From the Sidelines: October’s finest prepare for annual showdown

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September 29, 2008

10:31 PM

October is a time when leaves change colors, temperatures cool, and students prepare for midterms. For MLB fans, October is a time when eight teams look to continue their hot streaks all the way through to the World Series.

American League

Angels vs. Red Sox

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, holders of the best regular-season record in the majors and winners of the AL West, will look to their star-studded offense, led by rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero, first baseman Mark Teixeira and centerfielder Torii Hunter to power past the defending World Series champ. A solid Angels pitching staff, which includes ace John Lackey and shut-down closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, will have its hands full against a potent Boston offense.

Many critics believed trading Manny Ramirez would hurt Boston’s chances of making the playoffs, but it didn’t. The loss of Manny actually jump-started the Red Sox offense, as Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis all turned in outstanding second-halves. If the game is on the line, look for David Ortiz to come through in the clutch. The Sox staff, anchored by closer Jonathan Papelbon, will need to step up big to silence the Angels’ bats.

I believe the Angels will win the series, but the Red Sox will stick around for five games.

Rays vs. Twins or White Sox

The upstart Tampa Bay Rays, fresh off their first AL East title, never faded this season, turning back constant skepticism surrounding their miracle run. With young pitchers Scott Kazmir and James Shields and a strong offense led by B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Carlos Peña, the Rays should be a challenge for either the White Sox or the Twins. Even if they miss the playoffs, the Twins had a fantastic season considering they lost most of their starting pitchers from last season, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who led the National League this season in lowest ERA for the New York Mets. The White Sox had an up and down year and will have to rebound in October, if they win the division.

Either way, the Rays will come out on top of the series, most likely with a three-game sweep.

National League

Phillies vs. Brewers

NL East champs Philadelphia overcame a 3.5 game deficit with 17 games left in the season to clinch the title, relying on the power bats of Ryan Howard (48 HR), Chase Utley (33 HR) and Pat Burrell (33 HR) to outscore opponents. Reliable pitching from their Cole Hamels-led staff gives the Phillies a balanced attack heading into October.

Meanwhile, the Brewers, making their first playoff appearance since 1982, will turn to starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia — who threw a complete game on three day’s rest to clinch the NL wild card — and Ben Sheets to dominate opposing hitters.

This should be an interesting match-up, but I feel that the Brewers pitching staff will triumph in a four-game series.

Cubs vs. Dodgers

It’s been 100 years since the Cubs’ last World Series title, but this could be their year. Outstanding starting pitching from Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden combined with a formidable offense (including Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano) to drive Chicago to the top of the NL.

Despite many injuries and finishing just six games above .500, the Dodgers claimed the NL West title. The mid-season acquisition of Manny helped the Dodgers a lot. Although shaky at times in the outfield, the man can hit. He recorded a .396 batting average, 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 53 games for the Dodgers.
Look for the Dodgers to be competitive, but the Cubs should take the series in four games.

As for my World Series prediction, I’ve got the Angels defeating the Cubs, prolonging the “Curse of the Goat” for at least one more season.

E-mail Jim Mancari at [email protected]

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