It’ll be tough to top the drama that drenched the final two weeks of big-league ball’s regular season, but the national pastime’s postseason tournament looks like a safe bet to at least match it.
On presence alone, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs generate intense interest, win or lose.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies, by virtue of their remarkable stretch drives, inspire a similar level of interest.
And while the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels aren’t what TV people like to call sexy attractions nationally, try telling that to regional fans of Eric Byrnes, Grady Sizemore and Vladimir Guerrero. And those guys aren’t alone; Arizona, Cleveland and Los Angeles/Anaheim/La Brea Tar Pits each have a few relatively unknown players capable of getting white-hot and carrying their clubs into the mainstream’s consciousness.
How might the division series shake out? Well, three Game 1’s are already in the books, but the following picks were made Tuesday — swear to Nolan Ryan — and they still stand:
YANKEES-INDIANS: New York’s starting rotation drops more steeply after Chien-Ming Wang than does Cleveland’s after C.C. Sabathia, and the Yankees’ middle relief corps conjures images of Joe Torre trudging to the mound four times in the sixth inning. But the Indians’ pitching staff isn’t exactly scary, and the Yankees’ offense truly is.
Pick: New York in five.
ANGELS-RED SOX: Both teams have tremendous advantages when playing at home, and not only do the Red Sox have more home games in the series, they also have a much healthier team. The closers — Jonathan Papelbon and K-Rod — are a wash, and while the Angels are much better equipped to bridge the starter-to-closer gap, the Red Sox are much better equipped to jump out to an early 9-2 lead.
Pick: Boston in four.
ROCKIES-PHILLIES: Unfortunately for both teams, momentum doesn’t really carry over into the postseason, and if you need evidence of that, you need only recall what the St. Louis Cardinals did last October. The Rockies were ridiculous down the stretch, and their homegrown young core should never be counted out, but it’s difficult to lean the way of a team that doesn’t have a single big-name starting pitcher and only one with more than 10 wins in the regular season. The Phils will feast.
Pick: Philadelphia in four.
CUBS-DIAMONDBACKS: The Cubs’ lovable loser persona makes them the team to which casual fans cotton, and Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee are all big stars in baseball’s galaxy. But Byrnes is surrounded by a collection of young talent that rivals that of the Rockies, and if the game is close at the end, you have to like MLB saves leader Jose Valverde, despite his apparent combustability, over Ryan Dempter in what looks like the toughest series to call.
Pick: Diamondbacks in five.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com. He also hosts the weekend edition of “Sportsphone 680” on KNBR (680 AM).