I’ll be honest there are a few days in the “Sports Calendar” where I am tempted to call out from work. Hell I’d even legitimately take a little dose of the flu for Opening Day. Ultimately I decided I would work… though to be honest with the prospects of 3 Game 1’s today, the first starting at 1:37pm (est)? I thought I felt a huge case of Playoff fever.

I decided better of calling out, and hope I can get home for some of the Rays and Rangers game.

So to celebrate this wonderful season, I figured I’d break down each series. Give you my picks, and do the whole deal like a real honest to god “expert” would. You know… minus the whole “expertise” thing.

In the order they will start:

Tampa Rays (AL East Winner) vs. Texas Rangers (AL West Winner)

Two small market teams looking to win NOW. The Rays owner has already said they will have a smaller payroll next year. Either that’s a motivational ploy (not likely), or he just knows that when free agency hits he’ll lose 2010 All Stars: Carl Crawford LF (Top FA this offseason), and Rafael Soriano RP (eccentric lights out closer), and throw slugger Carlos Pena into that, and the Rays need to strike NOW. A team built on speed, defense and pitching. They couldn’t be more different stylistically from the slugging Texas Rangers.

The Rangers have some nice pop in the middle of their lineup with Josh Hamilton, and Vlad Guerrero. They added Jorge Cantu to shore up some offense in the infield, too. Oh… and they got themselves this little left handed starter named Cliff Lee, who happened to help get the Phillies to the World Series in 2009. Can the Rays pitching and superior bullpen keep the Ranger’s Bats quiet? Can Josh Hamilton, coming off broken ribs, actually make a significant contribution? Outside of Lee and the Ray’s David Price can any starting pitcher impose their will on the opposing lineup? And how will the two front runners for AL Manager of the year, in my opinion, manage their teams? Ron Washington and Joe Maddon have been spectacular. Washington for having this team where it is… which is where no one expected them to be. Maddon for doing so much in the baddest division in Baseball, and possibly sports.

The Verdict:

Rays in 3. Yeah a sweep. Also my favorite to get to the World Series. The Rays, though young, have been here before. They find ways to win. I think they match up well against the Rangers starters (specifically the 2 times they faced Lee late in the season). If Lee doesn’t get a win today? The Rangers don’t get a win. (I was flip flopping between 3 and 4 for this series… but lets bust out the brooms!)

Philadelphia Phillies (NL East Winner, best record in Baseball) vs. Cincinatti Reds (NL Central Winner)

David vs. Goliath. Phillies are huge favorite in the playoffs, not just to ge to the World Series, but to win the thing… and lets face facts? Why not? If you took the best starting pitching outside of the Delaware valley (the Giants) and melded with the best lineup (The Yankees)… It’d end up looking like the Phillies. Two quick confessions. I live outside Philly, and work in Philly… but as you may know or have noticed, am actually a Mets fan, and I’m a realist when it comes to sports. This team is good. Scary good. Halladay/Oswalt/Hamels is a deadly pitching combination. The only team that can throw up anything like that is the Giants, but maybe I’ll be discussing that in an NLCS run down. The Reds had an amazing year. They have solid pitching, good hitting, and the NL’s MVP in Joey Votto. What they don’t have is much of a chance to win this series. But some key questions to see how things play out. Will Brad Lidge be ’08 or ’09 incarnation? Can the Reds pitchers get hot and keep up with the Phils? How will the NL MVP (Votto) match up against the NL Cy Young (Halladay)?

The Verdict:

Phillies in 3.

Minnesota Twins (AL Central Winner) vs. New York Yankees (AL Wild Card)

Minnesota has been one of the best teams in baseball since the All Star Break. Most of that time WITHOUT star first baseman Justin Morneau. Well… they’ll STILL be without Morneau for the playoffs, but they have a strong nucleus. Good pitching, and 2009 AL MVP, Joe Mauer. They, despite a small-ish payroll, are perenial playoff contenders. They have good, not spectacular, starting pitching. They have a very dependable bullpen with three former closers (Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Matt Capps) they can mix and match late in games. They’ve “been here Before”… but sadly it seems they’re always matched up against the Yankees, and the Yankees seem to have their number. Highest Payroll in Baseball. Best lineup in baseball. Their infield right now has 2 sure fire Hall of Famers, and 2 that are on track for Cooperstown. One of which, Robinson Cano, may be the AL MVP this season. They have Jorge Posada behind the plate. Best closer… EEEEEVER in their ‘pen. For the Yankees their chances begin and end at the start. Namely… who’s taking the mound for them. CC Sabbathia is a sure thing. He’s a work horse. A dominant #1. After that? Andy Pettite looking pedestrian coming back from an injury. A young Phil Hughes who’s never thrown this many innings? AJ Burnett looking deplorable? This rotation resembles an outfit for the Riddler… there are THAT many question marks. Can their amazing
offense make up for the suspect arms? Can the Twins finally solve the Yankees and get to an ALCS?

The Verdict:

Twins in 5. These series rarely go 5 games… so we’re due. Yankees win game 1. Twins take 2 and 3. Yanks tie it up at home. Game 5 in Minnesota. I just don’t think the Yankees have enough starting pitching this season, mostly due to how absolutely god awful Burnett has been.

San Francisco Giants (NL West Winner) vs. Atlanta Braves (NL Wildcard)

Either THE best or SECOND best starting staff in the Playoffs (depending on how you rate them and the Phillies) but definitely the hottest pitching staff in all of baseball over the last month. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathon Sanchez (who’s the reason I, personally, give the nod to the Phils for pitching) – and either Madison Bumgarner, or Barry Zito, neither of whom are likely to start in the Divisional Series. Sadly outside of the pitching, there a lot of questions for Giants fans. The defense behind them is suspect. The hitting, even more so. A lot of the Giants offensive hopes lay on rookie catcher, Buster Posey. The Atlanta Braves… well… they’re incredibly lucky to be IN the playoffs in Bobby Cox’s final year as a manager. They struggled, and thanks to them salvaging the last game of the season, and the Giants taking care of business against the Padres means Atlanta gets to the post season one last time with Bobby at the helm. Pitching is okay, but with ace Tim Hudson not available until game 3, that’s going to lean heavily towards San Fran jumping to a Two – Zero lead. The Braves have an edge offensively, but its not a HUGE edge, and again to beat a dead horse, the Giants rotation should neutralize that. I’m very interested to see the two high profile rookies, the previously mentioned Posey, and the Braves Jason Heyward under the bright lights of playoff baseball. Both are mentioned as possible Rookie of the Year candidates. Can the Braves get enough pitching and enough hitting? Can San Francisco get ANY hitting? Can the Giants ride their pitching staff to the NLCS? Which rookie slugger will shine?

The Verdict:

Giants in 4. That pitching is too good. Braves squeaked in. Their rotation is not set up. They had the huge emotional high of getting into the playoffs in Cox’s last year. I’ll give them one win at home. Then the Giants lock it down in game 4.

To review:

my predicted NLCS:

Phillies vs. Giants

my predicted ALCS:

Rays vs. Twins

(a quick addendum as I just got home from work. Cliff Lee has been amazing. Rangers are winning 5-0. So looks like THAT prediction will be wrong. IF the Rays win it won’t be a sweep.)