A Preview of Baseball’s Championship Series

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ALCS and NLCS Baseball

Tony Gutierrez/AP

We are under two weeks away from the Fall Classic. But there’s the small matter of deciding the American and National league champions before we can start to get carried away.

American League: New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers

Yankee fans must have blown a sigh of relief when seeing their AL East rivals (and indeed division winners), the Tampa Bay Rays, fall in five games to the lesser fancied Texas Rangers. And while New York remains the odds on favorite to reach its 41st World Series, they’ll still need to be wary of a Texas team who held their own against them during the regular season, splitting the eight games and sweeping the Yankees at home last month. That final victory went to ace pitcher Cliff Lee, who has dazzled them in recent years and has been held back for game 3 (with an eye, presumably, on game 7 as he’s never been pitched on short rest). He’s 8-4 against the Yanks, including the postseason, where he’s quite frankly scary, going 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and throwing three complete games (or, as the AP beautifully put it, “has resembled a combination of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Jack Morris.”)

But Lee aside, New York will fancy its chances. They too have stellar starting pitching in the likes of C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte (who is now being matched up in game 3 against Lee) and a batting line up that goes all the way down, even able to carry Derek Jeter, who has had a surprisingly sluggish season. (See 10 things to watch for in the MLB.)

Irrespective of who does prevail, the ultimate winner will still probably be New York: Lee will soon be eligible for free agency and could be in pinstripes before Thanksgiving.

Prediction: Yankees in six (but if it goes to seven, Texas will be favorites)

National League: Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants

The NL always seems to play second fiddle to the AL but we should be set for a competitive series between the best team in the division these past few years and a San Francisco side packed with young talent. But as we often find in postseason baseball, it will all come down to pitching.

Both have reasons to be cheerful: the Phillies’ Big Three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels have gone 30-5 since the end of July. If that wasn’t enough, Halladay threw only the second no-hitter in postseason history last week, which sits proudly alongside his perfect game in May. (See memorable moments from the World Series.)

The Giants arguably have a Big Four: Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and rookie Madison Bumgarner are all capable of winning when it matters, as proven by their posting a 0.93 ERA in the division series against the Atlanta Braves, the third lowest by an NL team in any postseason series. But you still have to go with Philadelphia in most departments, including the crucial one of experience. And they will be intent on becoming the first NL side since the St. Louis Cardinals of 1944 to make it three World Series in a row.

Prediction: Philadelphia in five