Monday, October 4, 2010

2010 ALDS and NLDS previews

By Rick Morris

New York Yankees vs. Minnesota

Power: New York Yankees, slight edge

Speed: New York Yankees, slight edge

Starting Pitching: New York Yankees, slight edge

Bullpen: Minnesota, edge

Key player for New York: Derek Jeter РClich̩ alert, but if Jeter can turn back the clock a bit and summon some of his patented October magic, the Yankees can overcome some of their shortcomings.

Key player for Minnesota: Delmon Young – Just when everyone was giving up on him, this ultra-talented youngster figured it out and became the team’s best all-around hitter next to Justin Morneau and he will have to sustain his level of play to center the attack in the playoffs.

While the Yankees are disappointed to have lost the AL East title, they are surely glad to avoid the Rangers in the first round, given their lack of success last year in the postseason against Cliff Lee and their problems with lefties in general. Their recent up-and-down foibles aren’t necessarily that important, given that they emerged from a much worse funk exactly 10 years ago en route to flipping the switch to win the last World Series title for that version of the franchise. The Yanks caught a break with this matchup (which they won in 2003, 2004 and 2009), since the Twins have morphed a bit from their playoff teams of recent years. Minnesota is built more around power than starting pitching these days, but the loss of Justin Morneau hurts tremendously and is not salved sufficiently by the resurgence of Jim Thome. The Twins will have a strong home-field advantage at Target and they will need it greatly. While the Yankees have questionable starting pitching depth these days, they still outdo the Twins, whose main hope will come down to forcing enough tight games to the bullpens in order to exploit their one true advantage. It says here that won’t happen often enough to save them. Yankees in 4.

Texas vs. Tampa Bay

Power: Texas, slight edge

Speed: Tampa Bay, slight edge

Starting Pitching: Texas, slight edge

Bullpen: Texas, slight edge

Key player for Texas: Josh Hamilton – If he truly is back and 100%, the team benefits immensely from the presence of one of the game’s top sluggers.

Key player for Tampa Bay: James Shields – The team can’t afford to be overly dependant on their top two starters and while Shields has fallen off from what he used to be, he has to overachieve at this point if his team is to go all the way.

The Rangers enter the postseason as arguably the best-balanced team in the field, a far cry from their power-dominated teams of years ago. And they do have one very strange “advantage”: Ron Washington enters the playoffs as the only manager of the eight without any October experience. [The last three times only one manager of the eight had no playoff background, he led his team past the first round. Ironically, Tampa’s Joe Maddon was in this spot two years ago and led his team to the AL pennant. In 2006, Willie Randolph got the Mets to the NL Championship Series and in 2005, Ozzie Guillen won the World Series with the White Sox.]. But Texas isn’t super-dominant in any one area relative to the Rays, so their apparent edges aren’t as overpowering as they might appear in a vacuum. Much like how Minnesota is vulnerable due to the loss of their franchise slugger Morneau, the Rangers will have to sweat out playing the Division Series with Josh Hamilton either rusty or not at full capacity. Notwithstanding their complete lack of fan support in the regular season, Tampa should be able to pack in enough fair-weathers to enjoy a decent home-field advantage. That, combined with their postseason experience from two years ago and the battle-tested element that comes from winning baseball’s toughest division, should be enough to extend the Carl Crawford farewell campaign further into the playoffs. Rays in 5.

Atlanta vs. San Francisco

Power: San Francisco, slight edge

Speed: Even

Starting Pitching: San Francisco, edge

Bullpen: Even

Key player for Atlanta: Tommy Hanson – Hanson, like Jason Heyward, will have to deliver on his huge potential this fall in order for the team to move forward.

Key player for San Francisco: Pablo Sandoval – It’s unlikely at this stage, but if he can recover from his disappointing “sophomore jinx” campaign in the postseason, the team will have a huge lift given his talent.

If this is the end for Bobby Cox, then he’ll go out against the same manager (Bruce Bochy) who kept him out of the 1998 World Series. Cox’s second stint in Atlanta will go down as one of the most prolonged periods of success in baseball history and ironically, his team now appears to be at the front end of a long run of playoff appearances just like the first of those vaunted squads back in 1991. Now, as then, the team is bursting at the seams with young minor-league talent. Unfortunately, the one player tearing up the minors in the early 1990s who is still around, Chipper Jones, will miss these playoffs due to injury and as with the Morneau absence in Minnesota (ironically, the team that bested the Braves in their first World Series appearance of this run back in ’91), it will be costly. Interestingly, Jones is only one part of a veteran “supplemental unit” with playoff experience that augments the team’s young core, with October vets like Derek Lee, Troy Glaus, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Billy Wagner playing key roles. As for the Giants, they can go one through four with electric starting pitching like no other team in this year’s field. Bochy and General Manager Brian Sabean should be locks for Manager and Executive of the Year, respectively, based on how they have constructed the rotation, bullpen and especially a relatively potent starting lineup with reclamation projects in key places (Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen, to say nothing of acquiring Cody Ross). To place in proper perspective the accomplishments of this team, think about this: how much success would you have forecast for this team with Tim Lincecum and (especially) Pablo Sandoval having fallen off as much as they have this year? The Braves have the look of a team whose best days are still just a bit ahead of them, especially with the minor-league talent on the way. The Giants look like a team of the moment. Giants in 4.

Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia

Power: Cincinnati, slight edge

Speed: Even

Starting Pitching: Philadelphia, edge

Bullpen: Even

Key player for Cincinnati: Edinson Volquez – The Reds don’t have starting pitching quite on a par with the rest of the playoff field and while Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo will have their issues matching up with the big boys, Volquez is a wild card based equally on his talent and his spotty record of tapping into it.

Key player for Philadelphia: Jimmy Rollins – Philly made a major run down the stretch despite the lack of their lineup sparkplug and if he comes close to tapping his All-Star skills, the team to beat in the National League just got that much more imposing.

Like the Braves, the Reds are bulging at the seams with young talent, but have the look of a team on the big stage just a bit before they are completely ready. The lineup, anchored by prime MVP candidate Joey Votto, is pretty sweet, but the starting pitching and the bullpen are lacking in depth relative to the other contenders. More than any other team, the concept of “timely hitting” will be at a premium – and some of that will come from the man returning to the scene of his glory days, Scott Rolen. Meanwhile, the Phils, expected by many to cruise through the NL East, spent much of the year chasing Atlanta. A key turning point came when the team redeemed its regrettable offseason trade of Cliff Lee by acquiring Roy Oswalt. The “2 Roys,” paired with a resurgent Cole Hamels, give the team a 1-2-3 punch not matched by any team in the postseason with the possible exception of San Francisco. The lineup, while not as supersonic this year as in seasons past, has still been quite strong. In short, the Phillies have not quite looked like the Phillies for much of this season and yet still they stood atop the league’s regular-season standings. The Reds’ journey over the next few seasons to the level of perennial contenders starts in earnest with a lesson in winning at the hands of the league’s top franchise of the moment. Phillies in 4.


ALCS: Rays over Yankees in 6.

NLCS: Phillies over Giants in 6.

World Series: Phillies over Rays in 5.

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