American League Division Series Predictions
OAKLAND VS. MINNESOTA
Oakland: If anyone knows the saying “Don’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched,” it is without a doubt the Oakland Athletics. In recent playoff memory, the A’s have been the team with the biggest choke record. Nine times in their past playoff runs, they have been within one victory of sealing a second-round appearance, but managed to blow the series lead. To fuel the flames, the A’s lost by one run to the Twins during game five of the 2002 ALDS. Yes, there is post-season bad blood between these two teams.
While they have not been able to maintain their winning composure into October, year in and year out Oakland still is the hottest team to enter fall play. While history is not on its side, a recent hot streak coupled with a first game victory over current Cy Young candidate Johan Santana is. But like I have already stated, a first-round advantage means nothing to this team.
But 2006 is different. While I am fully aware that he is merely a designated hitter, Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas is making a big campaign push for the 2006 Most Valuable Player and is exactly the kind of player Oakland has been missing from its lineup in order to advance into the depths of October. He hits screaming home runs and most of them this season have been in clutch situations, securing a win for the A’s.
Throw in five – almost six – time gold glove winner Eric Chavez, Milton Bradley, Jason Kendall and if pitching aces Barry Zito, Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza are all in-tune, this team has some serious defense to compensate for its dismal offensive numbers with runners in scoring position.
Minnesota: Again, history can back this team up as it has faced the A’s in a prior October match up. The Twins have the patience to pace themselves and pull out the victor. They were the underdog all season in their division and pulled off one of the greatest upsets over the once untouchable Detroit Tigers. Anyone who can come out on top of the Tigers in the Central division certainly deserves a spot in the playoffs. If they can maintain the same patience displayed in the second half of the season, the Twins will be able to rebound off of their first game loss to challenge Oakland’s postseason run.
A Twins analysis absolutely cannot overlook the home field advantage. The Metrodome is hands down the most inhospitable field in all of baseball to visiting clubs. At 54-27, the Twins’ home record is obscene; it is the best in all of Major League Baseball by a long shot. If the series comes down to the fifth final game, at least the Twins have the luxury of playing in their own ‘Dome.
Dr. Jekyll to the A’s Mr. Hyde, Minnesota has some of the best offensive numbers in baseball. While any hopes of an early advantage behind starter Santana have vanished, promise is still to be found in both the Twins’ offense – thanks to Joe Mauer’s .347 batting average and Justin Morneau’s .321 – and substantial bullpen depth.
My pick is the A’s in five. It is going to be an ugly battle, but this team is due and it is more well-rounded than the last Oakland squad to fall in the first round.
DETROIT VS. NEW YORK
Detroit: Three seasons ago, the Tigers almost laid claim to the worst record in baseball’s history. If that is not enough motivation to get these guys past the first round – Detroit’s first postseason appearance in 19 years – then I do not know what is.
Throw in the lowest earned run average in the majors and the Tigers just might have a shot against Goliath. Seasoned hurlers like Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers have the potential to lead the younger pitchers into a second round appearance.
At the backbone of this team’s dazzling 3.85 ERA is Ivan Rodriguez. He is one of the toughest guys in baseball – ESPN keeps replaying the game where he mouthed off to an umpire and was subsequently ejected – and his grit is the embodiment of what this team needs to top the Yankee’s postseason dynasty. Offensively he is not too shabby either, completing the regular season at an even .300 batting average.
But after a Game #1 bombardment in the Bronx, this team will need to rely heavily on starting pitching to get back into the groove and out of the three-game losing streak carrying over from the regular season.
New York: Only three shy from 100 wins, the Yankees shared the boasting rights to the best finish in 2006 with their national league neighbors at 97-65. In postseason history, the Yankees are the owners of the most number of World Series rings with 26, since their first appearance in 1921. No team even comes close to this kind of October dominance. Every year, the Yankees make it to the playoffs and tend to move on to the second round, so it will not be a surprise to anybody if this trend continues.
It also does not do much harm for the superstar freak show to continue in the Yankee’s favor as Derek Jeter somehow managed to go a perfect five-for-five at the plate last night in game one. One must wonder whether or not New York sold its soul to the devil in return for these spectacular outings. Tally another win in the Yankees’ extensive list of October wins.
In just about every category, the Yankees have the Tigers outnumbered. If fans are on a first-name basis with any team, it is definitely this one: Derek, Mariano, Jorge, Alex, Johnny and Gary. A better lineup cannot be found on any other team, active or not, in baseball right now. Almost all of New York’s lineup has extensive playoff experience to bring into 2006. The only surprise here is why a team with this much talent and money has not been able to scrape out a World Series victory in the last five years.
The Yankees have the kind of power numbers and dominant record to manhandle a team that walked away from its last 50 regular season games with only 21 wins.
My pick is a sweep in Motor City. For a team that once was hailed to be 40 games over .500 – statistically it was more like 20, but who is counting – winning the wild card is quite possibly the biggest slap in the face. I do not see the glory of the midseason Tigers continuing into October.
American League Championship Series: Oakland vs. New York