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Monday, April 23, 2018

MLB League Championship Series Preview

The dust from the MLB Division Series has settled and four very good teams are left standing.  Playoff baseball is all about match-ups.  Of course, there is the pitcher against the opposing pitcher; there is the pitcher against the opposing lineup where history and pitcher/hitter handedness come into play; and there is pitcher/hitter against the playing environment, the ballparks.  There is also manager against manager, but for the sake of this article, we’re looking at the players and what goes down on the field.

Today, as we prepare for another round of what figures to be very exciting MLB action, we will look at some of the potential match-ups in store.

Texas Rangers-New Yankees

In the ALCS, the environmental factors are probably worth mentioning first.  With the Yankees losing the division to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rangers will come in with home field advantage and this is critical for a team with very little post-season experience.  They have an opportunity to potentially win one or two of the first set at home and build themselves up for the three-game set in New York.

C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes will be called upon to win games in a difficult pitching environment against a potent offense.  Sabathia was not crisp in his Division Series start and I see the Texas Rangers offense taking advantage if he comes in with the same stuff. Part of what made the Rangers so successful against David Price twice was the presence of tough right-handed hitters in Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Vlad Guerrero, Ian Kinsler and Bengie Molina.  They may not all get to you, but good luck retiring them two to three times apiece.  As such, Sabathia against C.J. Wilson and Hughes against Colby Lewis are big games for both teams as Wilson and Lewis have been successful in the playoffs to-date and in the ballpark at Arlington all season.

If Texas can pull the upset in Game 1, they put themselves in a reasonable position for the set in Yankee Stadium.  This is critical because the Yankees at home in the playoffs are a tough assignment for any team.  My biggest concern for Texas is pitting Neftali Feliz, a rookie closer, with very limited playoff experience and only fair command, against a very dangerous, patient Yankee offense.  Feliz did not look good in either of his Division Series games and Ron Washington may be forced into some difficult decisions as the series progresses.

Offensively, the Yankees are so well balanced, with four switch hitters, three left-handed hitters and two right-handed hitters, the weaknesses some players have against one side are complemented by strengths of the others.  The Rangers would be weaker against a tough right-handed pitcher, but  Hughes in Texas and A.J. Burnett anywhere hardly qualify.

I see this being a close series where Texas will have the Yankees sweating when C.J. Wilson upsets Sabathia in Game 1 and strike-throwing robot Cliff Lee wins Game 3 (in a tryout for his 2011 team). Neftali Feliz will blow a close game 2 and the Yankees will win two of three at home. Yankees in six.

Philadelphia Phillies-San Francisco Giants

Everyone knows this series will lean very heavily on the starting pitching because the Phillies feature a 1-2-3 punch unlike any in the post-season and because if the Giants are to win, they will need to match the Phillies pitch-for-pitch with a staff that led the league in strikeouts.

As great as Tim Lincecum was in Game 1 of the NLDS, pitching against Roy Halladay and the Phillies at home in only his second post-season start is a tall order for Tiny Tim.  Granted, this is a Phillies offense that has not been running on all cylinders like the past two post-seasons with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez and Jimmy Rollins all experiencing down years offensively.

Despite the down years, the Phillies can still bang and with athletes up the middle and Jayson Werth, they run the bases very well.  This is a good offensive club, so the Giants pitchers will have to execute day in and day out.  If Jonathan Sanchez makes too many mistakes, which he is liable to do (he led the NL in walks), it will neutralize what advantages he has as a lefty.

The Giants offense is fairly one-dimensional.  They hit and for some power but don’t walk much.  There are no great athletes, other than Buster Posey.  Their best players this year were Posey, Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres, a 32 year-old getting his first extended look in the bigs.  Pat Burrell will punish mistakes and will hit at least two home runs in the series.

Giants closer Brian Wilson has developed into a premier closer and Brad Lidge is having a good year (he’s on the every other year is good plan).  Lidge has always been homer-prone and I see him and Pat Burrell ending badly in one contest.

I see this one playing out as many expect: with a lot of great pitching.  Lincecum will get narrowly edged tonight in a classic.  Sanchez will be good in Game 2 but bad in Game 6.  Cole Hamels will deal in San Francisco in Game 3. Phillies in seven.

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