Out of Bounds: First-round MLB playoff preview

On Sept. 12, 2007, the New York Mets led the National League East by seven games. By Sept. 28, that lead had disintegrated, and when all was said and done the Philadelphia Phillies had shocked everyone but themselves by winning the NL East crown. The Phillies' comeback is widely attributed to a monumental collapse by the Mets. Yet, it's much easier to lose a ton of games than to win a ton of games, and the Phillies were required to do the latter.

The Colorado Rockies also had their backs against the wall late in the season. As recently as Sept.17, they were an all-but-forgotten team sitting in fourth place - in their own division. The Rockies set a torrid pace down the stretch, winning 14 of their last 15 games to force a one-game playoff against the San Diego Padres. Needless to say, the Rockies pulled off an equally improbable comeback in that game, scoring three runs off of future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman when faced with a two-run deficit in the bottom of the 13th.

Now, with both teams souped up on liberal doses of the intangible known as "momentum," they enter the playoffs ready to continue their hot streaks. Just one problem: They're playing against each other. A fan simply couldn't ask for anything more - unless the aforementioned fan favored the Mets or Padres. Making the match-up slightly more interesting is that the Phillies and Rockies are remarkably similar in their makeup. Both clubs feature high-powered offenses and subpar pitching. The series is also likely to pit last year's MVP, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, against the favorite for the award this year, the Rockies' Matt Holliday. I'm going to predict a scintillating best-of-five, and leave it at that. (Editor's note: The Rockies defeated the Phillies 4-2 last night in the first game of the series.)

Another intriguing playoff match-up is the New York Yankees versus the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees swept the season series from the Indians 6-0, but Cleveland has since gone on a tear, going 31-12 in their final 43 games. Playing to the Yankees' advantage is the repealing of the famed "Joba rules" regarding their 21-year-old flame-throwing phenomenon Joba Chamberlain. It's the playoffs now, and the Yankees will go to their youngster whenever necessary.

One player who will be heavily scrutinized in the series is Alex Rodriguez: Despite his unbelievable season, the fact remains that he has just six hits in his last 49 playoff at-bats. The fate of the series comes down to A-Rod's performance. If he can continue his regular season success, the Yankees will cakewalk to the Championship Series.

In the other American League series, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are pitted against the Boston Red Sox. Both teams boast disciplined approaches at the plate, so the best pitching staff will decide the winner. Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey anchor the Angels' staff, with Francisco Rodriguez providing security at the back of the bullpen. Lackey and Rodriguez are each playoff-tested, leading the Angels to their most recent World Series title in 2002. The Red Sox have the equally-seasoned Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling on hand for their postseason drive, but their bullpen has been shaky of late. 26-year-old closer Jonathan Papelbon will look to anchor the Sox in his inaugural postseason.

The second Division Series in the National League matches the Chicago Cubs against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cubs will lean on the offensive trio of Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez as they try to reach their first World Series since 1945. The Diamondbacks are somewhat of an anomaly; a well-managed team without any superstars. The Cubs appear to have vastly superior personnel in this series, but as the saying goes, "there's a reason they play the games."