There are no sure things in the AL this year, but the Yankees and Angels making the playoffs are sure things. It looks like the Tigers will hold on too, which means only the Wild Card is realy up for grabs. When I started thinking about this entry, the Rays were squarely in this discussion, but have really palyed themselves out of contention with 7 consecutive losses as of Wednesday morning. So this leaves only the Red Sox and Rangers as wild card contenders. I will say up front I am openly rooting for the Rangers in this surprising race (I may or may not still be bitter about payroll and the 2007 ALCS with my Indians). They have likeable, young players and who doesn’t like an underdog. The Red Sox days of being the loveable loser and everyone’s underdog are over as the Sox built a mini-dynasty over the past few years and their payroll has ballooned to Yankee-like levels. I really think the Sox experienced pitching and seasoned hitters gives them an edge over the pesky Rangers, but anything is possible since the Rangers have a pretty easy remaining schedule (1 @Cleveland, 7 vs Oakland, 3 vs Seattle, 6 vs LAA, 3 vs a failing TB), a potent offense and surprisingly reliable pitching. As a side note, if you haven’t heard of him, go look up Neftali Feliz’s numbers. Sick.
So we have the Yankees, Angels, Tigers and Red Sox in order. Frankly, all these teams are flawed. The Yankees have a potent offense and good pitching, but CC Sabathia has been a playoff choker going back to his Cleveland days, AJ Burnett has never been a part of a playoff series and has struggled of late. Pettite has been good and is experienced, but if the first two guys struggle, it won’t matter. The Angels do this every year too. They have good pitching 1-5 a solid offense but rarely make it happen in the postseason. It doesn’t help that the Red Sox, a possible first round matchup, have their number. The Tigers were looking good earlier with the one, two punch of Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson, but Jackson has faltered a bit lately and the bullpen has been shakier than it was earlier. The Red Sox are seasoned and experienced, but if Beckett can’t fix his recent woes and the offense can’t get going like it was earlier this year, they wont be around to see the second round. What do we make of all this? I woudn’t put my money on an AL team to win the Series but I have to put the Yankees in it, no matter how much it pains me to do so. Yeah I’m a Yankee Hater, I won’t deny it, but I picked them.
The National League certainly appears to be the stronger league, but year in, year out, we see the American League being the stronger side. Tha being said, there are far more compete teams in the NL. The Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers are all legitimate contenders with potent offenses and good pitching. The Dodgers are the most balanced of these teams but have really struggled of late and if they do not get some momentum going fast it will be over for them. The Cardinals midseason moves have really vaulted them into title contention especially with the addition of the white hot Matt Holliday who has easily been among the best hitters in the majors since his move. Add the fact that they have the best player on the planet right now and two complete studs in Wainwright and Carpenter and you have one hell of a contender. Oh, and Tony LaRussa is an outstanding manager. The Phillies have a similar thing going with a star-studded offense and, if Hamels can keep his resurgence going, the Lee-Hamels duo is as formidable any. Happ, Pedro and Blanton are all more than capable 3rd and 4th starters for the playoffs. It is extremely hard to repeat, especially in baseball, but the Phillies have as good a chance as any to do it.
This brings us to the wild card, which is essentially down to the Rockies or Giants despite admirable runs by the Marlines and Braves. If the Giants make it, Lincecum and Cain are deep trouble for any team in a short series. They don’t have much offense, but those 2 guys are more than enough to get them through to the NLCS. If the Rockies get in, they will have their consistent top-to-bottom pitching to thank for it. They are not as much of a threat as the Giants In a series, but are still not to be taken lightly.
The Cardinals need to hope they don’t get the Giants in the first round because Lincecum and Cain have owned them this year, but fortunate for them, it is looking like the Rockies will prevail in the Wild Card. With the Giants out of the way, the Dodgers recent struggles and the Phillies bullpen questions, or more specifically Brad LIdge, the Cardinals are the team to beat in the National League.
There is something about a Cardinals-Yankees World Series conjures up images of baseball’s hallowed history and two of the most successful franchises in history. This should make for one outstanding series, with the Cardinals winning in 7 in New York. Both teams have stacked lineups with outstanding otations and multiple guys worthy of Cy Young talk, but I like the Cardinals to win it. Sabathia’s inconsistency in the playoffs and Burnett’s lack of experience will be just enough of a slip up to overturn the favorites and open the door for the St. Louis Cardinals to become World Champions. No matter if I’m right or wrong I am really looking forward to what should be an exciting, climactic October.