Baseball's Final Four ready to get underway

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After four ho-hum division series matchups, I can't remember anticipating a pair of League Championship Series' as much as I am looking forward to these two.

In the National League you have Philadelphia and Los Angeles, two franchises that have not won anything in a long time. Philly, of course, has just one title in well over 100 years of existence, and that came back in 1980, while LA hasn't popped the champagne since 1988.

I picked Philadelphia to come out of the NL before the postseason began, so I have to stay with that, but I think they will have their hands full.

Normally, Philly's homer-happy lineup feasts on righties, but Dodgers ace Derek Lowe has kept them in the park over the course of his career. Lowe could start Games 1, 4 and 7. I think he will be all right if he keeps that sinker down, but did I miss the memo where he all of sudden became Bob Gibson?

He is no way a sure thing. People giving the Dodgers the advantage in Game 1 because of him need to have their heads examined. He is still Derek Lowe. I will take Cole Hamels over him 100 times out of 100.

Of course, though, for Philly to do anything, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have to start hitting.

After going 2-for-11 in last year's sweep at the hands of the Rockies, Utley has again seen his bat go silent, managing just two hits in 15 at-bats against the Milwaukee Brewers. Supposedly he is dealing with a hip injury.

The Dodgers could be the perfect team for Utley to break out against. He batted .355 with two homers against the Dodgers this year, and is .339 lifetime against them for his career.

Howard, meanwhile, had another MVP campaign, basically strapping the Phils to his back in September. But once again, he is struggling in October, as Howard managed just two hits in 11 at-bats against the Brewers.

Philly's biggest problem will be trying to slow down the red-hot bat of Manny Ramirez, who hit .500 in his team's sweep of the Cubs with a pair of (admittedly meaningless) home runs and three RBI. He also scored five times.

Manny is usually Manny this time of the year. He thrives in the LCS, where he is a lifetime .319 hitter with 10 home runs and 23 RBI in 39 games. In Boston's seven-game LCS win a year ago, ManRam hit .409 with a pair of home runs and 10 RBI.

The thing I am looking forward to the most in this series is a late-inning encounter between Ramirez and Phillies closer Brad Lidge. Lidge has still not blown a save all season, but he has recently come very close. Rarely does he make things easy on himself, but until he blows one, I guess you can't complain.

By the way, should such a matchup occur, what is the over/under on replays of Albert Pujols' mammoth homer off Lidge in the 2005 NLCS?

This is going to be a great series. I like the Phillies in six.

Over in the American League it should be just as exciting, as the amazing Tampa Bay Rays continue their first-ever postseason run against the playoff- tested and defending world champion Boston Red Sox.

Like the Phillies, I picked the Red Sox to come out of the AL before the playoffs began. But, as I have been known to do from time to time, I am going to take that one back.

I didn't like the way Josh Beckett looked in Game 3. People in Boston are saying that it was just rust and he was fine, but I am not so sure. Then again, if he is healthy and is his normal October-self, this series may not be as competitive as people think.

Tampa's lineup is going to make Daisuke Matsuzaka work in Game 1. Has there ever been a worse 18-game winner than Dice-K? He walks the park and never gets out of the sixth inning. Now if the Red Sox have to go to the bullpen early in Game 1, and if Beckett is not Beckett in Game 2, Boston is going to be in real trouble.

Boston not having Mike Lowell for this series is also going to hurt a lineup that, aside from Jason Bay, lacked punch. Like the Phils with Utley and Howard, the Red Sox are going to need David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia's bats to come alive.

You almost got the feeling that the Angels were defeated before they even took the field against the Red Sox. The upstart Rays are not going to be intimidated. They don't know any better.

It is hard to put homefield advantage and the Tampa Bay Rays in the same sentence, considering the fact that they played before a nearly empty Tropicana Field for the better part of the season.

But despite all that, the Rays still won a major league-best 57 games in St. Pete, and the Red Sox lost in eight of their nine visits. So, with a possibility of four games at home, that is a huge advantage.

The cowbells and the mohawks are a little lame, but I have to give credit to the Rays fans so far this postseason. They have filled the seats, and even had to employ a lottery system for ALCS and possible World Series tickets.

I really think this series could go either way, but in the end I will go with the team with homefield advantage.



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