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My opinions about the Indians/Mariners series
can be found here.
As far as the other three Division Series are concerned:

Braves/Astros

There’s no question in my mind that when everyone is healthy, the Astros
have a superior team to the Braves. Their pitching isn’t that far behind
Atlanta’s, and their lineup is probably the best in the National League.

Of course, the Astros are down two of their top three starters–no, I don’t
believe Roy Oswalt is going to make a contribution–and have Dave
Mlicki
starting Game Two of the series. That’s enough to give the Braves
a distinct advantage, even with their problems scoring runs.

One big improvement in this version of the Braves is the bullpen. After a
couple of years of thin pens, and Bobby Cox’s rampant use of starters out
there, he now has three high-caliber relievers, as well as some good middle
men and situational guys he can use. John Smoltz can be used as an
1980s closer, throwing multiple innings in a tied game or when the Braves
have a lead. Steve Karsay and Mike Remlinger are a great setup
tandem, and each can be used for two innings without worry about platoon
issues. Add in Steve Reed, who eats right-handed batters alive, and
the Braves are as geared to win playoff games decided late as they’ve ever
been.

Braves in four.

Diamondbacks/Cardinals

I’m supposed to say that the dominant starting pitchers can own a short
series, and that therefore the D’backs have a huge advantage. Well, there
are a few problems: one, that hasn’t been the history of the Division Series,
and two, the Cardinals aren’t exactly throwing Dave Mlicki against Curt
Schilling
and Randy Johnson.

I’d feel better about the Snakes’ chances if I thought Tony Womack
was going to get lost on the way to the park three or four times. The
D’backs offense got a big boost from Craig Counsell this year, and
while his defense isn’t as good as Womack’s at shortstop, the tradeoff helps
them overall. With Womack playing, there are only two guys in the lineup who
get on base at a good clip. To my mind, that cancels out the difference
between Schilling/Johnson and Matt Morris/Woody
Williams
.

Offensively, the Cardinals are the better team, even if Craig
Paquette
or Kerry Robinson plays instead of Mark McGwire.
When they face Miguel Batista and Albie Lopez in Games 3 and
4, it’ll be like they’ve died and gone to heaven after the first two games.
There won’t be a Game 5.

Cardinals in four.

Yankees/Athletics

The marquee series–all games on the Fox mother ship–deserves all the hype.
The A’s are the best wild card in the brief history of this format, and may
well be the best team in the league right now. They just barely lost to the
Yankees a year ago in this round, and they’ve returned with a vastly
improved rotation, a much better defense, and a comparable lineup.

The Yankees counter with their primary strength, a pitching staff with six
guys shouldering almost all the load. Roger Clemens and Mike
Mussina
are dueling Cy Young Award candidates, while Andy
Pettitte
has been serviceable. In the pen, Mike Stanton and
Ramiro Mendoza bridge the gap to Mariano Rivera, and all three
of those guys are among the best postseason relievers in recent memory.
Randy Choate‘s presence gives the Yankees someone to attack Jason
Giambi
and Eric Chavez, as well.

That the series is seen as pretty much even is a testament to the respect the
Yankees have earned over the past few years. Roster spot-for-roster spot,
the A’s have more talent; they won seven more games than the Yankees did
while playing a much tougher schedule. In the second half, they’ve been
comparable to the best teams in the baseball history, actually making up
ground in the division on Team 116.

I think the A’s are the better team, but the Yankees could do what they’ve
done in so many postseasons: ride the pitching staff to a victory. I hate to
make a prediction, because I honestly have no idea what direction the series
is going to take. I think the run differential will be close–within three
runs either way–and that all the games will be a fan’s dream.

<sigh>

Reggie’s old team in five.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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