Now that we know who will keep playing, not to mention who the experts at The Worldwide Leader think will triumph, allow me to give you my infallible logic on this year's post-season.
Red Sox vs White Sox - I have no doubt that the White Sox have the better pitching staff, but that gap isn't nearly as large as you would think. For instance the much-maligned Red Sox bullpen is actually in good shape for the post-season. They no longer are saddled with the struggling arms of Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, Mike Remlinger and John Halama. The group that goes into the post-season has combined for a bullpen-only ERA of 3.34. Meanwhile, the six relievers the White Sox are likely to carry have combined for an ERA of 3.50 against the Red Sox this year. Also, while Jose Contreras has been wonderful in the second half of the season, he has not been wonderful against the Red Sox. He won his only start against them on July 24th, but the Sox battered him to the tune of a .348 batting average and 4.76 ERA. For his career, Contreras has an ERA of 11.67 against the Red Sox, and the current Red Sox roster has a combined slugging percentage of .633 against him. In addition, the Red Sox clearly have the better hitting in general in this series.
Combine all of that with the fact that the two teams' run differentials are nearly identical - the White Sox come out a game ahead - but that Boston compiled their record against stiffer competition (.504 opponents winning percentage compared to the ChiSox .498), and I think the Red Sox will win.
Red Sox in 4.
Yankees vs Angels - Let's see, the Angels won the season series against New York, 6-4, and it would have been 8-2 if not for a pair of bullpen lapses. They outscored them head-to-head. They have, by far, the better pitching. They have home field advantage. Their roster has as much post-season experience as New York's. And the Yankees had to fly out to the West Coast after a tense seven-game road trip that ended in Boston.
If you think all of that was just a clever setup for me to surprise you with a pick of the Yankees, you're wrong. The Angels are the better team. Their run differential has them as a 93-win team, while the Yankees came out to just 90 wins, and run differential is a pretty solid predictor of post-season outcomes, much more so than actual won-loss records, particularly when the two clubs played similar competition (Angels opponents - .505 Win Pct; Yankees - .504)
Angels in 5.
Padres vs Cardinals - The Cardinals are the best team in the National League, by a wide margin. They are a true 100-win team, in that their real record matched their projected record exactly. Their hitters are getting healthier and their rotation, though struggling of late, is simply better and deeper than the Padres. The Pads managed to finish above .500, but only through luck. They were outscored for the year by 42 runs, a huge difference, and projected to a record of just 76-86. Jake Peavy gives them some hope, having pitched eight innings of one-run ball in his only start against St. Louis this year, but it just won't be enough.
Cardinals in 4.
Astros vs Braves - I realize the Braves always fail in the post-season. I realize they have a bunch of rookies on their team. I know that Astros have the veteran pitchers, all of whom have been hot lately. I know that more of the experts over at ESPN picked the Astros to win the World Series than any other team.
But these teams are very close to one another, finishing a game apart in the real standings and a game apart in projected standings, with the Braves having the edge in each case. And the Braves posted their record against much, much stiffer competition - their opponents had a combined winning percentage of .506, the toughest schedule faced by any of the eight playoff teams, while the Astros faced the 2nd-weakest, a .495 mark. And it's not as if the Braves have bad pitchers going - Tim Hudson has a career post-season ERA of 3.44 in the American League, while John Smoltz (14-4, 2.70 ERA) is one of the finest post-season pitchers of all time. Throw in home field advantage (or what qualifies as such in tepid Atlanta) and I'm going with the Braves.
Braves in 5.
ALCS - Red Sox vs Angels
"Let's see, the Angels won the season series against New York, 6-4, and it would have been 8-2 if not for a pair of bullpen lapses. They outscored them head-to-head. They have, by far, the better pitching. They have home field advantage. Their roster has as much post-season experience as New York's. And the Yankees had to fly out to the West Coast after a tense seven-game road trip that ended in Boston."
A lot of that commentary still applies here, only with Boston inserted for New York. In this case, the Red Sox won the season series 6-4, but the Angels actually outscored them head-to-head. They still have the better pitching, by far, as well as the home field advantage, and just as much post-season experience as Boston. And Boston had to fight it out at the end of the season just to get into the post-season, plus face a road series to start the playoffs then a cross-country flight to play the Angels.
As much as I hate to admit it, I think it's going to be an unhappy winter in Red Sox Nation.
Angels in 6.
NLCS - Braves vs Cardinals
The Cardinals will enter the series pretty refreshed, having a relative walkover against San Diego while Atlanta has to go though the Astros pitching staff. They are still the best team in the NL, and though I like the Braves more than most of the experts, I just don't see how those youngsters are going to get through two post-season series', especially with the last one being on the road in an emotional, motivated Busch Stadium.
Cardinals in 5.
World Series - Cardinals vs Angels
The American League is the better league at the moment, so while the Cardinals won 100 games again and have a better run differential than the Angels, much of that goes out the window since the contexts of their accomplishments are so different.
More important to me is this - the Angels posted a great record, both in real wins and projected - against competition that combined for a .505 winning percentage in a clearly better league, while the Cardinals posted their marks against .494 competition - the weakest schedule in the playoffs - in a clearly inferior league. Mike Scioscia and his boys have won it all before, and while the Cardinals are motivated, Tony LaRussa's teams have a tendency to play tight in the big games.
I'm going with the best team in the better league.
Angels in 6.