Which team has what it takes to win it all? (cont.)
Chicago White Sox
Overall Secret Sauce rank: 6
Rank by category: Strikeout pitching (4), closer (6), defense (22)
What else to look for: The two biggest plays in Tuesday's tiebreaker might have been Ken Griffey's peg to A.J. Pierzynski to nail Michael Cuddyer at the plate and Brian Anderson's diving catch in center to end the game. But don't be fooled: This is not a good defensive team.
The White Sox have pitching -- it's what pushed them over the top in 2005, too -- but that iffy defense doesn't help it any. And their offense is heavily reliant on home runs. The Sox hit 235 of them, tops in baseball, made possible by playing in a hitter-friendly park. As the AL Central champs, though, the White Sox won't have home-field advantage at all in the first two rounds, unless they play the wild-card-winning Red Sox in the ALCS. And no team in the postseason -- not even the Dodgers -- has a worse road record than Chicago's 35-46 mark.
Tampa Bay Rays
Overall Secret Sauce rank: 7
Rank by category: Strikeout pitching (10), closer (21), defense (1)
What else to look for: The Rays have the best defense in the playoffs, according to BP's defensive efficiency ratings, and it might be even better because outfielder Carl Crawford, just back from injury, is expected to start Game 1. On the other hand the bullpen is a bit sketchy, with closer Troy Percival a big question mark, though nervous Rays fans might say that the team is better off with Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour or J.P. Howell in that role.
First time nerves? That's overrated. These guys have been through the pressure of an AL East race and barely blinked. And Joe Maddon, the manager, is familiar with the ins and outs of the postseason. He was Scioscia's bench coach with the Angels in the '02 Series.
Overall Secret Sauce rank: 11
Rank by category: Strikeout pitching (17), closer (13), defense (8)
What else to look for: There's no accounting for fatigue or injury, and the Brewers are facing both. Yovani Gallardo, making only his second start since a May knee surgery, gets the assignment for Game 1 on Wednesday. CC Sabathia made three straight starts on three days' rest in September. He'll make a fourth in Game 2. The bullpen is shaky.
The Brewers are a team that banks on hitting home runs -- they're third in the NL with 198 -- and they're last among NL playoff teams in OBP, at .325. They've also struck out more than any other NL playoff team. That's a dangerous combination.
Overall Secret Sauce rank: 12
Rank by category: Strikeout pitching (22), closer (1), defense (17)
What else to look for: The Phils topped the NL in home runs with 214, though that's mainly a function of smallish Citizens Bank Park. But they can steal bases anywhere -- they led the league -- and they hit when it counts (an .808 OPS with runners in scoring position, behind only the Cubs).
They've also been hot lately, winning their last three and seven of their last 10, though as the Cardinals in '06 showed us, being hot doesn't mean much once the postseason begins.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Overall Secret Sauce rank: 20
Rank by category: Strikeout pitching (12), closer (20), defense (20)
What else to look for: The Dodgers coasted to the NL West title, beating up on the rest of the West to get there. That's something we should take into consideration and not in a positive sense. Closer Takashi Saito has returned from injury, though he didn't pitch particularly well in six September appearances (4.76 ERA). Joe Torre probably will stick with Jonathan Broxton to end games, if given a chance.
Manny Ramirez has boosted the offense tremendously, but his defense in left field is still a concern, more so in spacious Dodger Stadium than in the smaller confines of Fenway Park. The Dodgers rank 15th in BP's defensive efficiency, worst among those on the NL side of the playoffs, though that was mostly without shortstop Rafael Furcal. He's back for the postseason.