Taking the playoff temperature
Thoughts so far: The series has come off as I expected. I really thought the Twins starters could clamp down the Yankees hitters. Minnesota's pitching was underrated coming in. I felt it would be a low-scoring series and I see that continuing. I still believe this will go to five games. The Twins are a really good club and they're not nearly as likely to beat themselves as the Yankees are.
What the Twins have to do to win: The Twins have to use the Metrodome to their advantage because they would have a hard time winning a Game 5 in Yankee Stadium. Minnesota just has to play Metrodome baseball -- slap the ball, run the bases and play defense. The Yankees will make mistakes on the turf and the Twins need to capitalize on that.
What the Yankees have to do to win: It comes down to starting pitching for New York. Roger Clemens and David Wells -- the Game 3 and 4 starters, respectively -- have to pitch deep into games. Minnesota is not a home-run hitting team, so Yankees starters just have to stay away from allowing walks and rallies. For the Yankees, it all begins and ends with their starting pitchers.
Thoughts so far: Clearly, Oakland has exploited the weakness in the Boston bullpen. The Red Sox hitters have not had success against the Oakland staff. Boston has also struggled away from Fenway Park. A lot of balls the Red Sox hit in Game 1 are either off the wall or home runs at Fenway. I think you'll see a different Red Sox team this weekend when they get into their home park.
What the Red Sox have to do to win: Boston has to hit, hit and hit. The Sox need to get their confidence back and hit the ball hard and slap it off the Green Monster. Like the Twins, the Red Sox have a great homefield advantage and they need to utilize it.
What the A's have to do to win: Oakland has to play with a sense of urgency in Game 3, even though they're up 2-0. The A's have a history of letting playoff series get away from them and not finishing teams off. The A's have their foot on Boston's throat right now and it's time to step on it, not ease up.
Thoughts so far: I'm a little surprised Florida won a game in San Francisco. PacBell has been a great homefield for the Giants. Sidney Ponson came up pretty small. Game 2 was a contest that he had to put away. That's why they traded for the guy. Give the Marlins credit. They kept hammering away, but that was a game the Giants let slip and they usually don't do that, so it was a very good win for Florida. The Marlins are very tough at home -- just ask the Phillies. This series is no gimmie now for the Giants. This became a series in Game 2.
What the Giants have to do to win: San Francisco will have the ball in the right hands in Kirk Rueter for Game 3. He's a veteran, he won't be bothered by the hostile environment and I think he'll pitch well. What the Giants need is a good start from Jerome Williams in Game 4, because that's the one pitching matchup in the series that on paper favors the Marlins, who will throw Dontrelle Willis.
What the Marlins have to do to win: Florida has to continue getting its top two guys, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, on base. They're the key to the team and we all saw the difference they make when they are getting hits and taking walks and wreaking havoc on the bases. They're pesky hitters and they make things happen. The whole key for Florida is getting those two guys on.
Thoughts so far: I've been saying for years that as good as the Braves are, it's a shame they don't have a homefield advantage. It was almost as if they played the first two games of this series on a neutral field, thanks to all the people who came down from Chicago. That was a disadvantage for the Braves and they were somewhat lucky to come out of Atlanta with one win. Game 3, in the Wrigley Field atmosphere with Mark Prior on the mound, will be very difficult for the Braves. Game 3 is the swing game of this matchup. Whoever takes it will win the series.
What the Braves have to do to win: I think Atlanta has to pop a home run or two, which isn't easy to do against Prior. The Braves have lived by the homer all year and they have a few guys in the lineup who can go yard. I don't think they're a great rally team but their hitters are good enough to hit good pitching, so I think they'll be able to get to Prior a little bit, but they're going to have to mix in a long ball or two to win the pivotal Game 3. Now, if the Braves lose Game 3, I wouldn't say they have no chance. They are a very professional team and I wouldn't count them out until they actually lose the third game, but it's going to be very tough for them to win the series with the momentum that would be on Chicago's side going into a Game 4 at home.
What the Cubs have to do to win: Chicago just has to ride Prior. Dusty Baker's been letting the young right-hander throw a lot of pitches. I think there may come a time this season when Prior hits the wall, but he's not there yet. If you're the Cubs, you take that roll of the dice to see if it gets you to the NLCS or the World Series. With Game 3 being the key in my eyes, the Cubs just need to let Prior go deep, throw a lot of pitches and see what happens. He's earned that.