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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

AL Playoff Breakdown: Youth v. Experience, Power v. Power.

Hurray for my 1-year Anniversary as a sports blogger! My first post was a year-ago to the day and can be found here for those curious of my humble beginnings.

The American League
There are some serious match-ups between the heavyweights in the strong AL: Can the Angels follow their 100-win season by finally defeating the Red Sox? Are the Rays going to prove themselves as one of the best young teams ever, or will the streaky-Chi Sox roll them with their veteran poise? The answers lie within...

Los Angeles Angels v. Boston Red Sox
-- For the third time since 2004 these two clubs are battling in the shortened-divisional series. This go around however the Angels feel like they're due to get the upper hand, and certainly have it when it comes to starting pitching with three excellent and reliable starters (Santana, Saunders and Lackey). The addition of Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter (two of their top-3 bats to go alongside Vlad Guerrero) is also sure to improve the outcome for the Angels. Many are concerned with a lack of intensity from the Angels after slaughtering their abysmal division and waltzing into the playoffs, but these players know what on the line and Scioscia will have them ready to play.

The Red Sox are the defending champs and are playing like they yearn for another. There are incredibly balanced as exemplified by their regular-season numbers all atop the
league: hitting (3rd in RS/G, 5th VORP), pitching (3rd VORP) and defence (7th RA/G, 5th by efficiency). They are suffering from the wear-and-tear that goes along with (being old and) making the playoffs 5-of-6 seasons with Lowell and Drew below-top health, and their Ace Josh Beckett starting game three due to physical set-backs (they say oblique, I say his arm is still bothering him).

Other Notable players: K-Rod and Pap (the closers for each team will be pivotal to holding slim leads under pressure). The Managers: two of the finest in all of baseball will joust until the bitter end.

Grading The Edge:
Starters: Angels A+ , Red Sox A
Bullpen: Angels A , Red Sox B+
Bats: Angels A, Red Sox A
Winner: Angels in 5

-- The Angels are too talented and well-managed to blow it AGAIN vs. the Sox (who aren't as strong in the rotation as previous years w/o Beckett and Shilling).


Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox

-- this is scary series to pontificate on since there are two arguments that could easily be made:
1. Despite their inexperience, the Rays are plainly too solid to lose.
2. The veteran core of the White Sox just strung together 3 victories in succession under must-win circumstances, therefore they are apt win as the underdog.

The Rays are everything you think: young, confident, loaded with potential and well-built. They win with pitching (2nd VORP with Shields, Kazmir, Garza and Sonnanstine) and defense (1st by efficiency) and don't lose at home (21-3 down the stretch at Tropicana). The Chi-Sox on the other hand win with their veteran sluggers (most homers in the MLB thanks to Quentin (out), Thome and Dye).

When young pitchers face experienced hitters the convention wisdom might favour the latter. I am confident this series will contradict that school of thought with the spry Rays' talent and efficiency trumping the gritty effectiveness of the White Sox.

Other Notable players: Gavin Floyd (a young stud SP who could steal a win in Game 3 v. Matt Garza). BJ Upton (needs to avoid the inconsistency we've seen this year).

Grading The Edge:
Starters: Rays A+, White Sox B+
Bullpen: Rays A-, White Sox A-
Bats: Rays A , White Sox A
Winner: Rays in 5

-- I think the White Sox will chase a starter once and squeeze out another, but the Rays are too strong to go down.