words_Nick Engvall

For the American League East and the National League West, it came down to the final day of the season to determine the division winners. For the Yankees and the Rays rivalry, as well as the Padres and the Giants, you really wouldn’t have expected it to end a game sooner this season. Now that the puzzle pieces are in place, let’s take a look at the first round matchups and see who has the advantages.

Evan LongoriaTexas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays finished one game ahead of the Bronx Bombers in the American League East, securing the best record in the American League at 96-66. The Rays will host the Texas Rangers on Wednesday to open up the post-season action. The Rays will begin the series with 19-game winner David Price taking the mound in Tampa Bay against the 2008 American League Cy Young winner Cliff Lee of the Rangers. During a few days off for Evan Longoria, the Rays offense was still able to lead the team to the top spot in the AL East, and with him back for Wednesday’s game, Texas has a tough road ahead of themselves.

Prediction – Tampa Bay took the regular season series 4-2 over the Rangers, and although the Rays have had the added stress of fighting for the final playoff spot, they’re a better team than the Rangers, even if they don’t have fans that show up. If Texas can get a win in game one, they’ve got a good chance at an upset, otherwise I’m going with the Rays 3-1.

Jim Thome of the Minnesota TwinsNew York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins

In the second of the AL playoff matchups, the Minnesota Twins, who will have to get through the playoffs without 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau, who was recently ruled out for the entire post-season by Twins GM Bill Smith. The Twins will send Francisco Liriano to the mound for the opening game of their series against the Yankees. New York will be visiting Minnesota Wednesday evening and will be handing the ball over to one of this year’s strongest Cy Young Award candidates in 21-game winner CC Sabathia. Offensively, the Yankees “lesser known” superstars, like Robinson Cano, will be the key to victory for the Yanks this post-season, while the Twins will look to the added experience of players like Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson.

Prediction – The Twins have lost to the Yankees in their last three playoff meetings. This year, the Yankees went 4-2 in their meetings, and the Yankees know how to step it up in the playoffs. With that said, the Twins can push New York to five games with home field advantage, but whether they’ll be able to finally overtake the Yanks is still uncertain. However, with Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and the new Target Field, I’m going with the favorite that is really the underdog, the Minnesota Twins in five games.

Brad Lidge of the PhilliesCincinnati Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies

In the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies will look to continue their hot streak into the post-season by sending the NL’s top Cy Young Award candidate to the mound, Ray Halladay. Halladay has been the leader of one of the most dominating starting rotations in baseball this season, and the Phillies best record in baseball of 97-65 record reiterates that. Cincinnati will send Edinson Volquez out for the first game of the series on Wednesday evening. The Cincinnati Reds play well together and have surprised many behind Dusty Baker’s leadership. Their bats are capable of beating the Phillies, but their lack of experience compared to the veteran Philly lineup will be their downfall.

Prediction – Both of these teams can play well against each others’ weaknesses, which could make for an unpredictable series, and considering their closing pitchers Brad Lidge and Francisco Cordero both have a track record of cold streaks, either team could be the benefactor. The way the Phillies have been playing recently, and their experience in the post season, gives them the edge. Philadelphia wins this one 3-0.

Brian Wilson of the San Francisco GiantsAtlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants

The last series to get underway in the 2010 MLB Playoffs will be in San Francisco, where the Wild Card winning Atlanta Braves will take on the National League Division West champs, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants will send last week’s Pitcher of the Week, Tim Lincecum, who is back to his old form that won him back-to-back Cy Young Awards in the last two seasons. The Braves will counter with veteran right-hander Derek Lowe, who has won his last five consecutive starts. Offensively, the Braves will look to Derrek Lee, Troy Glaus and Rookie of the Year candidate Jason Heyward. Both of these teams have more emotion tied into their post-season hopes than any of the other matchups, which will make for some great baseball. What gives the Giants the ultimate edge is not their starting pitchers, but the dominance of their bullpen pitchers, like Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson.

Prediction – Atlanta is playing for Bobby Cox, one of the most respected coaches in baseball’s history, which is reason to fight until the end. However, the Braves have really held tightly to the final spot in the National League, and that momentum may cause difficulties for the Giants. The Giants have the healthiest balance of youngsters and veterans in the league and one of the best pitching staffs in the league. The Giants struggle against Atlanta ace Tim Hudson, who pitches in game three against SF’s Jonathan Sanchez. Otherwise, I don’t see the Braves getting much more than one win in the series. The Giants will take this one 3-1.

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