Series title in the Cards
Start with big boppers Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Ryan Howard. Throw in aces Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Spice it up with wild card Troy Tulowitzki.
If this October seems more ripe than ever, there’s a reason: It is.
No newcomers, no impostors in these baseball playoffs. Everywhere you look, there’s a Derek Jeter, David Ortiz or Joe Torre. Every team except one finished at least 20 games over .500, most anyone capable of making a run to the World Series.
Here’s how it will come out, beginning with Tuesday’s tiebreaker for the AL Central title:
Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins
Figure on 20-year-old rookie Rick Porcello pitching well for the Tigers. For a while, anyway. Joe Mauer and the Twins faced him four times this season, including twice in late September, and will catch up to him. The Metrodome is a crazy, disconcerting place to play when it’s amped up — look for noise to be a factor. Minnesota went 7-2 against Detroit at the Dome this season, and home field again looms large. Scott Baker will get enough support from the Twins hitters and the bullpen to advance.
Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees
Biggest mismatch of the first round. CC Sabathia, A-Rod, Jeter and Mariano Rivera are set up perfectly to face a tired team at Yankee Stadium. No one in the AL Central features the power arms needed to stop New York. Count on CC Sabathia and A-Rod busting out of their postseason slumps. For now, that is. Yankees sweep in 3.
Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels
Boston has long been the Angels’ bugaboo in the playoffs. That ends here. They are deep at the plate and on the mound, setting a team record for runs and adding Scott Kazmir. The Angels seem to be on a mission, carrying on after the death of rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart. Emotion and focus are important, but having a wealth of talented players is what makes a difference on the field. The Red Sox are beatable — not having Beckett at his best hurts. Angels in 4.
St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers
A home run derby between Pujols and Ramirez? That might be the Dodgers’ best chance. LA lefties Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw won’t be able to get past Pujols — and if they pitch around him, Matt Holliday will make them pay. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright put St. Louis in a commanding position on the mound. Cardinals in 4.
Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies
In 2007, the streaking, wild-card Rockies swept the Phillies. This round, Howard & Co. get even. The World Series champions boast an AL-style scary lineup, boosted by Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth. Lefties Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will shut down Tulowitzki and the middle of Colorado’s order. Brad Lidge and Philadelphia’s bullpen? OK, that’s beyond dicey. Should make for some adventuresome endings. Phillies in 4.
AL championship series: Angels at Yankees
No team in baseball, not even Boston, bedevils the Yankees like the Angels. Manager Mike Scioscia understands how important it is to put pressure on New York — that means running aggressively on the bases, bunting, putting the ball in play. The Angels will expose the Yankees’ weaknesses on the defensive side, look for a crucial line drive to elude Nick Swisher in right field. Lackey and Kazmir often give New York trouble, and this might be where Sabathia and jittery A.J. Burnett unravel. The Yankees’ 103 overall wins, 51 comebacks and 15 walk-off victories are palpable, but so are the pressures that will quickly accumulate if they don’t start fast. Angels in 6.
NL championship series: Cardinals at Phillies
Tasty series, starring Pujols and Howard side-by-side. Carpenter and Wainwright give St. Louis the edge early on. Ryan Franklin, getting his first featured twirl, is better than whoever closes for the Phillies. Cardinals went 1-4 vs. Philadelphia this season and gave up a lot of runs, but their arms are locked in now. Phillies really need Jimmy Rollins to flash his former MVP form. A key player: Joel Pineiro, whose sinkers always do well against the Phils. Cardinals in 6.
World Series: Cardinals at Angels
Smart, deep teams with a lot of momentum match up. So who will be this year’s Mr. November? Could be Vladimir Guerrero, still waiting to produce the signature hit of an outstanding career. Scioscia showed in the 2002 World Series against the Giants that he would walk Barry Bonds every time in a big spot — once Pujols takes a stroll, that’ll leave it up to Holliday, and he’s primed to deliver. Also look for John Smoltz to resurrect his role as Mr. Big Game Pitcher, maybe coming out of the St. Louis bullpen to get a key out. Nice, tight series. Cardinals in 6.