American League dominates my 2009 playoff-team seedings
The Yankees have the playoffs' deepest lineup and most offensive weapons
The Angels are closing the gap on the Red Sox, their postseason nemesis
Despite their bullpen issues, the Phillies look like the NL's best team
If the baseball playoffs are truly a crapshoot (as some contend), well then the 1996-2000 Yankees got awfully lucky. And nobody gets that lucky. Good fortune is always a help, of course, and few figured that the 2003 Marlins or 2006 Cardinals would prevail. But that doesn't mean those teams won on luck. Perhaps we just need better prognosticators. With that in mind, here are my seedings from one through eight (as you can guess, my first-round winners are the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Dodgers).
Plusses: They have the deepest lineup and most weapons. Their 915 runs and 244 home runs were first in baseball. They are built even better for new Yankee Stadium than the old place (they went 57-24 in their initial year). Plus, the Yankees lead the league in pie-in-the-face heroics, with a major-league-leading 15 walk-off and 51 come-from-behind wins. Their clubhouse cohesion is improved over last year. The back end of their bullpen is as strong as it gets, with Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes (and possibly Joba Chamberlain). Their 40 bullpen wins are first among playoff teams. The 483 strikeouts by relievers was fifth-best in baseball. CC Sabathia was dominant in the second half (11-2, 2.74), and could be primed for a big postseason.
Minuses: A.J. Burnett struggled for much of the second half and has never pitched a postseason game (though he does have a ring from the 2003 Marlins). Big-time October performer Andy Pettitte had some shoulder weakness late. Alex Rodriguez, who was more valuable than you think during the regular season, still hasn't had a big playoff series since his first one with the Yankees. The Twins are somewhat depleted following a fight to the finish that carried into Tuesday night.
Odds to win World Series: 3-1.
2. Red Sox
Plusses: Their lineup is better than you think, and better still since Victor Martinez arrived. Their .806 OPS was second in baseball. And they're more versatile than you think. Their 126 stolen bases was second among playoff teams. Josh Beckett is a big-game performer, and frankly, so are Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka (check out his WBC results). Their 3.80 bullpen ERA is best among AL playoff teams. All of their summer pickups are contributing -- V-Mart, Billy Wagner and Alex Gonzalez. Terry Francona is 8-0 in the World Series. They've knocked out the Angels their last three October meetings.
Minuses: Beckett had a minor back concern late, though says he's fine, and Lester appears 100 percent after being drilled by a liner in his penultimate start.
Odds to win World Series: 5-1.
Plusses: Their lineup is deeper and stronger than anyone but the Yankees. Their 883 runs are second-best in baseball. They have become more disciplined since patient Bobby Abreu was imported (that goes for everyone but Vladdy Guerrero, anyway). No surprise, their 148 stolen bases are tops among playoff teams. Their rotation is deep and playoff worthy. The addition of Scott Kazmir is an upgrade vs. the Red Sox or Yankees (he's 8-7 lifetime vs. Boston, 6-5 vs. the Yankees). Their starters' 4.44 ERA is best among AL playoff teams. Mike Scioscia is a terrific manager who won three World Series (two as a player and one as manager of the 2002 Angels).
Minuses: While closer Brian Fuentes saved a league-high 46 games, one scout said, "He doesn't have closer stuff.'' Kevin Jepsen helped fortify a 'pen that needed it. Overall, their 'pen had a 4.49 ERA, 23rd-best in baseball.
Odds to win World Series: 6-1.
Plusses: Their offense is deadly. The .447 slugging percentage was tops in the NL and their 224 home runs was second-best in baseball. While they didn't dominate at Citizens Bank Ballpark this year (they're only 45-36 there), they rode a home advantage to a World Series victory last year. They have an excellent and clutch core, led by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Their defense is first-rate, especially up the middle. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels give them a nice-one-two punch, though J.A. Happ has been as good as either lately.
Minuses: Their closing situation is a mess. Manager Charlie Manuel said Ryan Madsen will handle the duties -- for now. The team generally has been inconsistent in the Year After.
Odds to win World Series: 7-1.
Plusses: They have an excellent young nucleus. Matt Kemp is a burgeoning star. Their pitching isn't the question mark you think (they have an MLB-best 3.41 ERA, though it doesn't hurt to pitch in Dodger Stadium, of course). Their bullpen is "the best in baseball,'' one scout said (the 3.14 ERA is tops). Clayton Kershaw has ace potential. Manager Joe Torre has four titles, and guided a slightly lesser team to the NLCS last year.
Minuses: Their rotation doesn't have a proven ace and is somewhat unsettled, with the fourth starters' job not decided until this past weekend. Russell Martin and James Loney had power deficiencies this year. Overall the Dodgers were only 23rd with 145 home runs. The team seemed to lose a little steam in the second half, going 39-35 after the All-Star break -- though they still finished with the best record in the NL.
Odds to win World Series: 8-1.
Plusses: Their one-two starting punch of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright is the best in baseball. Albert Pujols is the most feared hitter in baseball, and Matt Holliday (his 1.047 second-half OPS was second best in baseball to Derrek Lee) provides the perfect complement. Tony La Russa may be the best strategist in the game.
Minuses: The Cardinals were eighth among eight playoff teams with 730 runs. The Cardinals' Ryan Franklin has done a terrific job closing, but his ERA has almost doubled over the last month (from 1.05 to 1.92), though their overall relief ERA of 3.67 ERA is fifth-best in baseball. The team had a lackluster finish, winning just two of its final 10 games.
Odds to win World Series: 9-1.
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