Sticking with the Red Sox and Astros |

Sticking with the Red Sox and Astros

Last week’s Major League Baseball predictions went well with Houston, and the Southern Cal teams Anaheim and Los Angeles, all reaching the playoffs, leaving the ill-fated Chicago Cubs and Northern Cal’s Oakland and San Francisco pondering how things went wrong. The only circumstance that could have added to the weekend’s excitement would have been a one-game Monday playoff, but that was just not meant to be.

Let’s now take a look at the best-of-five League Division Series, which began Tuesday.

American League:

New York Yankees vs. Minnesota – Game 2 of this series was by far the best show during the first two days, with New York pulling out a come-from behind extra-inning victory. Capturing Game 2 was mandatory for the Yankees because they should once again face Minnesota Game 1 winner Johan Santana. The Twins’ ace led the league in Earned Run Average and strikeouts, and has been positively unbeatable since the All-Star break, compiling a 14-0 record over 16 starts. Santana headed a pitching staff that, combined with an excellent defense, allowed the fewest runs in the American League.

In contrast, perennial contender New York appears vulnerable this year because of a lack of pitching. Gone are Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells, who have been replaced by Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown. Hernandez has a late-season self-proclaimed “dead arm,” Vazquez has one win in his last nine starts, and last month Brown, already troubled with a bad back, angrily smashed his left hand into his manager’s office wall, recovering in time to pitch only two games in preparation for the postseason.

Minnesota is the sentimental choice to defeat the Yankee machine because, as the late Rodney Dangerfield would have said, they get no respect. Last year the Twins were almost contracted out of the league entirely, they total a playoff-low $54 million in player salaries, and they possibly could have earned home-field advantage facing Boston had it not been for a suspension and subsequent loss of their Saturday game, because their stadium needed to be set up for college football.

But somehow, the Yankees and their $180 million payroll should advance. New York has won all four of its ALDS when losing Game 1. The picks are Minnesota when Santana pitches, and the Yankees in the other games.

Boston vs. Anaheim – Not even the rally monkey will be able to pull Anaheim out of its current two games to nothing hole. The Angels’ starting pitching simply is no match for Boston’s.

Even if the Halos were to mount a comeback, eventually they would run into 21-game winner Curt Schilling. Including Tuesday’s victory, Schilling is 6-1 in 12 playoff starts and is considered to be the best big-game pitcher in baseball.

If Boston and Anaheim were paired up against the other two AL teams, the pick would be for the Red Sox and Angels to meet in the Championship Series. But it didn’t work out that way. Anaheim will fail to get revenge for their 1986 ALCS collapse versus Boston. The pick is the Red Sox to close the series out in 3.

National League:

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles – While posting the best record in baseball, St. Louis led the NL in runs, batting average and bullpen ERA. The only question mark is the starting pitching, but the Cardinals’ murderers’ row of a lineup more than compensates for any weaknesses. Tuesday’s record-tying five home run performance is evidence of their capabilities.

Los Angeles’ first playoff season in eight years has been a wild one, full of late-inning triumphs. But sooner or later that kind of luck runs out, and St. Louis is the team that should end that run. The choice is St. Louis in 4.

Atlanta vs. Houston – Atlanta’s Bobby Cox has managed for over 2000 wins, and he was at the helm when the Braves beat Houston in the 1997, 1999 and 2001 playoffs. But Atlanta has lost in the NLDS three of the last four seasons, and the pitching is not as strong as in past years.

Although Houston has failed to win a single postseason series in seven tries, the Astros are on fire, having won eight straight going into last night, and 18 consecutive at home. Houston caught a break by winning Sunday without the services of ailing team leader Roger Clemens, who went on to pitch well Wednesday in Game 1. Roy Oswalt, the NL’s only 20-game winner, gives the Astros a solid one-two punch. Houston should win in 3.

World Series – There’s no reason yet to change last week’s prediction of Houston over Boston.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at