Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 3, 2006
BASEBALL: First Round Predictions
Yankees over Tigers in 4: Yankee fans, of course, are drooling at the prospect of facing a team that heads its rotation with Kenny Rogers and his 8.85 career postseason ERA. The Yanks in recent years have shown three vulnerabilities in the postseason. First, like all teams, they are vulnerable to superior starting pitching; the Tigers could have that if Bonderman and Verlander get their acts together. Second, teams like the Angels that put the ball in play a lot can exploit their defensive weaknesses; those weaknesses have been less pronounced this year, and in any event the Tigers are a power team, not a contact team. And third, the Yankees have run into trouble when their bullpen wears down - but Mariano in particular is fresh entering October. Sheffield and Matsui are back too - Torre has always had a great record of getting his teams healthy in time for the playoffs. They are just too tall an order for Detroit, as good a year as the Tigers have had.
Twins over A's in 5: The Twins are hot and have Santana . . . much as I'd love Oakland to finally win in October they are just not the strongest team, and they are heavily dependent on Frank Thomas staying healthy. It's hardly impossible, and the holes in the Minnesota rotation make it unlikely that the Twins can put away anybody quickly, but I'd go with the Twins.
Padres over Cards in 3: I don't think I have ever seen a team back into the playoffs as badly as the Cardinals, and it's not an accident of a late-season slump - their pitching really is that bad, and their offense really is that shallow behind Pujols and Rolen.
Mets over Dodgers in 5: More on this tomorrow, time permitting. The echoes of 1988 frighten me; this is a different Dodgers team than that one (much deeper offense, but not similarly strong frontline pitching), while the Mets are much weaker (the 1988 team had a deceptively dominant offense and a deep bullpen, but they also had an outstanding rotation, and unlike these Mets they entered October with only their third starter unavailable rather than their ace and fifth starters; on the other hand, their defense was much weaker than this team's). The Dodgers don't have the one thing these Mets fear - proven quality lefthanded starters - but they will now start the talented Hong-Chih Kuo in Game Two at Shea and hope for a repeat of his mastery of the Mets when he last faced them.
This Mets team is built more for long serieses than short ones, as the depth of the bullpen and strength of the offense makes them well-designed for exhausting wars of attrition. Which is why the first round is scary. But I do think they are the better team, and the longer the series goes, the more it favors the Mets.