Monday, October 09, 2006

League Championship Series Preview

Haven't you guys won a Division Series before?
Act like you been there, boys.

The two League Championship Series are set as the Cards became the last team into the final four with their Game 4 defeat of San Diego Sunday night; so much for hot teams winning in the postseason, huh? The Dodgers, Stanks, Padres and Twins were hotter than Dancing with the Stars in the final month, whereas the Cards, Mets and Tigers were as cold as a Nancy Grace glare. The lone exception to this bizarro rule is the A's, who have been and continue to be hot since their patented post-All Star surge.

So the LCS get started tomorrow night. The American League kicks things off on Tuesday, followed by both series on Wednesday. you know what that means- doubled-up game coverage on FOX's red-headed stepsister, FX. Nice of FOX to limit the audience of one series to about 1 million homes. What's so hard about doing the 'every other night' thing? Jeez.

Anyway, here my breakdown of each series. As usual you can take these predictions with a grain silo of salt (obviously by my stellar 0-4 LDS calls).


Oakland A's vs. Detroit Tigers

Game 1 @ Detroit
Barry Zito (16-10, 3.83; 1-0, 1.13 ALDS)
Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84; 0-1, 11.12 ALDS)

This series has all the makings of a hard-fought, pitching-dominant affair between 2 evenly matched teams both on the mound and at the plate.
While Detroit led the ML in ERA ( 3.84) the A's weren't too far behind at 7th (4.21.) Both were Top 10 in runs scored in the AL (DET-5th, OAK-9th), and while the Tigers hit more home runs (203-175), the A's made 22 fewer errors (84-106.)

So where is the edge in the series? Well for starters, Oakland's Zito has a decided advantage
over his playoff newbie counterpart Robertson. While Zito has a Cy Young, 4 ALDS', 2 All Star Games and 102 career wins under his belt, Robertson has made 1 postseason start (the Tigers 8-4 Gm1 spanking by the Stanks) and has a 33-42 career record in 3+ seasons. Zito out dueled Minnesota's ace Johan Cy-tana in Game 1 of that series with 8 innings of 4-hit, 1-run ball, providing the springboard for Oakland's series win, while Robertson got battered like a pinata in his Bronx start: 5.2 IP, 12 hits & 7 ERs.

The rest of the pitching matchups are decidedly in favor of the Tigers, though:
GM2: Loaiza (11-9, 4.89; 0-0, 3.60) vs. Verlander (17-9, 3.63; 0-0, 5.06)
GM3: Haren (14-13, 4.12;1-0, 3.00) vs. Cameraman Kenny (17-8, 3.84; 1-0, 0.00)
GM4: Harden (4-0, 4.24) vs. Bonderman (14-8, 4.04; 1-0, 2.16)
Detroit also has one of the best bullys in the league, led by hard-throwing (102 mph) rookie Joel Zumaya and clutch veteran closer Todd Jones (37 saves.) Hence the superior pitching statistics. EDGE: Detroit

As for the batters Detroit hit a lot more home runs than most observers expected playing in
spacious Comerica Park. Four players smacked over 20 (Monroe, Inge, Thames, Mags) while 2 others had 19 (Grandy & Carlos Guillen.) True their OBP was terrible and their leader in walks had only 71 (Guillen), but that's the way these new Tigers play- no more Trammell Small Ball for Leyland's Boys of Thunder.
Oakland meanwhile had 2 guys jack over 30 bombs (Big Hurt 2.0, 39 & Nick Swisher, 35), but the production dropped off from there. Always injured but ever-reliable 3B Eric Chavez fell to 22 HRs & 72 ribbies. Ironically their 2 best hitters for average are Jay Payton, who only hit 10 HRs, and Jason Kendall, a catcher who once nearly ripped his foot off of his leg. In other words it's a "wait for Big Frank and Swisher to get up" offensive philosophy.
EDGE: Detroit

As for the intangibles & managers, Detroit's Leyland is a top candidate for Manager of the Year and did nothing to detract from that status when he out-coached Joe Torre in the ALDS, likely leading to Torre's ouster from New York. He also won a title with the Marlins in '97 , led the early 90's Pirates to 2 straight NLCS, and has managed over 15 years & 2,300 games. Oakland's Ken Macha has only managed for 4 seasons after taking over from mentor Art Howe and has a 5-3 postseason record. But the A's have been to this dance many times before and hold a decided advantage in experience factor and not getting caught up in the hype like some of the Tiger cubs will. It will be up to vets like Rogers, Pudge-less Rodriguez and Mags to keep the kiddies like Granderson, all the starters & half the pen in check.

So it comes down to a pretty even series when you break it down. Two solid staffs that play smart, pop some homers and rely on superior pitching to win the game. I look for it to be a 6 0r 7 game series, and I like Detroit, with their great motivator manager and city full of karma to edge out perennial bridesmaid Oakland.
MY PICK: Detroit in 6


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