With the calendar readying for a turn towards September, here are JHurl’s playoff predictions:
AL East Winner: Red Sox
Red Sox have a slightly better offense from top to bottom than the Yankees. Both have rotation question marks. Two aces in Beckett and Lester give the Red Sox an edge over Sabathia and the one ace Yankees.
AL Central Winner: Tigers
Tigers have a sizeable 6 game lead in the division, which will not be relinquished. Verlander is an ace, while Cabrera paces the offense. Ubaldo Jimenez will impact the Indians more in the future than the division race this year.
AL West Winner: Rangers
Rangers are stacked on offense with Hamilton and Co. C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando headline an underrated rotation. The Angels’ offense holds the team back from making a charge.
AL Wild Card Winner: Yankees
The AL East runner-up is virtually guaranteed to win the wild card.
Red Sox and Yankees cannot play in the ALDS. Rangers end up with a better record than the Tigers, due to a more balanced offense. That results in ALDS matchups of Red Sox-Tigers and Rangers-Yankees.
ALDS (Best of 5)
Red Sox-Tigers: Red Sox in 4
Possibly facing Verlander twice in five games is a tough task. Red Sox will not have to deal with that issue. Having two aces helps the Red Sox neutralize Verlander.
Rangers-Yankees: Yankees in 5
Two extremely even teams. Rangers have a deeper bullpen with the acquisitions of Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, although the Yankees have the old reliable in Mariano Rivera. Yankees win the series with a gem from Sabathia on the road in Game 5.
ALCS (Best of 7)
Red Sox-Yankees: Red Sox in 6
Not counting on Buchholz returning for the Red Sox, which leaves the Red Sox rotation real thin. However, the Yankees rotation is very unimpressive beyond Sabathia. Bard and Papelbon give the Red Sox a great duo at the back-end of the bullpen, which is equal (if not better) than Robertson and Rivera. Red Sox get better starts from Bedard and Lackey than the Yankees get from Hughes and Colon (Nova starts Game 2). Red Sox move on to the World Series.
NL East Winner: Phillies
Phillies currently have a 6.5 game lead over the Braves. With the four aces of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels, the division will not be lost. Oh yea, 5th starter Vance Worley is 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.
NL Central Winner: Brewers
Brewers hold a 10 game lead over the Cardinals. Enough said. This division is on lockdown.
NL West Winner: Giants
The Diamondbacks will be overtaken for the division. The return of Beltran gives Sandoval and the offense a much-needed shot in the arm. The injury to closer Brian Wilson is worrisome; however, I think the team can manage. Lincecum and Cain are two of the best in the business. The Diamondbacks’ starters will wilt in the heat of a playoff race.
NL Wild Card Winner: Braves
With a 8.5 game lead in the wild card race, put the Braves in ink for a playoff spot.
Phillies and Braves cannot play in the NLDS. Brewers have a much better record than anyone in the NL West. That results in NLDS matchups of Phillies-Giants and Brewers-Braves.
NLDS (Best of 5)
Phillies-Giants: Phillies in 4
Phillies have an advantage with two more aces than the Giants. The Giants offense also scares no one.
Brewers-Braves: Brewers in 5
The Braves are real solid. Nonetheless, the Brewers are the pick. Greinke, Marcum, and Gallardo make for a nice rotation. The bats of Fielder and Braun come up big under the bright lights.
NLCS (Best of 7)
Phillies-Brewers: Phillies in 5
Although the Brewers have a good rotation, the Phillies seem to have a starting pitcher edge in every game. Madson has stabilized the closer role. Howard and Utley provide dangerous bats that are supplemented by Victorino and Rollins. Philadelphia is just the better all-around team.
(Best of 7)
Phillies-Red Sox: Phillies in 6
Red Sox have an overall offensive advantage and hold a small bullpen edge. The four aces of the Phillies are going to be extremely tough to counter come playoff time. Take your pick: Oswalt and Hamels or Bedard and Lackey in Games 3 and 4? Not having Buchholz really shows in this series and comes back to haunt the Red Sox. Pitching wins in the playoffs. The Phillies offense also has some punch. Take this pick to the bank. The Phillies will win the World Series, no doubt.