The American League was settled rather early, with teams clinching spots far into advance. They had a chance to set their starting rotation and rest some of the regulars. All four teams, it could be argued, are better than any of the National League representatives. However, that doesn’t guarantee success. Just ask the Detroit Tigers.
Boston Red Sox
Why they can win: The Red Sox can flat out win. They finished the season with the best record in baseball, winning 96 games virtue of a tie-breaker over the Cleveland Indians. Josh Beckett leads a staff that led the AL in ERA, opponent’s batting average, and shutouts. Plus, there’s nothing like having Jonathan Papelbon at the back of a bullpen.
What could hold them back: Behind Beckett, there are questions marks. Daisuke Matsuzaka had a 4.45 ERA in Aug. and 7.62 in Sept. Is he going to be the sensation he was earlier in the season or the guy who fumbled and bumbled down the stretch? And the same could be said about Curt Schilling, who seems to have lost his ability to strike hitters out.
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: The Red Sox have created a lovable feeling all across the United States and the world. They might not still be the underdogs of the postseason, but they are a feel-good team, a la the Chicago Cubs.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: The Red Sox are looking more like the New York Yankees than the Yankees are. They spent more than $50 million to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, threw $70 million at JD Drew, and gave Julio Lugo a four-year deal worth Miguel Tejada money.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Why they can win: A great setup man/closer tandem can take over a postseason, and maybe Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez can fill that role. Both have power arms that keep getting guys out and they may continue their streak of dominance. If that’s not enough, there’s always the right arms of John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar.
What could hold them back: The Angels rank third among AL postseason teams in runs scored, and it’s not like they were all that close to the first two. If Vladimir Guerrero isn’t going, then this team could be going home early.
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: Vladimir Guerrero is one of the best players in baseball, but he has never won a World Series ring. For a long time, his talents have gone unnoticed in the death trap that was Montreal and, oddly, Anaheim as well. With his all-or-nothing swing, that back of his won’t hold up much longer. We’re not going to see too much of this guy for much longer.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: It’s hard to find a reason to root against a team called the Angels, but if you need something, do it for the sportswriters. They are the ones who have to type out “the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” whenever putting together a story on deadline. It’s tough.
Why they can win: As the Arizona Diamondbacks showed us in 2001, it only takes two to win. Well, two great starting pitchers that is. The Indians have CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona lined up for games one and two and they might be able to ride those arms throughout the playoffs.
What could hold them back: Outside of Sabathia and Carmona and reliever Rafael Betancourt, the team does not have much pitching. Jake Westbrook could get lit up, if he doesn’t have his sinker working, and Joe Borowski is aptly described as a heart-attack closer.
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: The Indians have the longest streak of not winning a World Series in the AL and are second to the Cubs in the majors. If you’re a fan of seeing curses broken, and the baseball gods have been recently, then cheer the Indians.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: This is a team that many predicted to reach the World Series last season, and the Indians responded by not even making the postseason. If you’re looking for any sort of retribution for that, now is your chance.
New York Yankees
Why they can win: This team features the best offense in the AL, as well as the major leagues. It scored 968 runs in the regular season, or .5 more per game than the Detroit Tigers. Match that up with a few good arms, and there’s always a chance for something special to happen.
What could hold them back: Pitching wins games, and the Yankees may be in short supply of it. Roger Clemens, the projected starter for game three, missed a bit of Sept. due to elbow pain and Andy Pettitte sure is looking hittable (an average of 1.11 hits per inning).
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: Believe or not, the Yankees are the true underdogs in the AL. They started the year slowly, losing key players for extended periods of time. However, they stormed back behind the young arms of Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain and the bat of Shelly Duncan. Also, we do not want those misperceptions of Alex Rodriguez, the best player in the major leagues, as a “choker” to continue. Let him have his Peyton Manning moment.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: Simple: They are the Yankees and will forever be the Yankees. They have won 26 World Championships and fans from nearly every team would be disgusted if they somehow managed to add a 27th banner to Yankee Stadium. It would be a case of the rich getting richer.
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