The MLB postseason begins tonight, and sadly for the 19th consecutive season the Toronto Blue Jays will not be a part of it.
But even without the Jays, this is a playoff year full of intrigue. There are underdogs (Pittsburgh and Cleveland). There are teams that made incredible turnarounds from 2012 (Boston). There are big market teams (LA Dodgers) and small market teams (Tampa Bay). There are plenty of Canadians (Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, Russell Martin, Ryan Dempster), and plenty of ex-Jays (Yunel Escobar, A.J. Burnett, John Farrell, Yan Gomes, Kelly Johnson).
Best of all, the 2013 playoffs will feature many of baseball’s greatest players, including Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, David Price, Adam Wainwright, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto, Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson.
With 10 teams in the mix for the World Series, there really isn’t one true favourite. Things are wide open. So who will win?
Wild Card Round
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians
Tampa faded down the stretch, barely hung on to a spot in Toronto, then needed a 163rd game to finally qualify. Cleveland was a great story, bringing in Terry Francona to guide a host of new players to the Tribe’s first playoff spot since 2007. The Indians finished the season on a 10-game winning streak to steal home field away from Tampa and Texas. It will be a battle of two young starters with Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA) facing Cleveland rookie Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA).
Cleveland has the advantage in that they are playing at home, and yesterday’s tiebreaker game forced Tampa Bay to use David Price, meaning their ace is unavailable. Plus Tampa will have played Sunday in Toronto, Monday in Texas, and then Wednesday in Cleveland – a lot of travel. However, the Indians are a terrible 36-52 against winning teams this season, padding their win total against the White Sox and Twins.
Prediction: Tampa is the better team, but Cleveland has the momentum. Plus there is something crazy happening in Cleveland this year. Indians win.
Cincinnati Reds vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
How good will this be? These division rivals have already played each other 19 times this season (11-8 in favour of Pittsburgh) including six times in the last week and a half of the season. The Pirates, of course, made history by snapping the longest losing streak in North American sports history, and are making their first playoff appearance since 1992. The Reds won 90 games in 2013, yet it can be said that they underachieved all year. An offense featuring Votto, Bruce, Phillips, and Choo is as powerful as any, and many pundits had them winning the division in a runaway.
The pitching matchup is very interesting. On one side is Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82) who battled injury and only made 11 starts. On the other is Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02) who was both dominating and at turns terrible. It all depends on which version of Cueto and Liriano shows up.
Prediction: Just like in the AL, I think the visiting team might be better overall, but there is something magical happening with the home team. McCutchen wills the Pirates to victory. Pirates win.
American League Divisional Series
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
This is a rematch of last year’s ALDS, won by the Tigers in 5, and this year’s series could easily go the distance again. Both teams are very evenly matched. Detroit was second in the AL in runs scored with 796, and Oakland was right behind them in third with 767. The Tigers were also second in fewest runs allowed in the AL with 624. The A’s? Again, right behind in third, with 625 allowed.
Detroit has bigger and sexier names, including AL MVP favourite Miguel Cabrera and AL Cy Young favourite Max Scherzer, not to mention Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson, and Victor Martinez. But don’t be fooled by the relatively no-name A’s, who boast a teriffic top-3 in Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, and A.J. Griffin, a lights out bullpen fronted by Grant Balfour, and sluggers Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Donaldson.
Prediction: This is as close as it gets, a very even series. But the fact that the Tigers get to send Scherzer out twice, and still have Justin Verlander, is enough to give them the slight edge. Detroit in 5.
Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox
After getting by one AL East team, the Indians next have to
match up against the AL’s best team (I can’t believe I had to say that), in the Red Sox. The biggest storyline surrounding this series – by far – will be Terry Francona’s return to Boston to face his former team. The Boston media will be all over the Indians manager, and it will be fascinating to hear what he says.
Boston somehow went worst to first in the AL East, and boast an offense and pitching staff that will be tough to beat. Cleveland has a lot of momentum, and also has baseball’s hottest starter in Ubaldo Jimenez (4-0, 1.09 ERA, 51 K in September), but aside from him the rotation is thin and the bullpen is erratic. Boston looks too strong.
Prediction: Cleveland wins a game behind Jimenez, but that’s it. Boston in 4.
National League Divisional Series
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
The Dodgers spent a lot of money in the offseason and looked like baseball’s biggest bust for much fo the first half of the season, before turning it around in a big way. They went on a massive run to romp over the rest of the NL West and make it back to the postseason. Atlanta? Ho-hum – this is the 17th time in the past 23 seasons they’ve made the playoffs.
Atlanta has a solid roster boasting Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman (2nd and 3rd in the NL batting race), and the Dodgers are hurting – both Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are out. But this is a series that may turn on strikeouts. Braves batters struck out an NL high 1,384 times this season, and Dodgers pitchers struck out 1,292 hitters, good for second most in the NL. A rotation featuring Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu might be able to eat up Uggla, Upton, and Upton.
Prediction: Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and has offensive help in Puig and Hanley Ramirez. LA in 4.
Pittsbugh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are back yet again, and once again made it by overcoming serious roster changes. Last year they survived the loss of Albert Pujols, and this year the loss of Chris Carpenter. St. Louis is inexperienced (rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha are in the rotation) and banged up (Allen Craig is out), but still have solid veteran players in Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, and Carlos Beltran to lead the way.
The teams basically split the season series (the Pirates won 10-9), and both have solid rotations and play good defense. Pittsburgh has the edge when it comes to bullpens, but St. Louis has a huge advantage on offense. The Cards scored 149 more runs than the Pirates over the course of the season. And in terms of playoff experience, it’s the Cardinals by a mile.
Prediction: Pittsburgh will need more than just Andrew McCutchen in order to keep up. I think they fall just short. Cardinals in 5.
American League Championship Series
Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox
A battle of baseball heavyweights and two of the oldest franchises in the league. Both teams have huge offenses and can mash the ball out of any ballpark. Detroit’s defense is weaker, but is vastly improved after acquiring SS Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox in a summer trade. Like many series, this will come down to pitching. Boston hitters struck out over 1,300 times this season, and may struggle against the power pitching of the Tigers, who K’d a league leading 1,428. Scherzer and Verlander make a formidable top two – but so do Lester and Buchholz. The difference is that in a seven game series the 3/4 starters will be key, and I like Fister and Sanchez more than Lackey/Peavy/Dempster. Detroit in 6.
National League Championship Series
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Clayton Kershaw dominated just about every team he faced this season. He had an ERA of 3.60 or lower against every team…..except the Cardinals. Against St. Louis Kershaw was 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP – ordinary at best. That might be a cause for concern, along with the above mentioned injuries to some key players. But this is a Dodgers team that went 42-12 in July and August, and only cooled off in September because they were dominating their division. Yes the Cardinals have experience. Yes they have proven playoff performers. Yes they have a couple of MVP candidates in Molina and Matt Carpenter. But LA is on another level right now. Dodgers in 7.
Detroit Tigers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite reaching the World Series both last year and in 2006, the Tigers have won just one Series game since 1984. That changes this year. The Dodgers have baseball’s best pitcher, but the Tigers have baseball’s best player. Miguel Cabrera can make a difference in EVERY game, not just a few. It will be a first championship for many of Detroit’s veterans, including Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander.
World Series Prediction: Detroit Tigers in 6.