MLB Divisional Round Disparity Could Not Have Been More Obvious
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Playoff baseball has never been known for it’s relative disparity, but it’s somewhat fitting that every team that made it to the LCS had it’s playoff ticket pretty much punched by the end of July.
And for the teams who were in September playoff races? 0-3 for the Red Sox, the Twins and the Rockies.
But it was the most intriguing playoff matchup where the disparity was the most obvious: the Dodgers and the Cardinals. The Cardinals actually entered the series as a slight favorite in the eyes of vegas, but after the Dodgers managed to beat Chris Carpenter in Game 1, and did it convincingly, there was little doubt who the better team was.
At it’s very core, playoff baseball comes down to pitching matchups. Not just pitching matchups; the quality of a team’s defense and hitting plays a major role in the story of every World Champion. But for the teams who get eliminated short of the point that they expected to get to, you can usually boil the series down to the single game where a team entered with a pitching advantage, and left with a loss. When the Cardinals sent Carpenter and Adam Wainwright to the mound in back to back games and lost them both, even their most die-hard fans realized that they weren’t going to be able to send it back.
For the Minnesota Twins, they understood they were overmatched in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium. But they were a team that had to feel like they could rebound the following game with Nick Blackburn pitching against the streaky A.J. Burnett. And when the game came down to the ninth inning with Joe Nathan on the mound, it was a virtual certainty that the series would shift to Minneapolis in a 1-1 tie. Only, the middle of the Yankee lineup is unlike anything Nathan gets to face in the AL Central. In just under two innings of work, the Bronx Bombers ousted Nathan, and saddled him and his team with a crushing defeat.
The Colorado Rockies did win the pitching matchup they needed to, when Aaron Cook and staff narrowly outdueled Cole Hamels and staff. But they also knew they needed to rely on 27 year old Jason Hammel to win against J.A. Happ. But Hammel, like Happ, could only last 3 innings and change, and that’s an advantage to the better team: the Phillies. It didn’t help matters that the Phillies teed off on Rockies closer Huston Street in consecutive games while Phillies closer Brad Lidge matched wits with his best stuff.
But it’s the California Angels of Los Angeles of Anaheim that have the best one-two punch right now. Going into the series, I would have said that Boston held a pitching advantage, and consequently a small advantage in the series. But with John Lackey and Jered Weaver at their best right now, I don’t think anyone is going to beat the Angels the rest of the year. Well, maybe in a game. But not in a series.
The one flaw in the Angels’ armour appears to be the bullpen, but even that appears to be simply better right now than it was in the regular season. There’s no questioning the talent of the lineup, which scored more runs since the all-star break than it did prior to it.
I think Cliff Lee will drive the Phillies past the Dodgers in the NLCS, but I don’t think they’ll be a match for the Angels, who are the most dangerous team in baseball right now, and consequently, my (belated) World Series pick.