Division Series predictions

What a start to the postseason. Oakland-Minnesota starts off with a pair of Cy Young Award winners in left-handers Barry Zito and Johan Santana. That game starts in about 10 minutes, so I’m going to do my best to run through my postseason thoughts before turning on the game.

A’s vs. Twins
No one wanted to face the Twins in the shorter best-of-five series when they knew they’d have to face Santana and Francisco Liriano in three of the five games. Now, Minnesota is without the phenom Liriano, but because it edged out Detroit for the American League Central title, it gets homefield advantage against Oakland. The Twins went 5-1 against the A’s at the Metrodome this year, and Santana was 12-0 at home. He gets the Game 1 start, and could either take a potential Game 4 on the road on short rest, or be held for a winner-take-all Game 5 back at the dome. Add in the fact that the Twins had the third-best team ERA in baseball and the best bullpen ERA (not to mention the fewest losses by relievers), and that the A’s had one of the worst offenses in baseball, and Oakland’s dark Division Series history does not look like it will get any brighter.

Twins in three.

Tigers vs. Yankees
Many of the Yankee fans I know are thrilled that they don’t have to face the Twins — and Santana — in the first round. Detroit, which seemed to be on a tear heading into August and was expected to coast to a division title, faltered down the stretch, with losing records in both August and September. No too many teams reach the postseason with a 25-32 record in the final two months.

But the Tigers made it, becoming the first AL Central team to win a wild card, but now they have to turn their rotation upside-down to face the Yankees. Veteran and Opening Day starter Kenny Rogers gets the start in Game 3, with likely AL Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander taking Game 2. That leaves Nate Robertson for Game 1, where he’ll match up with Yankees 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang. Verlander gets Mike Mussina, and Rogers may be the healthy left-hander in an ancient pairing with Randy Johnson in the third game — if the Big Unit is able to pitch despite his back problems. I think he will, but he won’t be effective. Rogers leads the Tigers to a Game 3 win at home. Unfortunately, they’ll have lost the first two and will fall in the next one.

Yankees in four.

Cardinals vs. Padres
Each league’s Central Division nearly saw a monumental collapse, but the Cardinals managed to hold off the Astros despite losing seven in a row while Houston won seven straight in late September. In the end, the Braves got what they wanted, eliminating the Astros, who had taken them out of the previous two postseasons. So Atlanta didn’t make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1990, but they still managed to end someone’s season — which they hadn’t done since 2001. Yes, despite reaching the postseason in an unprecedented 14 straight seasons (1994 strike year not included), Atlanta hadn’t advanced in their last four before the Mets ended the Braves’ dynastic run this year.

Sorry, didn’t mean to delve so deep into Atlanta’s woes, as enjoyable as it is. Last year, the Cards swept the Pads in the first round, with NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter getting things rolling in Game 1 despite the best efforts of the St. Louis bullpen, which nearly blew an 8-0 lead. Today’s Game 1 provides a rematch, with Carpenter again facing off against Jake Peavy, who revealed after last year’s opener that he had sustained cracked ribs in the Padres’ NL West-clinching celebration. I’m sure this year’s party was a bit more subdued. But in addition to Peavy, San Diego’s rotation has the stellar Chris Young and seasoned postseason veterans David Wells and Woody Williams. St. Louis has to go with Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis after Carpenter, in addition to a closer-by-committee after Jason Isringhausen had season-ending hip surgery. The Padres get revenge.

Padres in four.

Dodgers vs. Mets
Everyone wants to eliminate the Mets from the postseason because they don’t have Pedro Martinez. While it’s true that Martinez helped them jump out to an early lead by going 5-0 in April, the Mets won only six of his final 18 starts the rest of the way. They built upon their lead and coasted to the division crown essentially without their ace.

But they do have the most formidable lineup in the National League, one of the deepest benches in baseball, and a superb pitching staff — particularly the bullpen — even without Martinez.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, outpaced only the Pirates in the National League in home runs this season and went just 7-30 against this year’s postseason field. They played the Mets close, winning three of the seven games between the teams and outscoring them by a slim 32-29 margin. However, two of those three wins were by rookies Hong-Chi Kuo and Eric Stults in a September series that meant much more to the Dodgers than it did the Mets.

Orlando Hernandez gets Game 1 for the Mets, who should have a pitching edge even in the rotation, considering Kuo’s inexperience, Greg Maddux’s mediocre postseason history (and the Mets’ ability to score off him this season) and Brad Penny’s back issues.

Mets in four.

Time to get these up before the games start. The rest of the postseason predictions to come shortly.

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