Thursday, October 30, 2014

World Series Recap

              Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner celebrating the Giants third title this decade

Game 1: SF 7, KC 1
Game 2: KC 7, SF 2
Game 3: KC 3, SF 2
Game 4: SF 11, KC 4
Game 5: SF 5, KC 0
Game 6: KC 10, SF 0
Game 7: SF 3, KC 2

The 2014 World Series was a back and forth affair, were momentum switched sides several times. The Giants won the first game, then the Royals the next two. Kansas City won the first game in San Francisco, and was ahead 4-0 in Game 4. Then, the Giants started chipping away at that lead, and routed the Royals 11-4. Madison Bumgarner beat the Royals for a second time, pitching a complete game shutout in Game 5. The series then went back to Kansas City with the Giants having a 4-3 lead. In Game 6, the Royals clubbed the Giants 10-0 to force a Game 7.

In the end, Bumgarner was too much for the Royals. Bumgarner won Games 1 and 5, and then had a five inning save in Game 7. The Royals made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7. Alex Gordon hit a fly ball that Gregor Blanco misplayed, which allowed Gordon to advance to third base with two outs. However, that would be it, and the next hitter, Salvador Perez, would foul out to end the game and series. In a twist of irony, former Royal Jeremy Affeldt got the win in Game 7.

All in all, Bumgarner pitched 21 innings in the World Series, only allowing one run.  Bumgarner had a 0.43 ERA in 21 innings pitched in the 2014 World Series. The 11 other Giants pitchers combined for 40 innings pitched and had an unsightly 6.08 ERA. For his career, Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA and 0.53 WHIP in five World Series appearances. His World Series ERA is the best in the 110 year history of the World Series. This October, Bumgarner dominated the postseason, winning both the NLCS and World Series MVP. He has even been compared to past great October pitchers like Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Jack Morris, Orel Hershiser, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax.

It easily could of been the Royals walking away with the World Series crown, but it wasn't meant to be. Besides the two games they were shut down by Bumgarner starts, they blew a 4-0 lead in Game 4, which ended lopsided for KC. They were within a run of tying Game 7, in the most exciting Game 7 since the 2001 Arizona/New York World Series. Ned Yost's team should be proud of what they accomplished this year. This young Royals team ended a 29 year playoff drought this year, and went much further than anyone expected. They have many young talented players, who now believe how talented they actually are. Kansas City has nothing to be ashamed for, and should be contenders again next year. They may even be better  next season.

As for the Giants, they have become baseball's first dynasty since the Yankees of 1996-2001. The Giants had previously won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. Critics point out that they missed the playoffs in 2011 and 2013, but considering how hard it is to win ONE World Series, it's hard to argue this. The Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz Braves teams of the 1990's only won one championship, the same with Earl Weaver's Orioles teams. The Big Red Machine of the 1970's only won two, so this is definitely a big accomplishment. This group of Giants are the first National League team to win three out of five World Series since the Cardinals did it in 1942, 1944, and 1946.

The Giants have now won 8 World Series championships. This ties them with the Red Sox for fourth most championships behind the Athletics, Cardinals, and Yankees. Until their recent run of success, they had never won a World Series in San Francisco. Their first five titles where won in New York. The 2010 squad that featured Tim Lincecum as its ace and a rookie Bumgarner and Posey, broke a 56 year titleless drought. The 2012 team had the best record of the three championship teams, with Pablo Sandoval winning the World Series MVP that year.

The 2014 team managed to win without Matt Cain, Angel Pagan, and Marco Scutaro, who missed the postseason due to injury. Many key players of past runs played a big role in this year's squad like Posey, Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. The bullpen mix of Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Affeldt have been in place for all three championship runs. The rotation was a bit different than past runs, with older veterans like Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy in it. Bruce Bochy also mixed in retreads like Travis Ishikawa and Yusmeiro Petit with rookies like Joe Panik, who all played key roles in this year's championship run.

Unlike the previous two runs, the pitching was dominated by one guy(Bumgarner). Hudson and Peavy have had outstanding careers, but were ineffective in the NLCS and World Series. They did pitch well in their NLDS starts, though. Ryan Vogelsong was 3-0 in 4 starts during the 2012 playoffs, but was roughed up in this year's postseason. Lincecum pitched his second career no-hitter earlier this year, but was a non-factor in October. Lincecum's only action was 1.2 innings in a mop up role during Game 2 of the World Series. Bochy also used three different closers in each title run, Brian Wilson in 2010, Romo in 2012, and Casilla in 2014.

Many comparisons between the Giants run of 2010-14 and the Yankees run of 1996-01 have been made. Especially with the comparison of Posey to Derek Jeter. I will say this is the best run since those Yankees teams, but I think the Yankees were better. The Yankees won four out of five World Series from 1996-2000, and lost a fifth one in 2001. The Yankees dynasty played in a higher scoring environment during the steroid era, while the Giants offense has been around league average. One common trait among both teams is that they both grinded victories out. Both teams had a knack for comeback wins, and had a lockdown bullpen.

                           Royals Rookie Fireballer Yordano Ventura

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wild Card World Series

World Series: Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants
Series Start: Tuesday, October 21st
Homefield Advantage: Royals
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: Royals 3-0

The wild card playoff game was supposed to make it harder for a wild card team to make the World Series, but both World Series teams this year are wild card teams. Both the Royals and Giants had a tough road to the World Series, and beat quality teams to get there. Momentum is a big factor in the playoffs, and both teams have been on a roll.

Coming into the season, the Kansas City Royals had the longest playoff drought in the majors. They hadn't been back to the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series before this October. The Royals were hovering around .500 for most of the first half. There were calls for manager Ned Yost's firing, and many considered former highly rated prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer as busts. In the second half, the Royals took off, going 41-27 after the All Star break.

The Royals ending their playoff drought was a feel good story, but little was expected from them in the postseason. They came back from a 7-3 deficit against Jon Lester and the Athletics to win the Wild Card Game. Kansas City then went on to face the Angels in the Division Series. The Angels had the majors best record in the regular season, but the Royals swept them. Then, the Royals swept the Orioles in the ALCS. This young group of players now find themselves four games away from a championship, and have revitalized a organization that had been down and out for years.

The Giants lost out to the Dodgers for the NL West crown, losing two out of three in a key late season series against L.A. San Francisco limped into the playoffs, with key injuries to Michael Morse, Angel Pagan, and Matt Cain. Morse has since come back, as any Cardinal fan would know. The Giants even slipped to the second wild card spot, meaning they had to go on the road for the do or die Wild Card Game.

San Francisco's opponent for the Wild Card Game was the Pirates. Pittsburgh had proven to be a hostile environment for the Reds during last year's Wild Card Game, but not for the Giants. Madison Bumgarner shut out the Bucs, and the Giants won the game 8-0. The Giants then faced off against the Nationals, who led the NL in wins this year. After dispatching the Nats, the Giants faced off against the Cardinals in the NLCS. It was a hard fought series, but key mistakes by the Cardinals were taken advantage of by the Giants, who won the NLCS in five games.

The World Series matches up a young, up and coming team against a team full of seasoned veterans. So far, the big stage hasn't affected the Royals. They have thrived in October, and Ned Yost's team has gone 8-0. Bruce Bochy's team has been a regular participant in October baseball, and this isn't their first rodeo. This is the third World Series appearance for the Giants since 2010. San Francisco won the title in 2010 and 2012, so even numbered years have been good for the Giants lately.

                       Game 1 Starters: Madison Bumgarner and James Shields

This matchup also pits two teams with outstanding bullpens. The Royals trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera has drawn comparisons to the 1990 Cincinnati Reds "Nasty Boys" trio of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton. Rookie lefthander Brandon Finnegan has made KC's bullpen even deeper. Finnegan will be the first player ever to pitch in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year.

The Giants bullpen is also very good, and has plenty of postseason experience. The Giants closer in 2010 was Brian Wilson, and then Sergio Romo in 2012 after Wilson was injured. This year, Romo has been replaced as closer by Santiago Casilla. Casilla had been the set up man in 2012, when Bochy made the opposite switch. Between Casilla, Romo, lefties Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez, these four relievers have appeared in a combined 14 World Series (including this year). Yusmeiro Petit has been a big time weapon for Bochy out of the pen, especially when he pitched over six innings during a 18 inning win vs. the Nats in the Division Series. Jean Machi has had a really good year this year, and is another low cost acquistion by the Giants.

James Shields and Davis were acquired during the 2012-13 offseason, and is a major reason why the Royals are were they're at now. Shields hasn't quite lived up to his big game reputation this October, but has given Kansas City a veteran presence and a innings eater at the top of the rotation. Hard throwing rookie Yordano Ventura will likely start Game 2, with Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie likely starting Games 3 and 4. Danny Duffy had been one of the Royals best starters this season, but was limited due to injury late in the season. Duffy will continue to pitch out of the bullpen in the World Series.

The Giants will counter with Bumgarner as their Game 1 starter. Bumgarner has emerged as the Giants ace, and is a money pitcher in the postseason. Jake Peavy started his career with the Padres under Bochy, and was re-united with him after a late July trade. Peavy will start Game 2. Tim Hudson will be appearing in his first World Series of his 16 year career, and will start Game 3. Ryan Vogelsong is tabbed to start Game 4. Tim Lincecum was the Giants ace during their 2010 run, a bullpen ace during 2012, but has been invisible this postseason, not appearing in a single game so far. Lincecum pitched his second career no-hitter earlier this year. Bochy has hinted that their might be a role for Lincecum at some point during the World Series.

Offensively, neither one of these teams hit for much power. The Royals were last in the American League in home runs, hitting only 95 all year. Alex Gordon led the team with 19 homers, and only Moustakas and Salvador Perez hit over 10. Oddly enough, the Royals have won games in the postseason because of their power. The Giants are a team of sluggers compared to the Royals. They were seventh in the National League with 132 home runs this year. Buster Posey led the club with 22 bombs, and Hunter Pence had 20. Pablo Sandoval, Morse, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt all were in double digits.

Speed and defense has been the Royals blueprint to win games this year. A great bullpen helps, too. Kansas City led the American League with 153 steals this year. Jarrod Dyson led the team with 36 stolen bases, and four other players were in double digits. Perez is one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball, and the Royals version of Yadier Molina. Hosmer won a Gold Glove at first base for his defense last year. Escobar is considered to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the game. Cain showed how big of an impact his glove can be in the ALCS this year. When Dyson replaces Nori Aoki, the Royals have the best defensive outfield in the game with Gordon, Dyson, and Cain. Gordon has won three Gold Gloves in a row.

Royals fans have been sold on Hosmer and Moustakas being the foundation of their rebuilding efforts the last few seasons. Both players have had their highs and lows since coming up in 2011. Moustakas was even sent down earlier this season, and only hit .215 this year. Hosmer has played much better, but hasn't hit for the power that was expected of him. Hosmer has had a huge postseason, batting .448 with 2 home runs at 8 RBI's. Moustakas has hit 4 home runs this postseason, which has led to the catch phrase of "the Moose is Loose." These guys may or may not live up to the hype, but Royals fans will remember their big time performances this postseason for years to come.

The Giants are experts at grinding out victories. They have scored 12 runs this postseason without getting a hit. The Giants are a team that will capitalize on errors by there opponents. The way they grind out victories in October is reminiscent of the Yankees from 1996-2001. They may not be quite as talented or deep, but they have the will to win, and find a way to get it done. With Derek Jeter retiring, Posey may find himself being one of the big icons in the game now.

Posey, Sandoval, and Pence have been the leaders for the Giants, but this team has had contributions from it's entire roster. Belt and Crawford played a big role in their 2012 championship, and are big parts in 2014. Gregor Blanco filled in for suspended All Star Melky Cabrera in 2012, and has now filled in for Pagan at center field this year. Travis Ishikawa was a back up first baseman for the 2010 championship team, and has bounced around since then. Ishikawa has returned for the stretch run this year, and found himself starting left field in Morse's absence. Ishikawa rewarded the Giants by hitting a series clinching home run in Game 5 of the NLCS. For the Giants it isn't just about the star players, it's guys like Blanco and Ishikawa who step up.

Ned Yost has used the same lineup in all 8 playoff games. It's a lineup that puts his best hitter (Gordon) batting sixth, and Perez seventh. Yost's lineup also puts light hitting speedsters like Escobar, Aoki, and Cain at the top of the lineup. This lineup may be unconventional, but it has worked very well this October. I wouldn't expect Yost to tinker with it, if it keeps working. The Giants are likely to stick with their lineup as well, although Morse will be more of a factor for the team. Morse may or may not be healthy enough to play left field, but will DH in games at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals have won all of their 8 postseason games this year. They have been on a roll. One has to wonder if the layoff will affect them in the World Series. The Giants wrapped up their series a day after KC did, so it might not be a factor. The Giants previous playoff experience most likely won't make the layoff an issue. That been said, postseason experience is sometimes overrated. It didn't affect the Royals against the Athletics, Angels, or Orioles. Their has been other teams lacking postseason experience and well know stars that have won it all, the 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, and 2005 White Sox are examples of that. There has also been examples of teams that the long layoff hurt them, like the 2006 Tigers or 2007 Rockies. The Giants are favored by some experts to win it, but Vegas has the Royals as slight favorites. It should be an exciting World Series, and I expect the Royals to take the crown.

Prediction: Royals in 6


Royals (89-73 regular season, 8-0 postseason)

Catcher: Salvador Perez, Eric Kratz
Infielders: Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon
Outfielders: Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, Josh Willingham, Jarrod Dyson, Terrance Gore
Designated Hitter: Billy Butler
Starting Pitchers: James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie
Relief Pitchers: Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvim Herrera, Brandon Finnegan, Jason Frasor, Tim Collins, Danny Duffy

Giants (88-74 regular season, 8-2 postseason)

Catcher: Buster Posey, Andrew Susac
Infielders: Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Joaquin Arias, Matt Duffy
Outfielders: Travis Ishikawa, Gregor Blanco, Hunter Pence, Michael Morse, Juan Perez
Starting Pitchers: Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong
Relief Pitchers: Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Hunter Strickland, Jean Machi, Yusmeiro Petit, Tim Lincecum

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Championship Series Preview

Kansas City Royals vs. Baltimore Orioles

Series Start: Friday, October 10th
Homefield Advantage: Orioles
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: KC 4-3

On Sunday, both the Orioles and Royals swept their Division Series against higher priced and favored teams. For both the Tigers and Angels, a combination of poor bullpen performance and lack of timely hitting did them in. Baltimore was able to beat three straight Cy Young winners, winning against Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price. Kansas City's pitching was able to shut down the Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and the AL best Angel offense.

I doubt anybody predicted these two teams to be the final two teams standing in the American League this year. Prior to this season, the Royals went 29 years without making the postseason, and the Orioles had only made the playoffs once this century. Whoever wins will be breaking a long World Series drought. Baltimore hasn't made the World Series since 1983, which was Cal Ripken Jr.'s second full season. Kansas City hasn't been to the World Series since 1985, when George Brett was still playing.

Buck Showalter has been a manager for 16 seasons with 4 different teams, yet this is the first time his team advanced to the LCS. Showalter's 1995 Yankees, 1999 Diamondbacks, and 2012 Orioles all lost in the Division Series. Showalter has been fired by the Yankees, D-Backs, and Rangers, but he left all three of those teams better off than we he took over. The Yankees and D-Backs both won the World Series the season after he left, and the Rangers made the World Series twice after he left. He turned all three of those teams around, and has done the same with the Orioles. Showalter has always been thought of as a good manager, and he is now looking to finally make the World Series himself.

For Ned Yost, it has also been a long journey. Like Showalter, he has been a longtime baseball man. Yost was on Bobby Cox's coaching staff during their stretch of greatness in the 1990's. As a manager, Yost has mostly managed bad Brewers and Royals teams. Yost had never managed a team to the postseason before this year. He was fired with 12 games left to go in 2008, which the Brewers won the wild card. He took over the Royals job in 2010, and has endured some criticism. However, he has had much better luck this season with the Royals. This young Royals team is 4-0 in the 2014 playoffs, and just swept the Angels, who had the league's best regular season record.

A key for both of these teams has been their bullpens. The Royals have rode the three player combo of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera this season to shut down teams in the late innings. Herrera had a forearm flexor strain in the ALDS, but should be fine for the ALCS. Rookie lefty Brandon Finnegan has also been a major contributor this postseason. Finnegan was drafted this year, and is looking to become the first player to pitch in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year.

The Orioles bullpen isn't as well known, but has been lights out in the postseason. Baltimore had a chance to acquire a name closer this past offseason (nearly signing Grant Balfour), but declined too. Tommy Hunter started off as the team's closer, but was displaced by Zack Britton early on. Britton isn't a hard thrower, but saved 37 games with a sub-2.00 ERA. Hunter and Darren O'Day have pitched well in the setup role. The Orioles made a low key, but very important move trading for lefty Andrew Miller at the deadline this July. Miller has been Showalter's go to reliever in high leverage situations.

Offensively, the Royals have a 1980's type offense that relies on speed. Jarrod Dyson, Nori Aoki, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Alex Gordon are all threats on the basepaths. The team lacks power, with Gordon and Salvador Perez being their top home run hitters. The Royals rebuilding plan had Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas as centerpieces of their rebuilding effort. Both players have flashed potential, but haven't lived up to expectations. However, both players came up big in the ALDS, hitting two home runs each.

The Orioles still have a very potent offense, even with the absence of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis. They still have a deep lineup, led by Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz. Cruz led the majors with 40 homer runs, and Baltimore hit the most as a team in the majors. The Orioles don't have a lot of patient hitters, but Nick Markakis is the most selective hitter and the team's table setter. There have been many unsung players step up for the Orioles this year, and Stephen Pearce is the perfect example of that. Pearce hit 21 homers in 339 at bats, and has filled in at first in Davis' absence. GM Dan Duquette has even said Pearce has saved the Orioles season.

Prediction: Royals in 7

San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Series Start: Saturday, October 11th
Homefield Advantage: Cardinals
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1987, 2002, 2012
2014 Head to Head Record: Giants 4-3

Unlike the American League, the National League's final two teams are postseason veterans. Since the 2010 season, the Cardinals and the Giants have dominated the National League. The Giants won the NL pennant in 2010 and 2012, while the Cardinals won it in 2011 and 2013. Out of 10 possible chances, these two teams have 7 total NLCS appearances since 2010. The 2012 NLCS was a hard fought affair in which the Giants won in 7 games. The Cardinals had a 3-1 lead, but were unable to win another game.

The Cardinals are in the NLCS for the fourth straight season, the longest streak since the Atlanta Braves from 1995-99. The road to the NLCS has been much tougher for Mike Matheny's squad than it was last year. The Redbirds offense slipped from top in the NL to ninth this year. GM John Mozeliak shook up the roster in July, most notably trading away Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston for John Lackey. Lackey was acquired for his big game reputation, and he came through in Game 3. Even more impressively, the Cardinals beat Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLDS. Rookie lefty Marco Gonzales got the win both times in relief.

The Giants road to the NLCS has also been longer than it was in 2010 and 2012. They lost the division to the Dodgers, and had to travel to Pittsburgh for the wild card game. Madison Bumgarner shut Pittsburgh out in a 8-0 win. Then the Giants had to travel to Washington to face the team with the best record in the National League. San Francisco won both games in D.C., including a 18 inning affair in Game 2. The Giants are seeking a shot to win their third World Series in the last five years.

Both of these teams find a way to get it done, and grind out victories in the postseason. Neither team was favored in their Division Series matchup, but both teams won. The Nationals and Dodgers were expected by many to make a run at the championship. Neither of those teams have the playoff experience or the will to win in October that the Giants or Cardinals do.

Two rookie second baseman have made a big impact for both of these clubs. The Giants used 8 different players at second base until settling on rookie Joe Panik. Marco Scutaro has been hurt almost all season, and was limited to only 3 games. Panik solidified second base, and hit .305 in 78 games. The lefty hitting Panik doesn't hit for much power, but is much better than the likes of Brandon Hicks or Dan Uggla were. Kolten Wong got off to a slow start, was sent to the minors, and had a stint on the disabled list before the All Star break. Despite that, Wong led NL rookies with 12 home runs this year. Wong played excellent defense and stole 20 bases this year, which was the most since Cesar Izturis stole 24 in 2008.

In 2014, the Cardinals were dead last in the NL in home runs. Only Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta hit over 20 this season. Wong and Matt Adams were the only other players in double digits. However, St. Louis hit 7 home runs against the Dodgers in the Division Series. Matt Carpenter hit 3 homers in that series, and would of been the MVP of the series if such a award existed. The 7th inning comeback in Game 1 against Kershaw set the tone for the rest of the series. The Cardinals lost Game 2, but scored the game winning runs in the 7th inning in both Games 3 and 4.

Injuries have hit the Giants hard this year. They are playing in the postseason without Scutaro, Angel Pagan, and Matt Cain. Brandon Belt missed a big chunk of the season this year as well. Belt has came back in time for the postseason, and hit the game winning home run in the Game 2 of the NLDS vs. Washington.  Michael Morse has been out with an oblique injury since August 31st, and missed the Division Series. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said that Morse will likely be added to the NLCS roster, giving the Giants at least a power bat off the bench.

Bochy is considered to be one of the best managers when it comes to handling a pitching staff. This year, he has had to make some adjustments. GM Brian Sabean acquired Jake Peavy at the deadline, reuniting him with his former Padres manager. Peavy has filled in for Cain very well. Bochy also swapped Sergio Romo for Santiago Casilla to close out games. Bochy made the opposite move in 2012. He has also moved Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, although Lincecum has yet to appear in a playoff game. Tim Hudson was added in the offseason, and made the All Star team this year. Hudson has played 15 years on many playoff teams in Oakland and Atlanta, but this is the first time his team has advanced to the LCS.

Many in baseball were surprised when the Cardinals hired Matheny as their manager to succeed Tony La Russa, but all Matheny has done is win. The Cardinals have made the playoffs in all three seasons he's managed. Matheny has led the Cardinals deep into the playoffs, but has yet to win the World Series. This season was probably Matheny's best work, coming back and taking the division from the Brewers. The 2014 Cardinals only scored 16 more runs than it allowed, but still won 90 games.

 Matheny has given closer Trevor Rosenthal many chances to work out of jams in the regular season (perhaps, too many), with mixed results. He has shown a quicker hook in the last month, and his "gardening delay" in Game 3 worked out brilliantly. Matheny went out to the mound after Rosenthal allowed two singles, and was behind 2-0 to Juan Uribe. Carlos Martinez was warming up in the bullpen, but instead of calling for Martinez, he called for the grounds crew to work on the mound. Rosenthal was able to settle down, and got the last two outs.

The Giants have not set their NLCS rotation yet, but will likely go with Peavy in Game 1. It is also possible that they open up with Bumgarner. Matheny hinted at Lance Lynn getting the start in a potential Game 5 against LA over Adam Wainwright, but that game was not needed. There has been some concern that Wainwright has been overworked. That been said, Wainwright has been named the Game 1 starter. He will be followed by Lynn, Lackey, and Shelby Miller. Miller was left off the postseason rotation last year in favor of Michael Wacha., and was inconsistent this season. This season, Miller has got the nod in October. Miller pitched well in Game 4, and has been a different pitcher in September.

Prediction: Cardinals in 6

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Division Series Preview

Baltimore Orioles vs. Detroit Tigers

Start: Thursday, October 2nd
Homefield Advantage: Orioles
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: 5-1 Det

On May 12th, the benches cleared after Bud Norris hit Torii Hunter with a pitch. Two hitters earlier, Ian Kinsler hit a home run, and Hunter thought he was intentionally hit. Words were exchanged, but cooler head prevailed. Over four months later, these two teams meet again in the postseason. Both teams have plenty of sluggers. Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40 home runs, and the Orioles led the AL with 212 home runs. The Tigers have plenty of sluggers as well, including Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Buck Showalter has kept his team focused and winning baseball games. They have kept winning despite injuries to key players like Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. Slugging first baseman Chris Davis is in a middle of a suspension for amphetamines, which carries over throughout the Division Series. They still have plenty of firepower with Cruz, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy. Replacements like Jimmy Paredes, Caleb Joseph, and Stephen Pierce have filled in without the Orioles missing a beat. Baltimore is also a very solid defensive club, even without Machado.

The trade of Prince Fielder for Kinsler has worked out very well for the Tigers. Kinsler has greatly improved the team's infield defense. Allowing Cabrera to move from third to first, which opened up a spot for Nick Castellanos, helped as well. Rajai Davis has added an element of speed, but isn't quite the defender Austin Jackson was at center. J.D. Martinez has been the waiver wire pickup of the year, and has taken over left field for Detroit. Al Avila has recovered from concussion symptoms in time for the playoffs. The only weak spot is shortstop, which Eugenio Suarez and Andrew Romine split time at this year.

Pitching wise, the Orioles starters don't match up to Detroit's. The Tigers will run out Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Rick Porcello for their postseason rotation. That is three different Cy Young Award winners, and a guy who is having a career year in Porcello. The Orioles will counter with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yei Chen, Kevin Gausman, and a choice between three different starters. Zack Britton has done an admirable job as the Orioles closer, and Baltimore has an advantage in the bullpen. Closer Joe Nathan and other relievers have been unreliable this year. Brad Ausmus has announced that starter Anibal Sanchez will pitch out of the bullpen during the playoffs. Sanchez and trading deadline pickup Joakim Soria are potential difference makers to a weak bullpen for Detroit.

Prediction: Tigers in a tough fought series

Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels

Start: Thursday, October 2nd
Homefield Advantage: Angels
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: 3-3 tie

The Royals won what might be the most exciting playoff game of the year on Tuesday night. Kansas City ran their way to a 9-8 12 inning victory. Their reward for that win will be facing off with the team who had the best record in baseball this year. The Angels went on a second half tear and cruised to the AL West crown. Albert Pujols had a rebound year, after missing the last two months last year. Mike Trout had another terrific all around year, and is the leading contender for AL MVP. This matchup will feature power vs. speed.

Kansas City will start lefty Jason Vargas in Game 1. Vargas will face his former college teammate (and last year's Angel teammate) Jered Weaver. Weaver was an 18 game winner this season. Ned Yost will start hard throwing rookie Yordano Ventura in Game 2. Ventura struggled in relief during the wild card game, but should be better in a more familiar role. Ventura will be matched up against Matt Shoemaker, who has battled an oblique injury. The Angels pitching staff has suffered a few other injuries, notably to young ace Garret Richards and lefty Tyler Skaggs. In Game 3, James Shields will get the ball against C.J. Wilson. Mike Scoiscia is going with a three man rotation for the Division Series, while Yost has yet to announce his Game 4 starter. He could go back to Vargas, or go with Danny Duffy or Jeremy Guthrie.

The Angels have one of the deepest lineups in the game. An X-factor for Los Angeles in Josh Hamilton, who has missed most of September battling various injuries. Hamilton has declared himself healthy for the postseason, and Scoiscia plans on batting him 7th Thursday. When Hamilton is right, the Angels have a trio of sluggers that no other team can match. The Halos also had strong seasons from Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, and Kole Calhoun. Besides Pujols, the Angels have two other former Cardinals in David Freese and Fernando Salas.

Power hitting is not one of the Royals strengths, but they claw and fight out victories. The Royals led the American League in stolen bases, and tied a playoff record with 7 steals in the AL wild card game. Kansas City has a lot of players like Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, and Jarred Dyson, who hit for a good average and steal bases. They have a few players with some modest power, like Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Salvador Perez. While the Royals can't beat the Angels in a slugfest, they can pitch with them. Their starters are just as good, and KC has a dominant bullpen led by Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. This should be an exciting series.

Prediction: Royals in a upset

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

Start: Friday, October 3rd
Homefield Advantage: Nationals
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: Wash 5-2

Matt Williams led the Nationals to the National League's best record in his first season as the team's manager. Williams will face off against a team that he used to play for in the 1990's. The Giants routed the Pirates in the NL wild card game, thanks to Madison Bumgarner's brilliant outing and Brandon Crawford's grand slam. The Giants are looking to make another run deep into the postseason, while the Nats want to put 2012's disappointing Game 5 Division Series loss to rest. The Nats have been predicted by many to win their first World Series. The Giants are under the radar, but have won two World Series since 2010.

The Giants have had to overcome numerous injuries to key players such as Matt Cain, Marco Scutaro, and Angel Pagan. Mike Morse has also missed all of September, the wild card game, and his status is uncertain for the Division Series. Brandon Belt missed time due to various injuries as well, but he is healthy just in time for October. The Giants have overcame this, trading for Jake Peavy, and bringing up Joe Panik to play second base. Bochy has also moved Tim Lincecum to the bullpen for the playoffs, and swapped Sergio Romo for Santiago Casilla in the ninth inning. San Francisco has many players who thrive in October, including Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, and Buster Posey.

The Nats do not have the postseason experience that the Giants have, but they have a deep roster with no holes. This isn't a team that relies on a star player or two, but it is one of the most talented teams in the league. Washington has had big years from Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, and Adam LaRoche. Ryan Zimmerman missed most of the year due to injury, but is healthy for the playoffs. This leads to a question on what the Nats should do with Zimmerman, shift Rendon to second and bench Asdrubal Cabrera, shift Bryce Harper to center and bench Denard Span, or have Zimmerman come off the bench. It seems like a good problem to have for Williams.

Bruce Bochy will start Peavy in Game 1. Peavy has been terrific since being re-united with his former Padres manager. Peavy will be countered by Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg will finally get to pitch in the postseason, after controversially being shut down late in the 2012 season. Tim Hudson will face off against Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2, a battle of 2014 All Stars. In Game 3, Doug Fister will start for the Nats, while Bochy hasn't named a Game 3 starter yet. Bochy could go with Bumgarner or perhaps Ryan Vogelsong. Williams also has Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark available to pitch. The Nats/Giants series pits a team that is considered to be one of the most talented in the league against a team full of playoff veterans. It will be an interesting series.

Prediction: I'm going with the postseason experience. Giants

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Start: Friday, October 3rd
Homefield Advantage: Dodgers
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1985, 2004, 2009, 2013
2014 Head to Head Record: LAD 4-3

The Cardinals and Dodgers will face off for the second year in a row. Last year, the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in six games in the NLCS, with two dominant performances by NLCS MVP Micheal Wacha. Wacha beat Clayton Kershaw twice in that series. Wacha will pitch out of the bullpen this year, after missing several months due to shoulder problems. Kershaw is likely to win his third Cy Young this year, and had possibly the best season of his career. Good news for both teams as Yadier Molina is fully healthy, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is likely to start Game 3 after missing some time.

The Cardinals led the NL with 783 runs scored in 2013. This season, they only scored 619 runs, which was 9th in the NL. Run scoring has been hard to come by for the Redbirds, and runs will be at a premium against the Dodgers. The Cardinals defense has been much improved with Matt Carpenter shifting from second to third, Kolten Wong taking over second, Jon Jay's improved play, and the addition of Peter Bourjos. Matt Holliday has also improved his defense, and went on his usual second half surge offensively this year. A potential X-factor for St. Louis is Randall Grichuk. Grichuk has received increased playing time at right field over Oscar Taveras. With Grichuk being a righty, and Taveras a lefty, Grichuk figures to get some playing time when Kershaw and Ryu pitch.

The Dodgers will have Matt Kemp healthy for the postseason this year. Kemp had a second half tear that sent Andre Ethier to the bench and decreased Carl Crawford's playing time. Hanley Ramirez has battled some injuries, but is healthy for the postseason. He is hoping to avoid beanballs in the Division Series. LA has also had big years from Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig. Puig was in the MVP discussion during the first half, but fell off in the second half, especially in the power department. A big difference maker for the Dodgers this year has been the emergence of Dee Gordon. Gordon has taken over the second base job, gave the Dodgers a natural leadoff hitter, and led the NL in steals this year.

In Game 1, Kershaw will match up against Adam Wainwright, in a battle of 20 game winners. Game 2 will pit Zack Greinke against Lance Lynn. Lynn has the best season of his career in 2014, and made huge strides in avoiding the bad inning. Ryu has dealt with some injuries late in the year, but is penciled in for Game 3. Ryu will face former Angel and Red Sox pitcher John Lackey, who the Cardinals hope will live up to his big game reputation. Shelby Miller has been announced as the Game 4 starter, which would be in his comfort zone at Busch Stadium. The Dodgers haven't announced a Game 4 starter, but will have a choice of either Kershaw or Dan Haren.

The bullpen has been a concern for both teams. Trevor Rosenthal saved 45 games this year, but gave Mike Matheny many scary moments this year. Rosenthal is sometimes lights out, but has been hit harder this year than in the past. Walks have been a big culprit. Matheny will have Pat Neshek, Seth Maness, Sam Freeman, and Carlos Martinez to fill in the late innings. For Don Mattingly's club, closer Kenley Jansen hasn't been the problem. It has been the middle relief and setup roles. Former All Stars Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and Brandon League have been inconsistent this year. If the Cardinals can knock out the Dodgers dominant starters, then they could have a chance against the Dodgers soft spot in the bullpen.

Prediction: The Dodgers will be tough to beat and should be considered the favorites, but I'm going with a hometown pick with St. Louis