Cubs ready for success, playoffs to take shape

By Dave Fultz

Last week, my fellow DI columnist Ryan Dixon called me out and challenged me to a friendly baseball wager after my Cubs clinched their division and his White Sox seemed poised to do the same.

But the White Sox frittered away their lead in the division and had to win Monday to force a one-game playoff with the Twins, so I wasn’t so sure that I’d need to think up a good bet.

Mr. Dixon’s White Sox took home a win against Detroit on Monday, and I’ll be rooting for them on Tuesday so that we can keep some sort of a wager in order. I will leave the ball in his court to determine the terms of any such agreement.

I assure you that the winner will gloat in his column space, that the loser will be mightily embarrassed and that all involved will have a heck of a time this October.

That said, let’s get to some analysis and predictions for the four division series.

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NLDS: Cubs or Dodgers?

This series is an interesting one on the surface because the national media is billing it as the best team in the National League against the hottest team. Now the folks in Bristol got one half of the equation right, as Chicago has been the best team in the league from top to bottom since March. But the Dodgers are far from the hottest team.

Over the last 10 games, the Cubs and the Dodgers are an identical 5-5 and Los Angeles hasn’t played a team with a pulse in nearly a month while the Cubs have been playing the Brewers, Mets, Cardinals and Astros in September.

The Dodgers finished at just six games over .500 in the worst division in baseball, were third-to-last in runs scored and were carried by a stellar bullpen that is now having major injury problems. The Cubs on the other hand have scored the most runs and had the highest OPS in the league on offense, while the starting rotation had the best ERA in the NL.

The pitching matchups should be very good and fairly even, making for a great, low-scoring series, but the Cubs’ major league-best run differential and home record gives them the edge in this one.

NLDS: Phillies or Brewers?

This one is much tougher to call simply because CC Sabathia is a monster. The man has pitched on three days rest in three consecutive starts – and not only that, has pitched lights out – to put Milwaukee on his back and single-handedly carried them into the playoffs.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he won the NL Cy Young and the NL MVP despite the fact that he has only been in the league since June. That said, I don’t know how much further he can drag this team.

The Brewers have a lot of holes in their team that won’t just go away in the playoffs. Co-ace Ben Sheets won’t pitch in this series, the back end of both the rotation and bullpen are sketchy and the offense is very streaky.

The Phillies, on the other hand, boast the best bullpen in the league, are third in runs scored and OPS, and can start ace Cole Hamels twice in a short series which doesn’t bode well for the impatient Milwaukee hitters.

ALDS: Angels or Red Sox?

This one is even tougher to call because both of these teams have been very good this season. The Angels racked up more wins than anyone in baseball, but they did it in a very weak division, playing cupcake teams like the Athletics and Mariners all year while Boston had to deal with the Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays.

The Red Sox have a far superior offense, scoring the second most runs and putting up the second highest OPS in the American League while the Angels are in the bottom half of the league in nearly every offensive category.

The teams are closer in the numbers when it comes to pitching, with Boston holding a slight advantage in rotation ERA and the Angels holding a slight advantage in the bullpen. The offensive advantage, as well as the fact the Red Sox had the second-best run differential in the majors all season, have me picking Boston to take this one from L.A.

ALDS: Rays or Twins/White Sox?

I’m going to reserve judgment on this one because we don’t know who will be the AL Central representative until after Chicago and Minnesota finish their one-game playoff on Tuesday. I will say that I would probably give Tampa Bay a slight edge over either of those teams just because of the sheer amount of talent on the Rays roster.

I don’t normally give a lot of credence to the idea that teams need postseason experience to succeed, but given that Cliff Floyd is the elder statesman that the Rays have to look up to, you never know if a lack of experience will hurt them.

I’ll be watching Chicago and Minnesota’s one-game playoff intently, and I guarantee that Mr. Dixon will be doing the same.

Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].