In a perfect world, I would be getting set to make a prediction on how the Blue Jays will fare in their first postseason since 1993. In a perfect world, the Jays would be getting set to face the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card playoff round, with ace Ricky Romero – coming off a 19-4 season – facing the man who the Jays were rumoured to be in the running for in the offseason, Yu Darvish.
Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect, and the Jays are nowhere to be seen in the playoffs. Instead, the first season under MLB’s new playoff format will feature the Baltimore effing Orioles. I still can’t believe it.
Regardless – it’s time for me to once again put my neck on the line. Join me as I predict the entire 2012 playoff tournament.
Then, bet the opposite.
Wild Card Round
Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers
Two completely different teams. Texas is making its third straight postseason appearance and hoping to reach its third straight World Series. Baltimore hasn’t been here since 1997, which was also their last winning season. In fact, the team won 93 games this year, after losing 90+ games in each of the past six seasons. Texas collapsed a bit down the stretch to lose the AL West title to Oakland, while the Orioles simply couldn’t keep up with the Yankees.
The game is in Texas, where the Rangers were an impressive 50-31 on the season, but at 46-35, Baltimore was the American League’s best road team. Joe Saunders starts for the Orioles, while Texas sends Yu Darvish to the mound. Saunders made seven starts for the O’s after coming over from Arizona, and most impressively didn’t walk a batter in each of his past three. It was an up-and-down year for Yu, but he has not allowed more than 3 ER in any of his past eight starts. He did not face Baltimore during the season.
Prediction: The Orioles have been a magical team all season long, but I think the magic runs out here. Yes Texas is struggling, but they are still one of the best and most complete teams in baseball. Rangers win.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves
How interesting is this matchup? Last year Atlanta collapsed in September allowing St. Louis to catch them, and now this year the two meet up in the NL Wild Card game. The Cardinals, of course, are defending World Series Champions, while the Braves are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Atlanta has home field advantage, which might end up being a huge deal. With a road record of 38-43, the Cards have by far the worst road record of any of this year’s playoff squads. In addition, Atlanta is sending unheralded ace Kris Medlen to the mound. In case you haven’t heard, Medlen went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA this season, and Atlanta won all 12 of his starts. At 16-3, 2.86 ERA, Kyle Lohse was amazing for the Cardinals, but was roughed up in his only start vs. Atlanta.
Prediction: The Braves were the better team all season long, are playing at home, and have their ace pitcher on the hill. It’s also Chipper Jones’ last hurrah, so expect something big from him. Braves win.
American League Divisional Series
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
Background: Detroit was supposed to be here, after adding Prince Fielder in the offseason to join Miguel Cabrera and defending Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander. Oakland was supposed to finish dead last, with a team full of rookies, nobody’s, and also-rans. Both teams struggled early, but both turned it on in the second half to win their respective divisions. None was a bigger shock than that A’s triumph.
Batting: Two different teams. Detroit had a much higher team batting average (.268 to .238), but despite having Cabrera and Fielder, actually hit 32 fewer home runs than the A’s (195 – 163). The A’s are lead by a bunch of ex-Red Sox players (Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp), a rookie (Yoenis Cespedes), and a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of (Seth Smith, Colin Cowgill, George Kottaras, Brandon Hicks). The Tigers have more household names.
Pitching: Oakland had the second best ERA in the AL at 3.48, but Detroit was right behind them at 3.75. The A’s have a rotation full of rookies and a bullpen full of nobody’s, but it all seems to work. The Tigers are lead by Verlander who will likely pitch twice. The rest of the rotation can be amazing or awful, almost at random.
Prediction: Detroit has brighter star power and gets to start the first two games at home (thanks to MLB’s bizarre ALDS and NLDS scheduling). But there is something special about the A’s this year. They shouldn’t win this series, but they will. Oakland in 5.
Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees
Background: A rematch of the 2010 ALCS awaits the Rangers if they get past Baltimore (they will – 500 Level Fan said so!). The Yankees had an up-and-down year but managed to hang on and win the AL East for the 13th time in 17 seasons.
Batting: The two highest scoring teams in the AL, and both are loaded with power. The Yankees lead all of baseball with 245 HR. Go up and down each lineup – both are loaded, though the Yanks might be on more of a roll right now, expecially Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson.
Pitching: Aside from Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees rotation is a mess, and they will be without Mr. Postseason Mariano Rivera. Darvish and Matt Harrison give the Rangers a solid first two, but Ryan Dempster has been inconsistent since arriving from the Cubs. Whoever’s number three starter comes through might decide this one.
Prediction: Texas won the ALCS in 2010, and I expect the same to happen here. The Rangers have unfinished business after last year’s World Series, and their bats will be too much for the Yankee pitching. Texas in 4.
National League Divisional Series
San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds
Background: Both teams ran away with their divisions (CIN by 9 games, SF by 8), and both return to the playoffs after a one year hiatus. Also, both survived being without top players for a long stretch – Joey Votto (injury) for the Reds, and Melky Cabrera (PED suspension) for the Giants.
Batting: After years of awful hitting, the Giants actually finished in the top half of the NL in runs scored, outscoring the Reds by 49 runs. But Cincy has a much bigger power game, hitting 172 homers to San Fran’s league fewest 103. SF has potential MVP Buster Posey, but Cincy can counter with former MVP Joey Votto, and big bopper Jay Bruce.
Pitching: Lead by Matt Cain, the Giants have a deeper and more dominant rotation, but not by much – Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey all had excellent seasons. Lead by Aroldis Chapman the Reds have a deeper and more dominant bullpen. That may be the difference.
Prediction: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and a resurgent Ryan Ludwick give Cincinnati too many weapons, and Chapman is there to shut the Giants down at the end. Reds in 5.
Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals
Background: Technically, the Montreal Expos are back in the playoffs before the Blue Jays. The Nationals shocked everybody by winning 98 games – more than any team in baseball, arriving a few years ahead of schedule. They’ll face division rivals Atlanta after the Braves win the Wild Card round.
Batting: Not much to separate the two teams. Both have scored a similar number of runs, though the Nationals have more power with Morse, Zimmerman, Harper, and LaRoche. The most interesting matchup may very well be the age and wisdom of Chipper Jones – in his last postseason – against the energy and youth of Bryce Harper – in his first.
Pitching: Even without Strasburg the Nationals have a formidable rotation lead by Gio Gonzalez. But Atlanta, with veteran Tim Hudson, and the invincible Kris Medlen, joining forces with the best bullpen in the league, might have the edge.
Prediction: It’s been a great year in DC, but you get the feeling that the decision to shutdown Strasburg will come back to haunt them. Braves in 5.
American League Championship Series
Texas Rangers vs. Oakland A’s
A rematch of the season ending series that ended in a sweep for Oakland. If this is how the ALCS ends up, then Texas will have obviously righted the ship in order to make it this far. Because of that, they will be firing on all cylinders, and despite the magic powder that has been clinging to the A’s jerseys for the past few months, they will be no match for the rejuvenated Rangers. Texas in 5.
National League Championship Series
Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds
The NLCS will feature two of the most dominating and dynamic closers that baseball has ever seen in Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. It will also feature one of the best hitters of the past decade in Chipper Jones, and one of the best hitters in the game currently in Joey Votto. This would be an even series, and one that I would give to the Reds, mainly due to the depth in their rotation. I prefer Cueto / Latos / Bailey / Arroyo to Medlen / Hudson / Hanson / Maholm. Reds in 7.
Texas Rangers vs. Cincinnati Reds
Notice how the level of detail is getting less with each round? Why waste words when I’m going to be wrong anyways!
Two things to say about this World Series. 1) it will be cool to have Canadians (Votto and Dempster) play prominent roles. 2) There’s no way the Rangers lose a third straight series. I’d bet Ron Washington’s moustache on it!
World Series Prediction: Texas Rangers in 6.