The 2003 baseball playoffs feature the most intriguing matchups in years. Because of the parity among the playoff teams, there are no obvious favorites to reach the World Series. All the teams are flawed to such an extent that this year’s playoffs should be wildly unpredictable. With that said, I’ll give it a shot anyway. A disclaimer: These picks were made on Tuesday afternoon, before Tuesday and Wednesday night games — I swear.
NLDS: Chicago vs. Atlanta (Series tied 1-1)
The Atlanta Braves had the best record in the National League this season, but they are not necessarily the favorites even in this series. During this season, the Braves’ offense was better than it has been at any point during the team’s 12-year string of division titles. However, there starting pitching has definitely taken a hit with the loss of Kevin Millwood to the Phillies and Tom Glavine to the Mets. Greg Maddux is not the dominant pitcher he once was.
The Cubs don’t have an offense to compete with Atlanta. They need to rely on their young pitchers to get hot. Neither team has a great setup crew coming out of the bullpen, so strong outings from Cubs pitchers could put Atlanta in a big hole.
Game 1 (which the Cubs won) featured Kerry Wood against Russ Ortiz. I liked the Cubs in this series if they could just manage to split the first two games in Atlanta (which they did). Once the series shifts back to Chicago, the Cubs will be able to send their ace Mark Prior against Greg Maddux in Game 3. This pivotal game could turn the series in the Cubs favor and allow them to win their first playoff series since 1908.
Cubs in Four
NLDS: Florida vs. San Francisco (Series tied 1-1)
The Marlins wouldn’t shock me if they won this series. They have a great young pitching staff with Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Mark Redman and Dontrelle Willis. Also, Florida has the phenomenal team speed that led baseball in stolen bases.
However, the Marlins don’t have the playoff experience of the defending NL champions. The Giants bullpen is significantly stronger too. Therefore, the Marlins might be able to hang around, but the Giants, who went 28-11 in one-run games, will have the mettle to pull out the close ones. The series is now tied, but I would look for the Giants to take the series. I’ll pick Kirk Reuter to win Game 3 for the Giants, Dontrelle Willis to take Game 4 for the Marlins, before Jason Schmidt finishes Florida off in a decisive game 5.
Giants in Five
ALDS: Minnesota vs. New York (Twins lead 1-0)
For a Yankees fan, Minnesota is scarily like the Anaheim Angels of last season. They have a solid bullpen, great defense, and the ability to make contact and move runners around with their team speed. Starters Johan Santana, Brad Radke, and Kyle Lohse are an incredible 25-5 since the All-Star break. The bullpen and defense were already major factors in giving the Twins a 3-1 win in Game 1. The fact that this series has an extra off day before today’s Game 2 will hurt the Yankees after a loss. For two days, the team will be bombarded with criticism from Steinbrenner and might become overanxious against the change-up hurling Brad Radke in Game 2.
Although the Twins did snap a 13-game losing streak against the Yankees with the win in Game 1, the Yankees still hold the edge because of their starters. Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and David Wells have had overwhelming success against the Twins. All four of these starters have much more playoff seasoning than their Minnesota counterparts. Pettitte will tie the series in Game 2 and either Clemens or Wells should able to get the series back to New York for Mussina to wrap it up.
Yankees in Five (Please don’t jinx the Yankees)
ALDS: Boston vs. Oakland (Game 1 late Wednesday night)
Boston has the most explosive offense in baseball, but pitching wins postseason series. Pedro Martinez is as good as it gets, but there isn’t much after him. Wakefield, Lowe or Burkett could go either way. If the Sox don’t get good starts, they have to fall back upon an extremely suspect bullpen.
Oakland’s offense is not on par with Boston, but they do have a better bullpen and a reliable closer in Keith Foulke. If the A’s had Mark Mulder, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick them. As it stands, Hudson and Barry Zito are a great 1-2 punch, but I don’t like the idea of an inexperienced Ted Lilly pitching in front of a hostile Fenway crowd. Oakland really needs Tim Hudson to outduel Pedro in Game 1, but the best pitcher on the planet is not a good guy to bet against. I think Pedro will win Game 1 and Zito Game 2 before things unravel for the A’s in Fenway.
Red Sox in Four