Tag:Francisco Liriano
Posted on: October 5, 2010 7:44 pm

Down The Stretch- The MLB Playoffs (Part 3)

As the 3rd part of my MLB playoffs preview, I will now jump into the Division Series that have now been set and give you the keys to each series, an x-factor, and ultimately a prediction for the 4 series, starting tomorrow with Texas and Tampa Bay at 1:30 ET. Originally I was going to predict the whole playoffs at once, but seriously, why should I punish all of you with less readings from myself? That wouldn't be fair. I will give you my pre-playoffs World Series Champ to stay true to my promise and will analyze the League Championship Series and World Series when they are set. So without further delay, here is your guide to the MLB Division Series.....

American League Division Series

New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins

Game 1: Wed October 6th, at Minnesota 8:37 PM ET- Sabathia vs. Liriano
Game 2: Thur October 7th, at Minnesota 6:07 PM ET- Pettitte vs. Pavano
Game 3: Sat October 9th, at New York 8:37 PM ET- Duensing vs. Hughes
Game 4: Sun October 10th, at New York 8:07 PM ET (if nec.)
Game 5: Tue October 12th, at Minnesota 8:37 PM ET (if nec.)

Series Handicap:

Lineup : Big Advantage Yankees. The Yankees enter the postseason with the best offense in the American League, featuring a deep lineup with few holes. Top 3 in the majors in each of the following categories: Home runs, runs, walks, slugging, RBI, they punish bad pitching and are made for their ballpark. The Twins will be without former MVP Justin Morneau for the entire postseason, and as a team who was only 19th in the majors in HR's, they wont be able to get into slugouts with the Yankees if they expect to win.

Starting Rotation : Slight Advantage Yankees. Many might give this to the Twins given the inconsistencies of any Yankee pitcher not named Sabathia down the stretch. He will still be the best pitcher in the series. After that, a lot will ride on who the #2 guy is for New York and what he can give them. If their struggles continue this becomes an advantage Twins but it seems the Yankees figure out these problems all the time entering the postseason. The Twins will rely on Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano at the top of their rotation. They have the potential to hold the Yankee offense down and both have been better than advertised this year, but until I see it with my own eyes, I have to give this to the Yankees, despite the Twins posting the best ERA of all AL playoff teams during the season.

Bullpen : Push. The Yankees obviously have Mariano Rivera, the greatest postseason closer of all-time at the back end of their bullpen, a major edge over any other playoff team. Its what leads up to that which makes me call this a push. The Twins have Jesse Crain, and Brian Fuentes leading up to Matt Capps, a bullpen that has been very good all year for the Twins. Fuentes even with some postseason closing experience last year with the Angels. The Yankees will be counting on Joba Chamberlain and Kerry Wood as their primary set-up men to get the ball to Rivera. Chamberlain has been shaky at times and Wood hasn't had much postseason experience as a setup man. Rivera is the balancing factor here.

Series Analysis : 2003. 2004. 2009. We've seen this matchup a few times in the last 10 years with the Yankees winning every series, including a sweep of the Twins last year. In those 3 series the Yankees post a 9-2 record against the Twins and by all accounts have never been challenged by Minnesota. This Twins team will tell you its two different teams than all the past series, but in reality, is it much different? Especially from last year? The Yankees will open on the road as the Wild Card, a spot they have never won a World Series from. Target Field, the Twins new home will be helpful to try and slow the offensive fireworks the Yankees offense has been known to put up. Liriano vs. Sabathia in Game 1 will tell a lot about what direction this series is headed. The Twins never seemed to recover from Game 1 last year and giving up home field in Game 1 could be devastating to a team with their history against the Yankees. Without Justin Morneau, do-everything catcher Joe Mauer as well as Jim Thome and Delmon Young will be the power bats spear-headed by speedster Denard Span at the top. The Twins are going to want to play low scoring games, and will likely try and put pressure on Posada to throw runners out, something he hasn't been great at this year. Even though the Twins haven't been a great base stealing team this year, ranking 26th in that department when I did my first AL playoffs review, they need to push the envelope to make up for their lack of power. The Yankees are hoping captain Derek Jeter can break out of a season where he had one of his worst years as a pro. However, guys like Cano, Texeria, A-Rod, are more than capable of picking him up and Curtis Granderson, their prized off-season trade piece got very hot towards the end of the season. I anticipate the starting pitching for Minnesota wont go deep into many games as I think the Yankees lineup will wear on them and go to the pen quicker than they'd like to. On the flip side, its anyone's guess who will show up for the Yankees after Sabathia. Will first-half Phil Hughes or post All-Star game Phil Hughes be on display in Game 3? A lot of this series will hinge on how well the starting pitching does. I think the Yankees lineup can overcome bad pitching. Im not sure Minnesota's can.

Series X-Factor : Andy Pettitte

The biggest concern for New York entering the postseason is as covered before, their rotation behind Sabathia. Sabathia is not going to be able to start 3 games in the ALDS so someone else has to step up for the Yankees. To me that person is Andy Pettitte. One of the best postseason pitchers ever, year after year he has been vital to the Yankees runs and titles. I don't think you can rely on Phil Hughes to pitch great consistently throughout the playoffs. Its his first go-around as a starter. If Pettitte shows back up for the playoffs and shakes off the rust of being out for so long with his injury, then I think the Yankees cruise in this series. If he pitches well in game 2 at Minnesota, this series could be over very quickly. If Sabathia gets beat at all in the postseason, this is the guy who the Yankees will need to get the rebound victory to set them back up. With Burnett getting skipped this time around and Sabthia going Game 4, Pettitte is the guy the Yankees will expect to set them up for a close-out game in Game 4 at home if Sabathia or Pettite himself steal homefield away in Game 1 or 2.

Series Prediction : Yankees in 4. I just cant see the Yankees not getting things right in the postseason. The only team who's given them some trouble in the past is the Angels when they've had that match-up. They've owned the Twins. While I don't think they rolled over in the division, I don't think they were breaking their back to avoid the Twins, even if it meant giving up home field. Sabathia was lights out in the postseason for the Yanks and might be the Cy Young award winner this year. Liriano is certainly a great young pitcher, but Im not ready to put my faith in him to beat Sabathia in a big playoff game. I think Mourneau's bat will be missed more so in this series than possibly any other. Target Field could play a bigger factor than I am giving it credit for, but the Yankees have hit well all year, the Twins were very poor against the East this year, 2-4 against the Yankees, and Pettitte was great in his two starts against Minnesota this year. The only concern with this pick is if Sabathia loses Game 1. If he wins Game 1, I'll be very surprised if they lose 3 of 4 to Minnesota.

Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Game 1: Wed October 6th, at Tampa Bay 1:37 PM ET- Lee vs. Price
Game 2: Thurs October 7th, at Tampa Bay 2:37 PM ET- Wilson vs. Garza
Game 3: Sat October 9th, at Texas 5:07 PM ET- Shields vs. Lewis
Game 4: Sun October 10th, at Texas 1:07 PM ET (if nec.)
Game 5: Tue October 12th, at Tampa Bay 5:07 PM ET (if nec, 8:07 start if only game Tue)

Lineup : Slight Advantage Texas. The Rangers offensively have been very productive all year as the best average hitting team in the league. They are led by AL MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, a revived Vlad Guerrero, and seasoned vet Michael Young. They have a good mixture of speed with guys like Elvis Andrus at the top of the lineup, and then Ian Kinsler back from injury. David Murphy has been a big player for them and his ability to play after a groin injury would be an added bonus. Tampa Bay as a lineup has struck out a ton this year but its their combination of speed and power which makes them so dangerous. Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, coming on an injury in his own right will be the two key bats in their lineup. Carlos Pena is usually a hit or miss, but will punish mistakes. B.J Upton was very strong in the Rays run to the 08' World Series and they sprinkle in bats like Jaso, Aybar, Zobrist. If they get their running game going, this could move to a push, but right now I think the Rangers have to be a slight advantage here.

Starting Rotation : Slight Advantage Rays. Starting up top, its tough to choose between Cliff Lee and David Price. Lee was the best pitcher in the playoffs last year, pretty much single-handedly keeping the Phillies competitive with the Yankees. David Price has been a rising star all year and can get up to 98-99 on his fastball. After that, the #2 starters should be a great matchup. Matt Garza, the 2008 ALCS MVP and C.J. Wilson, have both been good this year for their respective clubs, Wilson making the transition from closer to starter surprisingly easy. I'd be hard-pressed to call either matchup anything more than a toss-up which should be indicative of how this series will play out. The Rangers are on record as saying if it goes to a Game 4, they will start Tommy Hunter but Im sure if they're down 2-1 entering that game, that won't be the case. Lee has shown time and time again he can pitch on short rest. Shields will be a key for the Rays. He's very up and down, and gives up a lot of HR's. Shields pitched pretty well in his two starts against Texas this year, going 1-1 in those games, winning at home, losing on the road where he'll pitch Game 3.

Bullpen : Slight Advantage Texas. The Rangers have perhaps the best bullpen in baseball. With their 4 main relievers all possessing sub-2.50 ERA's late into September, they can really shorten games when they get a lead late. Feliz at the back end of the bullpen has been solid all year for the Rangers, with Darren O'Day, Darren Oliver, and Alexi Ogando being the main men that will try and get him the ball. The Rays rely on Rafael Soriano to close games for them, one of the best closers in baseball this year. They're middle relief is the one question I have with guys like Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler. But if they can get to Benoit, whose been great all year to set up Soriano, they too can shorten games. I expect a lot of these games to be decided by which team can crack the others' bullpen first.

Series Analysis : In my opinion, this is a toss-up with Atlanta-San Francisco for best series of the first round. I think the pitching on both teams will be very good. I expect their to be a lot of close games, and Texas' issues with winning on the road will be huge given the Rays own homefield. Texas was the only AL playoff team with a losing road record and Cliff Lee will be their secret weapon to try and break that problem. The Rays have been here and made a WS before. The Rangers have a few players who have been down this road before and will be the veteran presence needed in October. I expect both teams to be aggressive on the basepaths as base runners may be a premium in this series with the great pitching on both sides. Both managers are often criticized for their bullpen management and as I said earlier, a game or two may be decided by which manager is too quick with a change or which one rides a reliever or starter too long, the Rangers losing a game in TB earlier this year where Lee was probably left in 1-2 batters longer than he should have. Texas is in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 while the Rays are only making their 2nd trip in franchise history so both cities will be eager for playoff success that for the most part isn't a big part of their franchise's history. Perhaps overshadowed by the broadcasting networks love for the Yankees, those of you working 9-5 better find a gamecenter to follow on with all the afternoon games this series has. It should be a highly entertaining series.

X-Factor : Evan Longoria/Josh Hamilton.

These two young stars are the unquestioned leaders of their respective teams and will feel the most pressure to perform of anyone on their rosters. Both are coming off injuries, Hamilton a rib injury that kept him out most of September and Longoria who had been out with a strained quad. I have a feeling that whichever of these two has the better series will ultimately be the deciding factor in who moves on to the ALCS to face who I believe will be the New York Yankees. Despite all the great pitching in this series, this should be the matchup paid closest attention to. Both are in the running for AL MVP honors and will likely get few chances to produce with the carefulness both managers will show. Therefore, whoever can do the most with the RISP opportunities and other big moments I think will be a big key to this series. Hamilton has more help behind him, but Vlad's strikeout tendencies and Cruz's inconsistencies make it tough to picture either of them delivering consistently.

Prediction : Rays in 5. A couple weeks ago when I previewed the AL playoff race I gave the Rangers the worst chance to win the AL pennant and a lot of that hinged on the fact I expected them to play the Yankees in Round 1. I like their chances much better against a Rays team with a lineup that doesn't consistently produce. If I was assured that Hamilton wouldn't have any lingering effects from his rib injuries, I would likely take the Rangers to win this series, but I just don't know how much he will be able to do. I think the depth of the Rays rotation is something that will show its true colors over the course of this series. As good as Wilson and Lewis have been, I just have a little more faith in Garza and Shields who have been here before and in Garza's case, have delivered in the biggest moments. I also think that the Rangers will ultimately have to pitch Lee in Game 4 to extend the series as I doubt they go to Hunter if they are down 2-1. Its gonna be a close series. I wouldn't be shocked if either team won. Only would be surprised if this ended in a sweep.

National League Division Series

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds

Game 1: Wed October 6th, at Philadelphia, 5:07 PM ET- Volquez vs. Halladay
Game 2: Fri October 8th, at Philadelphia, 6:07 PM ET- Arroyo vs. Oswalt
Game 3: Sun October 10th, at Cincinnati, 4:37 PM ET- Hamels vs. Cueto
Game 4: Mon October 11th, at Cincinnati, 5:07 PM ET (if nec., 7:37 PM if one game Monday)
Game 5: Wed October 13th, at Philadelphia, 6:07 PM ET (if nec., 8:07 PM if one game Wed)

Lineup : Slight Advantage Reds. Probably the only team in the National League that would be given an advantage over the Phils, the Reds possess an AL lineup in the National League. The Reds lead the NL this season in average, HRs, RBI, and tied for most XBH at last check in late September. Led by NL MVP candidate and a Triple Crown threat this year Joey Votto, the Reds will need to score runs against a very strong Phillies pitching staff to help a below average rotation. With 6 members of their lineup hitting at least 18 HR's, they can score runs in bunches with guys like Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Drew Stubbs following Votto's lead. Veterans Jim Edmonds and Orlando Cabrera could also be a source of key hits. The Phils got lead off spark-plug Jimmy Rollins back at the end of the year, in a lineup that features the power bats of Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley. Like Cincy, the Phils have other guys such as Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez that make their lineup difficult to contain. This series should be quite the slugfest with two hitter-friendly ballparks in play.

Starting Rotation : Big Advantage Phillies. Anchored by perhaps the best pitcher in baseball Roy Halladay, the Phillies rotation sets up very nicely for the entire playoffs. Halladay's durability gives them the possibility to go with a 3-man rotation as long as they go. Though Joe Blanton is no slouch as a potential #4 starter. Roy Oswalt, their key acquisition during the season has been lights out for the Phils since coming over from Houston and has pitched brilliantly at home where he will start Game 2. Hamels at 3 is a former ace of the staff. The Reds on the flip side are throwing out a trio of Edison Volquez, journeyman Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto. They will be big underdogs in every pitching matchup throughout the series and given their performance over the season, they aren't likely to shutdown the Phils offense so its key that they get respectable starts that give their juggernaut offense a chance to win them games.

Bullpen : Slight/Big Advantage Phillies. The Phils bullpen is a respectable with veterans that now are entering their 3rd straight postseason. J.C Romero, Ryan Madson, and Kyle Kendrick may be the 3 key middle relief guys that ultimately get the ball to Brad Lidge at the end of games. Lidge was very up and down last year but seems to be better this year and an NL scout said last week "Lidge looks as good now as I've seen him look in years." For the Reds, the bullpen has been a weak point all year. Closer, Frankie Cordero possessed an ERA over 4 most of the year. Veteran Arthur Rhodes may be the one reliable middle relief pitcher they have. Of course, September call-up Aroldis Chapman is the wild card in all of this. His devastating fastball is just as likely to end up 450 feet from home plate as it is in the catcher's mitt. The Reds probably can't count on him to dominate this series so its vital they either get strong starts, or good middle relief, but the hunch here is the bullpen of Cincinnati will see plenty of time in this series.

Series Analysis : The Phillies enter this series as the clear favorites to come out of the National League. Their rotation is perhaps the best of any team in the playoffs and other than the Reds, there's not many teams that can hit with them. The Reds have been underrated all season and been proclaimed dead too many times to count. The consensus is that the Phillies will roll in this series. Immediately, you look at Game 1 and Roy Halladay against Edison Volquez looks like a major mismatch. This series has the potential to see some fireworks with the amount of power in both lineups and the hitter-friendly numbers Citizens Bank Park and Great American Ballpark offer. The Reds likely need this to turn into a slugfest. They don't have the pitching in the rotation or the pen to match Philly so they will need a big series from the likes of Votto, Phillips, Bruce, etc. to have a chance here. Halladay has never pitched a playoff game before so it will be an interesting storyline to see how he handles his first postseason start on Wed. evening. That may be the only hope Cincy has, in that Halladay could struggle in his playoff debut. 84 of the Reds 91 wins this season came against teams that are not in the playoff field. A startling number to consider when evaluating their playoff chances. They were 2-5 against the Phils this season. Everything points to an easy Phillies win, but how many times have we seen that before in sports and ultimately a different result occurs? Thats why they play the games....

Series X-Factor : Reds starting pitching. Its really simple. I cant picture the Phillies starting pitching falling on their face, even against a great lineup that the Reds possess. Cincy can score, but they have to be able to pitch. Cueto was very good against the Phils in his two starts this year, going 1-0 and pitching 7+ innings in both starts. Halladay had two completely different games against the Reds, pitching subpar in a loss @Cincy, but throwing 9 shutout innings in a ND at home the next time they met. If the Reds can't get their starters to give them 5-6 solid innings, its going to be tough for them to win, as their bullpen has not shown this year that they can stop the bleeding. The Reds rotation is a scrappy bunch that doesn't possess a true ace usually a priority for the postseason but nothing about this team all year has been by the book. They shocked most of the baseball world by winning the NL Central over the favored Cardinals. Its in their nature to do what they're not supposed to so we'll have to see if that continues.

Series Prediction : Phillies in 3. If there was one series I had to bet college tuition on, this would be the series. Despite all the possibilities I gave them here, I just dont see it. And I wouldn't even mind being wrong here as I think like most of America, the Reds are a scrappy bunch that are easy to pull for. But they drew the worst possible matchup in the Wild Card Round. Against ATL or SF, they would still be at a pitching disadvantage, but they would have a major edge offensively, something the Phillies can somewhat negate. Unless Halladay just implodes in his playoff debut I don't see anyway the Phillies don't cruise in this series. I almost gave them credit for one win back in Cincinnati and if Im allowed a copout, I'd say this could possibly go 4, but forced to pick, Im going with a sweep. Philly will want to have Halladay ready for Game 1 of the NLCS and I dont think they'll let these scrappy Reds hang around very long. Look for the pitching of Philadelphia to be a force this series and expect 1 or 2 routs in this series, especially Game 1. I would love the Reds to make me look bad and win this series, but they've been terrible against good baseball teams most of the year. I can't see any reason to believe they would all of a sudden change that trend.

Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants

Game 1: Thu October 7th, at San Francisco, 9:37 PM ET- Lowe vs. Lincecum
Game 2: Fri October 8th, at San Francisco, 9:37 PM ET- Hanson vs. Cain
Game 3: Sun October 10th, at Atlanta, 7:07 PM ET- Sanchez vs. Hudson (8:07 if NY/MIN over)
Game 4: Mon October 11th, at Atlanta, 8:37 PM ET- Zito vs. ____ (if nec., 7:37 if only game)
Game 5: Wed October 13th, at San Francisco, 9:37 PM ET (if nec., 8:07 PM if only game Wed)

Lineup : Slight advantage Braves. Neither team has the onslaught of offense that is capable of being put on display in the other NLDS series, but the Braves do have some guys in their lineup capable of swinging them to wins. Brian McCann, Derrick Lee, Jason Heyward, and Troy Glaus are all 15+ HR guys. They led the majors in walks as of late September and led the league in sacrafices as well. The loss of Martin Prado towards the end of the year is a big blow going forward. The Giants are the worst offensive team easily of any playoff team. As of my NL playoff race Part 2 preview, the Giants were 18th in the league in runs then, while the other 3 NL teams in the playoffs were all in the Top 9. With leadoff hitter Andres Torres back, the lineup has been better towards the end of the year. Buster Posey was a big spark to the offense, and Juan Uribe picked up some slack this year to compliment guys like Aubrey Huff and a slumping Pablo "Panda" Sandoval. Pat Burrell also can be a dangerous hitter. Neither team's offense should carry them to too many wins this series as runs should be at a premium.

Starting Rotation : Slight Advantage Giants. Most would classify this as a big advantage to the Giants. Having been the best staff in the the majors in regard to ERA and SO's as well as the ridiculous September their staff just put together to push them to a Division Title, those people would have a strong case. However, those people would also likely forget that Lincecum and Cain have each never thrown a pitch in the postseason. The Braves rotation will feature two guys Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson who have plenty of playoff experience and who have had strong seasons in their own right. Against an offense like the Giants, I think you have to give Lowe and Hudson more potential for a big-time start. Sanchez in Game 3 has been much better this year and Zito, the Game 4 planned starter right now is another playoff vet. The depth of the Giants rotation, and the fact they even have Bumgarner in the case they need a long reliever, gives them the slight advantage over the Braves who will turn to Tommy Hanson as the 3rd starter in their rotation. Jair Jurrjens is a wild card in that his knee may or may not make him available or productive but when healthy, he was pretty good for Atlanta this year.

Bullpen : Slight Advantage Giants. Both teams have great bullpens that have been some of the best in the league. The Braves 5 main relievers including closer Billy Wagner all have sub-3 ERA's and Wagner is one of the most accomplished closers in the game's history. He's been in multiple playoffs and shouldn't face any moment too big. The Giants aren't as deep but have Brian Wilson at the back end to close games, arguably the best closer in baseball this year. Add in the fact the man seems to have no idea what is going on in reality and you can't expect him to be rattled by the heat of the playoffs. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla will be the two main relievers asked to get the ball to Wilson with Guillermo Mota being another vet in the pen. The Giants also haven't needed the depth that the Braves have in their pen given the tendencies of the Giants starters to go deep into games. Both bullpens should see a lot of big innings in this series as I anticipate a low-scoring series with a lot of situational strategical substitutions.

Series Analysis : As I said earlier, like the Tex-TB series, I expect this series to be very close. Its hard to go one way or the other in my mind. The consensus seem to like the Giants because of that rotation at the top. I think you have to factor in the Braves experience, mix of veterans and youngsters, and of course the Bobby Cox factor. The Braves long-time manager will be retiring at season's end. And there is a ton of responsibility Braves players feel they owe him to send him out on top. Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager has only made it out of the Divisional Series Round once in his 15 years on the bench, a WS appearance with San Diego, and has only made the playoffs 4 times in that span. Meanwhile, Bobby Cox has led the Braves to a WS title, multiple WS, and at one point a dominant stretch of division titles. I think a lot hinges on the San Francisco offense. If they can muster a respectable series, I think they have a good chance of advancing to the NLCS. I can't help but trust the Braves startes, namely Hudson and Lowe though. Especially Lowe who had a great playoff tenure with the Red Sox, especially in 04' when he won the Final game of each series. I am concerned about the injuries that cost the Braves Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. Those are two premier members of their team that are tough to replace. They have a few bats in their lineup that can try to pick up the slack but against a team who can keep you in games with their inability to score at times, I question whether the Braves can capitalize enough with the replacements in the lineup throughout the series. A big series from a Jason Heyward or Brian McCann could be a big boost. These two teams were close all season with Atlanta winning the season series 4-3. No reason to think it won't be similar here.

Series X-Factor : Derek Lowe/Matt Cain. I think if either of these two come out with a dominant performance, it could go a long way to helping their team advance. Lowe is starting Game 1 because Hudson had to go in Sunday's finale. Lincecum is obviously expected to pitch great in Game 1, but he had a little bit of a letdown year even though the final numbers were good. They say his mechanics were fixed and thats the reason for his revival but Lowe was 5-0 in the month of September himself, and a big start from him in Game 1 to perhaps steal home field could be huge given the Braves were the best home team in baseball. Cain in Game 2 will be huge coming off Game 1, regardless of the outcome. As mentioned before, Hudson and Lowe are the big two for Atlanta. Matched up against Tommy Hanson in Game 2, thats the game San Francisco HAS TO WIN. Whether its to avoid going down 0-2, or to keep home field, it will be a big start. Cain, like Lincecum finished the year strong but was only a mediocre 13-11 on the year, despite a very respectable 3.14 ERA. They need him to give them a big start for confidence going to Atlanta where it will be a big time challenge to win given the Braves dominance there this year as well as the Giants slightly above average road record this year (43-38).

Prediction : Braves in 4. Im going against what I expect to be the popular pick and taking the Braves here. This is another series I have absolutely no confidence in my pick. I'm not sold that Lincecum and Cain will both give the Giants great starts in the first 2 games. And I have a lot of faith (perhaps too much) in the Braves rotation to really shutdown this pedestrian Giants offense. I think the Braves will be able ti scrap together enough runs to give their starters the support they need. Again, 90% of this prediction is a guest. Im riding the Bobby Cox factor tough and frankly as I said a few weeks ago when I previewed the playoff races, I just think this is an all-East year in the League Championship Series. Look for the Braves to Win Game 1. Thats what I'm basing a lot of this predicition on. I like Lowe a lot in Game 1. The Giants ballpark isn't very hitter-friendly and a ground ball picture like himself should greatly benefit from that. This is just a hunch, but look for Heyward or McCann to have a big series like I said would be key earlier.

Ok so hope all of you aren't bored yet. That took quite a bit of time so hope you all liked it. Now for the big pick. Though I will come back and preview the League Championship Series and the World Series before they happen, I want to get my pre-playoff pick out on the record.

In the World Series this year, I like the Philadelphia Phillies to win a rematch of last year's World Series over the Yankees in 6 games, just like last year. I think they're rotation will prove to be too tough for any team to overcome. I have a feeling Halladay is going to have a MONSTER post-season run and will capture a World Series MVP to cap it off. They shouldn't be seriously challenged by anyone in the National League and thats part of the reason for this pick. I think New York, Tampa, or Texas could come out of the AL so that's why I have a hard time picking the AL to win it. It should be a much more competitive playoffs this year as oppose to last year where the ALDS series were sweeps and Angels never really threatened the Yanks. I think the AL could see perhaps 2 of the 3 series go the distance. The NL this year, I can't help but see it be a lot like last year and 2008 with the Phils cruising. They're just loaded right now and appear to have hit their stride.

Hopefully I either look good with these picks or I get to watch the Yanks and Rays lose. In either case, I'll be happy.

Enjoy the Postseason everyone!
Posted on: September 20, 2010 2:19 am

Down The Stretch- The MLB Playoffs (Part 1)

With the MLB regular season winding down, those of us here at the sportsheadquarters figure what better time to analyze the Pennant Races in each league than in the last 10-12 games of the regular season as we look to lock up the 4 postseason participants of each league and get ready for playoff baseball. Its relatively clear in both leagues what teams have a reasonable chance at the post-season and which ones dont. So with that, below you will get predictions, analysis, and hopefully your feedback on my guide to 2010 MLB Playoff Baseball. Look out for the breakdowns in 3 parts:


Part 1: The American League Preview

Part 2: The National League Preview

Part 3: Playoff Predictions


American League

The American League essentially has its 4 teams locked up heading into the last two weeks. Even as a passionate Red Sox fan, its hard to sit here and give a compelling argument for why the Red Sox will be in the playoffs so for now, we look forward to the American league playoffs with the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, and Minnesota Twins. Hopefully by the end of this, I can sway enough of you to make some money with these picks.

Minnesota Twins -


Why They Could Win The Pennant - First off, the Twins lack the typical American league lineup built on power. Instead the Twins get by on a National League type of offense built on putting the ball in play and taking the extra base when it's there. As a team they have struck out less than all but 2 teams in the league, neither of who will be in the postseason. In retrospect, their likely first round opponent, Tampa Bay has struck out the 3rd most in the majors of all the teams. Minnesota is near the top of the league in 2B's and 3B's, showing that though they may not jack homeruns at a high rate such as the Yankees, and Rangers, they aren't a bunch of single slapping players. Their OBP is 2nd in the majors (to the Yankees). But the backbone of the Twins is their pitching. They have the lowest ERA among all AL playoff teams, and have the 2nd lowest in the AL overall. Carl Pavano has emerged as a potential 1-2 duo with Francisco Liriano to give them as reliable a top of the rotation as any in the AL. They currently have the best Record in the American League and in their brand new park, built for pitching, they gain an advantage if they can keep it of not having to play in the barnbox's of Yankee Stadium or Ballpark at Arlington that favor slugging teams like the Rangers and Yankees. They also dont walk many players, ranking 6th in the majors in fewest walks allowed. In retrospect, the other 3 teams in the AL are all in the bottom half of the league.


Why they Ultimately Wont Win the AL - For one, they have a tough time matching up with a Cliff Lee, C.C Sabathia, or David Price multiple times in a 5 or 7 game series. They lack the true dominant #1 that all the other teams have. They also don't strike out a lot of opponents. They are below .500% against the East as a division which doesn't bode well for a playoffs where two of the 4 teams and their first round opponent will come from the American League East. They have had a miserable time against the Yankees in the postseason in recent years. They dont have the quick strike ability of other teams to get back into games. Each of the other 3 American League teams rank in the Top 11 in the League in HR's while the Twins come in 19th. They don't steal a lot of bases ranking 26th in the majors in that department, well behind the other 3 teams who all rank in the Top 12. They don't have a lot of playoff success on their roster to count, and a lot of their core players are young guys who haven't even played in a World Series, let alone win one. Their bullpen is rather mediocre and they dont have a Rivera or Soriano at the back end whose been consistent all year. They also have grounded into the most DP's of any team in the majors. If they fall behind in games, with their limited power as a team, and the fact they hit into so many DP's. They could hit themselves out of a lot of potential big innings.

Likelihood of Winning the WS (scale of 1-10): 4

Tampa Bay Rays

Why They Could Win The Pennant
- For the Rays it all starts with the pitching. They have the most reliable postseason rotation of any team in the AL, with Price, Garza, Shields. They are only two years removed from playing in the Fall Classic. Offensively, they have the best mixture of power and speed of any team in the American League. They lead the majors in SB, and that only becomes more important with speed in the big outfields of Texas and Tampa Bay to both take base hits away and turn singles into doubles, and doubles into triples. All of their success comes back to their pitching though. They strikeout more batters than any other AL playoff team. Their bullpen has its faults but Soriano has been as good as any closer in the AL this year. They are 2nd in all of baseball in On Base Allowed. Nothing makes defense easier than not letting guys on base. They are a young group who is not afraid of the spotlight or the big stage. They have a winning record against all 3 of the potential playoff opponents. They also have one of the best road records in the league so regardless of whether they have homefield or not, they have proven they can win without it something other teams have not.


Why They Ultimately Wont Win the AL - Given the way the Rays have played all year, there's not a lot to say negative against their chances. They pitch well, have played well against each of the other playoff teams, hit for power, run well. So whats the problem? A couple of TEENIE things that I think come October will do them in. First off, their pitching gives up a ton of Home Runs. 3rd most in the entire league. They have an uncanny ability to let teams back into games. Secondly, the middle of their bullpen isn't the strongest. They don't have a ton of reliable relievers to get them to Soriano. Secondly they do not hit well for average. While the Rangers and Twins are the top 2 teams in the league in average, and the Yanks 7th, the Rays come in at 24th. That comes in large part to the fact they have struck out as a time more than all but two teams in the league. In low-scoring games the difference could be something as little as moving a guy over and with their inability to put the ball in play at times, that could be costly. They also struggle to get big crowds, often to the point where the opponent (most notably the Red Sox and Yankees) is cheered in some games from the opponent's fanbase. Homefield advantage isn't that big a deal if you can't sell tickets. They're the biggest threat to win the pennant of any of my projected 3 losers.

Likelihood of Winning World Series (scale 1-10): 7

Texas Rangers

Why They Could Win The AL Pennant
- The biggest difference between Texas this year and in the past is Cliff Lee. They have always been able to slug. They just couldn't pitch. Cliff Lee has emerged as a front of the rotation pitcher who has proven in the past he could put a team on his shoulders and lead them. There won't be a series they go into where they have to worry about their #1 against another teams. To the obvious part now, they smack the ball like its nobody's business. Ranking first in MLB in average, and 11th in Home Runs, they wont find too many games where they can't score runs. They run pretty well at 7th in the majors in SB. They are great at home, with the 3rd best record in the AL at home. Their bullpen has pretty pretty good most of the year as well, with 4 of their main middle relievers and closer all with ERA's of 2.50 or lower.


Why They Ultimately Wont Win the AL - Alright well where to start. First off the Rangers are terrible on the road. They are the only AL playoff team with a losing record on the road. They have a losing record against TB, are only .500% against the Yankees but get swept in their one trip to the Bronx where there is a good chance they start, and are an atrocious 3-7 against the Twins. They are only two games over .500% against Boston. To sum it up, they dominate the bad teams and struggle against the good ones, 9-15 against the other 3 teams. They don't walk a lot, while TB and NY are the two best in that category. Their rotation after Lee doesn't stack up to almost any of the other teams in the AL and they probably need Lee to win Game 1, and 4 to have a shot. There pitching walks a lot of guys, in retrospect the other teams staffs are all in the Top 11 of fewest walks allowed. They're 22nd in the league in fielding percentage, while the other 3 are all top 8. They also are barely a .500% team since July so they aren't exactly hitting their stride going in. The Rangers have the most holes of any team entering the 2010 American League Playoffs.

Likelihood of Winning World Series (on scale 1-10)- 2


New York Yankees

Why They Will Win the AL Pennant
- The Yankees will enter the 2010 postseason as the defending World Champions. Spear-headed by one of the league's best offenses and a ace in C.C Sabathia who just last year pitched them to World Title #27, they have to be the overwhelming favorites to come out of the American League. The offense ranks 3rd in the league in Home Runs, 7th in Average, 1st in RBI, 2nd in Walks, 1st in Runs, and 3rd in Slugging. In short, they are loaded offensively. The Yankees lineup wears pitchers out like no other in baseball. They have the experience, the depth, the offense, the pitching, and despite age at some positions, are tied for the best fielding percentage in baseball. They have the Godfather of postseason closers at the back end of their bullpen. 4 players with 25 plus homers, and soon to be 5 with 20+. There are few easy outs in their lineup. They have perhaps the most intimidating place to win in all of baseball come October. Add in their playoff history against Minnesota and Texas, and its hard to pick against them to at least not make the ALCS. Add in Any Pettite coming back, Jeter, Posada, Sabathia, and perhaps even A-Rod, and they are filled with players who have played in the biggest game and moreso than any other playoff team won't have too many players with jitters on the field.

What Could Stop Them
- There are a few small things that could ultimately derail another AL Pennant for the Yankees. First off Pettite is coming off an injury where he hasn't pitched in months. Burnett has been a roller coaster all year and Phil Hughes can't be relied upon to be a consistent productive starter. They're rotation is by far their biggest concern entering the playoffs. If another team can get their #2 or #3 guy to pitch well or if one of the other aces (Lee, Price, Pavano/Liriano) can overcome Sabathia in a Game 1, the Yanks could be vulnerable. Their staff like the Rays gives up a bunch of HR's, though in both instances the AL East and most specifically the Jays and Sox contribute to that. 117 out of 140 base stealers have been safe against the Yanks this year. Posada in his older age isn't trusty behind the plate against a team like TB or Texas, each of whom can turn a walk or single into a man on 2nd repeatedly. They also have been very mediocre in one run games this year, only 18-17, so in the playoffs where blowouts are less frequent, they could find themselves in trouble.

Likelihood of Winning World Series: 9


Thanks for reading and hope to hear from all of you as well as hope for your continued reading in parts 2 and 3.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com