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 21, 2010 10:31 pm

Down The Stretch- The MLB Playoffs (Part 2)

The National League

The roller-coaster ride that is the National League in Major League Baseball is far more compelling than the AL as we enter the last 10 games or so as 6 teams are legitimately fighting for 4 playoff spots (and I'm excluding the Cardinals who are on life support). The NL West keys that finish with three teams, the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, and San Francisco Giants fighting for the division. The Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies appear to be the only teams that can comfortably expect a playoff spot at season's end. As the Phillies are 4 up in the division and 6 up if you consider the Wild Card. 6 wins in the last 11 games all but clinches a playoff spot for Philly who has been on a tear lately. The Atlanta Braves, the 6th team currently possess the NL Wild Card league. There's no guarantee who will be the two playoff teams to join the Phillies and Reds, but one things for sure, your guess is as good as mine.

Colorado Rockies

Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - You know the Halloween movies by John Carpenter where Michael Myers seems to die in every imaginable way, yet come October 31st he's back to cause havoc in Illinois? Well thats the Rockies in the last two months of the baseball season these past few years. The Rockies are sprear-headed offensively by two of the hottest bats in baseball, the man known as CarGo, Carlos Gonzalez, and young SS phenom Troy Tulowitzki. 2nd in the NL in batting average, the Rockies possess one of the strongest lineups in the National League, though the confines of Coors Field can certainly be attributed to some of their success. Up top they have one of the most dominant number 1 starters in all of baseball in Ubaldo Jimenez. They also possess a winning record against 4 of the other 5 potential playoff teams in the NL so matchups seem to favor them in many cases. They are an exceptional team at home with a 51-24 record. Winning in Coors Field will be no easy task for playoff opponents if Colorado gets in. Add in their scortching hot run per usual in the past few weeks to get back into contention and there's not many teams that would be comfortable playing them in Rocktober.

Why They Ultimately Wont Win the NL Pennant - The Rockies have a number of flaws that have to make you question their ability to win the NL pennant. To start, after Jimenez, their rotation is far from reliable. Jason Hammel is 2nd on the team with 10 wins, he also has 8 losses. Against a pitching staff like San Fran, Philly, or even lesser ones like SD or ATL, will they get enough out of their 2-4 starters? Houston Street at the back end of games is shaky at best. The Rockies rank 19th in the majors in saves. They are a HORRID road team. 31-43 on the season and given they will likely finish with a worse record than Philly and possibly Cincy, its unlikely they have home field in any playoff series during the NL playoffs. Like the Yankees in the AL, they are very mediocre in one-run games, 27-26 overall. Add in the fact that the one NL team they don't have a winning record against: the Phillies (1-6 this year) are the two-time defending NL champs, including a quick exit vs. the Phils last year and its hard to pick a team who doesn't match up well against the league's best. Add in they strike out more than every playoff team except TB and 4 of the other 5 potential NL playoff teams rank in the Top 10 in the league in strikeouts and the Rockies may find themselves praying Tulo and Cargo can hold a lot of weight on their backs.

Chances to Make NL Playoffs (on a scale on 1-10) - 5
Chances to Win World Series (scale 1-10) - 2

San Diego Padres

Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - The San Diego Padres are probably the sentimental favorites of many fans around the country who no longer have a horse in a race. A small budget team with few big name stars, most probably can't explain how they are still here in the race come the last week and a half of the season. The Padres chances to win the Pennant rest squarely on the shoulders of their pitching staff. 2nd in the NL in ERA. 2nd in the NL is SO. One of the top closers in the league in Heath Bell. A ballpark not friendly to hitting which could help them against lineups like the Reds, Rockies, and Phils. An underrated factor in their favor is they will essentially have no pressure to win. Philly is expected to win. Atlanta is desperate for Bobby Cox. The Giants hear 1954 constantly. Cincy is viewed as a now or never. San Diego will likely be the underdog in any series they play which can only light a fire under guys. The acquisition of Miguel Tejada to compliment Adrian Gonzalez has been a small spark for the Pads. They are the most lethal base stealing team in the NL with only the Phillies being another potential playoff team in the Top 10. With 4 pitchers with double digit wins, and 3 with 12+ wins (all with 3.70 or lower ERA's), the Pads have the pitching that is essential for October success. They also rank tied for 1st with the Yankees as the best fielding team in baseball. They have been pretty consistent at home or on the road so unlike other teams, they dont seem to base a ton of their success on home field.  The Question is....

Why They Ultimately Won't Win the NL Pennant - Do they have the offense? And its hard to not say "No they do not." They rank in the bottom 10th of the league in Average, Home Runs (which their park does hurt), hits, XBH. To be frank, their offense is pretty anemic. If teams merely pitch around Gonzalez (who in his own right has just broken out of a HR slump), can anyone else pick up the slack to get runs across for the Pads? Adrian Gonzalez is the only player on the roster with more than 12 home runs. They simply can't expect to win many games where they don't get great pitching. They have a losing record against 3 of the other 5 potential playoff teams (Phi, Atl, Col) and even against Cincy are only 2-1. They also have been limping to the finish line. Since July 1st they are only 3 games over .500%. Not exactly hitting their stride entering and they've blown a big division lead to the point where now two teams are with them. Also going down to the end of the season, they may have to play to the last day of the season to get a spot, finishing the year with a 3 game series @San Fran, so unlike other teams, they may not even be able to set up their rotation.

Chances of Making NL Playoffs (scale 1-10)- 5
Chances of Winning World Series (scale 1-10)- 1

San Francisco Giants

Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - The San Francisco Giants are an even more extreme version of the Padres. Their pitching is best in the majors in both ERA and SO's. They have one of the deepest rotations of any team in baseball led by the dynamic duo of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. However, they have a veteran in Barry Zito with playoff experience under his belt as well as the young Jonathan Sanchez. Brian Wilson has been great all year for one of the best bullpens in baseball featuring 3 consistent relievers with ERA's under 2.35. Defensively they are very strong, ranking tied for 2nd in Fielding %. They are on of the few teams who can feel confident going into any series that they can match up start for start with any team. At 15 games over .500% at home, they also have a strong home-field advantage. They have heated up in the 2nd half of the year ala Colorado with a 44-29 mark since July. A respectable record in one-run games at 26-23. With a fanbase starving for a World Series, they should be able to get a rowdy towel waving crowd in the seats for their home games. They give up very few HR's which would make sense when you consider their ERA and staff, as well as a favorable home pitching ballpark, but against teams like Philly, Colorado, or Cincy, that could be big. But like San Diego it all leads back to....

Why They Ultimately Won't Win the NL Pennant - The Giants are DREADFUL in the SB department which becomes even more important in the NL where its less about power and more about manufacturing runs. The Giants rank last in all of baseball in SB's, yet they've given up more than any team in the NL. Against lineups like Philadelphia, Colorado, or Cincy, the task is tall enough for the pitchers to be asked to keep the Giants in the game with limited run support, but add in the fact that they simply can't throw runners out and its bordering on unrealistic. Barry Zito in his last 9 starts has something along the lines of an 0-7 record, two of those being 1-0 losses. The Giants can't score runs. Only SD is worse of the potential NL playoff teams. SF comes in at 18th while the 4 teams ahead of them from the playoff contenders are in the Top 9. Bruce Bochy as a manager has only been to the NLCS or further once in his 15 years on the bench and only 4 playoff appearences total, while guys like Cox and Manuel have been to multiple WS and each has a ring to their credit. Managerially, they are one of the least experienced clubs. Their two aces have yet to pitch in a playoff game. 54 of their 84 wins this year have come against NL teams that won't be in the playoffs. Add in their AL schedule and 61 of their wins have come against non-playoff teams from the two leagues. They dominate weak teams and have struggled with good teams, with losing records against ATL, SD, COL, and are only .500% against PHI. Only CIN do they have a winning record against. With two of their final 4 series to end the year against COL and SD, they don't have an easy schedule going forward.

Chances to make NL Playoffs (scale 1-10) - 6
Chances to win World Series- 4

Atlanta Braves

Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - First off the easiest argument is the Bobby Cox factor. On record as saying this will be his last year on the Braves bench, if there's a team who has more motivation to win than the Atlanta Braves I'd love to see it. Bobby Cox IS Atlanta Braves baseball. Chipper Jones, though done likely rides off into the sunset if they win it this year. Now to the on-the-field reasons Atlanta has a shot. As is the common theme with many NL teams, Atlanta is armed with a strong rotation. From Tim Hudson to Derek Lowe to Jair Jurrjens to Tommy Hanson they have a solid 1-4. Billy Wagner at the back end of the bullpen is one of the greatest closers ever. They gave up the 2nd fewest HR's all year in a ballpark that unlike SD or SF isn't overly generous to pitchers. Their bullpen as a whole has been great this year with all 5 of their key relievers possessing ERA's of 3.05 or lower. They possess a winning record of everyone potential NL playoff opponent except Colorado. Offensively they aren't SD or SF-like in that they do have some pop in their lineup. 6 players have double digit HR's and 5 with 15 or more. The acquisition of Derek Lee bolstered the lineup slightly more. They don't hit a ton of Home Runs but they lead the NL in walks so they are one of the best teams in the NL in manufacturing runs, in the top 5 in the majors in sacrifices. If they steal a game on the road, they have the best home record in all of baseball, so they have the ability to end series quick if they can grab a road win.

Why They Ultimately Wont Win the NL Pennant - Despite this team's very good rotation, they don't have a single dominant #1 on their roster. No pitcher they can look to against a Lincecum, Halladay, Jimenez, Latos, etc. In fact its anyone's guess who will start the playoffs for them. Secondly, they are likely going to be the WC if they do get in seeing as they are fading behind Philly. Atlanta has one of the worst road records of any team competing for a playoff spot. They can't afford to drop a home game at all because the likelihood of them winning two road games in a 5 or 7 game series is slim. They are an under .500% team in one-run games and 10 games over .500% in blowout games (5+ runs) so when they win its preferably by a wide margin. When the games are close, they've struggled and that's alarming in playoff baseball where its rare you see a ton of lopsided games. Atlanta IMO is one of the biggest threats to Philadelphia repeating as NL champs, but they will need a few breaks to go their way in order to derail the two-time NL champs.

Chances of Making NL Playoffs (scale 1-10) - 7
Chances of Winning World Series- 6

Cincinnati Reds

Why They Could Win The NL Pennant - Contrary to the majority of NL teams, the Reds are built with their electric offense and a pitching staff that tries to hold up. The Reds lead the NL in Average, Home Runs, RBI, tied for most XBH, and despite their potent offense have grounded into fewer double plays than all but 3 playoff teams. 4 guys in their lineup with over 20 HR's and 6 with 16 or more, they have AL power in the National League. Another team who has been almost equally good at home or on the road, their offense negates some of the power advantage teams like Philly or Colorado enjoy at their home fields. If it seems like its all about the Reds offense well....it is. They are incapable of winning the NL pennant without a strong performance from their offense. They do have some veterans who have playoff success including Rolen, Arroyo (at least out of the pen), Orlando Cabrera. The X factor for Cincy going forward could be recent callup Aroldis Chapman. There's no book on the guy yet and with stuff as electric as his, it could have a K-Rod like effect from 2002 on the Reds playoff chances.

Why They Ultimately Won't Win the NL Pennant - The Reds possess the worst pitching staff of probably all the playoff teams. Its that simple. Their #1 starter going into the playoffs will likely be Bronson Arroyo, an MLB journeyman. Johnny Cueto, Aaron Harang, and Mike Leake have been their other main starters this year. Only Cueto has double digit wins after Arroyo, on a team that has 85 win. Their staff is medicore by committee. Colorado is the only team in the NL playoff chase with a higher ERA. Part of that is their stadium though. Their bullpen has one core reliever with an ERA under 3.40 with their closer having an ERA over 4. They can't count on their bullpen to close tight games. They're an even more extreme version of San Francisco in regards to their wins. 10-19 against the other 5 potential playoff teams and a losing record against all. 67 of their 85 wins coming against NL teams who wont be in the playoffs, add the AL teams in and 75 of their 85 wins have come against teams who won't be in the playoffs. Only a .500% team in one-run games. They haven't proven they can beat quality teams all year. I can't see a reason to think they'd start now.

Chances of Winning World Series (scale 1-10) - 2

Philadelphia Phillies -

Why They Will Win the NL Pennant - The most complete team in the NL by far. They have probably the best pitching staff in all of baseball with maybe only TB and SF in the argument. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels anchor a rotation that can match up in any format, best of 5, best of 7, start on short rest, start on regular rest. Add in an explosive offense and they are easily the favorites to win the NL for a 3rd straight year. Their offense isn't as strong as Colorado's or Cincy's this year, but they still have 5 players with 15 or more HR's. They are the best base stealing team in the league at an 83% success rate though SD has stole more total. Only the Rockies draw more walks of NL playoff teams. Add in a pitching rotation that is 7th in the majors in ERA, with the 3 NL playoff teams above them (SD,SF,ATL) not combining the hitting with the pitching that Philly does. They will likely have homefield throughout the entire playoffs with the NL's All-Star game win this year and with a 51-28 home record, that is a tall task for any team to overcome. 12 games over .500% in one-run games, 49-26 since July, they are hitting their stride. Jimmy Rollins is back and healthy after missing time giving them their complete lineup. They have won the past two pennants and one WS so no stage will be too tall for them and they added arguably the best pitcher in baseball though it was at the expense of Cliff Lee. They are 25-15 against the other 5 playoff contending teams. There's so much going in their favor to pick them out of the NL, its hard to see them getting beat.

What Could Stop Them - There's very little to point to in Philly's case against them. Brad Lidge hasn't been dominant since they won their last World Series in 08'. Thats one area where they are vulnerable. Their home field could play just as favorably to some other power teams though it didn't bother them vs. Colorado last year. They have a winning record on the road, but only 6 games over .500%. As you can tell Im reaching here to come up with reasons. How about a little history. The last team to win 3 straight NL pennants was the St. Louis Cardinals between 1942-1944. Maybe history will be on the other teams side to derail Philly this year......not much else is.

Chances to Win World Series (scale 1-10) - 9
* As my scale shows, I anticiapate a Philly, Atlanta, Cincy, and SF playoffs in the NL this year.
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