With the dust now settled over Wild Card play-in games, the true playoffs can now begin!
National League Division Series
Cincinnati Reds – NL Central Champion
Regular season record: 97-65
San Francisco Giants – NL West Champion
Regular season record: 94-68
This matchup pits two historic franchises, shockingly meeting in their first ever post-season series. Reds manager, Dusty Baker, also faces off against the team he led to the World Series back in 2002. It’s really simple with this series. Can the Giants pitching carry them, much the same way it did just two years ago? Is the Cincinnati offense powerful enough to overcome a questionable bullpen? I see this as favoring the Reds. While pitching does win championships, evident by the Giants 2010 title, that squad had even more pop than this one.
Buster Posey may be the next great catcher and NL MVP, but there’s just not enough power behind him. In baseball, unlike other sports, the opponent can literally shutdown their oppositions best player. Expect the “Posey 4″ to be incorporated as long as San Francisco is alive. The Reds lineup is stacked with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and the emergence of Jay Bruce. All Cincinnati has to do, is put up 4 runs a game and they should win. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. However, the Cy Young candidate in this series wears a red C on his hat. If Johnny Cueto can win, this may be a quick.
Prediction: Cincinnati in 4
Washington Nationals – NL East Champion
Regular season record: 98-64
St. Louis Cardinals – NL Wild Card
Regular season record: 88-74
The asininity of a team with 10 less wins hosting the first two games in a series irritates me to no end. Don’t think it couldn’t matter either. St. Louis is very tough at home and as we all learned last season, and in 2006, all the Cards need to do is get in. Regardless, that’s a rant for another day. On paper this is closer than you might think. Carlos Beltran’s signing proved to be the move of the off-season and after Lance Berkman, 2011′s NL Comeback Player of the Year suffered a serious injury, 2012′s crown holder stepped up. Beltran carried the Red Birds for large portions of the year. Beltran, Holliday, Craig, Molina, and Freese is nothing to sneeze at for a heart of a batting order. That’s filled with veterans, former All-Stars, and young studs. When Allen Craig owns 92 RBI, you have a strong offense. Will Mr. Freese bring his clutch bat from the 2011 playoffs with him again? He’s my difference maker.
Now the question does become can St. Louis’ offense cover for their lack of pitching? Washington could have two aces, but instead decided to shutdown Strasburg. Lucky for them, they still have one – Gio Gonzalez. The former Oakland A reject, led the National League in wins. Coupled with an equal, if not better, rest of the rotation, the Nats will be tough, even for any offense to deal with. Washington’s lineup may not scream with big names, that doesn’t matter. Three players hit 25 or more home runs – Adam LaRoche (33), Ryan Zimmerman, and Ian Desmond. LaRoche added exactly 100 RBI too. Oh yeah and there’s also this cocky kid in DC who’s not too shabby…. Don’t be surprised if Bryce Harper picks up one of those special playoff moments. The Nationals can hit and will hit enough to get by St. Louis.
Prediction: Washington in 5
American League Division Series
Oakland Athletics – AL West Champion
Regular season record: 94-68
Detroit Tigers – AL Central Champion
Regular season record: 88-74
If I showed you the rosters, you would laugh. This series sees one team throw out the reigning Cy Young and AL MVP, a Hall of Fame manager, and baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967. What does the other team bring? A group that can only be perfectly labeled the “Funky Bunch.” Billy Beane did it again! He spent no money, filled a roster with no-names, and won. Will he finally have it succeed in the playoffs? That has been the problem for past Beane machine squads come October. Unfortunately, the honeymoon ends here. The Tigers were my pre-season AL pennant winner, so I can’t jump off now. Yes, they slept through 90% of the season. All that is now irrelevant. They woke up and got hot when it counted the most. Detroit still doesn’t have much after Verlander in the pen. A lack of rotation depth is largely why this team lost the 2006 World Series and the 2011 ALCS. It may hurt them later, just not yet. When a team has multiple MVP type guys that can carry the load and single handily win games, they are incredibly tough to beat, especially in short series. Miguel Cabrera gives Detroit a game by himself. Prince Fielder could do the same. There are three potential Hall of Famers on the Tigers roster. The only way an Athletic reaches Cooperstown is to purchase a ticket.
I don’t mean to give Oakland no shot though. The Baseball Gods have allowed weirder things to happen. Oakland poses a much stronger team defensively, captained by the waling cereal advertisement, Coco Crisp; pitchers that can’t blow anyone’s doors off, yet find a way; and some spotty power with the likes of Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. For Oakland to win, they absolutely must steal Verlander’s start. Good luck, fellas.
Prediction: Detroit in 4
New York Yankees – AL East Champs
Regular season record: 95-67
Baltimore Orioles – AL Wild Card
Regular season record: 93-69
The Evil Empire vs a franchise making their first post-season appearance since 1997. Sounds like a no brainer, right? As Daniel Bryan would say, NO! NO! NO! New York has an All-Star team on paper, but hasn’t played always played like one. Funny enough, the man who is responsible for the Yankees being here is the man who gets the most hate from Yankee faithful. Curtis Granderson led his team in both homer runs (43) and RBI (106). Derek Jeter is not called “Captain Clutch” for nothing. Jeter will get his, A-Rod will be polarizing one way or another, but the hopes of the most storied franchise in professional sports history will be placed on Curtis Granderson. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Yankee fans. Teixeira and A-Rod will need to rebound from their miserable seasons too. Based on a very educated hunch, Ichiro, making his first trip to the playoffs since his rookie year of 2001, will be a ping-pong hitting force to be reckoned with. New York will score. Their question marks remain: is there enough after CC? And an issue the Yankees have never had to deal with since before the 90′s dynasty, can the bullpen hold up in a post-season without Mariano Rivera?
Baltimore got by Texas in the Wild Card play-in game. I equate this more to Texas falling ass backwards into the playoffs and being demoralized after losing the division to Oakland on the last day most of all. However, the Orioles are a bunch that never should be written off. Buck Showalter helped build a Yankee dynasty once and has watched others soak the champagne and wear the rings. He wants revenge! Adam Jones, Mark Reynolds, and company will try to get it for him. A squad with no ace and what would be an average fantasy lineup at best, seems to buck the trend (see what I did there?) and win no matter how much it makes no damn sense. Without Chris Davis, I’d pick New York. What I’ve seen from him in recent weeks may actually make him the most feared and powerful bat in this entire series currently. Runs will be at a premium. The trick for Baltimore is to be able to hold leads with starters that don’t go deep into games and a shaky bullpen. Conventional wisdom would say, Reynolds’ strikeouts outweigh his homers 2 to 1; Davis can’t do it alone, treating the 6th inning like a finish line for pitchers is a recipe for disaster; and the ghosts of Jeffery Maier will haunt Oriole Nation. Conventional wisdom hasn’t mattered yet for this scrappy group and conventional wisdom doesn’t always win in the playoffs. Hell the A’s could even beat Detroit and I wouldn’t be surprised. This is one of the worst Yankee teams in awhile and it will come to light. Sorry, Ichiro.
Prediction: Baltimore in 5