The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians tied for the best record in the majors, and now, having dispatched the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees in the first round, they meet in the American League Championship Series beginning Friday night at Fenway Park.
The ALCS figures to be a very different animal than the NLCS, a series that features just one true ace, Arizona's Brandon Webb, who wasn't very acey in the Arizona Diamondbacks' 5-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 Thursday night.
And that's about all this column has to say about NLCS Game 1, except that that automatic double-play call on Justin Upton in the seventh inning was bogus but probably didn't matter. Also: People at the games, don't throw stuff on the field, OK? It makes the TV announcers get all sanctimonious.
Each team in the American League opens with a pair of aces, meaning at least four games will be started by studs. If either club takes advantage of the new day off after Game 4 and sends its No. 1 starter out for both the fourth and seventh games, it would be five games started by studs. And, hey, if Daisuke Matsuzaka can regain the dominance he showed at times early in the season, we're talking about six or even seven games with an ace on the hill for the Sox.
C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona both won 19 games for the Indians and were among the league leaders in earned run average. An argument could be constructed for either as the best pitcher in the league this season. Josh Beckett of Boston, the only 20-game winner in baseball this year, probably wasn't the best pitcher in the A.L., but he was in the photo.
He and Curt Schilling, though, who'll start the first two games, are among the best postseason pitchers of all time.
With all due respect, that is, to Paul Byrd, who was anointed the second coming of Christy Mathewson by the TBS announcers after his typical shaky-effective performance in Game 4 against the New York Yankees Monday. Byrd and Jake Westbrook, who had a solid year after a horrible start, are the rest of the Cleveland rotation.
The Red Sox's back end is Matsuzaka, the $100 million man who seemed to tire down the stretch and had a 7.14 ERA from Aug. 15 onward, and Tim Wakefield, who was worse than that at the end and is returning from a back injury.
If the Indians have the game's best 1-2 starting pitcher punch, the Red Sox have the scariest 1-2 slugging punch in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, whose home run from Game 2 last Friday touched down in Brockton Thursday with stickers from nine countries on it. The oblique must be OK.
The Sox outscored the Indians by about a third of a run a game, but Cleveland's offense is better now than it was for most of the year, with Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera having replaced Trot Nixon and Josh Barfield, and with Travis Hafner putting it together late in an off year, posting a Hafneresque .965 OPS in September after three straight months under .800.
The bullpen is a strength for both teams, but also a potential problem. The Indians have a terrific three-man set-up combo in Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis, but manager Eric Wedge's inexplicable confidence in the awful Joe Borowski, the nominal closer, can lead to adventure late in a close ballgame.
The Red Sox have their own three-headed beast in Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen. But Okajima slumped in October and was shut down for two weeks, though he pitched effectively in the Angels series. The Sox's secondary bullpen characters, Javier Lopez and Mike Timlin, are also a shade better than Cleveland's, Aaron Fultz and Tom Mastny.
If the Sox can take a lead into the late innings, they should be able to hang on. You can't quite say that about the Indians.
It's kind of looking like the Red Sox's year, which is how it looks for two or three teams every season right before they get eliminated. The Sox appear to have the ever-so-slight edge because of their hitting and bullpen. Then again that might just be my astigmatism.
I'm going to go with the Indians because of those top two starters, and because I'm tired of Indians fans whining in the letters threads that the Indians get no respect because they're not the Red Sox or Yankees. Now they can whine that I've picked them, which of course means that this is the Red Sox's year after all.
Prediction: Indians in seven.
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NFL Week 6: Patriots-Cowboys edition [PERMALINK]
With two League Championship Series going on and today's column in danger of getting so long I'll run out of typewriter ribbon, the two-sentence rule will be strictly enforced as we assay Week 6. This has forced some adjustments in the approach.
Winners in caps, with the picks of my possibly fictional children, 4-year-old game-picker Buster and 2-year-old coin-flipper Daisy, included. They both take all favorites of six points or more, and you'd be wise to do the same. And wash your hands.
Sunday early games
ST. LOUIS (0-5) at Baltimore (3-2)
What the Heck Pick of the week. The Rams are getting close to automatic WTH status.
Kids: Baltimore (9.5-point favorite)
Minnesota (1-3) at CHICAGO (2-3)
Do you really want to read about this game? The Bears are going to win, but the Only Game That Matters this week is the Patriots against the Cowboys.
Miami (0-5) at CLEVELAND (2-3)
Seriously, they're both national marquee-type teams, they're both 5-0 and, apologies to Indianapolis, they both look like the class of their conference. New England and Dallas, I mean.
Houston (3-2) at JACKSONVILLE (3-1)
I'm still not quite ready to buy the Cowboys as a super-elite team because I think they've been getting fat on an easy schedule. Supporters note that they found a way to win in Buffalo Monday night, and that that's the mark of a great team, but I don't agree.
Kids: Jacksonville (6.5-point favorite)
Washington (3-1) at GREEN BAY (4-1)
Another way to put it would be that the Bills found a way to lose, just as the Packers, who are better than the Bills, and also better than banged-up Washington at the moment, found a way to lose to the Bears, a result that might have said more about the Packers than the Bears on that particular night. I think the mark of a great team, apologies to Indianapolis, 2006 version, is that it beats the living snot out of everybody.
Daisy: Green Bay
Cincinnati (1-3) at KANSAS CITY (2-3)
Kind of like what the Patriots are doing. And, to be fair, kind of like what the Cowboys had been doing before Monday.
Buster: Kansas City
PHILADELPHIA (1-3) at N.Y. Jets (1-4)
The Cowboys have been impressive, the six-turnover near-disaster in upstate New York notwithstanding. They're keeping pace with the Pats offensively, though, again, they haven't faced stiff opposition.
TENNESSEE (3-1) at Tampa Bay (3-2)
It's true that George Gipp's remains were exhumed last week, but it wasn't because the Buccaneers wanted to give him a tryout at running back. I mean, come on, they haven't even worked out Eric Dickerson or Jim Taylor yet.
Sunday late games
Carolina (3-2) at ARIZONA (3-2)
The quarterback matchup here is David Carr vs. the guy who used to be Kurt Warner, which really pales in comparison to the Patriots-Cowboys duel between Tom Brady and Tony Romo, who would sort of be the Tom Brady of his era if this weren't still the Tom Brady era. And even that matchup seems kind of pedestrian when compared to the titanic battle of brilliant, infuriating, well-traveled, resurgent superstar receivers, Randy Moss vs. Terrell Owens.
Oakland (2-2) at SAN DIEGO (2-3)
Whoa, was that a fluke in Denver last week or did the Chargers really just fix everything all of a sudden? But wait, we were talking about ...
Kids: San Diego (10-point favorite)
NEW ENGLAND (5-0) at Dallas (5-0)
... the Patriots vs. the Cowboys, and what I think it all comes down to is that while Brady is unflappable, Romo can be flapped, and the Patriots will come up with enough confusing, out-of-nowhere defensive schemes to force him into enough wild improvisations that a few of them will end in disaster. A few of them will also end up in spectacular success, which is one of many things that should make this game worth your investment of three and a half hours.
Sunday night game
New Orleans (0-4) at SEATTLE (3-2)
As opposed to this one. Try the baseball game.
Kids: Seattle (6.5-point favorite)
Monday night game
N.Y. GIANTS (3-2) at Atlanta (1-4)
Hey, did you see that Patriots-Cowboys game last night?
Season record: 47-29
Last week: 10-4
What the Heck Picks: 0-5
Ratio of the odds that the Patriots-Cowboys game will actually turn out to be the best game this week to the odds that I'll be invited to be a celebrity guest voice on "The Simpsons": 1:1
Previous column: NLCS preview
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