Alright…it’s time to wrap-up the 2011 UCB Predictions Project by throwing out playoff predictions and award predictions. Since I firmly believe the DH is legalized cheating, we’ll largely ignore the AL on this side of the fence and focus on the NL postseason and MVP/Cy Young awards (since I have no idea which rookies will be in contention for the Rookie of the Year award). However, since the NL has to play against SOMEONE in the World Series, our pick for the ALCS winner will be represented at the appropriate time below. Enjoy!
NL DIVISON SERIES (NLDS)
(1) Philadelphia Phillies vs. (4) St. Louis Cardinals
The Phillies encounter offensive struggles all season with the injuries to Chase Utley and crew, but the stellar rotation of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels keeps them truckin’ along and practically immune to losing streaks. However, with less offensive firepower, and an improved Braves team to contend with, the Phillies finish a few notches below their 2010 form with a 94 – 68 record. On the other side, the Cardinals have a surprisingly successful offensive campaign with the addition of Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot as well as the return of David Freese. Colby Rasmus’ new consistent approach at the plate and Skip Schumaker’s return to form also make significant marks on the 2011 campaign. Unfortunately, the Cards reliance on Kyle McClellan to plug the hole left by Adam Wainwright left them vulnerable late in the season to starting pitching woes, and the club struggles to an 89 – 73 record – enough to win the division, but bad enough to earn them the fourth seed and a trip to Philadelphia in the NL postseason.
Winner: The Philadelphia Phillies (3 games to 1)
In a best of 5 series, the Cardinals offense is simply overwhelmed by the prowess of Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt. Left without a strong and reliable Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals are left with no dominant left-handed starting option to attack the left-handed power in the Phillies’ lineup.
(2) Atlanta Braves vs. (3) San Francisco Giants
The Braves finish the 2011 season as “the other team” in the NL East with a 92 – 70 record…a game above their 2010 campaign thanks to the addition of Dan Uggla’s bat at second base, Nate McClouth’s return to form, and Jason Heyward’s second year in the bigs. Because the Braves couldn’t edge the Phillies in their own division, they get saddled with the NL Wild Card and a date with the NL West champions, the three-seeded San Francisco Giants. The 91 – 71 Giants experience a slight drop in production from 2010 due to the loss of role players such as Renteria and Uribe, but continued excellence by Lincecum and Cain at the top of their rotation as well as a surprisingly solid performance by Barry Zito secures them a spot in the NLDS.
Winner: The Atlanta Braves (3 games to 1)
The 2010 World Series champions endure an early exit in the 2011 postseason when a Braves team strengthened by Dan Uggla, Brian McCann, Nate McClouth, and Jason Heyward power their way past Matt Cain and the rest of the SF Giants rotation. Only Tim Lincecum wins a game for the Giants, but even he is unable to prevent elimination when he enteres Game 4 on short rest and “gives up the ghost” on the mound.
NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (NLCS)
(1) Philadelphia Phillies vs. (2) Atlanta Braves
The Phillies rotation comes out of the gates strong as Halladay and Lee pitch the team to an early 2 games to none lead in Philly. Unfortunately for the Phillies, the Braves jump all over Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to even the series up at 2 games apiece. For the final game in Atlanta, the Braves division rivals throw Roy Halliday for his second NLCS start…and go back to Philly with a 3 games to 2 lead over the little indians. Cliff Lee…game 6…series over.
Winner: The Philadelphia Phillies (4 games to 2)
The Phillies 1-2 combo of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee proves reminiscient of Randy Johnson and Kurt Schilling of Diamondback seasons past. While the Braves are able to gain ground at home against Oswalt and Hamels, the Phillies ability to pitch their top 2 guys twice in a best of seven series proves too much for them. Phillies return to the World Series in 2011.
2011 WORLD SERIES
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Boston Red Sox
Fresh off a victory with the 1-2, Johnson/Schilling philosophy, the Phillies try the same again…with mixed results. Having won the 2011 All-Star Game, the NL squad leads off with Halladay in Philly for game 1. He wins. Natch. Cliff Lee is not, however, so lucky. The Big Boppin’ Sox jump all over a World Series Cursed Cliff Lee to even the series at 1-1 for a return trip to Fenway. While there, Josh Beckett – to this point handled with “kid gloves” – kicks off the rust and gets “playoff nasty.” He pitches the Sox to a 2-1 split in Boston, and the two teams head back to Philly with Boston leading 3 games to 2. Halladay greets the Sox with his 6th straight, undefeated postseason victory. Series tied 3-3. Beckett and Oswalt lock horns for Game 7 in Philly.
Roy Oswalt – to this point less effective than he had hoped to be in the postseason – pitches 5 scoreless frames before running into trouble in the 6th. Cole Hamels enters the game to finish off the 6th and pitch into the 8th where he yields to the Philly ‘pen. Enter Brad Lidge in the 9th, Philly struggling to hold onto a 1-0 lead. Boston unleashes Hell…and storms to a 3 – 1 lead. Whoever the hell is closing for Boston by then enters the game and quiets a morose Philly crowd with a 9th inning, Game 7 save to win the 2011 World Series.
Winner: The Boston Red Sox (7 games)
The offseason acquisitions of Crawford and Gonzalez prove too much for Philly’s taxed and exhausted rotation. Having carried the offensive defficiencies all season long, the four-headed monster of Halliday, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels finally succumbs to the firepower of Boston’s heavy hitters. The Red Sox are your 2011 World Series Champions, and Josh Beckett is loved by all as “Joshua” and “Josh” become the most popular names in Boston maternity wards for the next 5 years.
NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee
His return to the National League coincides with a 1-2 pairing with last year’s winner, Roy Halladay (as well as the absence of TJS-afflicted Adam Wainwright). The pairing results in a low(er)-pressure season for Lee as he is able to shoulder only half the load of all those hopes and dreams in Philly. Much like Halladay before him, his return to the NL takes hitters by storm…and he walks his way into the Cy Young award.
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
The “contract year” myth has been perpetrated by countless pundits across baseball…but in Albert Pujols, the myth may just become a reality. Pujols quietly plays with a chip on his shoulder better than any hitter in baseball. The 2010 MVP snub, Votto’s inevitable regression in 2011, and the lack of a “respectable” contract offer from his home team before the season will all combine to drive Albert to MVP success. Oh, and have you seen Albert lately? I know, I know…everyone says they are in the best shape of their career…but just looking at Albert and watching him run…this is the first time I believe it.
I really wish I could have picked the Cards to go further…and I certainly think the potential exists…but I think their best chance for success is to pray the Reds get the Wild Card so the Cardinals won’t have to face Philly in the NLDS. We’ve seen the Cards shut down by awesome 1-2 combos before…especially in the playoffs. Sure, the Giants have a good one, too…but I think the drop off from Lincecum to Cain is much more significant than Halladay to Lee. Ah well. No one expected it in 2006 either, right?