Another season of Major League Baseball has finally come to an end, and this surely was an exciting one. We saw the first Triple Crown winner since 1967, the Oakland Athletics – a team thought to be in the “rebuilding” phase – win their division, and Bobby Valentine get canned the day after the season ended, 162 games too late. The newly instituted, one-game wild card matchups will be on display for the first time, allowing two more teams to make the postseason. With games starting as early as Friday, here are my playoff predictions as we head into what should be an exhilarating October. Starting with the National League:
National League Wild Card: Atlanta Braves (4) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (5)
These two teams are very evenly matched in terms of potent lineups and great pitching. The Cardinals will have Kyle Lohse going up against Kris Medlen of Atlanta. Lohse has just one win in five appearances against this Braves club, while Medlen has gone 9-0 as a starter this year. Only three other pitchers have more quality starts this year than Lohse’s 24, which speaks to his improvement and his 16-3 record. Medlen meanwhile has not lost a game for the Braves since 2009. This will be a rubber match, but one that I will give to the Braves and their younger, multi-dimensional lineup.
National League Divisional Series: Washington Nationals (1) vs. Atlanta Braves (4)
Washington will be coming into this series with plenty of rest for their starting trio of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and John Lannan. That does not bode well for Atlanta, who lost their season series to Washington, 8-10. Also working against the Braves will be pitcher Tim Hudson. Hudson has done very poorly against the Nat's in his career, which could translate into a bad series for him. Don’t look for his teammates Freddie Freeman, Michael Bourne, and Martin Prado to give up without a fight. All good things must come to an end, though, and Chipper Jones’s Hall of Fame career will do so in Washington.
Prediction: Washington in 7
National League Divisional Series: San Francisco Giants (2) vs. Cincinnati Reds (3)
The Giants’ playoff rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong is one of the best rotations in the postseason. The Reds will try to match up against San Fran’s hurlers with a couple of their own, namely Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey. Although the Giants will be without the banned Melky Cabrera, their pitching should be able to hold off the struggling offense of the Reds, who as a team finished the season batting .251, compared to San Francisco’s .269 clip. Look for key contributions from some of the Giants’ role players, like Marco Scutaro and Brandon Belt.
Prediction: San Francisco in 5
National League Championship Series: Washington Nationals (1) vs. San Francisco Giants (2)
If San Francisco has the best rotation in the postseason, then Washington boasts a close runner-up. Every game will certainly feature a great pitching duel, so let’s focus on the lineups. The Nat’s will rely on the long ball, having finished the season with seven players in the double digits in that category. The Giants will be looking to string together hits and hope for big innings. Gonzalez and Zimmermann do not do “big innings.” That phrase does not exist in their realm of thought. Another hard-fought series by the Nationals should earn them a World Series birth.
Prediction: Washington in 7
I know plenty of you will disagree with that last outcome, but stick around to see who I have winning the American League Pennant, and the World Series.
American League Wild Card: Baltimore Orioles (4) vs. Texas Rangers (5)
Relative newcomers on the playoff scene are the upstart Baltimore Orioles. With a young core of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Matt Wieters in place for years to come, Baltimore is playing its best ball heading into the postseason. Unlike Texas, though, the Orioles are not blessed with experience. The Rangers have been to the playoffs before, as Texas fans know all too well, and should now know what it takes to succeed. This year is not the one for Baltimore, but this team has only just begun its reign over the AL East Division. Their game with Texas will be tight, but only if it goes into extras will the scales tip in the O’s favor.
American League Divisional Series: New York Yankees (1) vs. Texas Rangers (5)
Derek Jeter has been among the top five leaders in batting averages all year but his age has shown on missed grounders in the hole that he would have made look easy a few years ago. Age is also a factor for A-Rod, Andy Pettitte, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and deadline acquisition Ichiro Suzuki. Texas’s batting order has an average age of 30, and this is heavily influenced by 36-year-old Michael Young, who is aging wonderfully for the Rangers. Both lineups are extremely strong, but their pitching staffs tell two different stories altogether.
New York’s biggest weakness is their bullpen because Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Boone Logan cannot pitch every night. The Bronx Bombers can hit with Texas, but will not be able to keep up in the arms race.
Prediction: Texas in 7
American League Divisional Series: Oakland Athletics (2) vs. Detroit Tigers (3)
Billy Beane’s magical 2012 club has had an amazing year, highlighted by the play of new franchise cornerstone Josh Reddick. Dumped by the Red Sox for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney – both complete busts in Boston – Reddick has joined fellow castoffs Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, and Stephen Drew in Oakland. Although Detroit enters the postseason with the worst record of all the American League contenders, do not be fooled. This team is dangerous. Their playoff rotation of ace Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Anibal Sanchez is one to be feared. Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker of the A’s are throwing better than they have all year right now, and that is what matters most. Grant Balfour and the bullpen will be a force to be reckoned with. The magic continues for this team, as I see them advancing to the ALCS.
Prediction: Oakland in 6
American League Championship Series: Oakland Athletics (2) vs. Texas Rangers (5)
The Athletics finished the season by taking their division by storm, and leaving the Rangers in a crumpled heap. That said, I do not want to be completely swayed by that performance. Texas was already guaranteed a playoff spot at the time, while Oakland was still vying for a wild card spot. I see Milone and Parker matching up with Texas’s Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish pretty well. However, the edge goes to the Rangers, who have the most feared 3-6 batting combination in the game, consisting of Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Michael Young. The “Moneyball” club ends its dream season at the hands of division rival Texas.
Prediction: Texas in 6
And now, for the moment you have all been waiting for:
2012 MLB World Series Championship: Washington Nationals (1) vs. Texas Rangers (5)
Let’s start with similarities. Both the Nat’s and the Rangers can win games via the home run and by playing small ball. They made opponents look silly throughout the entire year with their ability to score at will. However, Washington has a stronger starting staff in Gonzalez and Zimmermann as compared to Harrison and Darvish, though not by much. After these four, I think Texas holds the advantage in pitching, with Derek Holland getting the nod over John Lannan or Zach Duke. What really sets Texas apart is its bullpen. Teams do not seem to fare much better if they are able to get to Texas’s bullpen, which is where Joe Nathan, Koji Uehara, Mike Adams, and Alexi Ogando reside. I don’t see this Rangers club losing three straight World Series titles.
Prediction: Texas in 7
What if Davey Johnson had not shut down Stephen Strasburg for the rest of the season? The world may never know.