Angels, White Sox, Cardinals and Astros fight for a World Series berth
The Chicago White Sox swept the reigning World Series champ Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series last week, meaning baseball will crown a new champion this fall. The White Sox will face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are coming off an emotional series-ending victory over the Yankees on Sunday. In the National League, the slugging St. Louis Cardinals face off against the Houston Astros, who beat the Atlanta Braves in a series that included the longest postseason game in baseball history, an eighteen-inning marathon. So as we get going in round two, here are my amended predictions:
American League Championship Series
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Chicago White Sox
Key Matchup: The key matchup in this series is Chicago's base-running and smallball against the Angels' pitchers and defense. Chicago likes to bunt runners over, steal bases and challenge outfielders, forcing plays at the plate. Speedy leftfielder Scott Podsednik is the Sox' best base-runner, and manager Ozzie Guillen likes to play the hit-and-run with Podsednik on the basepaths. As for the Angels, catchers Jose and Bengie Molina (yes, they're brothers) create a stellar defensive duo behind the plate. The battle on the basepaths may come down to strategy from the teams' managers.
Key Stat: In the ALDS, the White Sox starting pitchers held a potent Red Sox offense to 9 runs in 19 and 2/3 innings. The Angels' lineup is less intimidating than Boston's, but slugger Vladimir Guerrero and clutch hitter Orlando Cabrera will try to break the strong Sox starters. The White Sox will start Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia in games one through four, a foursome that led the White Sox to a combined 74 wins by starters in the regular season, tops in the AL.
Key Player: Chone Figgins. Perhaps the Angels' most lethal offensive threat, Figgins can bunt, slap singles, homer and steal bases. Figgins' high baseball I.Q. will allow manager Mike Scioscia to take chances on the basepaths. Figgins is also a valuable player on defense, since he can play almost every position on the field, seeing time at second base, shortstop, third base and each of the three outfield spots.
Bottom Line: The loss of ace Bartolo Colon from the Angels' staff weakens their chances against the White Sox. Chicago is coming off an ALDS sweep, and its players are completely rested for the Tuesday night series opener in Chi-town, while the Angels played a late-night thriller in Anaheim Monday and scrambled to find a game one starter.
Prediction: White Sox in 7
National League Championship Series
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Houston Astros
Key Matchup: The Astros enter this series holding three aces- Andy Pettite, Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens- who could end up starting six of the seven games in this series (if necessary). The Cardinals, on the other hand, have the hottest lineup in baseball, boasting superstar Albert Pujols as the catalyst. Houston's pitching and St. Louis' hitting will square off in what looks to be a great championship series. Cardinals slugger Reggie Sanders drove in a record 10 runs against the Padres in the Division Series, and David Eckstein, Larry Walker and Jim Edmonds are all finally healthy, so expect a big effort from the Cards' hitters. Astros pitcher Brandon Backe, who will probably be slotted in for game four against St. Louis, has been erratic, but the Astros' big three make them dangerous this late in the playoffs.
Key Stat: 18 innings, the length of the Astros' series-clinching victory over the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, the longest game in MLB postseason history. The game spanned more than six hours on Sunday, and exhausted most of the Astros' roster. The eventual hero of the game was little-known utility man Chris Burke, who jacked a homer to end it. The game proved Houston's endurance and ability to win in any situation, while also taxing Astros players physically. The game could have a deeper effect on the Championship series.
Key Player: Clemens. The guy has experience (try 7 Cy Young awards), nasty pitches (1.87 ERA and 185 strikeouts this season) and can hit a little too (batted .207 in 2005). Clemens never seems to age, and won't be flustered by the Cardinals' lineup. Early in 2005, Clemens was pitching phenomenally, but was without any run support. That has changed since, and the Astros are finally helping the old fella out.
Bottom Line: The Cardinals are the favorite and the reigning NL champions, but the Astros are coming off an emotionally charged series victory and have three stud pitchers. Pettite, Oswalt and Clemens give the Astros the edge in this one.
Prediction: Astros in 6
Abe Schwadron. Abe is a huge basketball, baseball, and football fan that likes to read up on sports in SLAM, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN magazines. Hobbies include streetball, poker and film-making. A sneaker addict, Abe likes to keep his kicks fresh. Abe likes reggae and hip-hop music, … More »