Welcome to the American and National League Championship Series, where the tension is palpable and every pitch is scrutinized. Four teams are one step away from the World Series. Who is this year’s Aaron Boone? Who will get the chance to live on in playoff glory? Who will get a chance at the Fall classic? The ULOT guys weigh in and give their bold predictions.
American League: Boston Red Sox versus Tampa Bay Rays
Bad blood links these two otherwise polar opposite teams, one of which represents the tradition and history of baseball, the other representing the new wave, small budget wonderkids. Anyone who wants October Drama should pray for a James Shields-Coco Crisp at bat. Prediction: fireworks at Fenway.
The Red Sox beat a convincing Angels team, but I’m still not competely sold on them. Their lineup has holes, and their starters—while they have the experience—don’t have the same punch they did the last few years. Tampa has the pop, the speed, and the heart to go far, and their pitching is the best in the American League.
ULOT X Factor: Carl Crawford. His impact was immediately felt by the Rays, who rode an offensive surge past the hapless White Sox. Can he do it again against Boston? He’ll have to if he wants to see the Fall Classic.
Bold Prediction: Red Sox in 7. It pains me to say this, and it’ll be even harder to say goodbye to the Rays of hope, but experience trumps novelty. When it comes down to it, I’ll take David Ortiz in a tight spot over Evan Longoria any day. But that’s not why this series is going to be good to watch. If you secretly enjoyed seeing Don Zimmer getting thrown on his 80-year old ass by Pedro Martinez, then this series is for you. This AL East rivalry is becoming the best rivalry in the American League, and each pitch has the potential to start the conflagration that ends in punches. The Rays might not win, but they’ve shown that they won’t go down without a fight.
National League: Los Angeles Dodgers versus Philadelphia Phillies
Well, we were wrong. We said the Cubs would be tough, and they weren’t. The Dodgers steamrolled them and proved that their regular season record wasn’t as revealing as it could be. The Phillies also made quick work of Milwaukee and set the stage for a great NLCS. The Phillies have 3 MVP-caliber players in Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. But the Dodgers are anchored by a great rotation, a strong bullpen, and this years should-be MVP, Manny Ramirez.
ULOT X Factor: Andre Ethier. The Phillies would be insane to not pitch around Manny Ramirez. If they do, then Ethier must clean up the mess if the Dodgers want to advance to their first World Series since 1988. If his bat is silent, the Dodgers cannot win.
Bold Prediction: This is a tough call because the series will be really close, but we’re going with the Dodgers in 7. Philadelphia certainly has the thunder in the lineup. But let me give you some advice with that cheese steak: pitching wins championships, not a slugger who bats .251.