Friday, October 5, 2012

October Baseball is Here

            The Oakland Athletics celebrate a improbable division championship

The most exciting time of year for baseball is back, the postseason. It was an exciting end of the regular season, capped off by Miguel Cabrera winning the first Triple Crown in 45 years. Also, the Orioles and Athletics beat the odds and made the playoffs. The A's pulled the rug from under the Rangers feet and won the AL West. I don't think anyone had Oakland pegged to do much of anything this year, and they win the division over big spending rivals Texas and the Angels. Albert Pujols said he went to the Angels for a chance to win, but will miss out on the postseason this year.

Today at 4 o'clock, the Cardinals will face the Braves in a one game wild card playoff. Kyle Lohse will take the start for the Redbirds, and Kris Medlen will start for the Braves. The Braves have won in 23 straight starts by Medlen, hopefully that trend won't continue today. The Braves also have a dominant back end of the bullpen with Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel was lights out this year, and struck out over 100 batters and had an ERA close to 1.00. Atlanta will also be motivated to win for Chipper Jones, who is in the final season of his Hall of Fame career.

The Cardinals opted to only go with 2 starters for the wild card game roster. Lance Lynn will be the other starter if Lohse gets into trouble. Besides Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and Edward Mujica, the Cardinals went with lefties Scrabble, Sam Freeman, righties Fernando Salas, Trevor Rosenthal, and Joe Kelly. For the bench, Ryan Jackson, Bryan Anderson, and Adron Chambers are on the roster for today's game. The roster can be changed between rounds, and Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright would then be added if they advance.

In the other wild card playoff game, the Orioles will travel to Texas to face the Rangers at 7:30. Joe Saunders will get the start for Baltimore, and Yu Darvish will start for Texas. The Orioles have been a Cinderella story this year, and made their first postseason since 1997 when they had Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson, and Mike Mussina. They almost won the AL East over the Yankees, but fell 2 games short. Texas collapsed down the stretch, and lost the AL West in the season's final day after leading it all year. One has to wonder what kind of pyschological impact that losing a 13 game lead will have on the Rangers. They still have one of the most talented rosters of any playoff team, but they aren't playing good baseball right now.

The Orioles have a knack for winning close games. They were 29-9 in one run games, and 16-2 in extra inning games this year. They also turned it on in the second half despite injuries to Nick Markakis and Jason Hammel. Texas is coming off back to back World Series appearances, but find themselves as the wild card this year after leading the division most of the year. The Rangers have the better team on paper, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Orioles won this game tonight.

The Nationals will face the winner of the Braves/Cardinals game and head to one of those cities to start the Division Series. To fit in the wild card game, baseball went with a 2-3 format, instead of a 2-2-1 format that usually happens in the Division Series. Washington made their first postseason since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos. It's only the second time in frachise history they've made the postseason since they missed out in the 1994 season due to the strike. It's the first time a DC based baseball team has made the postseason since 1933 when the Washington Senators lost to the New York Giants in the World Series that year.

The Giants and Reds will face off in the other Division Series in the National League. Dusty Baker will be going up against his former team. The Giants will start Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner the first two games, but manager Bruce Bochy is undecided on the Game 3 starter. He will have Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito to pick from. The Reds will start Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, and Mat Latos the first three games, and could start no-hit artist Homer Bailey if there is a Game 4.

The Yankees ended up with the American League's best record and will face the winner of the Orioles/Rangers game. Ichiro Suzuki will be making his first postseason appearance since 2001 when he was with the Mariners. The Yankees made the postseason for a record 51st time this year. The next closest would be the Dodgers with 26 and the Cardinals with 25 appearances.

The other Division Series matchup in the American League will be the Tigers vs. the Athletics, a rematch of the 2006 ALCS. The A's have wheeled and dealed every year since, but Billy Beane has finally found a mix of players who won. While not as good as the Orioles, the A's were good in one run games, going 25-8. They were 11-5 in extra inning games. Oakland was 51-25 in the second half, and became only the fifth team ever to comeback from a deficit of 13 games or more. They joined the 1914 Boston Braves, 1951 New York Giants, 1978 New York Yankees, and the 1995 Seattle Mariners. The 14 Braves and 78 Yankees went on to win the World Series. It was a very unexpected division crown for Oakland, who were thought to be one of baseball's worst teams coming into the season. Instead a group of rookies and castoffs came together and manager Bob Melvin did a great job with platoons and bullpen matchups.

The A's could have as many as 12 rookies on their postseason roster. Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and many others played prominent roles on this ballclub. While I think the 2012 Oakland A's are a good story, I think the Tigers will beat them. Detroit will be able to trot out Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Doug Fister, who all have filthy stuff. They have the best 3-4 combo in the league in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

                           NL Wild Card Game Starter Kyle Lohse

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