The League Championship Series are about to begin–the NL today and the AL tomorrow.
I am not in the business of making predictions, but I would be more than mildly surprised if our World Series teams did not turn out to be the Red Sox and Rockies. I would also be somewhat surprised if either series went more than five games.
The Rockies will play the Diamondbacks in what perhaps should be renamed this year the MLCS–Mountain League Championship Series–for it features, for the first time, a matchup between the only two teams to play in the Mountain time zone.
Really, these two series do not look to me like they should be close. The Rockies won the NL Wild Card thanks to an amazing late-season surge and the failure of the Padres’ closer to hold leads in two of the season’s final three games, including the extra game needed to break the tie for the postseason berth with the Rockies. So, superficially, the Rockies are lucky to be here. But not as lucky as the Diamondbacks.
The Rockies just may have been the best team in the NL in 2007. They missed by one game (out of the 162 prior to the tiebreaker) having the league’s best record. The team that has that honor is, of course, the Diamondbacks, despite their having been outscored over the course of the season.
The case for the Rockies as the league’s best team is buttressed by looking at run differentials. Here they are for the four teams that made the playoffs and those that nearly missed (runs by, runs against, difference), going by division:
PHI, 892, 821, +71
NYM, 804, 750, +54
CHC, 752, 690, +62
MIL, 801, 776, +25
ARI, 712, 732, â€“20
COL, 860, 758, +102
SD, 741, 666, +75
On this measure, it is not especially a close call. The Rockies, at 102, are the only NL team with a run differential greater than 75. They were second in the league to the Philles in runs scored, but allowed only a relative few runs more than the Mets, who play in a great pitchers’ park (or than the Dodgers, who allowed 727).
Of course, we can’t attribute the Diamondbacks’ success only to luck. Great top-of-the-line relievers, but not an especially deep staff, mean they were likely to win close games, but that deficits early in individual games were likely to grow worse. (Something similar probably accounts for the similar over-achievement of the Mariners, noted below.)
The Diamondbacks made short work of the Cubs in the Division Series, and should have one of the league’s best starters (Brandon Webb) pitch twice (barring a sweep). They also have the home-field advantage as the team with the best W-L record, and playing the Wild Card. They could win this, of course. But I have to think the Rockies are a big favorite, and not only because they have been the hottest team in recent weeks. (Being hot late did not help the Phillies in the postseason, after all.)
As for the AL, the series really ought not to be close. The Red Sox are just too good. On the other hand, Cleveland features two great starting pitchers (Sabbathia and Carmona, who dominated the Yankees’ great lineup), so it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which the Indians stretch the series out, and perhaps even win it.
But look at these run differentials of the playoff teams and near-misses (and here I will start with the West):
LAA, 822, 731, +91
SEA, 794, 813, â€“19
CLE, 811, 704, +107
DET, 887, 797, +90
BOS, 867, 657, +210
NYY, 968, 777, +191
Wow, look at the Boston differential! And the Yankees were almost as good by this measure. The Angels certainly had an easier time of it in their own division than did the other playoff teams, and this puts the merciless sweep of the ALDS in perspective.
Well, it isn’t what I expect, but here’s hoping that the last three series of the season all go seven!