Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox, Rays
Welcome to October, folks.
As you probably guessed, those four teams are my first-round picks, which you may have also seen here and here (pdf files) in today's print edition. Meantime, here is a closer look at the defending champs, who may not be the best team in the field but might be the most fascinating.
A couple of observations:
*Lots of folks seem to be picking the Angels over the Red Sox in the wake of Josh Beckett's oblique strain (plus the nagging injuries to Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew), which is logical enough. However, my dissenting view is based on one hunch: That we are about to witness the big-time ascendancy of Jon Lester. Not that he isn't already well-known, having won the clinching game of last year's World Series and thrown a no-hitter earlier this season. But I believe he could dominate October the same way Beckett did a year ago. He is that good. I'm going to enjoy watching him tonight, as my game (Brewers at Phillies) is a 3 p.m. start, allowing me to be done in plenty of time to enjoy the 10 p.m. west coast start.
*In picking the Phillies over the Brewers -- leaning heavily on the memory of Philly's four-game sweep at home a couple weeks ago -- I am also guessing CC Sabathia will finally show the wear of his 253 innings this season, and that his fourth straight start on three days' rest will not be nearly as impressive as the third of those (his four-hit complete game Sunday). I still can't get out of my mind Sabathia's awful showing in last year's ALCS against the Red Sox, when he appeared out of gas at the end of a long season. However, with all that said, if it comes down to a Game 5, I would not want to be the Phillies, who presumably would send the maddeningly enigmatic Brett Myers to the mound to face a fully rested Sabathia.
*Manny Ramirez is going to do something outrageous in the Division Series, and if it's a good kind of outrageous -- as opposed to a goofy, Manny-being-Manny type of outrageous -- the Dodgers could win that series. He is one key to that series. The other key is Carlos Zambrano, who on his best days is one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, and on his worst days is a horror show. He will start Game 2, and presumably a potential Game 5. The Cubs need him to be on.
*The pick I feel strongest about is Rays over White Sox. The Rays are virtually unbeatable these days at home. The White Sox's starting staff is gassed after all those starts on three days' rest, impressive though they were (well, with the exception of Javier Vazquez). And I'm convinced the White Sox's defense will cost them at least one game.
So there you have it. As I said, I'll be in Philly today. Young Chico will be at Wrigley Field for Cubs/Dodgers, and Marc Carig will be pulling the late shift out in Anaheim for Angels/Red Sox. We'll all be posting here during the day and night, so check back frequently.
October 1, 2008; 7:58 AM ET
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