Monday, October 4, 2010

Playoff Time: 2010 Road to the World Series

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-Digger's Daily-

Baseball's regular season has concluded. It was a season to remember. It took all 162 teams to determine the final playoff teams (final 2010 regular season standings).

Defending champion New York Yankees gave away the AL East in late September thanks in large part to manager Joe Girardi's decision to rest players rather than fighting for the division crown and home field advantage. Will this come back to bite the Yanks?

San Francisco won the NL West on the final weekend vs San Diego. The Padres seemed destined for playoff with a 6.5 game lead in late August before dropping 10 straight games to let the Giants back in the race.

Atlanta beat Philadelphia 8-7 in game 162 to finish one game ahead of San Diego as the NL Wild Card. Can the Braves get hot enough to advance into the World Series? Manager Bobby Cox is retiring and the Braves would love to win another championship for their famed skipper.

A couple of surprise teams won their divisions. Cincinnati slugged their way to the NL Central crown. Texas took home the AL West crown. Minnesota survived key injuries and the Giants came out of nowhere to stun NL West foes.

Time for a quick preview and predictions for the opening best of five Division Series round.

Texas Rangers (90-72) vs Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
Texas pitchers need to step up against a balanced Rays attack. Rangers will trot out Lee (4-6), Wilson (15-8), Lewis (12-13) and Hunter (13-4) vs Tampa's Price (19-6), Garza (15-10), Davis (12-10) & Shields (13-15). Texas lineup boasts power. Tampa does it all with a good balance of speed, base running, small ball and power. Rays won season series 4-2 but anything can happen in a short best of 5 round.
Rangers have the power edge. Pitching and defense favor Tampa.

Prediction: Tampa Bay in 4.

New York Yankees (95-67) vs Minnesota Twins (94-68)
Defending champs Yanks will have their hands full in this series. New York usually bashes Twins pitching and had better bring the big lumber again if they're to win this series. Yanks pitching staff is struggling. Girardi's plan of resting starters and relievers for playoff action handed the AL East to Tampa Bay and did little to wake up slumping arms. They'll be going with Sabathia (21-7) in Game 1 then it's anyone's guess. Pettitte (11-3) and Hughes (18-8) seem likely game 2 & 3 starters. Minnesota counters with Liriano (14-10), Pivano (17-11), Duensing (10-3) & Blackburn (10-12).

Twins have been short handed most of the year and will be without Justin Morneau who was having an MVP type season until suffering a concussion. Minnesota still managed to blow away competitors but their pitchers don't match up well vs a powerful Yankees attack. Key to this series rest on Yanks pitchers. Even Rivera has been off lately. If Yanks starters falter then this series could be over in 3.

Prediction: Yanks bats blast Twins starters. Yanks sweep.

Cincinnati Reds (91-71) vs Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
Intriguing series. Reds Dusty Baker did a fantastic job guiding Cincy to the NL Central crown. Cincy scored the most runs in NL (790) and needed every one of those runs to support a mediocre but surging pitching staff. Reds bats are hit or miss. If they're hitting then balls will be flying out of the park. Don't expect it against Phillies Cy Young caliber starters. Philadelphia survived many key injuries to run away with the NL East.
Key entering this series is starting pitching. On paper, Phillies starters are far superior. They'll send out Halladay (21-10), Oswalt (7-1) & Hamels (12-11) vs Reds Volquez (4-3), Arroyo (17-10) & Cueto (12-7).

Key: Phillies power pitching may post 3 shutouts against free swinging strikeout prone Reds lineup. Reds luck runs out here. Phils won 5 of 7 regular season head to head battles.

Prediction: Philadelphia sweep.

Atlanta Braves (91-71) vs San Francisco Giants (92-70)
Probably the most evenly matched opening round series. Braves stumbled down the stretch but did just enough to win wild card honors. San Francisco had a great September (18-8) to wrestle the NL West away from San Diego. Both teams have solid pitching and flaky hitters. Defensive edge favors Atlanta. Rotation match up favors Giants as Braves #1 will not be available before the series third game due to end of season pennant race (Hudson started final game). It'll be Lowe (16-12), Hanson (10-11) & Hudson (17-9) going for Atlanta vs Giants Lincecum (16-10), Cain (13-11) & Sanchez (13-9).

These games will all be tight and might come down 9th inning heroics.

Prediction: Braves prevail in 5.


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