Some good Division Series matchups kick off the first annual (?) AIS postseason baseball prognostications. But first, a moment of silence for the Cubs and A's, who proved spectacularly unable to handle their own seeming good fortune in terms of September schedules, and for Mr. Bonds, who couldn't quite carry those other 24 guys into the playoffs after all. He'll have to console himself with MVP award number 17 or so.
Now, on to the picks:
Astros vs. Braves
The one thing that makes watching the Braves win the division every year bearable is watching them get sent home a week or two later. The law of averages suggests that they should win it all again one of these years, but I don't see how they can beat the loaded Astros lineup with the less than intimidating Ortiz/Hampton/Wright/Thomson-or-Byrd rotation. None of those guys, aside from maybe Jaret Wright at his very best, can win one by themselves, and Atlanta's lineup doesn't quite have the firepower to win slugfests against a team like Houston. Roger Clemens and 20-game winner Roy Oswalt are hands-down the best 1-2 pitching punch of the four NL qualifiers. Astros in four.
Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Steve Finley's division-clinching slam is as good as it gets for LA this year; I don't think they'll notch another win, unless Odalis Perez suddenly turns into Johan Santana and the Cardinals' pitching suddenly resembles the motley crew most analysts thought it would be back in March. The Pujols/Rolen/Edmonds lineup core is just too good. The Dodgers should be well positioned to get back here next year, and Paul DePodesta probably will have them more ready to do some damage when they do. Cards in three.
Twins vs. Yankees
Both AL series should be much more competitive. I really, really want to pick the Twins, who in every respect aside from their nasty, parsimonious evil old owner are the perfect David to the Yankee Goliath. The aforementioned Santana is coming off four months of sustained pitching excellence the likes of which we probably haven't seen since Orel Hershiser in 1988, and strike-throwing machine Brad Radke will frustrate a New York lineup that likes to work the count. Still, it's very tough to pick against the Sheffield/Jeter/A-Rod/Godzilla/Posada monster--not to mention the superb bullpen led by Mo Rivera and Flash Gordon. Add in that Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown seem to be recovered from their various injuries and ineffectiveness, and I have to think the Yankees will scrape by... unless Justin Morneau or one of the other precocious Minnesotans bursts into the national consciousness with a breakout series. It could happen. Yankees in five.
Red Sox vs. Angels
Here are arguably the two most complete teams in the postseason, with no real weaknesses to speak of aside from, arguably, Boston's middle relief and Anaheim's solid but unspectacular rotation. As Baseball Prospectus and probably others have noted, the Red Sox fortunes this month might come down to whether Terry Francona is smart and brave enough to name Bronson Arroyo his third starter rather than the veteran Derek Lowe; Arroyo has earned the right to back up the mighty Schilling and Pedro combo. I don't totally trust Martinez, but I think Boston has the bats to take out the Angels. They'd better do it early, because the Anaheim bullpen, led by Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez, is lights-out once again. The X-factor here is likely AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, in his first career playoff action; he could carry his club into the ALCS, and he just doesn't seem like a guy who would wilt under the bright lights. But the Man-Ram/Ortiz lineup engine likely will be enough to get the Saux back to the ALCS and a renewal of their twilight struggle against the tormentors from the Bronx. Red Sox in four.