Continuing a tradition.........my humble predictions........
#1 Arizona vs. #8 St. Louis (season series: Arizona 5-1) –
The Diamondbacks beat the Cardinals in the 2003 World Series four games to none. Ironically, these teams meet again to open up the playoffs this year. Arizona and St. Louis are remarkably different - Arizona was #1 in team ERA and #13 in Runs Scored; St. Louis finished #17 in team ERA and #1 in Runs Scored. Should be an interesting series. . . .
Arizona had two 20 game winners this season - Randy Johnson (23-5 1.92 ERA and Curt Schilling 21-11 2.95 ERA). Pitching is vital in the playoffs and the Diamondbacks are ready to make another run at a championship with these two horses. The D-Backs finished a torrid 34-11 the final two months of the season. Arizona made a late season trade acquiring Eric Gagne, Al Leiter, Lew Ford and Jermaine Dye - all four players made significant contributions down the stretch for Arizona. Centerfielder Steve Finley (.273 31 HR's 113 RBI's) played steady all season. Arizona has been the most successful team in the Millennium League holding a whopping 41-18 record in the post season. In fact, the D-Backs are an amazing 10-1 in overall playoff series.
It took a final regular season game loss by San Francisco to Seattle that allowed St. Louis to sneak into the playoffs. This was supposed to be St. Louis' strongest season but it never panned out, largely due to inconsistent pitching. Cardinal GM-manager John Helmbrecht acquired Armando Benitez (2.98 2-5 20 Saves) during the season that had mixed results. Benitez recorded 20 saves, yet coughed up several walk off homers in devasting losses. Besides Jake Westbrook (16-12) and Dontrelle Willis (11-8), pitching is thin. But, this team was built on offense and the Redbirds have much to offer: JD Drew (.312 41 HR's, 101 RBI's, 132 Runs), Jim Edmonds (.298 47 HR's 136 RBIS's), Melvin Mora (.304 24 HR's 95 RBI's), Jeremy Burnitz (33HR's 105 RBI's), and Paul Konerko (44 HR's 122 RBI's). Oh, and by the way, Edgar Renteria and Placido Polanco combined to hit 31 HR's and 125 RBI's between them. The Cards have been involved in six playoff series - five of them ended in sweeps. St. Louis is 12-13 overall in the postseason. Prediction: D-Backs "Dynamic Duo" will shut down Redbird offense ARIZONA WINS IN 5 GAMES
#2 Florida vs. #7 Atlanta (season series tied 3-3) –
The Marlins finished strong the second half of the season going 53-26 since July 1st. Jake Peavy is the ace of the staff finishing 17-5 with a 3.19 ERA. Jon Garland was the only other pitcher in double digit wins with a 15-10 mark. Juan Rincon anchors a deep bullpen with a 2.64 ERA and 22 Saves. Vlad Guerrero, acquired in a 2003 trade with Philly, posted big numbers: .342 42 HR's 133 RBI's. Six other Marlins hit 20+ homers: Lowell (36), D. Lee (30), Dunn (28), A.Gonzalez (25), Baldelli (21), V. Martinez (20). Florida is 1-4 in the post season - losing to champs Arizona last season in their only post season appearance.
Atlanta is making their first playoff appearance since 2002 when the Braves finished with 103 wins. The Braves are just 9-10 in the post season, despite being the #1 seed in both 2000 and 2002. Atlanta is hoping for better results out of the #7 seed this year. Atlanta boasts three strong starters: Rich Harden (3.24 13-10), John Lackey (3.88 11-8) and John Thomson (14-5). Harden was the Braves 2003 #1 draft pick and Lackey was the 2002 #1 draft pick. "Mr. Captain" - Derek Jeter led the team in many batting categories: .308, 212 Hits, and 67 doubles. Jeter's doubles total far exceeding 2nd place Pujols who finished with 53. Chipper Jones quietly hit 35 HR's and drove in 96 RBI's. Atlanta sputtered the final two months of the season going just 23-22.
Prediction: Braves starters are strong as Marlins are upset ATLANTA WINS IN 7 GAMES
#3 Philadelphia vs. #6 Pittsburgh (season series tied 3-3) –
Philly finished 32-16 the final two months to win the division. Despite three division crowns, the Phillies are still looking for that elusive championship as they have just a 15-15 mark in the post season. The Phillies have steadily improved their pitching staff and now have some quality arms: Greg Maddux (3.86 15-6), Freddy Garcia (4.22 16-9), Brad Penny (4.27 8-6) and Javier Vazquez (11-10). Unsung Jason Frasor had 24 saves and a sub 2.00 ERA. The Phils always have hitting and were led this season by Mr. Pujols (.342 56 HR's 154 RBI's), Mark Loretta (.336), Miguel Tajada (38 HR's 130 RBI's) , Eric Chavez (29 HR's) and Tori Hunter (27 HR's).
The Pirates are the coldest team coming into the playoffs as the Buccos went 12-16 in August and 8-9 in September. Pittsburgh has just a 7-6 post season record as they only qualified in 2002. Brad Lidge was the Pirates #1 draft pick and he saved 34 games this year despite a high ERA (4.59). Pittsburgh has notable starters: Roy Oswalt (17-11), Kris Benson (3.86 13-9), Matt Clement (18-9) and Kerry Wood (8-1). Carlos Guillen (.344) and Randy Winn (.325 109 Runs) led the hitting.
Prediction: Phillies hitting and pitching too strong PHILADELPHIA WINS IN 6 GAMES
#4 Houston vs. #5 Minnesota (season series tied 3-3) -
Houston is another red-hot team entering the playoffs going 34-15 the final two months. The Astros can certainly put up some runs as they finished second in runs scored to the Cards. The Astros offense revolves around Lance Berkman (.305 32 HR's 108 RBI's). Lance finished second in the league in walks (128) to Barry Bonds. Moises Alou (26 HR's) and Mike Sweeney (24 HR's) added some long ball power. The 'Stros had five starters with double digit wins: Jeff Weaver (15), Tom Glavine (14), Jaret Wright (13), Jason Jonson (12) and Rodrigo Lopez (12). Billy Wagner tied for the league lead in saves (35). Houston has never won a playoff series going 5-12 in the post season.
The Twins were a remarkable story in 2004 and certainly look to be a team to be reckoned with in the future. Minnesota has a strong nucleus of good players: Ichiro (.367 116 Runs), David Ortiz (.335 53 HR's 128 RBI's), Hideki Matsui (.316 36 HR's), Johan Santana (2.80 17-8), Roy Halladay (8-4) and Josh Beckett (9-9). The Twins have never been in the post season before..
Prediction: Looks to be a real even series.... I'll go with MINNESOTA TO WIN IN 7 GAMES