Eight teams vie
for World Series berth

Sep 30, 2003 6:26 AM

After six months and more than 2,400 games, the real baseball season begins on Tuesday. Of the eight teams in the playoffs, five are making repeat appearances from last season. Atlanta, Minnesota, the Yankees and Oakland repeat as Division champs while San Francisco won the NL West this season after making the payoffs last season as a Wild Card.

Boston returns as a Wild Card following their sixth straight second place finish behind the New York Yankees in the AL East. Florida is in for the first time since winning the World Series in 1997. The Cubs are in the playoffs for the first time since 1998 when they captured the NL Wild Card.

Here are predictions for Divisional series and the balance of the post season.

New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins: Although Minnesota does have playoff experience, no team has more post season experience than the Yankees. Plus the Yanks have dominated Minnesota in recent seasons, having won 13 straight games over the Twins. New York has a solid three man starting rotation, but their pen has been their major weakness. The Yankees won all seven meetings this season, outscoring the Twins 49-13. The major question is whether the Yankees will sweep the series. The prediction is for the YANKEES to win in four games.

Oakland Athletics vs. Boston Red Sox: Boston opened as a 3-2 favorite to eliminate the AL West Champions, largely on the strength of starting pitcher Pedro Martinez and one of the most potent lineups in baseball history. Oakland won four of seven meetings, including two of three in Boston in mid August. Oakland is worth playing as an underdog throughout the series and for the series as well. Oakland’s superior bullpen will be the deciding factor. The prediction is for OAKLAND to win in five games.

Atlanta Braves vs. Chicago Cubs: This might be the most intriguing of the four first round series, matching the powerful Atlanta lineup against the strong Chicago starting pitching. Atlanta finished with a record that was 13 games better than the NL Central champions, but over their last 60 games, the Cubs were five games better than the Braves. The Cubs will have Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, a tandem that many believe has surpassed Arizona’s Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. The Cubs may be played as an underdog throughout the series and the pick is for CHICAGO to win in four games.

San Francisco Giants vs. Florida Marlins: The Giants have baseball’s best player, Barry Bonds, and a solid pitching staff. Florida won with some fine young starting pitchers aided greatly by the addition of catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Jack McKeon took over as manager in late spring and guided the Marlins to a better than .600 record the rest of the way. Giants’ manager Felipe Alou did a splendid job in overcoming the departure of Jeff Kent and the injury that sidelined closer Robb Nen all season. Florida would be worth a play as an underdog in game two if they lose game one and also as an underdog in game three if down 2-0 or if the series is tied at one. The prediction is for SAN FRANCISCO to win in five games.

Of the American League finalists, it’s my belief the Yankees will advance to the World Series.

In the National League, my forecast is for the Cubs to make the World Series and challenge the Yankees.

In such a matchup, the Yankees would equal the depth of the Cubs’ starting pitching and have enough edges elsewhere to rate the nod.

Thus, the prediction is for the Yankees to defeat the Cubs in the World Series in five games. We may have to revisit the forecast next week. But for now, let’s enjoy the games.