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Glancing At The ALCS

So, let’s say the Phillies win the NLCS. Whoever wins this series … well … will play the Phillies in the World Series.

I do like saying that last thing.

Anyway, it’s the Red Sox and the Rays in the ALCS. On one side you have the defending world champion, the best major league team of the last five seasons, the burgeoning dynasty built by 35-year-old wunderkind Theo Nathan Epstein (Can I be general manager with two world titles under my belt in 12 years?) and the team most people across the country are growing to hate. On the other side you have baseball’s doormat since its existence, a team that never quite lifted its head from the cellar despite proclaiming a great farm system, a team that finally reaped the benefits of its system — and its wildly intelligent manager — and took the American League Eastern Division crown.

Fun theater, eh?

Lest we forget these teams will practically take 20 paces, turn and draw upon first pitch. It’ll be an entertaining set of games, with crazy fans on both ends, and very solid baseball throughout.

Shame it’ll go five games.

Yup, I’m calling a 4-1 Red Sox victory. (And don’t bet against me — I correctly predicted the Sox, Rays and Phils series, even being very accurate with how the Phils would win it.) Now, the Rays are a very talented team and deserve to win this series. But there’s too much youth, too much of a shaky bullpen, and too much reliance on a brittle and green rotation. Okay, I know, they’ve gone through 166 games this way. But the league championship series is a different beast — it’s where little moments mean everything, where experience and clutch go hand in hand. Yes, young teams have triumphed in the past, but the Red Sox sport a swagger and knowledge far beyond anything the Rays will hand them in this series.

Both teams have little boys out there, but Boston’s boys have been there before. Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia had Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez, Mike Timlin and David Ortiz. Who does Evan Longoria and Co. have? The experience factor will go a long way.

Boston’s pitching is on shaky ground, as well, with Beckett hampering himself through a few innings against the Angels. But Lester has proven himself as a big-game arm, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is no slouch in the No. 2 role. And don’t underestimate the wise Tim Wakefield when he starts game four in Boston. That’s the game where Boston will take a 3-1 lead, handing the ball back to bend-not-break Matsuzaka for the clincher.

I can envision it now. Daisuke goes six, giving up a run on five hits and four walks while forever frustrating Tampa’s bats, going cold in the clutch. Meanwhile, Boston breaks a 1-1 tie in the sixth with a Kevin Youkilis double. Hideki Okajima gives up a hit to start the seventh, but nails it down. The eighth goes to the young Justin Masterson, who lives up to his name in the setup role. In the bottom of the eighth, Boston puts the game away with an Ortiz homer, for old-time’s sake. Papelbon for the save? Forget it. 4-1 Sox, the score of the series.

Winner: Red Sox, 4-1

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