American League Playoff Preview

Play ball! Forget football--October is playoff time. This year the Yankees are not the favorites to win it all—that honor goes to the Philadelphia Phillies. But first, a preview of the American League playoffs.

Tampa Rays vs. Texas Rangers:

Which Rays team will show up? They won 96 games—no small feat—but they did so by interspersing long winning streaks with ones in which they couldn’t hit an elephant with a bus. I wouldn’t be surprised if they caught fire and won the Series but, then again, three and done isn’t out of the question.

The offense is an all-or-nothing problem for the Rays. Once one gets past the magnificent Carl Crawford and the solid Evan Longoria, it’s a series of question marks. B.J. Upton and his .237 average are quickly inviting a “bust” label, and Carlos Pena’s 28 dingers do not compensate for a .196 batting average. This team can be dominated by good pitching. Of course, the Rays can pitch too. David Price is a Cy Young candidate and Matt Garza had a solid year. If they get to the closer, no one had a better year than Rafael Soriano. Niemann, Davis, and Shields struggled at times, as did everyone in the bullpen not named Soriano.

They’d all better bring their A-game because the Rangers can crush the ball. If Josh Hamilton had stayed healthy, he’d be the MVP. Even if he’s half speed there’s Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, Vlad Guerrero, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, and a supporting cast of very good bats. If Cliff Lee continues his postseason mastery, C. J. Wilson steps up, and they get a good game out of anyone else, the Rangers will break Floridian hearts. I think the Rays would have a better chance of prevailing in a seven game series, but because it’s only best of five…

Prediction: Texas in four games.

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

The Yankees won’t be favored because of their late season swoon. The open question is whether they were coasting and recuperating or succumbing to the ravages of age.

If Justin Morneau was on the roster I’d be more optimistic about the Twins’ chances. Without him there is the magnificent Joe Mauer, the ageless Jim Thome, and decent-but-not-fearsome sticks. In other words, you can pitch around the Twins. How far the Twins go rests on the choke-prone right shoulder of Carl Pavano and the surgically repaired left arm of Francisco Liriano. The Yankees dearly want to cream “Carla,” as he was dubbed in the Bronx, and they easily handled Liriano when they faced him. The rest of the staff is number four guys who had good years: Slowey, Duensing, Baker… The Twins have the home field advantage, but I still think they lack the horses to send the Yankees home early.

They may be old, but then again, they may have been playing rope-a-dope. Jeter’s done, right? Did anyone notice he raised his average 12 points in the last three weeks? Would you bet the farm against him in the postseason? Posada may be in decline and Curtis Granderson hasn’t lived up to his billing, but is there a pitcher who doesn’t quake at the prospect of facing Texeira, A-Rod, and MVP candidate Robinson Cano? Toss in the underrated Nick Swisher, the fleet-footed Brent Gardner, and a much-improved bench and the Yankees are scary. Will they dispatch the Twins? It all boils down to whether A.J. Burnett is Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, and whether Andy Petitte can shake off the rust. The Twins have nobody as good as C. C. Sabathia. Get to the Yankees bullpen before the seventh and you can beat them—otherwise it’s Wood, Rivera, and cue “New York, New York…”

Prediction: Yankees in five.

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