:

• Angels -125 to win series.

• Red Sox +140 to win the series.

• Angels -130 in Game 1 with John Lackey against Jon Lester.

• Red Sox +120 in Game 2 against Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana.

• Red Sox in Game 3 down 0-2 or up 2-0.

• Angels as underdogs in Game 3 if tied at 1-1.

Rays at Twins or White Sox: Tampa Bay will more than likely be favored over either team. Yet if priced at -120 or lower they can be played because of their solid pitching and timely hitting. The Rays play excellent baseball in the late innings of games.

Chicago or Minnesota can be played at +140 or more to win this opening series. Either possible series will go the full 5. The zig-zag approach of playing the Game 1 loser in Game 2 and Game 2 loser in Game 3 makes sense. No side should be more than a -150 favorite in any game.

Bottom line: Look for Tampa Bay to advance to the ALCS against either Boston or Los Angeles.