MLB League Championships
By Anthony Lafratta
Chicago Cubs vs. Florida Marlins
No one would have believed it a month ago, but here they are,
the Cubs and Marlins, battling for a spot in the Fall Classic.
By overcoming the Braves in five games the Cubs won a playoff
series for the first time in 95 years, while the Marlins victory
over the Giants marked their return to the NLCS for the first
time since buying, er, winning the World Series in 1997.
Season series results are largely unhelpful here; the Cubbies
took four of six games, but they were played three months ago.
Of note, however, was the performance of Cubs ace Kerry Wood,
who tossed two complete game victories against the Marlins,
one being a shutout.
Why is this relevant? Well, maybe it's not, but Wood and fellow
starter Mark Prior will certainly be relevant to the outcome
of this series. Wood and Prior simply dominated the Braves.
If the other half of the rotation -Matt Clement and Carlos
Zambrano- can eat up some innings and the bullpen can continue
to hold down leads, the Cubbies will win decisively.
But what about the Pudge factor? Marlins catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez
single-handedly stole the series from the Giants.
What happened in game one you ask? Well, the Marlins ran into
some pitching. Jason Schmidt shut down the fish, tossing a
complete game three-hit shutout. Of course, the Giants had
nothing left to throw at the Marlins after that, but the Cubs
will. And therein lies the first of two reasons why the Cubs
will succeed where the Giants failed - pitching depth.
Here's the second reason: the Marlins pitched to Barry Bonds
only nine times the whole series, while issuing him eight free
passes. Try doing that with the Cubs: Kenny Lofton, Moises
Alou, Eric Karros, Aramis Ramirez and Sammy Sosa.
Pitching and offense, the Cubbies have the edge. Cubs win,
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
You'd be hard-pressed to try and set these two ball clubs
Both have whopping payrolls; both have Cy Young Award winners,
batting champions and future Hall of Famers in their midst;
both were down in their respective divisional series -only
to reel off three straight wins and both are coming into this
series with all the confidence in the world.
An appeal to the regular season seems fruitless in solving
this puzzle. The 19-game season series yielded a split, 10-9
in favour of the Yankees.
The Yankees hold the distinct advantage of being rested. After
knocking off the Twins on Sunday, the Yanks have been able
to set up their rotation, leading with Mike Mussina and following
with Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells.
Clemens will throw in game three at Fenway Park where he's
won both his starts this year. However, "the Rocket" would
be slated for game seven in Yankee Stadium, if necessary, where
he's struggled badly against the Sox this season, posting an
0-3 record and a dreadful 12.56 ERA.
Because the Red Sox used Pedro Martinez in game five versus
the A's, he likely won't be ready to go until game three (which
incidentally should make for an interesting showdown with Clemens).
The rest of Boston's rotation: Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and
John Burkett managed to push the A's to five games, but these
are the Yankees.
Although the very prospect of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series
would literally arouse fervent baseball fans everywhere, when
the Yanks are clicking they're simply unstoppable. Yankees
in six games.