In the first round, I correctly called 3 of the winners (missing Philly), and even called Tampa Bay’s win in the correct number of games. Let’s see how I do this round.
NLCS: Philadelphia vs. Los Angeles
Both teams looked impressive in round one, and showed enough to make you think they could easily win the NLCS.
For Philadelphia, they need to do two things. First, their low-ball hitters have to get to the Dodgers’ low-ball pitchers.
Second, they need a good effort out of their rotation. Cole Hamels needs to pitch like the ace he is, Brett Myers needs to be closer to the pitcher he was in Game 2 of the NLDS than the one he was in his last two regular season starts, and Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton need to give them quality starts. Philly has a deep bullpen, which unlike the Dodgers’ one, is not banged up. Get into the 6th or 7th inning tied or leading, and the Phils have good odds. Though I still don’t trust Brad Lidge to not blow a save at a critical time.
For Los Angeles, they need Raffy Furcal and Manny to keep hitting. And if the Phils pitch around Manny, they need guys like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to step up. Citizens Bank is a hitters park, and they could knock around a pitcher like Myers in Game 2 if they get some good at bats. They need Broxton or Saito, whoever closes, to be on the mark. Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley need to pitch well in Games 1 and 2. If they can split or win both, the Dodgers have an advantage going home.
I’m giving this one to the Dodgers in 5. I think Hamels wins Game 1 then the Dodgers come storming back. They have that team of destiny look, and between strong pitching, good hitting, and the expertise of Joe Torre on the bench, they’re a little above the Phils. Most, if not all the games will be close in score, but the Dodgers will wrap it up at home.
ALCS: Tampa Bay vs. Boston
I’m going to pick the Red Sox in 7, because I have to. I have no doubt this will be a hard fought series that will go at least 6 games, if not 7. And if the Rays don’t get over the hump and make the World Series this year, they almost certainly will in ’09 or ’10.
The Rays took the season series 10-8, and the teams seem pretty even. Boston’s starting pitching probably has a slight edge (at least 1-3), but the Rays bullpen is deeper. The lineups and defense are pretty even, possibly tipping to Tampa Bay now that Mike Lowell is out.
The key for Boston is to get ahead early, and get the pitch count of the youngsters like Kazmir and Garza up so they don’t go much if any past the 5th inning. The middle relief for the Rays is a huge advantage, so if the Rays can get an early lead or keep it even they’ll be in good shape. They need Pena and Crawford to stay healthy and productive, and for their kids to relax and just play ball. Joe Maddon will have them ready to go and this will be a heck of a series. But Boston knows how to win, and they’re getting a boost from youngsters like Justin Masterson and my boy Jed Lowrie.
In the end, loyalties say Sox in 7, while the Rays immediately become everyone’s pick to win in 2009.