Sunday, September 29, 2013

Playoff Preview

The MLB postseason will start on Tuesday with the Reds going to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates in the NL wild card game. In the American League, the Indians have clinched the first wild card spot. The second spot has yet to be decided. The Rays and Rangers finished with identical 91-71 records and will play a pre-playoff tiebreaker in Texas to break the tie. The Division Series starts on Thursday. The League Championship Series will open up 2 weeks from now, and the World Series will start on Wednesday, October 23rd in the city of the American League champion.

NL Wild Card Game: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Season Record: Pit 11, Cin 8
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1970, 1972, 1975, 1979, 1990

The Pirates will be appearing in their first postseason in 21 years Tuesday. Pittsburgh hopes that it isn't a one and done. Andrew McCutchen had a MVP type season, and new additions like Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, and Marlon Byrd have helped with the team's improvement this year. The Reds had big years from Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Shin Soo Choo. Liriano will take the start for Pittsburgh, and the lefty has given the Reds fits this year. Rookie Gerrit Cole will back him up if Liriano falters. Mat Latos has been the Reds ace this year, but is dealing with injuries right now. Dusty Baker has announced that Johnny Cueto will tow the rubber for Cincinnati Tuesday. Should be an interesting NL Central battle in the wild card game.

AL Wild Card Game: Tampa Bay/Texas at Cleveland

Season Record: Cle 4, TB 2/ Cle 5, Tex 1
Previous Playoff Matchups: None for either potential matchup

Monday, the Rays and Rangers will play a tiebreaker in Texas to see who will advance to the wild card game. The Rangers knocked the Rays out of the playoffs in 2010 and 2011. Nelson Cruz has been activated for Game 163 after serving his Biogenesis suspension. Texas will start rookie lefty Martin Perez and Tampa Bay will counter with 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price. Yu Darvish started on Sunday's crucial game for Texas and will be unavailable until the Division Series. If Texas advances to the wild card game, Derek Holland or Matt Garza will likely start it. For Tampa Bay, Alex Cobb would likely start the wild card game if they advance.

The Indians made a dramatic turnaround this year under new manager Terry Francona. This will be Cleveland's first playoff appearance since 2007. They lost 96 games last year and improved their record 26 games this year. Scott Kazmir resurrected his career this season and would likely start the wild card game. Justin Masterson wore down late in the year, but will pitch out of the bullpen in the postseason. Masterson could be a Tim Lincecum type weapon for Cleveland. The Indians won the season series vs. both the Rays and Rangers. Cleveland is also riding a 10 game winning streak coming into the playoffs, so they are hot right now.

National League Division Series

Pittsburgh/Cincinnati vs. St. Louis

Season Record: Pit 10, StL 9, StL 11, Cin 8
Previous Playoff Matchups: None for either matchup

For the first time ever, 3 teams from the same division made the postseason. The Cardinals will host the winner of Tuesday's Pirates/Reds game. The Cardinals have played deep into the postseason the last two years and won the 2011 World Series. Not bad for a team that went in as a wild card both times. This year, the Cardinals won the NL Central title for the first time since 2009. The Redbirds have had major contributions from rookie this year, especially from Matt Adams, Shelby Miller, Kevin Siegrist, Trevor Rosenthal, and Michael Wacha. Allen Craig is not available for the Division Series, but should be back if the Cardinals advance further. However, the Cardinals haven't missed a beat with Adams filling in. Adams has hit 17 home runs in limited playing time, 3rd most on the Cardinals.

Liriano has dominated the Cardinals this year, beating them 3 times. However, Liriano is starting the wild card game and will only start 1 time in the NLDS. AJ Burnett has also pitched well against the Cardinals. The Reds would likely open up with Homer Bailey since Cueto starts the wild card game and Latos is hurt. Adam Wainwright will start the opener for St. Louis, with Miller, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, and possibly Wacha in the conversation for the rest of the starting spots. Edward Mujica has struggled in September and it looks like flamethrowing Rosenthal will be the closer in the postseason.

Los Angeles vs. Atlanta

Season Series: Atl 5, LAD 2
Previous Playoff Matchups: 1996

The Dodgers will travel to Atlanta to play the Braves this Thursday. The Braves won the season series, but they played before the Dodgers caught fire. The Dodgers will be without Matt Kemp for the entire postseason and Andre Ethier is also banged up. They still have plenty of offense with Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Yasiel Puig. That been said, the Dodgers strength is pitching. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu will be tough to beat in a short series.

The Braves hit for a lot of power, but led the NL in strikeouts this year. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla both batted under the Mendoza line this year. They will likely open the series with Kris Medlen starting. Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, Freddy Garcia, and Julio Teheran will vie for the other spots. Closer Craig Kimbrel had another dominant year for Atlanta and is one of the best in the business. The Braves are a way better team at home than the road, so it's a good thing they have home field advantage.

American League Division Series

Texas/Tampa Bay/Cleveland vs. Boston

Season Series: Tex 4, Bos 2/Bos 12, TB 7/Bos 6, Cle 1
Previous Playoff Matchups: Tex/Bos-none, TB/Bos-2008, Cle/Bos-1995, 1998, 1999, 2007

Boston can't plan for Friday's opponent just quite yet. It could be one of three different teams, Texas, Tampa Bay, or Cleveland. The Red Sox finished with the best record in the American League this season after two straight disappointing years. The Sox re-tooled last offseason, adding Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, and Ryan Dempster. 2007 championship holdovers Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, and Jon Lester had big years this season for Boston. New manager John Farrell has done a great job this season, with Boston going worst to first in the AL East.

The most intriguing matchup for the Red Sox would be facing former manager Francona's Indians ballclub. Francona was let go as manager after the 2011 collapse and replaced by Bobby Valentine, who was disastrous in his one season as manager. Tampa Bay and Texas would have burned their best starters by the opening game of the Division Series, since they are playing a tiebreaker Monday. The Sox will have an advantage in being able to set up their ALDS rotation with their best starters. Farrell hasn't decided if Lester, Clay Buchholz, or Jake Peavy will start Game 1. Boston had suffered numerous injuries in the bullpen with former All Stars Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey going down for the season. Luckily, Koji Uehara has filled to void and has been dominant in the closer role.

Detroit vs. Oakland

Season Series: Oak 4, Det 3
Previous Playoff Matchups: 1972, 2006, 2012

Bob Melvin and the Athletics proved they were not a fluke this year, winning their second straight AL West title. Oakland was able to beat out their big spending division rivals, like the Angels and Rangers. The A's will have homefield advantage in the first round, but will have to play the team that eliminated them last season, Detroit. The Tigers will be tough to beat and are favored in this series. Still, the A's are a hard team to play despite the lack of star power. Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, and Jed Lowrie had big years for Oakland this year, and their pitching has been good.

The Tigers have arguably the best rotation of all playoff teams, although the Dodgers might argue about that. Detroit will open with 21 game winner Max Scherzer, followed by Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister. Joaquin Benoit settled in as Detroit's closer after early season uncertainty in the bullpen. Oakland will counter with 40 year old Bartolo Colon, followed by youngsters like Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and AJ Griffin. The A's have one of the league's best bullpens with Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, and Sean Doolittle. Last year, these two teams went the full five games in the ALDS; and this year's matchup should be hard fought as well.

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