Ranking the playoff teams
Yanks, Red Sox, D-Backs have upper hand; Cubs last
Posted: Wednesday October 3, 2007 11:28AM; Updated: Wednesday October 3, 2007 1:56PM
Also in this column:
They tell us the postseason is a "crapshoot.'' That's what the losers always say after they're out, anyway. But consider this: The power-packed, resurgent Yankees are 7 1/2 games better than everyone else since May 29 -- yes, even 7 1/2 better than the unstoppable Rockies since that day -- and it's probably foolish to pick against baseball's richest team.
The Yankees, who finished the season on a 73-39 run, certainly have had their share of playoff difficulties this century. From their multiple pitching blowups against the Angels in 2002 to Joe Torre's inexplicable bullpen call for Jeff Weaver in '03 (though Weaver became a postseason star for St. Louis last year) to their no-show against Motown last year, they have laid six consecutive October eggs. So you could say that they're due, too.
The Yankees, by the way, are the only team back from last year's postseason. But despite their great four-month run, all eight teams have their considerable strengths and ample reason to hope. Yes, even the star-crossed Cubbies could win it all -- though I wouldn't bet too heavily on them unless you are absolutely sure of Steve Bartman's whereabouts.
I'm calling a World Series of Yankees over D-Backs. Here's how I rank the postseason teams, one through eight ...
1) Yankees. After their slow start they now appear to have a roster befitting their $200 million payroll. But it's not just the usual veteran stars; they also have rookie relief ace Joba Chamberlain, a not-so-secret weapon that has sparked a star-studded team (a la K-Rod in '02, Bobby Jenks in '05 and Adam Wainwright in '06 -- rookie relievers who played major roles in championships). Beyond that, the Yankees have a bit of luck, too. They may miss the Angels entirely after L.A. of Anaheim eased its way to the finish line. Instead New York drew the Yankee-phobic Indians in Round One, a major blessing. While Torre's troops seemingly can't beat the Angels, the Indians -- even in a year in which they won more games than the Yankees -- lost all six head-to-head meetings by scores of 10-3, 9-2, 8-6, 6-1, 11-2 and 5-3. Cleveland ace and Cy Young favorite C.C. Sabathia, who could pitch twice in the Division Series, has one career win over the Yankees (he's 1-7 lifetime against them, though he hasn't faced them since 2004). Odds to win it all: 5-2 .
2) Red Sox. They have all the ingredients to win for the second time in 89 years, including the best closer in baseball, a superb middle of the order now that Manny Ramirez is back and perhaps the best starting pitching of anyone. It's a good enough team to leave Tim Wakefield, 17-game winner with an ailing back, off the first-round roster. Like the Yankees, the Sox also have an advantage over their first-round opponent. Boston has lorded over the Angels in the postseason (remember Dave Henderson?). Plus these Red Sox don't usually beat themselves (their defense is superior everywhere but left field and shortstop). All in all, a well put-together team. Odds: 3-1.
3) Diamondbacks. With 90 wins, the D-Backs set the record for fewest victories for the top team in a league since the advent of the 162-game schedule. Hardly anyone thought they'd get this far (OK, I'll take my bow now; before the season I had D-Backs vs. Tigers in the World Series). There's something about them. Like the other National League teams that are in, they earned it with a strong finish (15-9 in September, not counting the two throwaway games at the end against Colorado). Some will call them lucky, but their unexpectedly strong relief corps gives them hope in close games, and that's not about luck. They won what was by far the NL's toughest division, and, for what it's worth, keep this in mind if they advance: They were 4-2 vs. the Cubs and 5-1 vs. Philly. Odds: 8-1
4) Rockies. They are quite obviously baseball's hottest team, having won 14 of 15 coming in, including several in hard-to-believe fashion. The clincher came in the tiebreaker, when they beat certain Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and Hall-of-Famer-to-be Trevor Hoffman. They have a superb young nucleus of hitters, led by MVP candidate Matt Holliday (it's going to be either him or Philly's Jimmy Rollins if there's any justice) and Troy (notice the ROY in that first name, for Rookie of the Year) Tulowitzki, who has that Derek Jeter cool-as-ice thing going for him, not to mention a defense that doesn't beat itself, as evidenced by a league-low 68 errors. They'll start with Jeff Francis, who's an emerging star, but they'll depend on talented youngsters Franklin Morales and Ubaldo Jimenez, who just got to the majors. Francis got rocked by their first-round foe, the Phils, a couple weeks ago and Philly's probable starting lineup is 28-for-58 against him lifetime, which spurred Francis to say, "That lineup, it doesn't seem like there's a break.'' Still, the Rocks have too much good karma going to count them out. Odds: 10-1.
5) Phillies. They are hot (13-4 in their last 17 games) and well-built for the playoffs. The infuriating Adam Eaton was omitted from the initial playoff roster, bolstering it with his absence. So if the rotation looked messy several weeks ago, it stacks up nicely now. If every postseason player was put into a hopper and all the teams redrafted, I'm not sure Phillies ace Cole Hamels wouldn't be the first player picked. Kyle Kendrick, who wasn't even in spring training with the team, shows no fear. And Jamie Moyer is too old for fear. They also have MVP candidate Rollins leading them, which isn't a bad way to start. Odds: 11-1.