Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010 ALCS and NLCS previews

By Rick Morris

New York Yankees vs. Texas
Power: New York Yankees, edge
Speed: Texas, edge
Starting Pitching: Even
Relief Pitching: Texas, slight edge
Key Player for New York Yankees: AJ Burnett -- The one big winter-of-'08 signing who hasn't panned out -- and should have looked pretty risky at the time -- can no longer be avoided in the revised LCS format that took out the faux travel day, so he needs to keep his team in the game somehow.
Key Player for Texas: CJ Wilson -- Based on how he thrived in his first year as a full-time starter, the Rangers now have two hammer lefties and they cannot win the series without fully exploiting New York's vulnerability in that regard.
The easy hook for this series is that it matches baseball's most decorated franchise with arguably its least -- or at least, the last one to advance to an LCS. The Yankees blew through Minnesota in the LDS just as they have previously and just as they did against Texas in three LDS in the late 1990s. Oddly, the Twins were configured slightly differently this time around, with a bit more emphasis on power and less on starting pitching. Same result, though. And this Ranger team is likewise a bit different from their softball-slugging forefathers with a bit less power, a bit more speed and a whole lot more pitching. The fact that it is southpaw-oriented is the main source for hope for good Yankee-haters everywhere. A secondary source of hope lies in the return to form of two Ranger lineup linchpins. The league's most explosive hitter, Josh Hamilton, will be returning to the scene of his greatest national exposure in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Can he round back into form after missing much of September and seeing his team advance past Tampa in spite of his weak performance? And can Ian Kinsler continue his sharp October after suffering through a sub-par regular season? If so, Texas will be in business, because when he's at his best, he's worthy of being in the conversation along with the Yanks' Robinson Cano for best AL second baseman. Speaking of momentum, former Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira recovered from his trademark slow start and has been red-hot through the second half. Ultimately, he's part of a deeper attack and while history has shown that the Yanks can be vulnerable to a faster, hungry young team (i.e. Florida in 2003), postseason experience and the confidence gained from past accomplishments should carry the Yankees into yet another World Series. Yankees in 6.

San Francisco vs. Philadelphia
Power: Philadelphia, slight edge
Speed: Philadelphia, edge
Starting Pitching: Even
Relief Pitching: San Francisco, edge
Key Player for San Francisco: Jonathan Sanchez -- Lefties hit only .181 against him in his breakthrough year, potential bad news for the Howard-Utley-Ibanez part of the Philly attack.
Key Player for Philadelphia: Brad Lidge -- Just like how San Fran has "Good Aubrey" and "Bad Aubrey," Philly has one of the great arms -- and great stomach-wreckers -- of this generation and he needs to be the former in a series that should be razor-thin.
It's tough to remember the last time each team through three aces at each other like what we're going to see in this series. The Halladay/Lincecum throwdown in particular is pay-per-view worthy. It will be very interesting to see what materializes in Game Four when super-rook Madison Bumgarner faces off with the man who exemplifies the first syllable of his last name, Joe Blanton. In a close series, the bullpen edge and the Mad Man could prove decisive, but Philly's experience and proven lineup -- which contrasts sharply to the Giants' admittedly impressive job of achieving reclamation in so many spots -- are likely to trump those elements. This clash looks like a lock to go seven, but those kinds of series never do. Phillies in 6.

Phillies over Yankees in 6.

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