Tampa Bay (91-71) vs. Texas (96-66)
Game 1: Tampa Bay (RHP Jeff Niemann, 11-7, 4.06) at Texas (LHP C.J. Wilson, 16-7, 2.94), Fri., 5:07 p.m. TBS
The Rangers have unfinished business after losing the World Series last year to the San Francisco Giants. They’re up against a scrappy Rays bunch that’s riding the momentum of miraculous September comeback (and an equally miraculous Game 162 comeback against the Yankees completed by Evan Longoria’s 12th-inning home run). It’s a matchup of sheer power (Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton) against Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon’s magic. This is also a rematch of last year’s division series, with one major difference: Last year, Tampa Bay had home-field advantage.
Prediction: Rangers in four
St. Louis (90-72) vs. Philadelphia (102-60)
Game 1: St. Louis (RHP Kyle Lohse, 14-8 3.39) at Philadelphia (RHP Roy Halladay, 19-6, 2.35), Sat., 5:07 p.m. TBS
Like the Rays, the Cardinals won the National League wild card in dramatic fashion, coming all the way back from a nine-game deficit when Atlanta lost 4-3 in 13 innings on Wednesday to the Phillies, who completed a three-game sweep. In the Cards’ corner is the best weapon in baseball, Albert Pujols. The perennial All-Star is complemented in the lineup by sluggers Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday. However, we expect the Phillies’ vaunted starting trifecta of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to stymie them enough to pull through.
Prediction: Phillies in 5
Arizona (94-68) vs. Milwaukee (96-66)
Game 1: Arizona (RHP Ian Kennedy, 21-4, 2.88) at Milwaukee (RHP Yovani Gallardo, 17-10, 3.52), Sat., 2:07 p.m. TBS
Milwaukee, the NL Central champ, is trying to reach its first World Series since 1982. The Brew Crew has two of the NL’s premier sluggers, first baseman Prince Fielder and left fielder Ryan Braun, and will lean on them against the surprising Diamondbacks. Arizona, under Kirk Gibson (a lock for Manager of the Year) wins with small ball, pitching and its top offensive weapon, outfielder Justin Upton (31 homers and 88 RBIs). Home field could be crucial; the Brewers went an MLB-best 57-24 at home.
Prediction: Brewers in 3