Sunday, October 01, 2006

Major League Playoff Outlook

Well the regular season is over, and there are only three teams in the postseason that were there last year. Which is most surprising? That the Atlanta Braves aren't one of them? That the San Diego Padres are? That the St. Louis Cardinals are, after their near epic collapse the past week and a half?

Anyway, now that the postseason match-ups are set, it seems like any team has just as good a chance as another at winning the World Series. Here's three reasons why each team could possibly win the last game of the season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
New York Yankees
1. Their opponent.
The last time the Detroit Tigers made the playoffs, closer Joel Zumaya was nearly three years old. If you buy into the playoff experience is worth gold theory, the Tigers are as poor as the Florida Marlins. Of Detroit's 95 wins, 62% came before the All-Star Break, and they were only 12-16 in the final month of the season. Aside from entering the postseason on the cold side, the Yanks beat the Tigers five out of seven times during the regular season, including losing three out of four at Comerica Park. Detroit was the team no one expected to be here in March, and nobody really expects them to be in the ALCS next week either.
2. Their All-Star laden line-up.
Really, what kind of team can afford to bat Hideki Matsui seventh, wrist injury or not? The Yankees scored 930 runs this season, 60 more than the team behind them. They say pitching and defense wins in the playoffs, but these Yankees may prove them wrong.
3. They're the fucking Yankees.
They've won like one out of every four World Series' so far. Those are damn good odds.

Minnesota Twins
1. Johan Santana.
Or should we just call him Cy Young. His ERA is 2.77, he won 19 games, he strikes out over a batter an inning, and opposing hitters hit just .216 off him. Oh and sicne the beginning of May, the Twins are 25-4 when he pitches.
2. Their bullpen.
Minnesota relievers compiled a nasty 2.93 ERA this season, best in the big leagues. Joe Nathan, who is probably the most underrated closer in the league, blew just two saves all season. If you don't find a way to score off Minnesota's starter (which is also almost impossible if Johan is on the mound), then the game is virtually over.
3. Home-field advantage.
The Twins had the best home-record in the majors this season, winning 54 out of 81 times. Also, they were just mediocre on the road, winning only 42 times. Think winning the division didn't mean anything?

Oakland Athletics
1. Rich Harden.
Harden missed most of the season with arm problems and made just nine starts. His ERA wasn't very impressive, but he struck out over a batter an inning and hitters just hit .189 off him. If Harden can turn these good peripheral numbers into some good starts in October, some pressure will be taken off the A's' mediocre offense.
2. Barry Zito pitching for a bit contract.
If Zito struggles in the postseason, teams looking to lock up the left-hander in the offseason will point to those bad starts and use them for justification for a lower offer. However, if Zito pitches like the Cy Young award winner he was in 2002, a $16 million per year contract may not be outside the realm of possibility.
3. Nobody expects anything out of them.
The A's have the fewest wins out of any team in the AL playoffs, they have a poor track record in recent Octobers, and they don't have very many name players on the roster. They're overshadowed by bigger markets in New York and Detroit and better stories in Minnesota. Basically, there are no expectations of them. And maybe they'll be able to use that as motivation for a World Series run.

Detroit Tigers
1. Their 17-game winners.
Although Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander are on opposite ends of the age spectrum, they each notched 17 wins this year and had solid ERAs. It seems like the Tigers believe they can win with either of these two on the mound, and a pitching rotation with two aces on their game is tough to beat in October.
2. Their underrated power hitters.
Who would have thought that Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe, and Curtis Granderson would have combined to 74 homers this season, after hitting just 44 last season? Those three grouped with Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, and Pudge Rodriguez form a formidible line-up.
3. The trends favor them.
You know, the trends that saw two teams break 80+ year championship droughts the past two seasons. The trends that favor Wild Card teams advancing to the World Series. The trends that have shown us that picking the World Champion in March is pretty much impossible.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
New York Mets
1. They're obviously the best team in the league.
Forget the fact that they were just 15-15 in September. The Mets did not have a losing season series against any National League team this season. They were 13-7 against the Padres, Cardinals, and Dodgers. They thoroughly dominated every team in the National League in nearly every aspect of the game this season.
2. Their All-Star laden line-up.
The Mets didn't lead the league in runs like their New York counterparts did, but they did finish second to a club with 58-homer monster Ryan Howard on it. (editors note: they also did not play in a bandbox) Wright, Beltran, and Reyes are all having terrific seasons, and with Lo Duca, Delgado, Floyd, and Shawn Green supporting them, holding the Mets to a few runs a game will be a tough task.
3. Their regulars are rested.
One of the advantages of winning the division by 12 games is the chance to let your regulars rest and heal for the playoffs. With the other three teams in the NL having to play meaningful games in the final series of the season, the Mets have another advantage not afforded to the teams they're competing with.

San Diego Padres
1. Their pitching staff.
Only the Detroit Tigers allowed fewer runs in baseball than the Padres did this year. San Diego got terrific starting pitching all season, and their bullpen was extremely tough to score on. Every pitcher on San Diego's staff has stepped up all season, and they don't look they're going to quit any time soon.
2. Their clutch-hitting.
I don't have any numbers to back this up, but the biggest difference between this year's squad and 2005's clowns is the ability to get clutch two-out hits with runners on. Mike Cameron, Mike Piazza, and Adrian Gonzalez have kept rallies going all season long, and San Diego has the talent to score runs when it looks like opposing pitchers are about to get out of a jam.
3. They're resilient and expect to win.
They were an afterthought at the beginning of the season. They fought off an embarassing 8-15 start to the season. They erased a four-game deficit at the beginning of September. They came back from a devastating loss in Los Angeles on September 18th. And they took three of the final four games after Albert Pujols broke their hearts with an eighth-inning home run last Wednesday. Nothing has gotten the Padres down all season, and they believe they can play with anybody.

St. Louis Cardinals
1. Their manager knows what he's doing.
Sure, you hate his guts. Yeah, you don't like how he goes through relievers like Reggie Sanders goes through teams. And you hate his cocky, arrogant little smirk. But Tony LaRussa has been to the playoffs 11 times in his 30 seasons as a manager, and to the World Series four times. he doesn't have as talented a bunch this season, but LaRussa knows how to manage in October.
2. Their slugger.
Albert Pujols has had to carry a punchless Cardinals line-up for most of the second half of the season. He changes the way pitchers attack the hitters around him. If St. Louis wants to make a third straight trip to the NLCS and win their second pennant in three years, then Pujols is going to have to play like the best player in the game.
3. They get the most from their players.
Nobody knows how or why, but mediocre ballplayers suddenly turn into stars once they put the Cardinals uniform on. Chris Carpenter, a bad fourth starter in the American League, is Cy Young for St. Louis. Scott Spiezio, who hit .198 the past two seasons, comes to the midwest and returns to being the player he was in Anaheim. Jeff Suppan, Abraham Nunez, Tony Womack, Mke Matheney all have had the luck rub off on them. And somebody will need to have more luck rub off on them if they want to win their 10th championship.

Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Their ability to come back.
The Dodgers seemed to trail nearly every game they played the final two weeks of the season, yet still finished on a 9-3 run. LA hasn't rolled over for anybody this season, and will continue to play till the final out in October.
2. They're hot and they're the Wild Card.
Recent playoff history hsa looked favorably upon teams that reach the postseason without a division title and with lots of recent victories. The Dodgers have both, including a seven-game winning streak, with six of those wins coming on the road. LA has more momentum than any team in the postseason, and will want to convert that into 11 more wins.
3. Because the Baseball Gods hate me.
I think seeing the Dodgers in the World Series, let alone actually winning it would lead me to suicide. That game three weeks ago was bad enough, but this would be only about a gazillion times worse. I really hope we meet them in the NLCS, and I really hope we sweep them. Again.

1 comment:

Dan said...

joel zumaya isnt a closer.