Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bye Week - The 2008 MLB Playoffs

Coming off the loss and heading into the bye week, I think we all need the week off to figure out what went wrong and to right the Dawgs back on the right track. With that being said, this week I am totally going off the page to talk about something entirely different: Major League Baseball!

As most fans in Atlanta, when the Braves fell out of the playoff race for the third straight year, my attention turned entirely to football. Little did I know that I would be missing some of the best playoff race action the sport has ever seen. The Twins held a lead over the White Sox with a weekend to go, but the Sox pulled out a win over the Indians and then finished off the Tigers in a Monday make up game to force a tie-breaker with the Twins. The game ended with a 1-0 victory for the White Sox, sending them to the playoffs as AL Central champs. Here’s a brief wrap up of the 2008 season and my preview for the playoffs.

2008 has marked the return to reality for home runs and some record breaking performances. Ken Griffey Jr. became the sixth member of baseball’s 600 home run club and John Smoltz reaching 3,000 strikeouts were some of the career milestones that were reached. Remember the days when the home run leaders had numbers in the 30’s and not the 50’s? Well those days are back. Only two players in the Majors hit at least 40 (Ryan Howard, 48 and Adam Dunn, 40) and the leader in the American League, Miguel Cabrera, had 37. Chipper Jones flirted with .400 for much of the first half and held on to win his first batting title (.364). Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels broke Bobby Thigpen’s major league for saves(57), setting the bar now at 62. Former heroin addict Josh Hamilton put on a show at the Home Run Derby and led the American League in RBIs. Perhaps the most amazing year was put in by Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians. Lee was nearly left out of the Indians rotation after spring training, but ended up dominating the American League with a 22-3 record and 2.54 ERA.

In terms of team performances, 2008 was all about two teams: Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs. Chicago won the central division and has become the new darlings of the baseball world. Everyone seems to be pulling for the Cubs to break their 100 year World Series championship drought, and the team looks good enough to do it. In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays dropped the “Devil” from their name and finally found a way to make all of their young talent successful. Here are the match ups that begin today.

Divisional Round:
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies – Bats vs. Bats. These two teams are loaded with firepower, each lead by an oversized slugger (Brewers – Prince Fielder and Phillies – Ryan Howard). This may come down to pitching and with Ben Sheets out, Philadelphia may be able to pull this one out.

Chicago Cubs vs. LA Dodgers – The Dodgers got hot after Manny left Boston and took his circus west, but come on. This Cubs team is one of the most complete I’ve seen in a while. Look for the Cubs to sweep the Dodgers.

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox – The Sox sneaked in the playoffs, but they won’t have enough to carry them past the Rays. Tamps gets Carl Crawford back in center and at the top of the lineup, and the bats led by Evan Langoria put it on the Southsiders.

LA Angels vs. Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox have won two of the past 4 World Series for good reason. They have a mix of veteran stars and young players making contributions. That being said, this Angels team is that much better. The one two punch of Vlad and Tex should help the Halos put up enough runs to get to their bullpen, where Rodriguez and his 62 regular season saves await.

League Championship Series:

Cubs vs. Phillies – Once again, no one will stop the Cubs in the NL.

Rays vs. Angels – The miracle year for the Rays ends here. Angels will romp and move on to face the Cubbies.

World Series:

Cubs vs. Angels – Look for this one to go 7. Two balanced teams slugging it out. I’ll take Chicago in seven, with Kerry Wood recording the final out, ending 100 years of Chicago heart break.

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