OK, now that the Yankees are toast, on to bigger and better. The two best teams in the AL are squaring off for the pennant, and that's exactly how it should be. What better road to a title than through New York and Boston? What greater satisfaction could there be than triumphing over the AL's two most bloated payrolls? The Yankees make me want to puke forever, and the Sox aren't far behind.
This second round will be much, much tougher than the first. Why? Because the Red Sox are much, much better. Their lineup may pale next to the Yankees, but there is a reason why the Sox are still playing.
So, let's get right down to it.
1B: Ryan Garko vs. Kevin Youkilis. This is a matchup of nearly identical hitters. Garko has more power, but Youkilis gets on base more often. But in the field Youkilis separates himself from his opposite number. Garko proved himself a quick study in his first season as a full-time first baseman, but Youkilis made exactly zero errors this year in 135 games compared to Garko's 8. Advantage: Youkilis (slightly).
2B: Asdrubal Cabrera vs. Dustin Pedroia. Again, many similarities. Two rather obscure, but very talented and upcoming players will man second base in this series. Pedroia can wield the stick and was good for a very legitimate .317 mark this year. Also impressive are the 39 doubles he mixed in there. Cabrera had some very, very rookie looking at bats in the ALDS, but he has cemented his spot as the number two hitter for the postseason. Both players are great with the glove, but Cabrera is the second coming of Omar Vizquel. Advantage: Pedroia.
SS: Jhonny Peralta vs. Julio Lugo. These are totally different players. Lugo batted neither for power (8 hr) or average (.237) in '07. Lugo has been a better hitter in the past, but Peralta, who tortured the Yankees last week, is far superior on offense, except on the basepaths. At short? Both will butcher a play. Lugo has more range, and Peralta's limitations are well known, but the bottom line is Jhonny had more assists, putouts and double plays than Lugo did this year. Advantage: Peralta.
3B: Casey Blake vs. Mike Lowell. This is a matchup between a fairly consistant all-star and, well, Casey Blake. Lowell will give you 20 and 90 in an average year. Casey? Try 20 and 70. Let's not delude ourselves. Advantage: Lowell.
LF: Kenny Lofton vs. Manny Ramirez. Is this the mismatch that it seems? Pretty much. Still, Lofton is by far a better fielder and baserunner than Manny could ever dream of being, and those things factor into the postseason when games are tight. But Manny is Manny, and the fact is: Manny is one of the greatest hitters of all-time. Advantage: Ramirez.
CF: Grady Sizemore vs. Coco Crisp. The sickening thing here is that these players should be playing side by side in the outfield and batting 1-2 in the Tribe's order. The Coco Crisp trade remains one of the worst in Cleveland history, period. I love Coco Crisp, and part of me will never forgive Mark Shapiro (unless we win the World Series) for dealing him away prior to last season. BAH! Anyhow, Grady Sizemore can do anything Coco Crisp does, but better. Both can run, hit and field, but Grady is the uebertalent here. If Coco Crisp took steroids, he would be Grady Sizemore. Advantage: Sizemore.
RF: Franklin Gutierrez (not Trot Nixon!) vs. J.D. Drew. Here we have a slick-fielding up-and-comer versus the most overhyped baseball player of all time (or, at least until this season saw a teammate surpass him). Drew pretty much sucked this year, but he does get on base. Gutierrez, meanwhile, has looked AWFUL at the plate in this postseason, but he sure is a handsome devil. Advantage: even.
C: Victor Martinez vs. Jason Varitek. Victor Martinez is a great hitter. Jason Varitek is a good hitter. Jason Varitek is a very good fielder. Victor Martinez worked hard to make himself a very good fielder. Both call great games for their pitchers. Both are all-stars. Victor Martinez is (or at least should be) Alex Rodriguez' nearest rival for MVP. Advantage: Martinez.
DH: Travis Hafner vs. David Ortiz. Two big-time, game changing hitters, but Ortiz is the postseason hero. Both players hit for power and average. Both have great eyes at the plate. Both score runs. Still, with Hafner's off year it's gotta be...advantage: Ortiz.
No. 1 starter: C.C. Sabathia vs. Josh Beckett. Two great, great pitchers. That's about all I can say. This should be an epic matchup and my mind cramps up when I try to figure out who's better. Advantage: even (Sabathia).
No. 2 starter: Fausto Carmona vs. Curt Schilling. I don't want to hear about the stupid bloody sock. Schilling has so much experience and guts and blah, blah. How about stymieing the Yankees in your first-ever playoff start? Does that count for guts? Fausto is a better pitcher at this point. Advantage: Carmona.
No. 3 starter: Jake Westbrook vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka. Wow, a player on the Red Sox who has somehow managed to be more overhyped than J.D. Drew. Boston paid billions for this guy to put up very Jake Westbrook-type numbers in the regular season (15 wins, 4.40 ERA). Both pitchers have struggled in the postseason, but my gut is telling me that Jake prevails. Advantage: even.
No. 4 starter: Paul Byrd vs. Tim Wakefield. Two junkballers. My Indians/Yankees preview was pretty accurate except for one detail: I didn't expect Paul Byrd to ever take the mound. This is why I'm a make-believe sportswriter and not a major-league manager. What can I say? I love that Paul Byrd is all heart and no arm. I also love knuckleballs, and Tim Wakefield is the last of a dying breed. Still, one glaring statistic: Wakefield's postseason ERA is above 6. That's downright ugly. Advantage: Byrd.
Bullpen: Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt, Tom Mastny, Jensen Lewis and Aaron Fultz vs. Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and Mike Timlin. Lopez, Okajima and Delcarmen were nasty this year. Betancourt, Perez and Lewis were better. Aaron Fultz? Let's hope not. Advantage: Indians (barely).
Closer: Joe Borowski vs. Jonathan Papelbon. Both closers had superlative years, but Papelbon was better in just about every category. Here's praying he makes very few appearances in this series. Advantage: Papelbon.
Nate's official ALCS prediction: This is going to be a close series. As I said, this is a better team than the Yankees, and much better suited to win postseason games. That translates roughly to: Indians win 4-2. I believe that the Red Sox pitching is less adept than it looked against Anaheim, and that C.C. and Fausto are going to outpitch their opposite numbers. The Angels, after all, are a collection of slap happy spray hitters. Good pitching beats good hitting. The Angels had good pitching this year, but you need to have SOME hitting to advance in postseason play. Anaheim (or LA of A or whatever the hell they're called) put to rest a question I had when the Tribe faced them in the regular season: why are they so good? The answer? They weren't.