The Playoff Match-ups - AL

All year the Yankees have been discounted because of their rotation.  Despite that, the team won 101 games.  Still, no one on the staff has been consistent so it's quite a gamble to predict that they will live up to their previously demonstrated ability.  Regardless, I don't know that the Yankees biggest worry should be their rotation; it may be their bullpen.  Because their starters have been so inconsistent, the bullpen has been used more than any other AL team in the playoffs.  They have had a very good formula with Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera for much of the season, but Quantrill (10.50 ERA) was hammered in September so the Yanks may have to depend on Steve Karsay and Tanyon Sturtze to get them through the middle innings.  The options get even worse after those two.  Even then, Rivera has been less than automatic recently (5.91 ERA in September) so even if they get the lead to him, a victory may not be as certain as it has been in previous years.  They key for the Yankees will be getting 7 innings out of their starters in at least 3 of the potential 5 games.  If they don't, they will be vulnerable to a Twins line-up than can not only hit the ball out (nine guys have double digit homer totals), but can manufacture runs throughout the line-up.

Minnesota has two keys: finding a third starter behind Santana and Radke, and getting the top of their line-up on base.  The Twins have excellent chances to win the games that Santana and Radke start, especially with Balfour, Crain, Romero and Rincon to get to Nathan.  But they can't depend on those guys to get the tough outs in the games Santana and Radke pitch, plus 5 innings of relief when they don't.  Carlos Silva has pitched well in September (1.72 ERA) so if he contines, they have an excellent chance for an upset.  Last year, only Radke and Milton were hot entering the playoffs and Milton had only 3 starts after coming back from an injury.  This year, Santana (0.45 ERA!!), Radke (2.19 ERA) and Silva have hot hands coming into the post-season so keeping the Yankees offense in check should be a realistic expectation.  But that won't matter so much if the Twins can only score a couple of runs per game.  The Yankees have too many boppers to keep quiet if every game is a one-run affair.  Even as good as the Twins bullpen is, if a solo shot can tie the game, the advantage goes to the Yankees.  A healthy Shannon Stewart (career on base of .400 versus the Yankees' pitchers) will help, but if he can't go the job may fall to Lew Ford (.357 career versus the Yanks).  Either way, they need to get on base for the Twins to win the Series.

This is probably the best match-up the Twins have had against the Yankees in several years.  They enter the series with three hot starters, a deep bullpen and they face a Yankees staff that although is extremely talented, has so many questions right now.  This is a winnable series for them, especially since Lieber is the only Yankee starter with an ERA under 6.00 against the Twins this year.  Prediction: Twins 3-2

Angels-Red Sox

This is an interesting first round match-up because both teams have potentially strong rotations, several excellent set-up men, but vulnerable closers.  The Angels have a similar look to the team that won it all two years ago, but Troy Percival is much more hittable than he was in 2002.  The Red Sox have a similar look to last year's team, but it will be difficult to win it all with a closer who doesn't throw hard.  In fact, you have to go back to the 1980s to find teams that won the World Series with a closer that couldn't hit the mid-90s: the '85 Royals with Dan Quisenberry and the '87 Twins with Jeff Reardon.  I don't know if Jay Howell or Alejandro Pena threw serious heat for the 1988 Dodgers, or if Eckersley was more location than velocity for the 1989 A's, but after 1989 all the championships have been won with hard-throwing closers.  Some will suggest that the 2001 Diamondbacks won without a flamethrower closing things out, but if you'll remember, it was Randy Johnson on the mound in Game 7, not Byung-Hyun Kim. 

Regardless, the intrguing part of the match-up is the on-base and doubles machine that is the Red Sox offense versus the toolsy offense of the Angels.  Both have advantages, but with the quality of pitching that will be on display, generally I would favor the team that can generate offense in more ways to win out, especially if the closer can't dominate the other team.  However, the reality is that neither starting staff has been especially good against the other team's offense with the exception of Curt Schilling.  He is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00 versus the opposition and his performance has been quite good - 2.30 ERA with 2 wins in two starts.  Since Schilling could get to start two games in the series, the edge has to be with the Red Sox. 

Also working against the Angels is the fact that they will be without Jose Guillen.  Not only will his potential to put a run on the board with one swing of the bat be missed, but the absence of his defense, especially his arm will afford the Red Sox more opportunities to score.  Say what you will about team chemsitry, but in a short series, no team can afford to give away advantages on principle.  Even though they probably won't miss Guillen the person, the Angels will miss Guillen's talent on the field.  Prediction: Red Sox  3-1