by Robert Ferringo - 10/03/2005
Technically, Tuesday's tripleheader kicks off what promises to be another classic fall of Major League Baseball playoffs. But realistically, the playoffs began last weekend when New York rolled into Boston and Chicago traveled to Cleveland, with each jostling to secure its spot in the postseason. There was plenty of drama in the regular season's final weekend, and it has given the general baseball-loving public a little taste of what's to come.
In the American League, the Red Sox managed to earn their spot by taking two out of three from the Yankees at Fenway. Their most recent win, a 10-1 drubbing on Sunday, not only punched their own ticket but also cost the Bronx Bombers a trip out to Anaheim, where New York will open with the Angels. Boston will head out to Chicago to face the White Sox, who finished with the AL's best record and will have home-field advantage as long as they last.
Here's a closer look at the divisional matchups (series odds in parentheses):
New York (-145) at Anaheim (+125)
Though they both finished with identical records, the Angels (95-67) will have the home-field advantage in this series due to their 6-4 record against the Yankees (95-67) during the regular season. Game 1 will be Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. EST, with Mike Mussina (13-8, 4.41 ERA, 142 strikeouts) facing Bartolo Colon (21-8, 1.16 WHIP, 3.48 ERA). Mussina was supposed to start on Sunday for New York, but after they clinched their eighth consecutive AL East title with a win on Saturday Joe Torre decided to save Mussina for this spot. Colon is the AL's lone 20-game winner and has an outstanding shot at the Cy Young Award.
Anaheim will use some combination of Jarrod Washburn (8-8, 3.20 ERA), John Lackey (14-5, 199 K's), and/or Paul Byrd (12-11, 1.19 WHIP). New York will likely throw Chien-Ming Wang (8-5, 4.02 ERA), Shawn Chacon (7-3, 2.85 ERA), and Randy Johnson (17-8, 211 K's). The Yankees will have to choose between a well-rested Wang or a short-rested Chacon to throw Game 2.
This series is the first time these two organizations have squared off since the Angels beat the Yankees en route to a World Championship in 2002. Both teams have played very well down the stretch, with the Angels entering the second season winning 14 of 16, and they Yankees closing the final month on a 16-5 run.
New York possesses a terrifying lineup, led by Alex Rodriguez (.321, 48 HR, 130 RBI, 124 runs). The Yankees top nine hitters are all in double-digits for home runs, and average 24 dingers apiece. However, they used 28 pitchers and 51 position players throughout 2005, both club records. The starters are shaky, but with a devastating lineup and Mariano Rivera on the back end, the Yanks are never out of a series.
Vladimir Guerrero (.317, 32 HR, 108 RBI) and Garrett Anderson (.283, 17, 96) are Rally Monkey favorites as the anchors of Anaheim's lineup. Anderson has been slowed for most of 2004 with a nagging lower back injury. The Angels are comprised of tough, gritty ball players, with guys like Chone Figgins, Darin Erstad, and Adam Kennedy toting a workman-like approach to the stadium everyday. While the Yankees do it more with power, the Angels are more about speed (league-high 154 stolen bases). Anaheim also has the electric Francisco Rodriguez coming out of the bullpen.
The Yankees are making their 11th straight playoff appearance, and this may be the curtain call for several members of this crew. Their roster became the first in history to top $200 million this season - with varied results. The pitching matchup clearly favors the Angels, but you can never underestimate the experience edge that New York has. If they Yanks get a chance to close it out in New York, they may, but if they have to make a second trip out to the Left Coast their age may catch up with them.
Boston (-150) at Chicago (+130)
This is a matchup between two teams that are just happy to have Cleveland out of their hair. The Red Sox (95-67) were neck-and-neck with the Tribe, battling for the Wild Card for the last month. Chicago (99-62) saw a commanding, double-digit divisional lead chewed up by a barnstorming Cleveland team through August and September, only to sweep the Indians over the past weekend and end their season.
Game 1 between the Sox will take place in U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday at 4 p.m. It appears that Matt Clement (13-6) and Jose Contreras (15-7) will take the hill to open the series. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen hasn't announced his rotation yet (as of press time), but he'll probably go with Contreras and Mark Buehrle (16-8, 3.12 ERA) in Chicago, and then throw Jon Garland (18-10, 1.17 WHIP) and Freddy Garcia (14-8, 146 K's) in Boston. The Red Sox will have to wait until Friday (Game 3) for their ace, Curt Schilling (8-8) to be available. In the meantime, they will likely trot out 42-year-old David Wells (15-7) for the second game.
Boston is the defending World Series champions, and features the best one-two punch in the Big Leagues - David Ortiz (.300, 47, 148) and Manny Ramirez (.292, 45, 144). The Red Sox swing the lumber better than anyone in the Bigs (over 900 runs), but they are saddled with the worst bullpen (5.24) in the American League and an already weary pitching staff. Their starting rotation isn't nearly as powerful as it was heading into October last year, and a repeat performance of that 2004 magic is a tall order.
The White Sox quickly staked their claim as the top team in the American League in 2005, and their 99 wins marked the organization's highest total in almost a century. A large part of their success this season has been their ability to finish close games (61-33 in games decided by two runs or less). Paul Konerko (.283, 40, 100) is the moneyman in the middle of the order for the White Sox. Jermaine Dye (31 HR, 86 RBI) and Carl Everett (23, 87) also add some pop, and Scott Podsednik (.351 OBP, 59 SB's) is the catalyst in the leadoff slot.
The story of the 2004 postseason was the Red Sox truly incredible run to snap The Curse, defying history and ending the agony of generations of Boston faithful. This year, Chicago finds itself on a similar quest, looking for its first postseason series win since 1917. That was the year of their last World Series win, and the 88-year drought is one of the longest in American sports history. But after all that the Red Sox went through to claim the World Series trophy, don't expect them to give it up without a fight.
Doc's has your divisional series winners, get them along with moneyline selections for each game with Doc's baseball picks.