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Rays vs. White Sox matchup

Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
The Red Sox rotation is scary good and playoff tested with Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester. The three combined to go 46-19 and that was with Beckett going 12-10. But the Angels are tough, too, with John Lackey (12-5), Ervin Santana (16-7) and Joe Saunders (17-7). Slight edge — very slight — to the Sox. Milwaukee's CC Sabathia (11-2) has been the National League's best pitcher since coming over in a trade, but he threw 253 innings this season and will start Game 2 on three days' rest — his fourth straight such start. Does he have any gas left? Meantime, Ben Sheets might not even pitch in this series. Philly's staff, led by Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, is rested and very good. The Cubs' rotation of Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano — provided he is 100 percent — might be the best among the playoff teams. But don't dismiss the Dodgers, especially because playoff-proven Derek Lowe is throwing just about as well as anyone.
Bullpen Both have top-notch closers, although they can be beat. L.A.'s Francisco Rodriguez, left, did set a saves record with 62, but he did blow seven. Boston's Jonathan Papelbon saved 40 but blew five. Both are emotional roller-coasters. Middle relief is strong on both sides. From top to bottom, starters to middle relief to bullpen, probably the best two staffs in baseball. Philly's Brad Lidge, left, was a perfect 41-for-41 in saves this season, and the Phillies are 79-0 this season when leading after eight innings. The Brewers' pen is, in a word, shaky. Closer Salomon Torres looks spent, and the Brewers might actually turn the saves over to Eric Gagne, who is not nearly the pitcher he was five years ago. With Jonathan Broxton closing games, the Dodgers bullpen is extremely underrated and a big part of why they are in the postseason. The Cubs are fine there, too, with Kerry Wood, above, and Carlos Marmol.
Offense Is there an easy out in the Red Sox lineup? The top of the lineup (Jacoby Ellsbury, below, and Dustin Pedroia) can hit and run. The middle — David Ortiz (23 homers), Kevin Youkilis (115 RBIs), J.D. Drew (19 homers) and Jason Bay (37 RBIs in 49 games) — can mash. The Angels lineup is drastically improved and dangerous with the addition of Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter to go along with masher Vlad Guerrero in the heart of the order. The Phillies can do it any way you want. They led the NL with 214 homers and also had the best steal percentage in the league. The Brewers are more a long ball-or-bust team. Five guys in the lineup hit at least 20 homers, including 37 by Ryan Braun, below. Milwaukee was 74-46 when hitting a home run and 16-26 when it didn't. The Brewers hit only .206 against the Phillies this season, but they did hit eight homers in six games. From top to bottom, the Cubs are stronger with the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Jim Edmonds. But the meat of the Dodgers lineup is ferocious thanks to the addition of Manny Ramirez, below. Manny was so good in L.A. (.396 average, 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games) that he is getting serious MVP consideration. And you're taking about one of the greatest postseason sluggers ever.
Defense You know any team managed by Mike Scio­scia is going to catch the ball. The Angels' outfield defense is as good as any team in baseball, and it's the one area in which the Angels, including Gary Matthews, below, have a clear advantage over the Red Sox. The edge goes to the Phillies, particularly up the middle with shortstop Jimmy Rollins, below, second baseman Chase Utley and centerfielder Shane Victorino. A big edge to shortstop Ryan Theriot, below, and the Cubs, who allowed the fewest unearned runs of any team in the playoffs.
Manager Two of baseball's better managers. Both Boston's Terry Francona, top, and L.A.'s Mike Scioscia have won World Series and know how to guide their teams through the emotional ups and downs of the postseason. The Brewers manager has barely been a manager. Dale Sveum, top, took over in mid September after the Brewers, coincidentally, were swept in a four-game series by the Phillies and fired Ned Yost. The Brewers finished by winning seven of their final eight. Philly is managed by the well-traveled Charlie Manuel. Joe Torre, top, of the Dodgers and Lou Piniella of the Cubs. You can't go wrong either way. Both know what it's like to be in the playoffs, and you could argue that either is the best manager of the past 20 years or so.
Intangibles The Angels won eight of the nine games against the Red Sox this season, including a sweep at Fenway in which they outscored the Red Sox, 22-9. The big question in this series is the health of Red Sox stars Josh Beckett, J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell. Both teams are hot, especially the Phillies, who won 12 of 15 to take the NL East. This series could depend on how much CC Sabathia has left in his arm. If he can win both of his starts, Milwaukee has a chance. Philly won five of the six meetings. It's all about the Cubs, who are looking for their first World Series title in 100 years. But the curse is so strong that if the Cubs face any adversity or get bitten by bad luck, they'll be reminded of 100 years of history. The Cubs won the season series 5-2.
Prediction Angels in five Phillies in four Cubs in four

Starting pitchingBullpenOffense
The White Sox have the more established starters in RHP Javier Vazquez and LHP Mark Buehrle (who have 249 wins between them), plus dangerous LHP John Danks, with RHP Gavin Floyd in the bullpen now and in line for Game 4. The Sox tend to let them work. The Rays counter, in order, with RHP James Shields, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Matt Garza and RHP Andy Sonnanstine, who have a combined 117 wins among them. Command of their emotions and their fastballs will be key for the Rays, who struggled some in September. The two Chicago lefties could be an edge as the Rays have hit about 20 points lower than against righties.

Edge: White Sox

Sox closer Bobby Jenks has 117 career saves; the Rays' six active relievers have a career total of 66, 38 by Dan Wheeler, above. But the Rays might have the better bullpen. Their relief ERA of 3.55 ranks third in the AL, and they have a diverse mix with three different-looking lefties, groundball-inducing Chad Bradford and strikeout machine Grant Balfour. The Sox, with a 4.00 relief ERA, have some weapons in Octavio Dotel and lefty Matt Thornton but tend to get hit around a bit.

Edge: Rays

The Rays and Sox are about as opposite as you can get. The Rays prefer to be aggressive, put the game in motion and run at will, ranking first in the league in steals and grounding into the fewest double plays. The return of speedy Carl Crawford should further energize them. The Sox dig the long ball, leading the majors in home runs, and scoring nearly half their runs that way, thanks to a power-packed lineup that includes Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Ken Griffey, rookie Alexei Ramirez and Nick Swisher. They are 13th in the AL in stolen bases and grounded into the most double plays in the majors. Neither team hits for a high average (Sox, 11th in AL; Rays 13th); the Rays walk more and have a higher on-base percentage, but also strike out more.

Edge: White Sox

The Rays have gotten this far by catching the ball and making the plays that need to get made and, as important, not letting too many plays go unmade. They are fleet in the outfield, smooth all around the infield and C Dioner Navarro, above, doesn't get enough credit. The Sox aren't bad, with silky SS Orlando Cabrera in the middle, but they don't cover as much ground.

Edge: Rays

Sox manager Ozzie Guillen can be outlandish, outspoken, outrageous and out-of-bounds, and that's just in the first 15 minutes he speaks. Guillen will say what's on his mind about players without concern for their feelings. His methods are sometimes questioned, but the results have been there. Rays manager Joe Maddon prefers the unconventional, outside-the-box, occasionally off-beat approach, relishing the opportunity to go against conventional wisdom. Maddon thrives on building relationships and trust in the clubhouse and rarely has anything but positives to say about his players. And there hasn't been much Maddon, the likely AL Manager of the Year, has done this season that hasn't worked out just right.

Edge: Rays

This one is up for debate. Will the Sox ride in on an emotional high with the momentum from consecutive must-wins and take it to the resting Rays? Or are the Sox spent from all the drama and the Rays are poised to race past them? The Sox certainly have experience and perspective on their side, the Rays have the excitement of youth and the energy of playing at home.

Edge: Rays

Rays vs. White Sox matchup 10/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 3:18pm]
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