Baseball's final four: Which team has the right stuff?
What's strange about baseball's final four is that there's one surprise entrant, and it's definitely not the previously perennially pathetic Tampa Bay Rays. No, the Rays played all year like they belonged with the best. And they do.
The shocker squad is the Dodgers, who spent the bulk of the season as a mediocre team in baseball's least impressive division yet emerged as a Cubbie conqueror in Round 1, thanks to Manny Ramirez and a lot more. The Dodgers now must be viewed as dangerous coming off their dismantling of the Cubs, who were the best team in the National League all year.
Both semifinal matchups have the potential to be seven-game specials after a dud of a division series round (Angels-Red Sox was the only series that really got interesting, but it needed one more game to really be considered a classic).
This round should be different. These two confrontations look like tossups. I see seven games times two. "Two classics,'' is the way baseball people are viewing this.
After much deliberation, thought and consideration, the guess here is that the Ramirez-led Dodgers squeak by the phabulous Phillies to meet the battle-tested and clutch, yet hobbling, Red Sox in the World Series.
Maybe it's a bit of wishful thinking for that delicious "Manny goes back to Boston'' storyline (plus Derek Lowe, Nomar Garciaparra and, to a lesser degree, Joe Torre), but that's the way I see it. At the moment, anyway.
Here's my assessment of the final four ...
Boston Red Sox
They aren't the Yankees of the late '90s -- at least not yet. Two more titles will give them four since 2004, matching their rivals' output from 1996-2000, and that possibility certainly shouldn't be discounted. Like those Yankees, these Red Sox have excellent starting pitching, a terrific anchor at the end of the pen and a band of scrappy win-at-all-costs players at their core. They didn't let their current diminished state deter them against a very strong Angels team. Tough to pick against them.
Tampa Bay Rays
There's no such thing as a 162-game fluke. The Rays are a solid, well-balanced and talented team that took on two giants (Yankees and Red Sox) and beat them both over the long haul. Some see the 1969 Mets in the Rays, but while I don't see Tom Seaver on this team, Tampa also has a lot more young talent than the Amazins. Amazin'? Yes. Lucky? No.