1. The Best Ace: John Lackey took on Josh Beckett in a battle of Cy Young candidates, and it was the 2003 World Series MVP Beckett that emerged with a decisive victory. Beckett pitched a shutout for his second consecutive postseason start, a streak that dates back to that 2003 World Series when he was with the Marlins. Lackey, meanwhile, was mediocre with four runs allowed in six innings. David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis both homered off Lackey in the Red Sox’s 4-0 victory. This game was really all about Beckett, who was the only pitcher in the regular season to win 20 games. Beckett walked none, struck out 8, and only surrendered 4 hits against a pesky Angels lineup. Beckett has gone from a near-disaster last season to the Red Sox’s most reliable pitcher by far. He owns a 1.74 playoff career ERA, and will give the Red Sox as many starts as he can in the playoffs. A game one win in the division series usually leads to a series victory for the winning team; however, the fate of this series is not sealed. The Angels still have an excellent chance, with Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver taking the mound the next two games. Boston will counter that with Dice-K, who has oddly received almost no attention the last few months, and Curt Schilling. It seems to me at least that these are the best two teams in baseball, so the whoever wins this series has a great shot at winning the World Series.
2. The Momentum Continues: The Rockies have gone from fourth in the division to a possible World Series contender in less than a month. No one thought they would even make the playoffs a few weeks ago; now they proved they are for real with a playoff-opening victory in Philadelphia. The Rockies’ pitching staff is thought to be a joke; however, the Phillies certainly weren’t laughing after Jeff Francis shut them down. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, three of the National League’s best hitters, went a combined 0-11. Francis allowed two runs (both off solo homers) in six innings while racking up eight strikeouts. His counterpart, Cole Hamels, was good as well, but the Rockies managed to emerge with the win. Matt Holiday, who should win the MVP hands-down over Rollins, had a key homer in the eighth inning. One element of the Rockies that few people are considering is their closer Manny Corpas, who has racked up 19 saves with a 2.08 ERA. Incredibly, the Rockies have won the last 17 games he has appeared in. Corpas and two-time All Star Brian Fuentes, who both pitched shutout innings in the win, give the Rockies a formidable duo in the bullpen. Their chance of winning this series is higher than many (including me) predicted.
3. Win for Webb: Since the Padres aren’t in the playoffs, the best pitcher by far in the National League is Brandon Webb. Webb, who went 18-10 with a 3.01 ERA this season, helped Arizona to a 3-1 win in their series opener against the Cubs. Webb had nine strikeouts in seven innings, allowing only one run. Carlos Zambrano had similar success through six innings, but regular season stud Carlos Marmol blew the game with two runs allowed. On the other hand, the Diamondbacks’ ace bullpen was nearly perfect after Webb left the game. The Diamondbacks’ only shot in the playoffs lies with Webb making multiple great starts, the bullpen remaining solid, and the offense being timely if not a powerhouse. The Cubs have a far deeper rotation and more stars on offense, giving them the advantage whenever Webb isn’t pitching.