posted on September 30, 2011 00:00
Rays vs. Rangers
Why they'll win: Because they've got pitching for miles.
The Rays boast a strong starting five, and it gets even stronger in a five-game series. James Shields at the top is dominant, finishing 11 games this season (for reference, Roy Halladay finished the season with just eight complete games). And David Price, the team's No. 2 but who probably won't start until Game 3, nearly won the Cy Young last year. But neither is even the team's Game 1 starter - that honor goes to youngster Matt Moore, who will be making the second professional start of his career. Not postseason. Ever. That's how loaded this staff is. If pitching wins in October, the Rays are set up well.
Why they won't: They lack the collective team hitting to win in a short series.
Evan Longoria is a great hitter, but even he only hit .244 this season. As a team, the Rays hit .244 as well, ranking 12th in the American League. They've got some nice parts - Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton and Johnny Damon can go deep from time to time - but the longball isn't a big part of their offense. They rely more on stealing bases and timely hitting to produce runs. But when the team doesn't hit, the runs don't come. If Longoria goes cold, it could be a quick exit for the Wild Card darlings.
Why they'll win: Their lineup is the antithesis of the Rays.
The Rangers are stacked from top to bottom. They finished the season with the AL's best batting average (.283) and were second-best in home runs (210) and team OPS (.800). Five Rangers hit 25 or more homers, and five also scored 80 or more runs. Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz...there are no breaks in that lineup. They hit their way to the World Series last season, and they're arguably a better team this year. Scary.
Why they won't: The pitching, after C.J. Wilson, is largely unproven.
Derek Holland had a fantastic year, collecting 16 wins and leading the team with four shutouts. But Holland is just 24 and hasn't made a start in a postseason game, appearing in six games last playoffs as a reliever. Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando round out the rotation, but none is a sure thing.
Who will win: Pitching and defense wins, but sometimes hitting is better. That's the case here. Rangers in four.
Tigers vs. Yankees
Why they'll win: Justin Verlander can win two games single-handedly.
24-5, 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP. He's the unquestioned AL Cy Young, and some are touting him as AL MVP. He threw his second-career no-hitter this year. He also struck out 250 batters in 251 innings. He's the best pitcher in a series that includes C.C. Sabathia. And he gives the Tigers an edge every time he's on the mound.
Why they won't: Verlander can't win the other game for them.
Their best starter besides Verlander is Doug Fister, whom they acquired at the trade deadline in a deal that seemed like an afterthought at the time. Max Scherzer has been up and down, Rick Porcello was just OK and Cardinals fans remember what Brad Penny brings to the table. Not only will one of these pitchers - and the smart money has to be on Fister - have to steal a game, but Verlander will also have to avoid a hiccup in his two starts as well.
Why they'll win: Because, simply, they mash.
First in the AL in homers (222). Second in runs (867). Third in stolen bases (147). They get on base (627 BB), they hit for extra bases (.444 slugging) and they even get hit by pitches (74 HBP). They don't stop getting on base, and that's usually a good thing.
Why they won't: Their pitching leaves something to be desired.
Sabathia is stellar as usual, but their second-best pitcher is 24-year old Ivan Nova. Nova won 16 games in his first full season with the club, but he's a rookie to postseason play. Bartolo Colon was a nice story for much of the season, but he had a 5.96 ERA in September and hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in his last three starts. No one needs to be reminded how A.J. Burnett's season has been. Nova is going to have to pitch like a veteran if the Yankees are going to go the distance.
Who will win: Too much hitting in the Bronx. The Tigers are very good, but they can't stack up. Yankees in three.
Diamondbacks vs. Brewers
Why they'll win: Because everyone loves an underdog.
The truth is there's really no reason they should win. They aren't exceptional at any one thing. They do a lot of things well, though, and that might benefit them. Justin Upton is a name being said in the NL MVP discussion. Ian Kennedy will get some thought for NL Cy Young as well. And the eighth and ninth inning, manned by David Hernandez and J.J. Putz, respectively, is lights out. Their whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
Why they won't: They're still an underdog.
Their hitting consists of Upton and everyone else, basically. Kennedy and Dan Hudson are a great 1-2, but Josh Collmenter, their assumed No. 3, made his major league debut this year. And that inexperience is a theme with the D'backs. It could be what carries them, but it also has the potential to be their downfall.
Why they'll win: Their lineup is as deep as it gets in the NL, and their pitching staff is almost as good.
Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks...there's no doubting their power potential. And it showed this season, as they hit an NL-best 185 homers. And on the pitching side, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum are a strong top three in a five-game series. Oh, and John Axford is the best closer in the league.
Why they won't: Defense is the only thing that could hold them back.
The Brewers ranked 11th in the league with a .982 fielding percentage, and there's really no defensive whiz among the infielders. Up the middle, the combo of Yunieski Betancourt and Rickie Weeks has combined for 36 errors. Third baseman Casey McGehee has 20 errors as well. If they don't execute defensively, it could lead to a couple ugly losses for the Crew.
Who will win: The D'backs have something going, but it's hard to pick against the stronger, better Brewers. Brewers in four.
Cardinals vs. Phillies
Why they'll win: If they're not the hottest team in baseball, they're at least, to borrow a phrase from the Cardinals manager, tied for first.
Their offense is functioning at a high level, as evidenced by the five-run first inning Wednesday night. And, as a statistic on the MLB Network Thursday night showed, they boast the three players with the highest postseason batting averages among active players in Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina. They also have a pitcher, Chris Carpenter, who is on a serious roll. He might not pitch until Game 3, but it seems like he would go on short rest if a Game 5 was needed. The Cardinals aren't the most talented team in the postseason, but momentum counts for something.
Why they won't: They have the worst rotation of the eight playoff teams.
Carpenter is an ace, but the other four certainly have their flaws. Jaime Garcia has trouble pitching away from Busch. Edwin Jackson continuously flirts with danger en route to quality-but-uninspiring starts. Jake Westbrook is in serious danger of being left off the postseason roster. And Kyle Lohse seems to be the best of the rest but has the least amount of confidence from his manager and pitching coach. The Cards need to get to a Game 5 before Carpenter can pitch in it.
Why they'll win: They won 102 games for a reason.
We'll skip Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and the rest of the offense. The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs' lineup could win with the pitching staff the Phillies have put together. Roy Halladay is a horse. Cliff Lee allowed one run the entire month of June and would be the Game 1 starter for 29 other teams. Roy Oswalt crushed the Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS - twice - and Cole Hamels might be the best starter in the postseason not to make a start. Winning one game seems like an uphill climb. Winning three seems near impossible.
Who will win: There's no reason the Cardinals should. But they have the two best hitters in this series, the season series edge and all the momentum you could ask for. Admitting it's at odds with my head, I'll follow my heart on this one. Cardinals in five.