Dodgers, Phillies, Red Sox, and Rays in League Championships

The first round of the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs has concluded. Of the eight teams who entered the postseason last Wednesday, four are still standing. The Division Series did not offer nearly as much drama as the close of the regular season, with the matchups appearing lopsided and the winners advancing easily. The four teams who will move on to the next round are:

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers won their first postseason series in 20 years while extending the Cubs’ championship drought (100 years and counting), winning the first two games in Chicago en route to a three-game sweep. Chicago did not play at all like a team which had won 97 games in the regular season, scoring only six runs total in the series while committing six errors and batting .240 as a team.

Manny Ramirez continued to be a one-man demolition crew, going 5-for-10 in the series with two homers, while the Dodgers’ pitching stifled Chicago’s offense, limiting them to six runs total in the series. The Dodgers’ victory earns them a spot in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), where they will face the …

Philadelphia Phillies: Like the Dodgers, the Phillies easily defeated their opponents from the National League Central. For Milwaukee, C.C. Sabathia pitched like a mere mortal, failing to make it past the fourth inning in Game 2. In contrast, Philadelphia’s starting pitching was dominant, allowing only five runs in the series while compiling a 1.80 ERA.

Philadelphia’s offense, dormant for the most part in the first three games against the Brewers, broke out with four home runs in Game 4. They will need bigger contributions from the middle of their lineup — Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Pat Burrell — than what they got from them in the Division Series if they hope to advance.

Boston Red Sox: Boston always seems to raise their level of play a couple of notches in October. In the Division Series against the Angels, the Red Sox showed why they are the defending world champions, coming up with big hits and plays at key moments.

Meanwhile, the Angels’ series was filled with missed opportunities: they were unable to hit with runners in scoring position, stranded almost 11 men on base per game, and failed to execute a suicide squeeze bunt in the ninth inning of Game 4, costing them the game and series.

For Boston, Jason Bay, a sixth-year veteran making his first trip to the playoffs, homered in the first two games of the series and scored the winning run in the finale. Jon Lester, the starter in Games 1 and 4, did not allow an earned run in fourteen innings. In the American League Championship Series (ALCS), they will face their new rivals from the AL East, the …

Tampa Bay Rays: The (non-Devil) Rays’ magical season continues. Now playing in their first-ever Championship Series, the Rays played with determination and poise in their Division Series against the White Sox, and did not look at all like a young team playing in the postseason for the first time.

The Rays don’t have any clear-cut superstars on their team, but players have stepped up and contributed at key moments. Evan Longoria hit home runs in his first two postseason at-bats to lead Tampa Bay to victory in Game 1, while B.J. Upton homered twice in Game 4 to clinch the series.

Behind the scenes, Manager Joe Madden has been pushing all the right buttons, leading the team to a berth in the ALCS in their first playoff appearance.

The winners of each league’s best-of-seven Championship Series will face one another in the World Series.

Dodgers vs. Phillies: This is the fourth time that these two teams will meet in the NLCS. Philadelphia and Los Angeles are arguably the two hottest teams in baseball, each easily winning their first-round matchups.

They will have had plenty of time to rest for the Championship Series beginning Thursday night; both of the Division Series Game 1 starters — Cole Hamels for Philly and Derek Lowe for L.A. — will pitch on seven days’ rest in the first game.

If Philadelphia’s starting rotation can perform like they did against Milwaukee, they will be very difficult to beat. The Dodgers’ pitching staff, however, was just as dominant against the Cubs, and will stifle Philly’s offense unless Ryan Howard and Chase Utley start producing. Joe Torre will be looking to add to his record 79 postseason victories, using his experience to maintain the momentum of his young team.

A decisive factor in this series may be home-field advantage, since each team swept a 4-game series against the other at home during the regular season. Philadelphia has home-field, but the Dodgers, led by Manny Ramirez, will ride their late-season momentum into the World Series. Prediction: Dodgers in 6.

Red Sox vs. Rays: Boston is looking for its second consecutive championship and third in five years, but this year the road to the World Series runs through … Tropicana Field? Yes, the same stadium where the Rays had the majors’ best home record, and where the Red Sox couldn’t seem to win this season.

The two teams have a history of conflict, even though the Rays have not contended in the AL East until this season. There have been six fights between the clubs in the past few years, the latest being an all-out brawl at Fenway Park on June 5 for which eight players were suspended.

This series should be an exciting one, featuring two teams with opposite postseason histories. Boston is in the ALCS for the fourth time since 2003, while Tampa bay, a team in the playoffs for the first time, only has six players on its roster with postseason experience.

The teams are also evenly matched: both lineups feature power and speed, along with talented starting rotations. Boston will have a distinct advantage, however, in the ninth inning (where they outscored the Angels 5-1). Jonathan Papelbon has established himself as an elite closer, while the Rays’ Troy Percival has been out since mid-September and is still uncertain for this series.

The Red Sox, with all of their injuries, will have to find ways to keep up with the energetic play of the Rays in a long series, but their playoff experience will be a huge factor. As much as I’d love to see Tampa Bay’s Cinderella season continue, Boston has proven they play their best baseball in October. Prediction: Red Sox in 7.