Tuesday, October 03, 2006

ALDS Preview


Is there anything to debate here? The Tigers have a terrible lineup (Sean Casey is batting third!), a tired rotation, and not much of a bullpen beyond Zumaya. Meanwhile, the Yankees' worst hitter (umm, Posada?) is better than anyone the Tigers have except Carlos Guillen. Yikes.

Yes, Detroit has a great defense. Yes, Verlander and Bonderman are capable of being lights-out, and even Nate Robertson can be dangerous. But an awful lot has to go right for them to pull off the upset. Anything can happen in a short series, but this seems academic.

Yankees in 3.


This is the main event. Not only are these teams evenly-matched, but they're both great clubs who had hot second halves. This is virtually guaranteed to be the highlight of the first round.

Both offenses are mediocre, but better of late. Frank Thomas and Justin Morneau are virtually identical: both had terrible forst quarters of the season and have been unstoppable since. Joe Mauer bests anyone else the A's have, but Oakland's secondary guys--Bradley, Chavez, Swisher--appear to be healthy and improved. Neither lineup will scare you, and neither really has an advantage over the other. Call it even.

Defensively, I'd give Oakland a slight edge. Chavez and Mark Ellis are supeior glovemen. So is Mark Kotsay, though his back is clearly affecting his play. Still, when they run Jay Payton out there, he combines with Kotsay and Bradley to form a fantastic outfield.

For Minnesota, the infield defense is not particularly good, and Torii Hunter is a lot like Kotsay, limited by injury, but without the same quality cornermen to help out. Mauer is fantastic behind the plate, far better than Kendall, but the A's don't run to begin with. Advantage Oakland.

The bullpens are actually close. Oakland runs out a great back-end with Street, Calero, Duchscherer and Kennedy. But that Minnesota group--Nathan, Neshek, Rincon, Reyes--is staggeringly great. Those are shutdown guys right there. Both teams have interesting longmen: Blanton for the A's and Garza for the Twins, as it appears they're going with Carlos Silva as their fourth starter. Great as the A's pen is, this is clearly an advantage for the Twins.

And now the big question: rotation. It's easier to go by game...

Game 1: Santana v. Zito - Twins by a mile
Game 2: Boof v. Loaiza - Interesting, but gotta give it to the A's
Game 3: Radke v. Haren - Easily A's
Game 4: Silva v. Harden - This is just funny
Game 5: Santana v. Zito - See Game 1

Johan Santana rules the day; he changes the complexion of the series entirely. As good as Zito is, Minnesota has to be a huge favorite in Games 1 & 5.

The flip side is that Oakland has equally huge advantages in Games 3 & 4. The loss of Liriano is colossal. With him, the Twins are arguably World Series frontrunners. Without him, they run a legitimate chance of being ousted by Frank Thomas & the Seven Dwarfs.

Game 2 is where this series will be decided. Boof Bonser has the potential to step it up while Estaban Loaiza can always regress to April form. Whoever wins that game wins the series.

I don't know which direction to go. Either way, I think the series goes five games. If Minnesota wins behind Boof, they probably lose Games 3 & 4 and ride Santana to the ALCS. But if Oakland takes the critical game and goes up 2-1, I think Santana pitches Game 4. The Twins can force a fifth game then, but look at the resulting pitching matchup: Zito v. Silva. Oakland has to love that possibility.

It's extremely close...let's say 51/49...but I'll give the nod in Game 2 to the home-field advantage that is the Metrodome. Boof pitches well and the bullpen closes things down.

Twins in 5.

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