Twenty questions as playoffs loom

Twenty questions as playoffs loom

1. Will there be another Subway Series?

If the oddsmakers are right, there will be, as both the Yankees and the Mets have the best records in the American League and National League, respectively, and are favored to advance to the Fall Classic. Recent history, however, would seem to be against it.

The last time the two teams with the best regular-season records met in the World Series was 1999 (Yankees-Braves). The last Subway Series was in 2000, when the Wild Card Mets had the worst record of the four NL teams in the playoffs and the Yankees had fewer wins than any of the other AL teams that reached the postseason.

2. Will the AL champion sweep the World Series for the third year in a row?

Don't count on it. There have never been three consecutive sweeps in World Series history, either by one league or a combination of leagues or teams, and while the AL winner will likely be heavily favored and have home-field advantage this year, odds are, we won't see a third straight four-and-out in the Fall Classic.

3. Will the Oakland A's get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1990?

Yes. Since the 2000 season, the A's are 0-for-9 in games they needed to win to advance to the ALCS. This time, Barry Zito and friends will get over the hump and into the next round.

4. Will the Yankees end their World Series drought?

Yes. Randy Johnson's back and the pitching overall is a concern, but the Yankees played their best baseball in the second half, they have baseball's best offense and they appear to be peaking. Look for them to be back in the World Series for the first time since 2003 and win it for the first time since 2000.

5. Can the Mets make it to the World Series without Pedro Martinez?

Absolutely. The Mets have the best lineup in the NL, and they were able to forge the league's best record, even with Martinez missing much of the season. Even without Pedro, the Amazins still have enough to get past any team they face in the NL playoffs.

6. Who will take Martinez's No. 1 spot in the rotation?

Probably Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, although manager Willie Randolph has not offically announced his rotation plans yet. The veteran Hernandez, whose nine career postseason victories rank among the top 10 all-time, could pitch Tuesday's opener on his normal turn, with lefty Tom Glavine the likely starter for Game 2.

7. Which AL team is poised to pull off a World Series surprise?

Minnesota. Johan Santana is the best pitcher on the planet right now, the Twins have been baseball's hottest team since mid-June, and they have the best team ERA in all of baseball since the All-Star break. They have baseball's best home record -- and remember, the AL has home-field advantage in the World Series -- and they have a substantial advantage over opposing teams at the Metrodome. The offense, after a slow start, has really been clicking with regulars like Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett adding to the steady season-long contributions of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

8. Which NL team is poised to pull off a World Series surprise?

Look out for San Diego. The Padres had one of the best records in baseball during the second half, with the second-best ERA in the league since the All-Star break. Veteran Woody Williams has found the groove at just the right time. Road warrior-supreme Chris Young is pitching extremely well and will come in handy, especially for Padres playoff games away from PETCO Park. The offense has picked up the pace, and the Padres were clearly the better team in late-season series with the other playoff teams they faced.

9. Who is a candidate in the NL to be this year's Mr. October?

Carlos Beltran of the Mets. Beltran was electric in 2004, setting the postseason record for on-base percentage (.536), OPS (1.557) and recording the second-highest batting average in postseason history, hitting .435 in 46 at-bats for Houston. While it would be hard to top that performance, there's no reason to suspect that Beltran won't come up big again this October.

10. Who is a candidate in the AL to come up big in October?

Michael Cuddyer of the Twins owns a .406 career batting average in three ALDS sets and a .378 batting average in 13 career postseason games. Cuddyer, who hit .467 in the 2004 ALDS, is having the best overall year of his career.

11. Who are some of the pitchers who could make an unexpected impact in October?

Two pitchers who recently came off the disabled list, Oakland's Rich Harden and Minnesota's Brad Radke, were both very impressive in late-September outings, and they could help their respective teams considerably in the postseason.

12. Which division winner figures to have the toughest time in the first round of the playoffs?

The St. Louis Cardinals played sub-.500 baseball after the All-Star break and barely held off Houston to win the NL Central title. The Cardinals' pitching staff beyond Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan has been mediocre of late, and the offense, other than Albert Pujols, slumped badly late in the season.

13. Will a Wild Card winner make it to the World Series again this year?

Probably not, though at least one Wild Card winner has reached the World Series each of the last four years, including three Wild Card teams who wound up winning the Fall Classic (Angels, Marlins and Red Sox). Houston reached the World Series after winning the NL Wild Card last season.

14. What are the chances that one of the "rookie" stadiums will see its first World Series game?

Less than 50-50. The Mets and Yankees are favored, but the teams playing in parks that haven't hosted a World Series game previously -- Detroit (Comerica Park), St. Louis (new Busch Stadium) and San Diego (PETCO Park) -- have a decent shot to get into the Fall Classic.

15. What postseason records are in jeopardy?

Tom Glavine of the Mets has 12 career postseason victories, which ties the lefty with Roger Clemens for the third-most all-time, trailing only John Smoltz (15) and Andy Pettitte (14). Right behind Glavine and Clemens is Greg Maddux of the Dodgers, with 11.

Glavine's 201 career postseason innings are the third most, trailing only Pettitte (212) and Smoltz (206).

Mariano Rivera's 72 postseason games are by far the most by any pitcher, as are the right-hander's 34 career saves during postseason play.

Bernie Williams' 120 career postseason games is a record, and Williams is followed closely by teammate Derek Jeter (115). Williams also leads all-time in career postseason runs (83), just ahead of Jeter (81). The two are also atop the career lists for postseason total bases, doubles and hits (Jeter leads in the latter category).

16. The White Sox won't be repeat World Series winners, but are there any players who have a shot at playing for a second consecutive World Series-winning team?

El Duque, who appeared in one World Series game for Chicago last year, has a shot for another ring this season with the New York Mets.

17. Who are some of the longtime veterans who might be making their final postseason appearances?

This postseason has a number of great players who might be playing in October for the final time, including Maddux, Johnson, Frank Thomas of the Athletics, Radke and Mike Piazza of the Padres.

18. Which of the playoff teams had the biggest improvement in record from last year?

The Detroit Tigers finished 71-91 and 28 games behind Chicago when the 2005 regular season came to an end, winning 24 more games this year. They're one of two 2006 playoff teams to post a losing record in 2005 -- the Dodgers also went 71-91 last year before clinching the 2006 NL Wild Card with an 88-74 record this year.

19. Which of the playoff teams had the biggest retreat in its regular-season record from last year?

The St. Louis Cardinals had baseball's best record (100-62) in 2005, but they fell to 83-78 in 2006.

20. The AL has home-field advantage for the World Series again this year. Which of the four AL playoff teams does that likely help the most?

The Minnesota Twins. Not only did the Twins have the best home record in baseball this year, they have historically been very tough in the Metrodome in postseason play. They've lost their last three postseason games played at the Metrodome (two to the Yankees in 2004 and one to the A's in 2003), but the Twins are 11-4 overall in postseason play in the Metrodome since the beginning of the 1987 postseason.

Jim Molony is a writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.