Jaffe: What better way to start the playoffs than a no-no?

Oct. 7, 2010, 1:33 a.m.

It’s mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. I had finally finished a barrage of homework and my friends and I were about to continue our usual Xbox session. I was feeling sick, I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in a week and I hadn’t showered in…let’s just say it had been a while since I’d been properly put together. Sleep, a shower and video games were waging a war in my head for dibs.

Yet my attention, like that of so many sports fans around the country, became fixated on another event — Game 1 of the Reds-Phillies series. Wait a minute, the Reds and Phillies? I don’t care about the Reds or the Phillies. I couldn’t have told you if Wilson Valdez was the bullpen catcher for the Reds or the starting third baseman for the Phillies (he’s the latter). The outcome of the game would have less impact on my life than Matt Leinart has had on the NFL. So why postpone improving my health, social life and appearance — of which could use plenty of work — to watch two teams that mean nothing to me play a baseball game that wasn’t even close?

The answer, as any sports fan or Yahoo! headline scanner could readily inform you, is that Roy Halladay was pitching a no-hitter. In the playoffs. In his first career playoff start. Now as I said, I don’t have any feeling toward the Phillies. But watching Halladay working toward history (no one had thrown a no-hitter in the playoffs since Don Larsen’s perfecto 52 years ago) made me become the world’s biggest bandwagon Halladay fan. I cheered every strikeout, gasped at the few decently tough plays and got goosebumps as the 27th out drew closer and closer. Halladay eventually completed his no-no, only the second in postseason history, and even while (finally) showering afterward, all I could think about was a 4-0 game between the Phillies and Reds.

It takes a game like this to make you truly appreciate just how special sports can be. So much of watching sports has to do with fandom and knowledge of specific teams that sometimes we forget how great sports can be without any of the bias. Seeing a truly remarkable achievement — you try holding the best offense in the National League without a hit for an entire playoff game — makes you appreciate what sports are all about.

So Roy Halladay brought me back to baseball. I’ll admit, this year was not a peak baseball-watching time for me. This season, my beloved Angels looked more like the Royals than the Angel teams that won five division titles in six years from 2004-2009 (the only team to do so). As much as I’d like to say otherwise, it’s hard to care as much about a sport when your team is not competitive and you don’t get the games on Stanford’s monopolized cable TV. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still paid more attention to MLB than to Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown, Prop 19 and Inception combined, and I’ll still be an Angels fan even if they replace their core players with Nyjer Morgan, Milton Bradley and Manny Ramirez.

But this postseason gives me the somewhat rare opportunity to watch an entire month of playoff baseball without any rooting interest. Ok, so I’ll still cheer against the Yankees until the day my doctor pulls the plug on my breathing machine. But I’ll do my best to remain as impartial as I can, for my own sanity’s sake.

Here, after lots of ado, are my not-entirely-biased division series predictions.

Let’s start with the aforementioned Phillies. Even before Halladay’s best Roy Halladay impression last night (don’t forget, he pitched a perfect game just five months ago), the Phillies look to have the experience (two straight trips to the World Series), the home field and the pitching to go deep into October again. The Reds, meanwhile, have none of the above (no playoff wins since 1995, a possible Game 5 on the road and a starting rotation led by an “ace” who couldn’t last two innings last night). The Phillies should win comfortably.

The other matchup in the National League features two teams that had not clinched playoff spots a week ago. The Giants have been hot of late, overtaking the Padres to win the NL West. Meanwhile, the Braves blew their lead in the NL East to the hard-charging Phillies and had to get help from the Giants and Padres to salvage the wild card. Neither team has much playoff experience: the Braves haven’t made the postseason since 2005 and the Giants haven’t since 2003. Still, the Giants have home-field advantage, momentum and the better pitching staff, so they should advance.

In the American League, the Rays were picked by many to advance to the World Series after securing the league’s best record during the regular season. They have more experience, home-field advantage and better pitching overall than the Rangers, yet Cliff Lee led a dominant effort over David Price and the Rays yesterday to win Game 1. Still, the rest of the Rangers’ rotation will not be able to maintain the same level of play, and the Rays will still pull out the series.

The final remaining series is the Twins vs. the Yankees, and this is the most intriguing series, at least on paper. The Yankees have eliminated the Twins in the ALDS three times since 2003, including last year’s sweep. This year, though, the Twins have home-field advantage over the Yankees, something they didn’t have any of the last three times. Target Field has been a perfect new home for the Twins, whose 53 home wins are the most in the American League. Minnesota has its best record since 2002, when it advanced to the ALCS. Meanwhile, the Yankees failed to win the AL East for only the third time in the last 13 years.

The Yankees are the defending champs and deserve to be feared at any point. Cy Young candidate C.C. Sabathia, MVP candidate Robinson Cano and perennial All-Stars Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are just some of the weapons New York can send out against the low-payroll Twins. However, the Yankees have looked very vulnerable at times, while the Twins just keep on winning despite losing former MVP Justin Morneau and shutdown closer Joe Nathan to injuries. In a faux upset, the Twins pull out the series in five, despite last night’s loss.

So go out and put your money on the Reds, Braves, Rangers and Yankees. No matter what, I won’t mind.

Jacob Jaffe hates bath time. Emphasize the importance of daily hygiene at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu.

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