Anyone can tell you after the fact why something happened, and say that they knew it would happen that way and could have told you before hand. Well me, I’m actually going to tell you before hand how one educated baseball fan – me – thinks that the 2009 MLB post-season will play out.
Let’s start closest to home, with the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies and the National League playoffs. In the NL Division Series, the East Division champion Phillies host the Wildcard Colorado Rockies and the West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers will play host to the Saint Louis Cardinals.
Back in 2007, the Phillies had completed a furious late-season rally to overtake the New York Mets and win their first division crown in 14 years. That team was quite obviously just happy to be there, and they were steam-rolled by a red-hot Rockies club in three straight Division Series games.
This year will be different for a number of reasons. First, the Phillies are a better team today than they were two years ago in both the starting lineup and in the starting rotation. The additions of Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, and rookie J.A. Happ provide that improved talent.
Perhaps more importantly, the club’s home grown nucleus is not only more experienced, but the quality of that experience of winning a world championship cannot be understated. The confidence gained by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, et al will prove invaluable.
The Rockies have a good team and finished strong, making a late run at the Dodgers in the west. They have some excellent players in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Brad Hawpe, and closer Huston Street. They have outstanding young talents in outfielder Dexter Fowler and infielder Ian Stewart, as well as pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge de la Rosa (lost for the series due to injury). And they also have their iconic 1st baseman Todd Helton.
The Phillies supplement their big three of Howard-Utley-Rollins with perhaps the most potent attack in the National League. Outfielders Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino were both deserved All-Stars and join Ibanez and 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz in providing the Phils with legitimate weapons through the first 7 hitters in the batting order.
The Phillies depth and overall talent will combine with the fact that they are the best defensive team in the game to be the difference here. Unlike some other pundits who like to give every team it’s ‘props’ by at least assuming they will win one game, I’m not going that route. I see no reason why the Fightin’ Phils can’t sweep this series, and so I am going to call it a 3-0 series win for the defending champs.
The Cardinals have become the popular pick for many in the other NL series. They have marquee talents in newcomer Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols, perhaps the best hitter in baseball. With a pair of legitimate aces at the top in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Cards have a definite advantage. But it’s not as if these Dodgers come into the series with nothing. There is a reason they won 95 games and compiled the best record in the league.
The Dodgers come at you with a balanced attack led by emerging star outfielder Matt Kemp and clutch-hitting outfielder Andre Ethier, and including 1st sacker James Loney, catcher Russ Martin, and future Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez. The Dodgers also have an excellent trio of middle infielders in 2nd basemen Orlando Hudson and Rafael Belliard and shortstop Rafael Furcal. I think that the LA pitchers will find a way to keep the club close enough in enough games to give the Dodgers a tight 3-2 series win.
Over in the AL, the East Division champion New York Yankees are clearly the class of the league. Their Division Series opponents, the Minnesota Twins, last night won one of the greatest games in recent baseball history, defeating the Detroit Tigers in 12 innings to win the Central Division title. I have to believe that the Twins left it all on the field in that game, and I predict the Yanks will storm to a 3-0 sweep here.
In the other AL series, the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim?) will face the Boston Red Sox. The Bosox have made a habit of knocking the Angels out in the opening round of the playoffs, but this year it is going to be different. These Angels have the talent and experience. They just need to win a key game early in the series and gain some confidence, which I believe they will in what should be a hard-fought 3-1 series win for the Angels.
In the ALCS, the Yankees have too much firepower for the Angels, and I see the Yankes taking it by a 4-1 margin. In the NLCS, the Phillies proved last year that they are better than the Dodgers. Nothing much has changed other than that the Phils have gotten better while the Dodgers are arguably the same team. I see the Phils taking the series by a 4-1 margin as well.
This would set up a fascinating World Series between what I believe are clearly the two best overall teams in baseball. A star-studded affair featuring names like Howard, ARod, Jeter, Utley, Teixeira, Werth, Victorino, Damon, Ibanez and a number of other talented hitters and defenders. Pitching battles featuring C.C. Sabathia trying to overcome the horrible defeat he suffered in the playoffs a year ago at the Phils hands while a member of the Milwaukee Brewers rotation.
Here it comes, the absolutely complete and utter ‘homer’ call: Philadelphia Phillies in six memorable, exciting games over the New York Yankees and a repeat parade down Broad Street for the first back-to-back MLB champs in a decade. But it’s not a complete homer call. The Phillies have the talent to do it again. At some point in the playoffs the bullpen will have to overcome it’s struggles. But I believe the previous post-season experience will be enough to carry the club through to glory.