It’s that time again for the MLB playoffs! Baseball’s parity has been increasing year-by-year, and this October is no exception. This year’s World Series could feature teams who haven’t been to the Fall Classic in decades. Unlike some fans (Boston and New York, I’m looking at you), this is a good thing for the game and should make for an exciting postseason.
Who will win the last Commissioner’s Trophy of the Bud Selig era? Let’s break it down!
AL Wild Card Game:
- Oakland Athletics vs Kansas City Royals- Tuesday, 8:07 p.m.
- The Breakdown: The pitching matchup for this win-or-go-home game is fantastic; Jon Lester will go for Oakland, while James Shields will take the hill for K.C. Lester is 9-3 with a commanding 1.84 ERA in 13 career starts against the Royals; Shields is 6-4 with a 3.82 ERA in 15 career stats against the A’s. Both are notorious big-game pitchers, coming up big when the leaves start to fall, so what gives in this matchup? When you look at batters’ success against these two pitchers, it’s clear that the Royals have hit against Lester with more success than the A’s have hit against Shields. Josh Reddick is the only “A” with a good history against “Big-Game James,” while Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer each have a .300-plus batting average with double-digit plate appearances against Lester. Throw in the fact that Oakland is a) not a good road team and b) a poor fielding team and I’m going with the Royals to keep Blue October alive on Tuesday night.
- The Prediction: Royals win 4-3
NL Wild Card Game:
- San Francisco Giants vs Pittsburgh Pirates- Wednesday, 8:00 p.m.
- The Breakdown: 23 hours and 53 minutes after Oakland and Kansas City wrap up (MLB’s start times are pretty humorous, aren’t they?), the Giants and Buccos will take the field. They had identical regular season records, but Pittsburgh won the season series and will host the wild card game at PNC Park for the second straight year. The Pirate fans made an impact in last year’s play-in game, intimidating Johnny Cueto and outslugging Cincy for the win. Edison Volquez will start for the black and gold, while Madison Bumgarner will go for San Fran. The ERAs are nearly identical, while Bumgarner earned more decisions and wins. Volquez has had a rough go against a few Giants hitters in his career; Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey all have monster numbers against him. Bumgarner gave up five runs in four innings when he faced Pittsburgh this year, so fans shouldn’t feel all too confident with him, either. It might just come down to the bullpens on Wednesday night, and the Giants’ relievers, led by Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, have been lockdown this year. It’s hard to go against Pittsburgh and that home field advantage, but San Francisco seems to be built for October. They’ll advance.
- The Prediction: Giants win 6-5
- Detroit Tigers vs Baltimore Orioles- starts Thursday, October 2.
- The Breakdown: This one’s going to be fun, isn’t it? Detroit looks to reach its fourth-straight American League Championship Series, while the birds are trying to get to the ALCS for the first time since 1997. In this series, you can throw past performances out the window; in October, the more complete team wins, and that team is Baltimore. Detroit was second in the bigs in offense this season behind the same cast of characters (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter) you expect them to trot out, but besides Max Scherzer and David Price, this pitching staff is one big question mark. The team ERA was 4.01 in the regular season, 24th in the majors. Justin Verlander has lost his touch, while Rick Porcello had a 6.20 ERA in the month of September. Teams used to fear Detroit’s staff in October, but the formidable Orioles are anything but worried. The eighth-most productive offense in the majors hit 25 more homers than any other team this year thanks largely in part to Nelson Cruz (40) and Adam Jones (29). Amidst the ceremonious nature of Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium, Baltimore showed that they can hit a clutch long-ball any time at any spot in the lineup, almost spoiling the Captain’s farewell. The pitching backs the Orioles up as well; they stood eighth in the majors in ERA with a 3.43 mark at the end of the regular season. Chris Tillman will be out there to face Scherzer in Game 1, Miguel Gonzalez will go against Price in Game 2, Wei-Yin Chen will attempt to put zeros on the board against Verlander in Game 3, and it’ll be Bud Norris vs Porcello Game 4. The only game Detroit will get is Game 2, because Price is stealthy in October, but the rest of the matchups will favor the O’s in this best-of-5 series. Baltimore moves on.
- The Prediction: Orioles in 4
- Kansas City Royals vs Los Angeles Angels- starts Thursday, October 2.
- The Breakdown: The momentum of winning the Wild Card game didn’t help either club last year; the Rays lost to Boston and the Pirates lost to St. Louis. The same scenario will go down in this series. The Royals had a Cinderella run to the postseason, and they deserve all the credit in the world for exceeding expectations. However, their pitching just isn’t good enough to extinguish the Angels’ bats and the offense won’t be able to keep up either. After Shields, this rotation is a bunch of guys with no playoff experience. When you put the lineups of the two teams side-by-side it’s not even close. This series will not detract from the Royals’ run in any shape or form; they truly maximized their potential and Ned Yost got everything he could out of his players. But the Halos are too potent and too talented to lose to Kansas City. Albert Pujols will have a couple vintage performances at the plate and the combination of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards will stymie Alex Gordon and company to give LA (aka Anaheim) a sweep.
- The Prediction: Angels sweep the Royals
- St. Louis Cardinals vs Los Angeles Dodgers- starts Friday, October 3.
- The Breakdown: This was the NLCS matchup a year ago, and Dodger fans are not likely to have forgotten the 9-0 thrashing their team took in Game 6. Game 1 of this year’s tilt will feature the ultimate ace-off when 20-game winners Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw take the mound. Look for a low-scoring 2-1 game there. As for the rest of the series, look for the Dodger lineup to take advantage of St. Louis’s weaker lineup (24th in runs scored), struggling pitching staff and the home field advantage of Dodger Stadium to win a series that will go the distance.
- The Prediction: Dodgers in 5
- San Francisco Giants vs Washington Nationals- starts Friday, October 3.
- The Breakdown: The Nationals won the season series 5-2, have the better lineup and the better pitching staff. At home they are dominant, on the road they are formidable. The only category these teams are even in is fielding (both squads committed 100 errors this season), and Washington is clearly better top-to-bottom. The Giants have been prone to go on surprise runs in October, but this year just isn’t their year. San Fran will win one at home, but the Nats will take the series.
- The Prediction: Nationals in 4
- Baltimore Orioles vs Los Angeles Angels
- The Breakdown: Two high-powered offenses will look to put plenty of runs on the board in this ALCS matchup. The rotations are about as even as they can get, but the O’s bullpen is superior. Considering the starters of both teams have failed to show they can go deep into ballgames on a regular basis, the relievers just might be the x-factor in this matchup, but can Baltimore’s ‘pen continue their strong season against the Halos? It’s a small sample size, but the big Angel bats (Trout, Pujols, David Freese, Erick Aybar) have had success against Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz, who are the bridge to setup man Tommy Hunter and closer Zach Britton. By comparison, the O’s big bats (Cruz, Jones and Nick Markakis) have struggled big-time against Angel relievers Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen and closer Huston Street. Sometimes the numbers can be misleading; it’s about the matchups, and the matchups are in manager Mike Scioscia’s favor. It’ll be a deep series, but the Angels will go to their first World Series since 2002.
- The Prediction: Angels in 7
- Los Angeles Dodgers vs Washington Nationals
- The Breakdown: Just like the ALCS matchup, these two were the best teams in the NL this year, so it only makes sense that they meet for the pennant. They had the two best starting rotations in baseball this season, while LA’s bullpen was a bit less impressive. The offenses were both very productive, and the matchups are almost even. The one stat that’s going to make an impact in this NLCS? Runners in scoring position. With runners on second and/or third this year, the Dodgers were the cream of the crop in the National League, hitting .286 and scoring 575 runs. The Nats only hit .242 with RISP, driving in 495 runs. Situational hitting might be the difference here, and the men in blue are the best situational hitters out there. Throw in a couple dominant outings from Kershaw and you have a winner.
- The Prediction: Dodgers in 6
- Los Angeles Dodgers vs Los Angeles Angels
- The Breakdown: Go crazy, Southern California, go crazy! This is a Fall Classic made for Hollywood. You have Trout vs. Puig, Pujols vs. Kemp, Weaver vs. Kershaw, the rally monkey vs. Alyssa Milano. In the California series, I’m going with the Dodgers. Both offenses are equally potent, but I trust the Dodgers’ pitching staff more, starting with Kershaw and Greinke, who are two of the only pitchers in the game who can shut down Trout, Pujols and the best lineup in baseball. When great pitching faces great hitting, I’ll go with the best Dodger pitcher since Sandy Koufax to lead the blue and white to victory.
- The Prediction: Dodgers in 6