For the first time in franchise history the Anaheim Angels have won the American League pennant and will face either St. Louis or San Francisco in the World Series.
The Angels dropped the first game of the ALCS in Minnesota, then won four straight to eliminate the Twins. The Angels use solid starting pitching, very effective relief and a balanced lineup that scored 28 runs in the four wins.
The Game 3 victory was a 2-1 gem behind ace lefty Jarrod Washburn, who is expected to get the Game 1 start. Ramon Ortiz was reasonably effective in his one outing against Minnesota. Kevin Appier was very effective in both of his starts, though lasting barely five innings in each outing.
Appier did keep his team in both games by allowing just a pair of runs in each start. A major surprise has been rookie right-hander John Lackey. His seven innings of shutout ball in Game 4 enabled the Angels to take a 3-1 series lead into what became the finale last Sunday.
Anaheim is a legitimate threat to win the World Series regardless of whether the Cardinals or Giants are the opponent. The Giants are more likely to give Anaheim a tougher test.
San Francisco’s come from behind win in Sunday’s Game 4 gave the Giants a 3-1edge entering last night’s home contest. The Cardinals are a very long shot to rally and win the NLCS.
Should the series return to St. Louis, the Giants have the edge in starting pitching with Jason Schmidt and Russ Ortiz likely to face Woody Williams and Chuck Finley in potential Games 6 and 7. San Francisco also has the edge in closers with Robb Nen rating the solid edge over Jason Isringhausen.
Last week the forecast was for St. Louis to win and advance to the World Series. Quite obviously Game 5 was critical to the Cards’ chances. If the Cards managed to win, they’d likely be small favorites in Game 6 and more solid favorites in Game 7.
The Angels will be well rested and able to set up their rotation any way they’d like in preparing for the World Series. So would the Giants if they wrapped up the NLCS on Monday. If the NL series goes six or seven, Anaheim will have a decided edge in being able to use its best starters more often. Anaheim also has the first two games at home and would host Games 6 and 7, if necessary.
Anaheim had the best bullpen in the American League, anchored by closer Troy Percival. The Giants had one of the best bullpens in the NL, while St. Louis was just average. The Cardinals have a better 1-to-8 lineup than San Francisco, but the Giants have Barry Bonds and teammates who have come through in the NLCS.
A matchup of Anaheim against St. Louis would likely feature more offense, since the Giants have the better starters and the better bullpen.
Shadows might also be a factor in the late afternoon West Coast starts in Anaheim and San Francisco. The UNDER should be considered in all Anaheim/San Francisco games at a total of eight or higher.
A series of Anaheim vs. St. Louis is more likely to feature more OVERs than UNDERs and games with a total of nine or lower should be looked at with an eye towards playing the OVER.
Washburn and Lackey can be played as underdogs (most likely on the road) or if favored by no more than -125 (most likely at home) against either the Giants or the Cardinals. The go against pitchers on Anaheim are Kevin Appier and Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz served up too many home runs during the regular season to trust him against either the Giants or Cardinals for more than five innings.
For the Giants, Jason Schmidt is currently in the best form and worth backing against either Appier or Ortiz at any price less than -170. Livan Hernandez has also been a big postseason performer during his career and can be backed as an underdog or if favored by no more than -120 against Appier or Ortiz.
The only St. Louis pitcher that should be considered is Chuck Finley. The former Angels lefty has done well since being traded from Cleveland in midseason. Cardinals ace Matt Morris has been less than overwhelming over the second half of the season. Morris was sharp in his first playoff start at Arizona, but was hit hard in his second start in the opening game at home against the Giants.
The prediction is for San Francisco to defeat Anaheim in seven games in that matchup. Anaheim is the choice to defeat St. Louis in six if the Cards rally to win the NLCS.