Dream Matchup to Remain Just That
Remember when Joe Montana was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs before the 1993 NFL season and both teams made it to their respective conference championship games? A delicious Super Bowl matchup between San Francisco and Kansas City awaited, but no one told the Cowboys and Bills as it was those teams that advanced in rather dominant fashion. I'm kind of getting the same feeling with this year's league championship series in baseball.
Let's face it, who outside of Phillies, Rays and Yankee fans wouldn't want to see the Dodgers and Red Sox advance to the World Series? The story lines are endless. Sure, the return of Manny Ramirez is obvious. But there's also Derek Lowe, the winning pitcher when Boston finally ended its 86-year curse in 2004. There's Nomar Garciaparra, among the most beloved Red Sox players in franchise history. And there's Joe Torre, a fixture in Fenway Park's third base dugout over the last dozen years.
But l like the Phillies in this one. Granted, I picked the Brewers to beat Philadelphia in the division series (the only pick I missed, I might add), but the Phillies won me over. And as much talk as there's been about Manny Ramirez since he burst on to the Hollywood scene at the trading deadline, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard has been almost as good. Don't believe me? Keep reading. ...
Ramirez had 17 homers over the last two months of the regular season; Howard had 18. Ramirez had 53 RBI; Howard had 51. Ramirez hit an amazing .396 to Howard's .275, but Howard was very good in the month of September as he batted .352 while making a serious run for MVP consideration. What's more, I really like Philadelphia's pitching. Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Joe Blanton were all lights out against Milwaukee in the NLDS, while Brad Lidge went 41 for 41 in save opportunities this year. Throw in home-field advantage and I'll take Philadelphia in six.
Now on to the ALCS, where the upstart Rays will face the defending World Series champion Red Sox. Tampa Bay's rise in the AL East has been impressive, but should not be as much of a surprise that most would lead you to believe. Remember when Curt Schilling said in August 2007 that he would consider playing for Tampa Bay given the amount of young talent it had accumulated through trades (Scott Kazmir) and the draft (B.J. Upton, Evan Longroia)? Most people rolled their eyes at Schilling's comments, but in reality he knew what he was talking about.
That said, this is where the Rays' run ends. As good as their young talent is, Boston's is just as impressive with home-grown stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Papelbon and MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia. Nobody is pitching better right now than Jon Lester, another product of the farm system who did not allow an earned run in two ALDS starts against the potent Angels.
Tampa Bay was almost unbeatable at Tropicana Field, and my guess is that it gets off to a fast start against Daisuke Matsuzaka -- assuming it is Daisuke Matsuzaka -- in Game 1 on Friday night. But ultimately I believe two starts by Lester, two starts by Josh Beckett and all that postseason experience will be too much for the Rays to overcome. Red Sox in seven.
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