The Yankees can breathe a little easier knowing that Anaheim, which owned a 5-5 record vs. New York in 1998, is out of the picture. The Yankees love to pound on Texas, and this week the Rangers will carry into Yankee stadium a team ERA of 4.93. The series will serve as a stage on which New York can show the rest of the field that its late-season slump was due to boredom, not the fading away of its old soldiers.
The Red Sox are third in the American League in batting and second only to New York in team pitching. That kind of balance could make Boston tough to beat in the playoffs. It's no secret, though, that the Red Sox have lost their last 13 straight playoff games, dating back to 1986. This year the team has a nice blend of youth and veterans with playoff experience. Especially in the team's reliable bullpen, anchored by closer Tom Gordon, this could make it an entirely different ball club this fall.
Quietly, the Indians became only the seventh team in major-league history to lead their division/league from start to finish of a regular season. It's the fourth straight Central Division title won by the Tribe since 1995. Cleveland can't wait to erase the memories of last year's World Series loss. Jim Thome usually supplies the knockout punch for the Indians offense, but he's batting just .206 since coming off the disabled list on September 16. Cleveland needs Thome to play well if it wants to get back to the "Fall Classic."
This team can score a lot of runs — but its pitching staff can give up a lot, as well. It's going to be up to their starting rotation to contain the Yankees' bats in the first round. Otherwise, the results will be similar to their regular-season series. Texas lost 8 of 11 to New York in 1998, including a 15-13 loss, 12-9 loss and a 12-10 victory. Juan Gonzalez, who is in the running for American League MVP, had five home runs in four games when these two teams met in the 1996 divisional playoffs.