You know how when a lab rat will eventually learn to cease touching the buzzer when time after time he gets his ass electrocuted?
That rat is my smarter, older brother.
Last year I made MLB Division Series playoff picks and went 0-for-4. I went on to a robust 0-for-7 for the entire postseason. This from the one man who wrote about baseball for Blogcritics in 2005. Smoooooth.
So naturally I should relinquish the opportunity to make more playoff predictions this year, as my track record speaks for itself, right?
Bzzt. Try again.
Oakland A's (West Division) vs. Minnesota Twins (Central Division)
Head-to-head this year: Minnesota won 6, Oakland won 4
How can you say that either of these team will lose in the first round? Do you want to question virtual Cy Young lock Johan Santana anything short of two wins in this short series? On the other coast, how can you deny the improved lineup of the Oakland A's, led by bargain of the year DH Frank Thomas?
Hot tamale. This series will yield some steamy underdog-on-underdog action.
Game 1: I didn't even have to look this one up. The Twins' Santana against the Athletics' Barry Zito. Lefty vs. Lefty. Cy Young on Cy Young. Whoever wins this game will give most of the credit to the guy who hit the solo home run in this 1-0 victory.
Game 2: Now the matchup gets much more interesting. Journeyman Esteban Loaiza pitches for Oakland against Minnesota's Boof Bonser. The offense may finally unload tons of bottled-up excitement, much like a teenager after a first date in his padlocked bathroom.
Game 3: After a gutsy showing last week, Brad Radke will try to give the Twins everything he has left in his career (he's retiring after the playoffs). The A's might go with Rich Harden or Danny Haren, and a careless typo may land the other on the mound that night. The bullpens may become crucial at this point in the series, and the Twins have slightly better relief.
Census: At this point, few are doubting the Twins. Those who have watched the A's all year may be hellbent on Oakland ending their bad playoff mojo this year.
Enough Stallin'. What's my guess? One of these years the A's will break out of the first round. They will have to prove it to me, for I will not believe Moneyball will land any team beyond the LDS until I see it. Twins in 5.
Detroit Tigers (Wild Card) vs. New York Yankees (East Division)
Season Meetings: New York won 5, Detroit won 2
A week ago the Tigers had a shot at winning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They won't have it in the first two rounds.
Detroit's Central Division collapse set up a meeting with the most expensive team in sports. New York hasn't won a championship since 2000, and that's way too long a drought for George Steinbrenner.
The Yankees might be throwing their best lineup since Bernie Williams was dominant. But they're facing a rock solid pitching staff that can consistently take a team into the seventh inning.
Pure fans of baseball will love this series because of the chess match between mangers Joe Torre and Jim Leyland. They are two of the three World Series-winning managers left in this postseason, and it will be tough to blame either one of these fellows, whoever loses.
Game 1: Chien-Ming Wang makes his playoff debut for the Yankees, as does Nate Robertson for the Tigers. Although Wang's ERA is over a fifth of a point lower than Robertson's (3.63 vs. 2.84), the other numbers are very similar, except for win-loss. Robertson is notorious for getting practically no run support, and that may be the case again in this game.
Game 2: Mike Mussina has been here before. Justin Verlander has probably watched this before. Somehow Detroit needs to maintain its free-swinging mentality yet not whiff and look silly on Mussina's signature knuckle curve. I have no friggin' clue how this will be possible.
Game 3: Metamucil alert. Randy Johnson squares off against Kenny Rogers as postseason baseball returns to Michigan. Rogers has had poor postseason pitching, while Randy Johnson is looking more like Jason Johnson these days. It appears that his stiff back (and that's a VERY BIG back) will not prevent him from pitching in this game, meaning Detroit needs to tee off against the future Hall of Famer in this game. Most people concede this could be the only game the Tigers win in the series.
Census: I haven't seen one expert pick the Tigers. Not. One. Even the poll at the Tiger-friendly blog Bless You Boys, in which 26 people voted, is a 50-50 split.
Enough Stallin'. What's my guess? I can't do it. I know I should do it, but it's not in me. I'm afraid we'll have to go with: Tigers in 4. Come on, guys, you know you want to see the Yankees drop another first round series.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Wild Card) vs. New York Mets (East Division)
Season Meetings: New York won 4, Los Angeles won 3
The Dodgers have played everywhere from pathetic to brilliant and everywhere in between this year. They finished closer to brilliant, winning nine of their last 10 games, including six straight road wins.
But the Mets have a big orange and blue target on their chest. This is the team that general manager Omar Minaya assembled with cash and talent. Veterans in their prime like Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran blend with budding superstars David Wright and Jose Reyes. This is a team that could win next year, but so could a lot of other teams. The time is now for the Mets to strike, and they have a better shot at making the World Series this year than any of the other seven teams, based on the competition.
Game 1: Not exactly each team's No. 1 starters, but both Derek Lowe and Orlando Hernandez have won World Series elsewhere. Lowe is having the better season, but Hernandez has the better postseason track record. The onus will be on the Dodgers left-handed batters (Rafael Furcal, J.D. Drew, Andre Ethier, and Rafael Furcal) to lay off El Duque's coiling slider and bash away at his fastball.
Game 2: If you never thought you'd see Greg Maddux face off against Tom Glavine in the postseason, clear your schedule for Thursday night and watch this one. A combination of 623 wins, 17 All-Star appearances and six Cy Youngs will steal the spotlight, and I doubt one of the lineups will dizzy either of these former Atlanta Braves teammates.
Game 3: The pitchers haven't been announced yet, but it may be Brad Penny (if he's well enough) for the Dodgers and either John Maine or Steve Trachsel for the Mets. Here's where the Mets' pitching depth without Pedro Martinez — out for the year with rotator cuff surgery — begins to hurt the Mets. Neither Maine nor Trachsel has seen the postseason, but if the series is tied I'd expect manager Willie Randolph to hand the ball to Trachsel for this game. Much like the Tigers, the Dodgers need to pounce on their opponent's weak spot in the rotation as the game shifts venues, or they have no chance.
Census: A few scrappy predictors are giving the edge to the Dodgers based on Martinez' absence. For the most part, people are giving the Mets — with nine more wins than anyone else in the National League — the benefit of the doubt.
Enough Stallin'. What's my guess? If anyone can beat the Mets, it's the Dodgers. But if Dodgers revert back to helpless, even the 2003 Mets have a chance at beating them. This series has the makings of a sparkling NLCS, but alas the cards didn't fall that way, and neither will they for L.A. Mets in 5.
St. Louis Cardinals (Central Division) vs. San Diego Padres (West Division)
Season Meetings: San Diego won 4, St. Louis won 2
They're in the playoffs because the rules dictate as such. Both of these teams have several flaws. The Cardinals are suffering in both the rotation and bullpen. Meanwhile, the Padres scored fewer runs all year than the Nationals. The Nationals.
The winner of this series may have to rely on momentum to catapult past either the Dodgers or Mets in the NLCS.
Game 1: As advertised, Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter tries to tame the Padres lineup (as if that's a feat or something), while Jake Peavy will have to silence the Cardinals' bats. No one doubts Peavy is San Diego's ace, but he's had sort of an off-year, whereas Carpenter does have Cy Young numbers yet again. If Mike Piazza swings and hits nothing but oxygen, Carpenter can pitch around Adrian Gonzalez and simply allow two runs — if that.
Game 2: Jeff Suppan for the Cardinals pitches against Chris Young for the Padres. Not that glamorous a pitching matchup against two admirable middle-aged starters, but Young's injured back may come into play. At some point the Cardinals' key bat Albert Pujols will have to start driving in runs, and Young may be the victim.
Game 3: Jeff Weaver ought to pitch against David Wells. Well, that's just an ugly game if I ever saw it. Someone's gonna win this one 11-7.
Census: Some are picking the Padres. Others are going with the Padres. The rest are going with the Padres — but barely.
Enough Stallin'. What's my guess? Last year the Padres burned me when I daringly picked them against this very same Cardinals team, and I learned my lesson. Cardinals in 4.
So here's to postseason. And to not being zapped with 8,000 watts.