Let's get the playoff party started
By Chris Ruddick
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Well, after 162 games, I mean 163, we are finally ready to get the MLB playoffs started.
In the American League we have the usual suspects, although the New York Yankees are the only team in this year's postseason that was there a year ago. Of course, Boston and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are no strangers to baseball in October.
Cleveland, meanwhile, is back in the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Over in the National League we have a few new faces as Colorado and Philadelphia are both back in the postseason for the first time in 12 and 14 years, respectively. Chicago was in the NLCS in 2003, but is still searching for its first World Series title since 1908, while the young Arizona Diamondbacks are playing in the postseason for the fourth time in their 10- year history.
Let's take a look at how I see the first round panning out:
Carlos Zambrano will try to lead the Cubs to the World Series.
ROCKIES VS. PHILLIES: Working in the outskirts of Philadelphia, I have to admit I have caught a little Phillies fever. They are a hard bunch to root against. Although the Rockies are as hot as can be, surprisingly enough, the Phillies' pitching is what's going to get them by in this series. There are not many teams Philadelphia has an advantage over in the starting pitching department, but Colorado is one of them. You know both teams are going to hit, but I think Philly's starters are going to pitch just a little better than their counterparts to advance.
PHILLIES IN FOUR
CUBS VS. D'BACKS: There aren't too many Cubs fans alive that saw the team win their last world championship way back in 1908. After watching the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox get the job done in recent years, Cubs fans are wondering if this is their year. They are up against a really young Diamondbacks team that will likely be a postseason staple for years to come. The Cubs are littered with players that have been to the postseason, not to mention a manager that has two titles as a player and one as a skipper under his belt. Brandon Webb is awesome, but the Cubs' experience will get them by here, barely.
CUBS IN FIVE
ANGELS VS. RED SOX: When I wrote my preview for this series I picked the Red Sox to win in five games. That was before I found out that Gary Matthews Jr. would be left off the roster and that Vladimir Guerrero would be relegated to DH duties. I knew Guerrero's triceps was bothering him, but I expected him to play in the field. He is still hurting and that is obvious. Anaheim is just too banged up. The Red Sox are going to steamroll their way through this series. John Lackey has struggled his entire career against the Red Sox and that trend will continue here. Dice-K in Game 2 will be the key to a sweep. If he wins there is no doubt in my mind that Curt Schilling will deliver the brooms for Red Sox Nation in Anaheim in Game 3.
RED SOX IN THREE
YANKEES VS. INDIANS: Everyone is going to be watching this series to see how Alex Rodriguez does. As good of a regular season as he had, he of all people knows his season will be judged in the next couple of weeks. I expect A-Rod to come up big. He is a man on a mission at this point. Not to mention he hit six homers in six games against the Tribe this season. The Yankees dominated the Tribe in their six regular season contests, winning all six by a combined 49-17 score. Of course, they did not face Cy Young candidate C.C. Sabathia in any of those games. But will he be a factor in this series? In eight lifetime matchups with the Yanks he is 1-7 with an ERA higher than 8.00. Plus I don't like Cleveland's bullpen situation. Closer Joe Borowski is atrocious, and at some point in this series, he is going to be put to the test against the potent Yankees' lineup. My guess is he comes up small.
YANKEES IN FOUR
HANDING OUT SOME HARDWARE
AL MVP: ALEX RODRIGUEZ
Rodriguez looked like a man on a mission in spring training and he carried it into the regular season, putting together the best offensive campaign of his incredible major league career. A-Rod led the league in HR (54) and RBI (56), and a ton of other offensive categories, while coming through in the clutch countless times for the Yankees this season. Of course, Rodriguez's season will be judged on what he does in the postseason, but regardless of what happens there, he is the hands down MVP of the American League this season.
Honorable Mention: Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki
AL CY YOUNG: JOSH BECKETT
Beckett had a so-so season for the Red Sox in 2006. This year he was phenomenal, as he went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA. Beckett, the only 20-game winner in the AL, became the ace the Red Sox needed, as Curt Schilling battled injuries and Daisuke Matsuzaka tried to adjust to pitching in the big leagues.
Honorable Mention: C.C. Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, John Lackey
AL ROOKIE OF YEAR: DUSTIN PEDROIA
In a lineup that features Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, it is easy to get overlooked. But, second baseman Pedroia was every bit as important to that devastating lineup as the two big bashers. Setting the table all season, Pedroia hit .317 with 86 runs scored playing in the pressure-packed cross- hairs of Red Sox Nation, while playing a flawless second base.
Honorable Mention: Brian Bannister, Hideki Okajima
NL MVP: JIMMY ROLLINS
I have gone back-and-forth on this award for the past three weeks, and each week I have a different winner. A few weeks ago I had David Wright winning the award, but I saw him hit into so many rally-killing double plays over the course of the Mets collapse that I have taken him out of the mix. Prince Fielder pretty much carried the Milwaukee Brewers on his back the final couple of weeks, but his team came up short. Colorado' Matt Holliday had a tremendous season, winning not only the batting title but the RBI crown as well. But my pick is hands-down Philadelphia shortstop Rollins, who had one of the best offensive seasons of all-time. Unfortunately for him, he is going to split votes with teammates Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and will likely come up short when the big award is announced. For these purposes, though, Rollins is the MVP. He has been the best player in the league from start to finish.
Honorable Mention: Prince Fielder, Chase Utley, Matt Holliday
NL CY YOUNG: JAKE PEAVY
This was about as easy a pick as there was in the bunch, as the right-hander became just the third NL pitcher since 1985 to win pitching's triple crown. People in San Diego have been waiting for Peavy to put it all together and this was the year that he did it, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. He will probably get some consideration for the MVP award as well.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Webb
NL ROOKIE OF YEAR: TROY TULOWITZKI
Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun seemed to be a lock for this award at the All-Star break. But Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki distinguished himself in the second half, as he helped lead the Rockies to their first playoff berth since 1995. While Braun's offensive numbers are better (.324, 34 HR, 97 RBI), what separates Tulowitzki is his glove. He is no stiff with the bat either (.291, 24 HR, 99 RBI, 104 runs), but he is just head-and-shoulders better than Braun defensively, while playing a tougher position in the field to boot.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Braun
INTERSTING NOTE OF THE WEEK
The Colorado Rockies not only have Peyton Manning's backup quarterback at Tennessee on its roster (Todd Helton), but they also have Eli Manning's backup from Ole Miss (Seth Smith).
Of course, check out my blog throughout the postseason at http://ruddickmlbblog.blogspot.com/, as I will be updating it daily throughout the entire postseason.