You can smell it in the air. The mercury is dropping. The leaves are turning. Fall has arrived. It’s October, and for some of us that means one thing: Major League Baseball playoffs. Which also means that I will not bore you with my usual isn’t-it-great-that-this or it’s-too-bad-that-that. Nope, what follows is a series of predictions. Wait for it: I’m about to reveal the winner of the 2006 World Series.
In February, for those driving north on I-87 through the Bronx, the facade of Yankees Stadium read “26 World Championships.” In less than a month, it will read “27.” Here’s how I see it playing out.
The Yankees enter the postseason as the best team in the American League. For that honor, they meet the Detroit Tigers, everybody’s favorite story of 2006. The Tigers went on a late-season tailspin unparalleled by any team in the history of the game, losing 31 of their last 50 games and sacrificing the American League Central Division to the Twins, after having a lead of more than 10 games in early August.
The Yankees, on the other hand, won more games than any team in baseball except the Mets. And they did so mostly without the help of juice-head Gary Sheffield or the steady bat of Upperdeki Matsui. The Yankees will take this series 3-1. The key point here — because Jim Leyland decided to use veteran lefty Kenny Rogers on Sunday night in a last-ditch and ultimately fruitless attempt to win the division, Rogers is unable to start Game 1, which throws off the Tigers’ rotation for the rest of the series.
In the other ALDS, the red-hot Minnesota Twins take on the unheralded Oakland A’s. First, the Twins won 96 games this season. Second, only two teams, the Tigers and the San Diego Padres, allowed fewer runs than the Twins’ allowance of a mere 683.
Here’s the kicker. The A’s are the only playoff-bound squad in the American League whose differential between runs scored and runs allowed was less than 100. They beat Johan Santana in Game 1 yesterday. But Minnesota will still win in five games.
That makes the American League Championship Series Yankees versus Twins. The season series between these two teams was split, 3-3. The winning team scored at least five runs in each of the six contests.
Bottom line, no one goes into the Bronx, engages the Yankees in a slugfest, and comes out alive. So, if the scores of the regular season games between these two teams mean anything, the Yankees will win in six games. The Twins’ only hope is to try to keep games close, and they just don’t have the pitching. After Johan Santana, each of the Twins starters has an ERA over 4.00. The Yankees are going to the World Series.
Now for the National League. Try this one on for size: no one cares about the National League. Despite what my father and his father and all our fathers say about years past, the National League has become nothing but a J.V. league. No one can hit except Albert, Ryan and Miguel. Moreover, no one can seem to win. The Mets won 97 games. After them, no team won 90. Every American League team in the playoffs won at least 93 games.
The point of this rant is that I’m not going to waste your time talking about the National League Divisional or Championship Series. The Dodgers will outlast the Mets and then beat the Padres in the NLCS. They will then come to New York for the World Series and lose.
Why the Dodgers? First, they come into the playoffs on a seven game winning streak, making them the hottest team still playing. With Brad Penny (who has admittedly struggled of late), Derek Lowe (whom I hate) and Greg Maddux (who should retire), the Dodgers have a deep enough rotation to win games, and it’s their biggest weakness. Add two solid stoppers with Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito, and their overall pitching staff might be the strongest left in the NL. They also have a line-up suited for the playoffs with an effective combination of experience (Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, the ever-disappointing J.D. Drew, and the eternal Kenny Lofton) and youth (breakout catcher Russell Martin, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and rookie outfielder Andre Ethier). Finally, this is a team that has shown grit. Think back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to beat the Padres in late September.
Regardless, the Yankees are the best team in baseball. Their biggest weakness, as it has been since 2000, is the bullpen. But the Yankees offense is far too powerful for them not to win. Every batter in the Yankees starting lineup has an OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) over .840. Their team OPS of .824 is not only the best in baseball, it also puts them 60 points ahead of the next best playoff team — the Los Angeles Dodgers. That makes the Yankees the most potent offensive team since the 2004 Red Sox, who won the World Series, even though they arguably had less pitching depth than this Yankees team. Yankees beat the Dodgers in five.
Nicholas Thorne is a junior in Pierson College. His column appears on Wednesdays.