Baseball

Baseball playoffs - it's finally October

While the White Sox beat the Twins for the last playoff position Tuesday, the real postseason starts today. Jon Lester's Red Sox are set to play the Angels, again. Manny's Dodgers will play the Cubs, The and CC's Brewers' will take on Philadelphia in the first round.

RED SOX VS. ANGELS

Records: Red Sox 95-67, AL wild card; Angels 100-62, AL West champions.

Season series: Angels won, 8-1.

Pitching matchups: Game 1 — Red Sox LHP Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21 ERA) vs. Angels RHP John Lackey (12-5, 3.75). Game 2 — Red Sox RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90). vs. Angels RHP Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49). Game 3 — Angels LHP Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41) vs. Red Sox RHP Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03).

Who’s hot: Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez finished with a major-league record 62 saves in 69 chances. He has blown only two saves since the middle of August.

Who’s not: Red Sox 3B Mike Lowell, the reigning World Series MVP, hit only .225 in the second half with four home runs while battling a hip injury.

On the spot: Red Sox LF Jason Bay was acquired to replace Manny Ramirez at the trade deadline. This is Bay’s first trip to the postseason, and any major failure will be exacerbated by Ramirez’s sterling history at this time of year.

Series keys: 1. October voodoo: The Red Sox have eliminated the Angels in this round twice in the previous four seasons. They outscored the Angels 19-4 in last year’s division series, outhomering them 5-0 and holding them to a .250 on-base percentage.

2. Fresh or stale: While the Red Sox chased the Rays to the final week in their division, the Angels had their division locked up early. They led by at least 10 games from July 23 on. Will all that letdown time catch up to them now or will they be able to summon the proper intensity?

3. Chase the ace: Beckett, troubled by a strained side muscle, was 0-2 with a 7.42 ERA in two starts against the Angels this year. The Blue Jays were the only other team to beat him twice. Beckett has won just two of six career regular-season starts against the Angels, but he tossed a four-hit shutout against them to open last year’s playoffs.

Prediction: Angels in four games.

DODGERS VS. CUBS

Records: Dodgers 84-78, NL West champions; Cubs 97-64 NL Central champions. Season Series: Cubs won 5-2.

Pitching matchups: Game 1 — Cubs RHP Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96) vs. Dodgers RHP Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24); Game 2 — Cubs RHP Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.91) vs. Dodgers RHP Chad Billingsley (16-10, 3.14); Game 3 — Cubs RHP Rich Harden (10-10, 2.07) vs. Dodgers RHP Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73).

Who’s hot: Dodgers RF Andre Ethier has thrived hitting ahead of Manny Ramirez. He batted an NL-best .462 in September with a 1.249 on-base plus slugging percentage; Cubs RHP Carlos Marmol had the best ERA (2.68) of the seven NL relievers with at least 80 innings pitched this season.

Who’s not: In 27 games (24 innings) since the All-Star break, Cubs RHP Bob Howry allowed 19 runs on 36 hits for a 6.93 ERA and .336 opponents’ batting average. Dodgers C Russell Martin hit 34 points lower in the second half (.264) than before the All-Star Game and totaled only 17 of his 69 RBI the final two months.

On the spot: Ramirez hit .396 since the trade from the Red Sox and is a .269 career hitter in 95 career postseason games, including a .348 mark in the 2007 playoffs for the World Series champion Red Sox. Series keys: 1. Keeping it in the park: The Dodgers allowed an NL-low 123 home runs and need to keep the high-powered Cubs, who ranked second among NL teams with 106 homers at home, from bashing their way to a series win.

2. Road woes: Despite ranking fourth in the NL with a .263 road batting average, the Dodgers, at 36-45, own the worst away record of the four NL playoff teams. They also were tied for 14th with 66 road homers. The Cubs can boast the league’s best home record at 55-26.

3. Leaning right: Neither team will start a lefty in the first three games. Whereas the Dodgers hit .260 against righties, matching the league average, the Cubs (.274) were second only to the Cardinals (.287) and hit an NL-best 145 homers off right-handers.

Prediction: Dodgers in five games.

BREWERS VS. PHILLIES

Records: Brewers 90-72, NL wild card; Phillies 92-70 NL East champions.

Season Series: Phillies won 5-1.

Pitching matchups: Game 1 — Phillies LHP Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09) vs. Brewers RHP Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.88); Game 2 — Phillies RHP Brett Myers (10-13, 4.55) vs. Brewers LHP C.C. Sabathia (17-10, 2.70); Game 3 — Phillies LHP Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71) vs. Brewers TBA.

Who’s hot: Phillies 1B Ryan Howard is coming off Player of the Month honors for batting .352 with 11 homers and 32 RBI in September. In 15 starts since the All-Star break, Sabathia led the NL with 115 innings and went 9-2 with a 1.56 ERA, 19 walks and 114 strikeouts.

Who’s not: Brewers RHP Salomon Torres allowed 13 runs (12 earned) on 19 hits with seven walks and seven strikeouts in 12 appearances (12 innings) for an 8.53 September ERA. Phillies LF Pat Burrell batted .205 (15 for 73) with three homers and a .719 on-base plus slugging percentage in September.

On the spot: Phillies closer Brad Lidge went a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities. He will try to erase memories of the six earned runs he allowed in 8 postseason innings as a member of the Houston Astros.

Series keys: 1. On a J-Roll: Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins didn’t come close to duplicating his NL MVP season from a year ago and went just 2 for 11 in the 2007 NLDS against the Rockies. The Phillies need him to get on base consistently ahead of Chase Utley and Howard.

2. RISP-y situation: Only the Reds (.240) had a lower batting average with runners in scoring position among NL teams than the Brewers (.245), who also ranked just 10th in RISP OPS (.742).

3. Battle of the bullpens: The Phillies’ (3.19) and Brewers’ (3.83) bullpens ranked first and fourth, respectively in the NL, but the Brewers blew 11 more save chances than the Phillies (15).

Prediction: Phillies in four.

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