LIANE HANSEN, host:
Major-league baseball's division series is coming to an end, and by tomorrow night, only four teams will be left to continue on to the World Series playoffs. Last night, the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost the series last year, made the cut when they swept the San Diego Padres. The brooms were also out this past week at Fenway Park, where the Chicago White Sox bested the defending world champion Boston Red Sox, the first postseason victory for the Pale Hose since 1917. The New York Yankees face the Los Angeles Angels later today and the Atlanta Braves play the Houston Astros in Texas. That's where ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian is, and he joins us by phone.
Good morning, Tim.
Mr. TIM KURKJIAN (Analyst, ESPN): Hello.
HANSEN: Hey, let's start with the Braves and Astros since that's the turf you're on right now. How is that National League series shaping up?
Mr. KURKJIAN: Well, the Astros have a 2-to-1 lead. The Braves' bullpen has really, really struggled in this series, and Houston's starting pitching, which is the real strength of their team, has overall been pretty darn good. So it hasn't been a real surprise what's happened here and we haven't had a real nail-biting game yet, but I think the series is far from over.
HANSEN: The Yankees and the Angels also play today. Their game was rained out yesterday. Anaheim leads New York two games to one. What about the rain delay? The Angels had such momentum with this. Could that actually break it?
Mr. KURKJIAN: Well, I think that hurt the Angels just because of that reason. They were really rolling. You know, they had knocked Randy Johnson out of the game. They had one, you know, very compelling game coming back against the Yankees. They had gotten 19 hits and they were really rolling. And to lose a little momentum like that I don't think helped the Angels and it's also going to hurt them travelwise as this goes on, because they're going to have to go back to the West Coast, perhaps, and they could have used an extra day to do that.
HANSEN: Now what do you think of the series so far? Good baseball?
Mr. KURKJIAN: You know, I don't think it's been great baseball so far in that series. The Yankees got very sloppy in game two, made a couple of errors, and that's how they ended up losing that game. And game three was pretty sloppy also, you know, quite literally with the weather and everything else, but it hasn't been the best series that I've seen so far, that's for sure.
HANSEN: What about the Braves and the Astros?
Mr. KURKJIAN: You know, it hasn't been that great, either. I say every year that the playoffs are the best thing I've ever seen, and they will be before this is over, but it hasn't been the best baseball so far in this series either, mainly because Atlanta's bullpen has been really up and down, and I think the Astros can play better than they've played so far.
HANSEN: Of course, Chicago and St. Louis--all the fans there are kind of watching for the results of this game. They have quite an emotional investment in this series.
Mr. KURKJIAN: Well, they do. The White Sox fans especially they haven't won--you know, they finally won a playoff series for the first time since 1917, and that team, you know, almost collapsed completely down the stretch, but they've really pulled it together, you know, during this postseason. But they really have to play for in Chicago. They're looking at this postseason like the Red Sox did last year, that `It's really our turn after all these years to finally win,' and who knows? Maybe it is.
HANSEN: Yeah, but St. Louis, too--I mean, last year, that was tough.
Mr. KURKJIAN: Yeah, the Cardinals played very poorly in the World Series last year, and I think since the moment that ended, every guy on that team said, `All right. We're never going to let that happen again.' And they've been through an awful lot this year but they won their division easily and they swept right through San Diego. And I don't think anything but a World Series championship is going to fit for the Cardinals this year. And they're certainly playing that way during this postseason.
HANSEN: OK. Big prediction: Who wins the World Series?
Mr. KURKJIAN: Well, I picked the Cardinals at the beginning of the season, I picked them at the beginning of the playoffs and I'm going to stay with them here. Their starting pitching is so much better than it was at this time last year, and in the middle of the order, they have Albert Pujols, who I believe is the best hitter in this postseason. So you put those two together, I'm sticking with the Cardinals.
HANSEN: ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian. He joined us from Houston, Texas.
Thanks a lot, Tim.
Mr. KURKJIAN: My pleasure.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singers: Let's go. Batter up. We're taking the afternoon off. It's a beautiful day for a ball game, for a ball game today. The fans are off to get a ticket...
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