Monday, October 3, 2011

Playoff Preview 2011

 The marathon is over.  One hundred and sixty-two games later, just eight teams remain, all hunting for the right to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy into the October night.  The road to the postseason was exciting for many, with the Rays and the Cardinals sneaking in on the very last day of the regular season – both avoiding potential one-game playoffs for the Wild Card against the free-falling Red Sox (winners of the dubious “worst September collapse in history” distinction) and Braves, respectively.
            Two games into the Division Series at press time, and only the Brewers have an edge (two games to none, over the Diamondbacks).  The Yankees and Tigers, Phillies and Cards, and Rays and Rangers are all tied up, with each team laying claim to a singular LDS victory.  The biggest surprise thus far has to be Cliff Lee’s Game 2 loss, closely followed by James Shields’ disastrous start on Saturday.
            In the best-of-five Division Series, the safest money is on Milwaukee to defeat Arizona in three or four games to advance to the NLCS.  The other series are a bit more convoluted to predict while tied 1-1 each – it essentially means you're predicting the outcome of a best-of-three series; something any baseball fan will tell you is a crapshoot.  Most people are betting on Philadelphia to advance over St. Louis, but the Cards won’t be making it easy, especially since Albert Pujols’ troublesome left ankle didn’t stop him from knocking in the go-ahead run on Saturday to tie the series.
            As for New York and Detroit, the advantage will fall to the team whose ace pulls through Monday evening. Writing this Monday morning, I’m giving the edge to the Yankees and CC Sabathia, despite the apparent Cy Young winner Justin Verlander going for the Tigers at home.  Down in St. Pete, the Rangers have Colby Lewis going against the Rays’ young star David Price.  Price struggled down the stretch, so it’s possible that the 224 innings he pitched in 2011 (by far his career high) are catching up with the young lefty. Conversely, Lewis ended his season with a win, and is 3-0 lifetime against the Rays, so I’m going to give him – and the Rangers – the advantage for Game 3 and the ALDS.
            Assuming all of the above, the ALCS should be Texas vs. New York (Yankees will have home-field advantage), and the NLCS should be Milwaukee vs. Philadelphia (Phillies will have home-field advantage).  This is where the pitching staffs will really start to show; baseball is all about pitching, and one hot or strong-willed started can will his team to a World Series – just ask vintage Josh Beckett (2003, 2007).  Though Texas lacks a Sabathia-caliber ace, the rest of their staff is much more reliable than New York’s: if AJ Burnett were more dependable, the Yankees would have my confidence.  As it is, I’m giving the edge to the Rangers.
            If the Phillies manage to get eliminated before the World Series, it will be seen as a failure.  Like the disgraced BoSox, the Phillies were practically crowned champions in February, before a single game had been played. Their pitching pedigree cannot be questioned, but the Brewers are young, hot, and ambitious. For now, the advantage is with Philly.
            In a Texas-Philadelphia World Series (Philly, as the NL team, has home-field because of the NL win in the All-Star Game), the Phillies win it.  It is, as they say, all about the pitching, and no one can beat the Phillies hurlers, at least on paper.
            However, anyone who has read (or now seen) Michael Lewis’ Moneyball knows that playoffs, and especially best-of-five series, are little better than a roll of the dice. Anything can happen, and probably will: I’m predicting a Phillies-Rangers Fall Classic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Cardinals-Tigers, Diamondbacks-Rays, or Brewers-Yankees. That’s (playoff) baseball.

[Note: the strange timing of this entry - not at the beginning of the LDS - is due to the fact that it was originally written for the Trinity Tripod, and my deadline over there is Monday morning. This means I might already be wrong by the time it comes to press Tuesday night. Oops.]

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