MLB League Championship Previews
by Trevor Whenham - 10/10/2007
The greatest two weeks of baseball on the calendar are about to get under way on Thursday when the League Championship Series' begin. So much excitement, huge games every day, and plenty of betting opportunities. I'd take these two series over the letdown that is usually the World Series any day. Here's a look at how the two series shape up (odds are from Bodog):
Cleveland (+145) vs. Boston (-165) - The Red Sox got what they wanted - no series against the Yankees. I'm pretty sure, though, that I'd rather play the Yanks than the Indians. This team is no pushover. The series should be a gem - a battle between the two teams with the best record (96-66) in all of baseball. It should also be a pitcher's clinic. The first (and potentially fifth) game, with Beckett vs. Sabathia will be an awesome display of power and control, and Schilling vs. Carmona in games two and six will be a battle between generations. Those two matchups alone make this a series worthy of our attention.
As they will now, the two teams played a seven-game series during the regular season. As we certainly won't see this time, though, Boston won five of those games. In the first series of three games, though, Boston managed to avoid the two aces of the Cleveland staff. The second series, in late July, was a classic. Daisuke Matsuzaka beat C.C. Sabathia in a 1-0 pitchers duel, and Fausto Carmona beat Josh Beckett by the same score in an even more impressive showing the next night. While the Indians in general may have struggled against Boston, the best of their staff certainly didn't. Since they will pay as many as four games this is a much closer series than the season series would indicate at first glance.
I don't want to give the impression, though, that I am giving the Indians a clear pitching edge. The top two for Boston are just as good. Curt Schilling is a warrior who seems to be at his best in the playoffs, while Josh Beckett is just in a groove right now. He will pitch on eight days rest, and he is 14-6 with an ERA of 2.39 with more than six days of rest over his career. Beyond the top two the edge has to go to Boston for starters. The bullpens match up well as long as Eric Gagne doesn't decide to torch the stadium to the ground if he's given a chance. Cleveland's pen was brilliant against New York, but Boston's was pretty good, too.
We could talk about the bats or the defense, but both teams are more than competent in both areas if all goes well. Handicapping this series comes down to one big factor, then - which line has value. You can, without too much imagination, make a case for either team winning the series. Boston is probably more likely to do so, but not by an overwhelming margin. Is this line inflated because the Red Sox are the ultimate public team (that's not in New York), while Cleveland is obscure to the casual fan? Will the experience and age of Boston be an advantage over a Cleveland team that certainly can't say that they have been in this position before in recent years? Who has the pitching edge, and how big is it? How big of an edge is Fenway in October? Those are all questions you need to consider, and the answers will point you towards a pick. I'll be on Cleveland, but I'm a sucker for a good underdog story.
Arizona (+130) vs. Colorado (-110) - More interesting than this matchup is the odds you could have got if you had bet in March that these would be the two teams we would be watching. Most people in the preseason saw some strength in the NL West, but it would have been the Dodgers and the Padres that would have been the two teams for most. It wasn't that long ago that conventional wisdom was that the Rockies should get some value in trading for Todd Helton because their season was a write off. It's bizarre, but hard earned, outcomes like this that make baseball as great as it is.
On paper, Colorado should not be here. Look at their starting pitching - Jeff Francis is a solid 17-9, but No. 2 starter Ubaldo Jimenez is just 4-4, Franklin Morales is 3-2 in eight starts this year, and Aaron Cook is 8-7. That's hardly the kind of rotation a team typically rides to favorite status in the LCS. Along with Josh Fogg, though, that is precisely the rotation that has led the Rockies on the wildest late season ride we have seen in a long time. The rotation is symbolic of the whole team - they don't look like they should be good enough, yet somehow they seem completely incapable of losing a game.
If anyone can slow down Colorado's momentum it is Brandon Webb. He is what the Phillies lacked - a shutdown ace in top form. In the first round he completely incapacitated the Cubs and seemed to zap their will to win the series. He'll be fresh and ready to try to do the same thing in Game 1 here.
The Colorado momentum is really the X-factor in the whole thing. We have probably never had to deal with a team in this position that is as hot as the Rockies are, so it is hard to know how to deal with it. Unlike some impossibly hot teams, though, the Rockies don't have a sense of frantic desperation about them. They just all seem to be calmly doing their jobs. Though there have been comebacks and late wins on the streak, it hasn't taken a whole lot of fluke plays or ridiculous luck to get it done. That may make their streak more sustainable than some. On the other hand, teams that are hot want to keep playing, so the long layoff between series could bring some of the magic back to earth. Your guess is as good as mine.
One factor in the series may be the crowds. Denver's stadium has looked like it was going to explode through this postseason. There are reportedly still thousands of tickets available for Game 1 in Arizona. If you believe that fans give teams a boost then Colorado could get a bump from the comparative fervor of their backers. That's all psychological, of course, but so is much of baseball.
As unlikely as this series is, and as much as the networks would likely much rather have the Cubs or Ryan Howard and the Phillies to promote, this has the makings of a classic, thrilling series. The public will have lots to grab on to for both teams, but especially the Rockies as the odds indicate. It should be a truly fascinating display. I just wish I had a clue about how it might turn out.