Continuing a tradition from last year! My humble predictions........
#1 Philadelphia vs. #8 Anaheim (season series: Anaheim 4-2) –
After just a 14-14 record in April, the Phillies posted a 89-45 mark the final five months of the season – that’s a .664 winning percentage folks. The Phillies trailed St. Louis by 8 ½ games on April 30th, but roared back to take the Division title. Philadelphia always has had powerful hitting. This time, they are led by: Pujols (.387, 56 HR’s, 159 RBI’s), Loretta (.330), Chavez (.321, 37 HR’s) and Hunter (34 HR’s). But what makes this team formidable, is the improved pitching staff built by manager Rick Cornell: Maddux (16-3, acquired in mid-season trade), Vazquez (16-7, acquired in trade at beginning of season) and Suppan (12-9). The Phillies are 12-11 in postseason play and lost to champ Arizona in the Semi-Finals last season.
It took Anaheim the final inning of the 163rd game to qualify for the playoffs as they rallied in their elimination game vs. the Pirates. Manager Blaise Castren’s squad has two big offensive guns: Anderson (.311, 36 HR’s, 128 RBI’s) and Delgado (.296, 39 HR’s, 111 RBI’s). Sporting a balanced attack, the Angels finished 7th in team batting average and 8th in team ERA. Pitching is led by Contreras (2.20 9-2) who pitched a no-hitter this season, Washburn (17-8), and Hampton (14-9). The Angels have never won a postseason playoff series going 3-8 in two series. Anaheim’s last series was a 4-0 series loss to St. Louis in 2001. Prediction: Phillies just too tough for the Angels PHILADELPHIA WINS IN 5 GAMES
#2 Cleveland vs. #7 San Francisco (season series: Cleveland 12-6) –
The Indians finished 30-15 the last two months of the season. Thome (.316, 61 HR’s, 162 RBI’s) and Ramirez (.315, 54 HR’s, 131 RBI’s) had amazing seasons and the Giants will need to shut down this duo. Cleveland finished 6th in team ERA and sports six pitchers with double digit wins: Loaiza & Padilla (17), Colon (15), Prior (14), Cormier (12) and Rogers (10). Cleveland has only made the playoffs in 2000 when they went all the way to the Finals before losing to Arizona; Cleveland is 8-8 in the postseason.
San Francisco again will be counting on Barry Bonds to carry them through the playoffs. Barry had another strong season: .319, 46 HR’s, 116 RBI’s and tied for the league lead in walks with 109. It went mostly unnoticed, but the Giants led the league in team ERA (3.84) – a huge improvement from finishing 11th in 2002. Ortiz (11-11, 3.38) and Hernandez (14-10, 3.65) lead the starting corps. Like several teams in this year’s playoffs, San Francisco has never won a playoff series going 4-8 in post season. San Fran’s last appearance was a 4-2 series loss in the Quarter Finals last year to Arizona.
Prediction: Indian offense outplays Giants pitching CLEVELAND WINS IN 6 GAMES
#3 Arizona vs. #6 Florida (season series: Florida 5-1) –
Two-time and defending champ Arizona has an illustrious post season record of 29-16. The D-Backs beat Boston in last year's World Series. Although Randy Johnson only went 8-7 this season, Curt Schilling picked up the slack by going 14-6 with a league leading ERA of 2.84. Mantei contributed with a 1.93 ERA, 7-2 record and 22 saves. Offense was up this year as L. Gonzalez (.343, 27 HR's, 122 RBI's), Mueller (.309) and Ordonez (.303, 23 HR's, 105 RBI's) led the team.
The Marlins improved from a 5th place 75-87 record last season to a wild card birth this year. Vlad Guerrero, acquired in a mid season trade with the Phillies, hit .315 with 17 HR's and 68 RBI's in 96 games. Although Peavy led the staff with 13 wins, the bullpen is Florida's strength: Quantrill (1.52, 5-1, 32 saves), Burba (1.66), Gryboski (2.48) and Fransworth (2.67). This is Florida's first appearance in post season play.
Prediction: Upstart Marlins shock defending champs FLORIDA WINS IN 7 GAMES
#4 Houston vs. #5 St. Louis (season series tied 3-3) -
The Astros nosed out Los Angeles by two games in the league’s weakest division. Houston finished 5th in the league in runs scored and certainly has some offensive firepower: Berkman (.316, 23 HR’s, 104 RBI’s), Alou (.313), and Bagwell (46 HR’s, 134 RBI’s). Although their primary starters (Wells, Miller, Seo, and Anderson) all had ERA’s above 5.00, Houston has depended on bullpen ace Billy Wagner (6-1, 33 Saves) all season. Houston has never won a postseason series going 4-8. Their last playoff appearance was in 2001 when they lost to Oakland 4 games to 3.
St. Louis roared out of the gate in 2003 with a sizzling 21-4 mark in April, but the team lost some of their momentum throughout the season as the Phillies overtook them to take the division crown. Regardless, the Redbirds had a fine season and were led by Renteria (.321, 52 doubles) and Edmonds (.312, 51 HR’s, 129 RBI’s). Super sub Baerga chipped in with a .367 mark that included many clutch hits. St. Louis finished second in team batting and homeruns. Pitching was led by Nomo (3.92, 16-8), but their bullpen was only average as Troy Percival compiled a disappointing 2-7 mark with just 28 saves. Number 1 draft pick Dontrelle Willis chipped in with a 11-5 mark. St. Louis is 4-8 in the post season with all series resulting in 4-0 sweeps. St. Louis last appearance was in 2001 as they lost 4-0 to eventual league champion Seattle in the Semi-Finals.
Prediction: Might be a tougher series than it looks on paper; I'll go with ST. LOUIS TO WIN IN 7 GAMES