And I want to get in my first-round predictions before the first pitch is thrown.
In the National League:
- Milwaukee vs. Philadelphia: Both teams performed well at home, winning about three-fifths of the time. The Phillies played a little better on the road than the Brewers did.
Both teams were pretty weak at the plate. The Phillies were 10th among the 16 N.L. clubs with a .255 average. The Brewers were 12th with a .251 average.
According to the old saying, though, pitching and defense win championships. There have been exceptions, but that certainly seems to be true in short series.
If it becomes a matter of pitching, who has the edge between the Brewers and the Phillies? Based on the numbers, it looks pretty close. For that matter, the top four teams in the N.L. in ERA are the same four teams who are in the playoffs. Milwaukee had a 3.85 ERA during the season, the Phillies had a 3.88 ERA. Pitching should be pretty strong in the N.L.'s playoff games.
The bullpen appears to be about equal, with Milwaukee getting 45 saves during the season and Philadelphia getting 44.
I predict it will go five games and I'll give the edge to the team with the homefield advantage — Philadelphia.
- Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs: Hands down, the Cubs were the best home team in the National League, winning two-thirds of their games at Wrigley Field. The Dodgers were pretty good at home, too, winning a little more than 59% of the time.
On the road, the Cubs had a winning record (winning 52% of their games) while the Dodgers won less than 45% of their road games.
The Cubs had the best team batting average of any team in the playoffs — in either league (.278) — and their pitchers' ERA was a respectable 3.87, which was fifth-best in the majors (although it trails the Dodgers' 3.68 ERA, the best in the National League).
Those numbers should suggest an easy Cubs win. In fact, they should suggest an easy win against the Dodgers and another easy win against either the Phillies or the Brewers, making a trip to the World Series virtually inevitable.
But these are the Cubs we're talking about. When you look up "futility" or "error-prone" — or "curse" — in the dictionary, you should see the Cubs logo.
History tells me that, because we're talking about the Cubs, we will see a magnificent collapse. And, if history provides any indication of what to expect, it will be grander and more heartbreaking than any of the Cubs' previous collapses.
So my question is, will the Cubs collapse against the Dodgers and their N.L.-leading ERA? Or will they win in the first round, only to wilt against either the Phillies' league-leading home run hitters or the Brewers' pitchers, with their 3.85 ERA and league-most complete games?
I'm going to guess that they'll end the suspense quickly and lose in the first round to the Dodgers, three games to two.
- Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay had better winning percentages at home (70% to 66%) and on the road (49% to 43%) than the White Sox did.
The White Sox led the league in home runs, but, other than that, neither team's offense was at the top of the A.L. charts. The Sox were 11th of 14 teams and the Rays were 13th in batting average. Tampa Bay showed pretty good speed during the season, leading the A.L. in stolen bases, but their problem was getting on base in the first place, ranking 13th in base hits.
The key, in addition to winning percentages at home and on the road, may be found in pitching. Tampa Bay was second in the league in ERA (Chicago was sixth), tied for third in complete games (Chicago was 11th) and virtually tied for third in strikeouts with the White Sox (Chicago had 1,147 while Tampa Bay had 1,143).
If it comes down to the bullpen, Tampa's relievers recorded the A.L.'s second-best tally in saves (52) while Chicago was 12th in that category (34).
Plus, Chicago may be a little tired after having to play two additional games on Monday and Tuesday just to qualify for the playoffs while everyone else was resting and licking their wounds.
I pick Tampa in four games.
At the plate, the Red Sox had a better year than the Angels, recording a higher batting average of .280 to Los Angeles' .268. Boston was sixth in the league in home runs (L.A. was ninth), but the Angels finished second in steals (129), just ahead of Boston (120).
Who has the edge in pitching? L.A.'s ERA was 3.99 while Boston's was 4.01. The Angels' bullpen led the A.L. in saves with 66; Boston was a distant third with 47. But Boston led the league in strikeouts with 1,185, while the Angels were sixth in the A.L. with 1,106.
It doesn't really seem to matter to the Angels whether they're at home or on the road. The Red Sox will be competitive, but I pick the Angels to win in four games.