Baseball BeatOctober 03, 2006
AL and NL Division Series Previews
By Rich Lederer

The second season begins today. Eight out of 30 teams remain in the running for the World Series. If the playoffs are a "crapshoot" as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane once said, then the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Dodgers have as good of a chance to win it all as the New York Yankees and New York Mets.

To help me sort it all out, I have turned to eight writers who have followed their respective teams for years. Their expert analysis and opinions are included in each of the previews below. Be sure to visit each of their sites for an even deeper look into the series at hand.


New York Mets (first place, NL East, #1 seed) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (NL wild card, #4 seed)

GAME 1: Dodgers @ Mets, Wed., 4:00 PM ET - Lowe (16-8, 3.63) vs. Hernandez (11-11, 4.66)
GAME 2: Dodgers @ Mets, Thu., 8:00 PM ET - Kuo (1-5, 4.22) vs. Glavine (15-7, 3.82)
GAME 3: Mets @ Dodgers, Sat., TBD - Maddux (15-14, 4.20) vs. Trachsel (15-8, 4.97)
GAME 4: Mets @ Dodgers, Sun., TBD
GAME 5: Dodgers @ Mets, Mon., TBD

             W   L   PCT   HOME   ROAD   RS   RA 
NY Mets     97  65  .599  50-31  47-34  834  731 
LA Dodgers  88  74  .543  49-32  39-42  820  751

Head to Head: Mets, 4 games to 3.

  • Matthew Cerrone, Mets in 5.

    The series between the Mets and Dodgers will come down to two battles: the one between the Mets and Hong-Chih Kuo, and the one between Mets SS Jose Reyes and Dodgers C Russell Martin.

    The opening game of this series will be crucial for the Mets, given that the left-handed Kuo, who has pitched well already this season at Shea Stadium, is set to start in Game Two. It's no secret that the Mets have struggled against left-handed pitching since early-August. Therefore, a loss for the Mets in Game One could realistically put them down two games heading to Los Angeles to face their old nemsis, Greg Maddux.

    Meanwhile, as always, Reyes will have the responsibility of providing momentum for the Mets, while confusing and demoralizing the Dodgers. Martin's job will be to control him. If he can, New York's offense will struggle.

    In the end, because of their veteran advantage in these two scenarios, I believe the Mets will control both battles and win the series.

  • Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts: Look, it's hard to blame the Mets. They ran away with the NL East lead early on (moving into first place on April 7 and not letting go) and were 35 games over .500 on September 13. At that point, it would almost defy reality for them not to have slumped some, and sure enough, they lost 10 of their next 13 games. During that time, however, they were tinkering with their starting rotation and other matters, finding out just what Pedro Martinez could give them. (Heartache, as it turned out.) With the playoffs approaching, the Mets won their final four games to end their season back on a winning note.

    There's little reason to think that any National League team should be able to beat them on the way to the World Series - except for the fact that what happened in the first few months of the season might no longer be relevant. The Dodgers finished the season 7-0 and 41-19, and in a four-game series in September, took two easy victories from the Mets and nearly a third. The Mets should be chomping at the bit to show their supremacy, but the Dodgers have positioned themselves as a worthy rival. Dodger rookie Hong-Chih Kuo may not be ready for the pressure of a Game 2 start, but will Steve Trachsel and/or John Maine be ready for later games themselves? Call the Mets the favorites, but as far as a series prediction goes, I offer only this: Game 5 heads into extra innings.

    * * *

    San Diego Padres (first place, NL West, #2 seed) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (first place, NL Central, #3 seed)

    GAME 1: Cardinals @ Padres, Tue., 4:00 PM ET - Carpenter (15-8, 3.09) vs. Peavy (11-14, 4.09)
    GAME 2: Cardinals @ Padres, Thu., 4:00 PM ET - Weaver (5-4, 5.18 w/ STL and 8-14, 5.76 overall) vs. Wells (1-2, 3.49 w/ SD and 3-5, 4.42 overall)
    GAME 3: Padres @ Cardinals, Sat., TBD - Young (11-5, 3.46) vs. Suppan (12-7, 4.12)
    GAME 4: Padres @ Cardinals, Sun., TBD
    GAME 5: Cardinals @ Padres, Mon., TBD

                 W   L   PCT   HOME   ROAD   RS   RA 
    San Diego   88  74  .543  43-38  45-36  731  679  
    St. Louis   83  78  .516  49-31  34-47  781  762 

    Head to Head: Padres, 4 games to 2.

  • Geoff Young, Ducksnorts: Padres in 5.

    The Padres and Cardinals are pretty evenly matched, but San Diego's pitching staff is deeper. As long as the Padres don't let mega superstud Albert Pujols beat them again, they stand a good chance of advancing. Some folks are predicting that San Diego will take the series in fewer games, but since this is the Padres, and they don't do anything the easy way, it'll almost certainly go the distance. That fifth game probably will go extra innings and scare the bejeezus out of the home crowd. And then everyone will have to try and figure out what bejeezus means. Face it, this could get ugly.

  • Larry Borowsky, Viva El Birdos: Padres in 4.

    Why? In a word, bullpens. The Padre relievers had the second-best ERA in the league, 0.62 better than their Cardinal counterparts (who ranked 7th). San Diego's top three relievers (Hoffman, Linebrink, and Meredith) held batters to a .212 average and a .256 on-base percentage; St. Louis' top trio (Wainwright, Looper, and Hancock) posted .249/.303 in those categories. The Cardinal trio was effective; San Diego's was dominant.

    In the rotation pairings, the Padres gain a big edge with David Wells, the type of left-hander who's given the Cardinals fits all year; whichever game he starts is a probable Padre win. The Cardinals' hopes rest almost entirely with Chris Carpenter; two good starts from him and it could be a series. But that brings us back to the bullpens: In each of his last two starts Carpenter carried a lead into the 8th inning but coughed it up. He was well past 100 pitches both times, but Tony La Russa had so little trust in the bullpen -- still reeling from the loss of Jason Isringhausen in early September -- that he opted to stay with his tiring ace. La Russa's relievers will have to rise to the occasion for the Cardinals to have a shot.

    * * *


    New York Yankees (first place, AL East, #1 seed) vs. Detroit Tigers (AL wild card, #4 seed)

    GAME 1: Tigers @ Yankees, Tue., 8:00 PM ET - Robertson (13-13, 3.84) vs. Wang (19-6, 3.63)
    GAME 2: Tigers @ Yankees, Wed., 8:00 PM ET - Verlander (17-9, 3.63) vs. Mussina (15-7, 3.51)
    GAME 3: Yankees @ Tigers, Fri., 8:00 PM ET - Johnson (17-11, 5.00) vs. Rogers (17-8, 3.84)
    GAME 4: Yankees @ Tigers, Sat., TBD
    GAME 5: Tigers @ Yankees, Sun., TBD

                 W   L   PCT   HOME   ROAD   RS   RA 
    NY Yankees  97  65  .599  50-31  47-34  930  767  
    Detroit     95  67  .586  46-35  49-32  822  675  

    Head to Head: Yankees, 5 games to 2.

  • Peter Abraham, The Journal News (White Plains, N.Y.) and The LoHud Yankees Blog: Yankees in 3.

    One team has gotten steadily better as the season progressed, the other steadily worse. Now that the Yankees have Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield back, Joe Torre can wield a lineup that will quickly run up pitch counts on starters and run through relief pitchers.

    I remain amazed that the Tigers won so many games in the American League with that lineup. But their steady slide in the second half (19-31 in the last 50 games) was probably a better representation of their roster than how they performed in the first half

    The Yankee pitching is suspect because of late-season injuries to Randy Johnson and Mariano Rivera. But they need only be adequate for the Yankees to win this series.

    Keep an eye on right-handed reliever Scott Proctor. Torre got him some rest at the end of the season and he could be a difference maker if Rivera is limited to one inning because of muscle strain in his forearm.

  • Brian Borawski, TigerBlog: Tigers in 5.

    This is your classic match up of pitching vs. hitting and in a playoff setting, pitching usually rules. I like the game two battle of Justin Verlander over Mike Mussina and the game four match-up of Jeremy Bonderman over Jaret Wright, so that leaves the Tigers having to win their game five matchup against Chien-Ming Wang. I expect the Tigers to lose bad in game one but then figure Wang out the second time through in game five.

    It'll be really interesting to see how each manager uses their pens. While both have studs in Mariano Rivera and Joel Zumaya, it's anywhere from bad to okay throughout the rest of the pen for both teams. So if the Tigers can get to the ailing Randy Johnson early and force Joe Torre to go to less consistent part of the Yankees' pen, the Tigers might even be able to pull this one out in four.

    * * *

    Minnesota Twins (first place, AL Central, #2 seed) vs. Oakland A's (first place, AL West, #3 seed)

    GAME 1: A'S @ Twins, Tue., 1:00 PM ET - Zito (16-10, 3.83) vs. Santana (19-6, 2.77)
    GAME 2: A's @ Twins, Wed., 1:00 PM ET - Loaiza (11-9, 4.89) vs. Bonser (7-6, 4.22)
    GAME 3: Twins @ A'S, Fri., 4:00 PM ET - Radke (12-9, 4.32) vs. Haren (14-13, 4.12)
    GAME 4: Twins @ A's, Sat., TBD
    GAME 5: A's @ Twins, Sun., TBD

                 W   L   PCT   HOME   ROAD   RS   RA 
    Minnesota   96  66  .593  54-27  42-39  801  683   
    Oakland     93  69  .574  49-32  44-37  771  727   

    Head to Head: Twins, 6 games to 4.

  • Seth Stohs, SethSpeaks.Net: Twins in 4.

    To me, winning in the playoffs is all about starting pitching. If your starting pitcher can keep you in the game, anything can happen. He just has to be able to turn the game over to a strong bullpen and specifically, a strong closer. So, how do we compare the Twins starters to the A's starters? Well, Johan Santana is remarkable. He faces the A's best, in Barry Zito. After those two pitchers, neither team is really sure what it will get. The Twins have question marks, and the A's have pitchers with potential who just haven't put it together yet for various reasons. That's why I think this series will be won in the bullpens. That definitely favors the Twins whose season bullpen ERA was just 2.03 (the A's 3.57 is good for third in the AL). Offensively, both teams are middle of the pack. The A's have Frank Thomas, Nick Swisher and a bunch of other guys. The Twins have Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and the very hot Torii Hunter right now.

    However, the beauty of the playoffs (and maybe its frustration), is that it is a new season. You never know who is going to play poorly in a short series. And you know that some lesser-known player is going to come up with some big hits. I expect that to be the case. Both of these teams are very good, very sound teams. But I think that the Twins bullpen will be the factor that helps them advance to the ALCS.

  • Ken Arneson, Catfish Stew: Twins in 5.

    These are two very similar teams: they both have good starters, deep bullpens and a solid defense (each team committed only 84 errors). Neither offense is intimidating; the two teams finished 8th and 9th in runs scored.

    The Twins have two major advantages in this series. First, the A's let-'em-hit-it-weakly approach to pitching and defense seems to be neutralized on artificial turf. The A's had an AL-worst 6.21 ERA on fake grass this year. In the six games at the Metrodome between the two teams this year, the Twins scored 37 runs. In Oakland, the Twins only scored four runs in four games.

    The second Twins' advantage is having Johan Santana lined up to pitch twice. The A's either have to somehow beat Johan Santana at the Metrodome, where he hasn't lost in over a year, or sweep the three non-Santana games. Barry Zito will probably have to outduel Santana at least once, if his career in an Oakland uniform is to continue beyond this series. Santana is by far the best pitcher in these playoffs, and he should be the difference here.

    * * *

    As for me, I would take the Mets, Padres, Yankees, and Twins. Favorites all. These teams had better records than their opponents and also beat them head-to-head in every case. Should an upset occur in the NL, I would expect the Dodgers to beat the Mets. In the AL, I can see the A's beating the Twins, especially if they handle Santana in the opener. If there is a sweep, I would look for the Yankees to get their brooms out against the Tigers.

    Thank goodness, the games are played on the field rather than on paper. It's time to get after it. Play ball!

  • Comments

    I'll go

    Yanks over Tigers in 4
    Twins over A's in 5

    Yanks over Twins in 6

    Dodgers over Mets in 4
    Cardinals over Pads in 3

    Dodgers over Cardinals in 6

    Yanks over Dodgers in 5

    I agree almost 100% with you Rich except that i think the Dodgers probably will win easier than expected.

    I can't see the Cards beating the Pads, that match up might be even worse than Tigers vs Yankees, the Cards have 1 great pitcher followed by tons of mediocrity and inconsistency in both the rotation and the bullpen. if you thought the Mets having to trott out Steve Trachsel was bad, the Cards essentially will need to trott out 2 or 3 of his clones ( Weaver / Suppan/ Maquis) AND they have the worest bullpen of all 8 teams.

    The Tiger's chances against the Yankees is bad. unless they've been taking it easy towards the end (unlikely) and yes, great pitching beat great hitting, but the question is, how GREAT really is Robertson and Rogers? Great to the point of beating the best lineup of all time? and you still need to SCORE, and the Yankee pitching this year hasn't been nearly as shabby as the last couple of years in every way. the only quesiton for them is wether RJ will punt again, but he starts game 3 and against Kenny Rogers, even a punt might not be an automatic loss.

    And what's worse, yes the Yankee's have unreliable set up guys like Kyle "Far&gone"sworth but the Tigers also have Todd Jones, do you SERIOUSLY think Todd Jones can close out all the games? or are the Tigers going to blast their way so that they won't even need Jones?

    The Twin's A's game is a tought one to guess, it really all depends on game 1, if Oakland wants to stand a chance they MUST win game 1.

    HERE IT IS!!!
    yanks over tigers in 5
    twins over a's in 4

    twins over yanks in 7

    mets over dodgers in 4
    cardinals over padres in 5

    mets over cardinals in 6

    twins over mets in 6


    I love that all the bloggers you quoted think the key to the post-season just happens to be the strength of their teams. Thats great, you cant beat the loyalty factor.
    The only place the Yankees can lose is in the ALCS. Detroit has been treading water for a long time. They havent had the giddy exuberance in the dugout that defined them earlier this year in quite some time. I think both Oakland and 'Sota had a better chance in a short series, but do have an outside shot to take the evil empire out to get to the World Series. The Yankees are so loaded, A. Rod is hitting 6th tonight. He really turned it on as thing came to a close, too. After a season of catching hell, Id bet he dominates this post-season. All the Yankee fans will be booing him in his own jersey next year.
    Oakland vs. Minnesota is going to be a great series. Frank Thomas has a .295 lifetime average vs. the Twins and a .375 average vs. Johan Santana (1.313 OPS, 2 HR and 3 K in 16 ABs). On the flipside, Tori Hunter has been playing out of his mind, as have my MVP Morneau and the emerging Cuddyer. Santana has to be the AL Cy Young.
    I also agree that the Dodgers can beat the Mets. They've looked good down the stretch. Delgado and Beltran both finished the year pretty cold(even though Beltran managed a .400 OBP for the final month) and Reyes had 6 errors in the last 30 days. Lowe went 3-0 in the playoffs just two seasons ago in four play-off starts with a 1.86 ERA. Watch out for the Dodgers.
    The Padres can beat the Cardinals, too. Can you imagine two NL west teams playing to go to the World Series? What a difference a season makes. The Cards might have missed the playoffs entirely if Cordero and the Brewers werent so foolish and pitched to him with two men on in the 8th inning the other day. Pujols is the NL MVP. Id give the NL Cy Young to Carpenter, or maybe Webb.

    My non-specific prediction: AL in 6. NL finally wins another WS game.

    I love that all the bloggers you quoted think the key to the post-season just happens to be the strength of their teams. Thats great, you cant beat the loyalty factor.

    Three of the eight writers didn't select their own team. Larry Borowsky took the Padres over the Cardinals; Ken Arneson went with the Twins rather than the A's; and Jon Weisman only said that the Dodgers-Mets series would be decided in Game 5 in extra innings.

    I believe it was a pretty balanced effort. And if I'm Peter Abraham, I'm picking the Yankees, too.

    Dodgers. Padres. Yankees. Twins.

    Are you forgetting how the Dodgers killed the Mets in Shea about a month ago? The Mets can't seem to win against good solid pitching.

    The Padres are just plain good, and the Cardinals are just sliding into the playoffs 'cause they won a lot early in the year and the rest of their division had a tough time being .500. Although, I do think there could be an upset in this series moreso than any of the other 1st rounders.

    The Yankees...are going to teach the young Tigers what playoff games are, so the Tiggers can be a force in the next couple of years.

    The Twins, win at home all the time. End of story.

    i just cant believe that everyone is picking the yankees to win the world series. they are a well balanced extremely powerful team in hitting that is. the starting pen is very good on paper but in reality wang and mussina are the only constants. after that you rely on a shaky combo of johnson and wright. the penn is shaky at best. the only two bright spots have been proctor and bruney. if mariano cant do the two innings like he was able to do years ago when the yanks won thier last championship then it just cant happen. the yanks are the best team money can buy but also the oldest and most prone to injuries. and i am a yankee fan but im realistic also. the twins are a young fantastic team and mauer morenaeau and santana are a hard thing to ignore. the twins are young and hungry and they will win it all. i just cant believe everyone is just writing them off as a fluke they are not. and even if the yanks make it to the series by luck they will be facing the mets and this time the mets will win this subway series.

    Yankees. A's. Mets. Padres.

    I'm not sure how someone could pick the Tigers over the Yankees right now after this past month with the Tigers. While I realize this has no bearing on anything, did anyone see the seven games the Yanks and Tigers played this season? They Yanks won 5 and blew 9th inning leads (both without Mariano) in the other two games. YANKS IN 4.

    I think the A's are a better team than the Twins top to bottom. My only hesitation in choosing them is their offense, but who's pitching the other three games against them? Boof, Silva, and Radke? A's IN 4.

    I know the Mets have pitching woes and were slow down the stretch, but I watched them beat up the NL for too long this season. I don't trust 1 single Dodger's starter against the Mets. METS IN 5.

    For the Cards to win this series, they need Carpenter to win 2 games and Pujols to win another. I just think it's way too much to ask those two guys to do everything, plus Adam Wainwright is their closer? PADS IN 4.

    RIP, Twinkies.

    Wow. Those were some bad predictions.

    Mine would have been Yanks, Twins, Mets and Cards - not much better.

    I was shocked by Oakland and the Yankees.

    I think that we can safely say that pitching is key in baseball and while we get excited over building these lineups, it's usually the starting pitcher and the bullpen that determines the victor.

    The underdogs won three of the four series. Not one even went the full five games.

    Run prevention is worth a bit more than run creation. But let's not forget that the best pitcher in baseball (Johan Santana) lost his only start even though he pitched an excellent game. Accordingly, I don't think there is one formula for winning in the postseason. As we have seen this year, almost anything can happen in a short series.

    Lets just say this.
    I think you all may need to eat a bit of crow.
    I see Detroit going all the way this year.