2011 MLB Playoff Preview and Predictions

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The Tenth Inning – Week 5 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

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By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer

I am, without question, one of the most avid sports fans on the planet, and that was easily the best day of regular season action I have ever seen in any sport – period. I’ve been a proponent of adding a second wild-card team for a while now (there was actually this article published on this site two years ago that I actually wrote way back in 2005), but that drama certainly delivered everything I’ve ever wanted out of a wild card race, and then some. I’ll still hold that if there actually was a one-game playoff, that would have allowed the Giants and Angels to stay in the race longer, thus creating even MORE drama, but we won’t ever really know that for sure. Instead, enjoy Wednesday for what it was, and then turn your attention to Friday, like we are doing here at the Ultimate Capper. It’s time to get saddled up for October baseball!

A reminder that all Division Series games will air on TBS, with the exception of Tex-Tam Game 2, which will air on TNT. The NLCS will air exclusively on TBS, while the ALCS and World Series will air exclusively on FOX.

Note: Numbers in parentheses for hitters represent full season totals for batting average, homeruns, and RBI’s. Numbers in parentheses for pitchers represent full season win-loss record and ERA, with saves added for bullpen pitchers. Stats have been combined for players who played for multiple teams.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE
New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers
Game 1 – Friday, September 30, 8:37pm @ New York
Game 2 – Saturday, October 1, 8:37pm @ New York
Game 3 – Monday, October 3, 8:37pm @ Detroit
*Game 4 – Tuesday, October 4, TBA @ Detroit
*Game 5 – Thursday, October 6, TBA @ New York

Projected Yankees Lineup                                          Projected Tigers Lineup
SS Derek Jeter (.297, 6, 61)                                      CF Austin Jackson (.249, 10, 45)
CF Curtis Granderson (.262, 41, 119)                     3B Wilson Betemit (.292, 5, 19)
2B Robinson Cano (.302, 28, 118)                           LF Delmon Young (.274, 8, 32)
3B Alex Rodriguez (.276, 16, 62)                              1B Miguel Cabrera (.344, 30, 105)
1B Mark Teixeira (.248, 39, 111)                               DH Victor Martinez (.330, 12, 103)
RF Nick Swisher (.260, 23, 85)                                 C Alex Avila (.295, 19, 82)
DH Jorge Posada (.235, 14, 44)                               RF Magglio Ordonez (.255, 5, 32)
C Russell Martin (.237, 18, 65)                                 SS Jhonny Peralta (.299, 21, 86)
LF Brett Gardner (.259, 7, 36)                                   2B Ramon Santiago (.260, 5, 30)

Projected Yankees Rotation                                       Projected Tigers Rotation
G1 – LP C.C. Sabathia (19-8, 3.00)                         G1 – RP Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.39)
G2 – RP Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70)                                G2 – RP Doug Fister (11-13, 2.83)
G3 – RP Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62)                        G3 – RP Max Scherzer (15-9, 4.43)
G4 – LP C.C. Sabathia (19-8, 3.00)                         G4 – LP Ricky Porcello (14-9, 4.75)
G5 – RP Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70)                                G5 – RP Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.39)

Projected Yankees Bullpen                                         Projected Tigers Bullpen
Closer – RP Mariano Rivera (1-2, 1.91, 49)               Closer – RP Jose Valverde (2-4, 2.24, 49)
Set-Up – RP David Robertson (4-0, 1.08, 4)             Set-Up – RP Joaquin Benoit (4-3, 2.95, 2)
Set-Up – RP Alfonso Soriano (2-3, 4.12, 5)               Set-Up – LP Phil Coke (3-9, 4.47, 1)

Analysis
Once again, the entire American League is looking up and the Yankees, which has become commonplace over the last 16 years. The issues surrounding this team are immense, however, beginning with their starting pitching. Nova is untested, and manager Joe Girardi will go with Garcia in game three ahead of A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon, two pitchers with arguably better stuff but a better chance of imploding. If Soriano can stabilize the seventh inning to get the ball to Robertson and ultimately Rivera, the Yankees will be able to do what they were always able to do in the late 90’s in creating a 6-inning game, but that is another big question mark. Plus players like Swisher, Rodriguez, and Martin have all struggled historically in the postseason, so offensive production will be another area of potential turmoil. All of that said, there’s no question that this is the most talented team in the postseason, so if the Yankees simply play to their potential, they’ll be playing for quite a while.

Manager Jim Leyland claims he will not entertain the idea of bringing Justin Verlander back on short rest in game four, even if the Tigers are trailing 2-1. That’s welcome news to the Yankees, who have three shots to beat up on three average pitchers (yes, that’s what Fister is no matter how good he’s been with Detroit) in order to avoid another matchup with the hands-down Cy Young and potential MVP in game five. That said, Verlander has been the single best pitcher this entire season, so it’s quite possible the Tigers will actually be up 1-0 after game one, regardless of how well Sabathia pitches. Valverde is channeling his inner-Brad Lidge, going a perfect 49/49 in save opportunities this season, so it’s not likely there will be many blown leads in this series. The key for Detroit will be Cabrera – if he can provide that dangerous bat in the middle of the order that Girardi and the Yankees have to work around, that could help the Tigers score enough runs to win this series. That means Martinez, Avila, and company will all need to produce big hits to help negate any potential explosion by the Yankee offense.

Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Game 1 – Friday, September 30, 5:07pm @ Texas
Game 2 – Saturday, October 1, 7:07pm @ Texas
Game 3 – Monday, October 3, 5:07pm @ Tampa Bay
*Game 4 – Tuesday, October 4, TBA @ Tampa Bay
*Game 5 – Thursday, October 6, TBA @ Texas

Projected Rangers Lineup                                           Projected Rays Lineup
2B Ian Kinsler (.255, 32, 77)                                      LF Desmond Jennings (.259, 10, 25)
SS Elvis Andrus (.279, 5, 60)                                     CF B.J. Upton (.243, 23, 81)
LF Josh Hamilton (.298, 25, 94)                                 3B Evan Longoria (.244, 31, 99)
1B Michael Young (.338, 11, 106)                             RF Matt Joyce (.277, 19, 75)
3B Adrian Beltre (.296, 32, 105)                                DH Johnny Damon (.261, 16, 73)
C Mike Napoli (320, 30, 75)                                       2B Ben Zobrist (.269, 20, 91)
DH Nelson Cruz (.263, 29, 87)                                   1B Casey Kotchman (.306, 10, 48)
RF David Murphy (.275, 11, 46)                                C Kelly Shoppach (.176, 11, 22)
CF Endy Chavez (.301, 5, 27)                                     SS Reed Brignac (.193, 1, 15)

Projected Rangers Rotation                                        Projected Rays Rotation
G1 – LP C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94)                               G1 – LP Matt Moore (1-0, 2.89)
G2 – RP Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95)                          G2 – RP James Shields (16-12, 2.82)
G3 – LP Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39)                           G3 – LP David Price (12-13, 3.49)
G4 – RP Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40)                           G4 – RP Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.95)
G5 – LP C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94)                               G5 – RP James Shields (16-12, 2.89)

Projected Rangers Bullpen                                         Projected Rays Bullpen
Closer – RP Neftali Feliz (2-3, 2.74, 32)                    Closer – RP Kyle Farnsworth (5-1, 2.18, 25)
Set-Up – RP Mike Adams (5-4, 1.47, 2)                    Set-Up – RP Joel Peralta (3-4, 2.93, 6)
Set-Up – LP Darren Oliver (5-5, 2.29, 2)                   Set-Up – RP Juan Cruz (5-0, 3.88, 0)

Analysis
The Rangers make no bones about what their objective is – hit, hit, and hit some more and hope they can score enough to give their starting pitching staff the ability to turn the ball over to their bullpen with a lead. Wilson is a legitimate front-line starter, but after Holland there really isn’t much left to make a huge difference. Texas relied on Cliff Lee for two of their five wins over the Rays last year, and that won’t be possible this year. Also, noticeably absent from the rotation list is Alexi Ogando – he’ll likely be used out of the bullpen after struggling in the second half. That said, this is the best lineup in the entire postseason, and really it’s not even close. Texas should be able to swing their way to the LCS if they can manage to get to the Tampa starters early in the games – before they get into a grove. If Rays manager Joe Maddon has a quick hook in any game, then Texas will have accomplished its goal. Feliz is tremendous in the back end, as well, so the Rangers have to feel confident with the way their team is configured. They real question, though, is can they stop what appears to be a magical run for the Rays? After Wednesday, you can bet Ron Washington will be instructing his pitchers not to throw anything close to Longoria for the entire series.

Speaking of Longoria, the man just earned every dollar of his contract by giving the Rays at least three more games this 2011 season. If he and B.J. Upton, the lone contributors left from the ’08 team that lose to the Phillies in the World Series, can continue to produce at the rate they did in September, this team has the ability to beat absolutely anyone still left standing. The five-man unit of Price, Hellickson, Shields, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis give Maddon some options, but in a bit of a shocking move the lefty Moore will get the ball in game one and Shields, who was scheduled to pitch a possible one-game playoff, will get the ball in game two. Hellickson will likely be held back for game four, with Price on normal rest in game three, and Shields, who would then be on normal four days rest, would be set to pitch a decisive game five. Since Texas is a very balanced team, the toss-up between Davis and Niemann is exactly that – a toss-up, but Davis pitched last postseason, so we’ll assume he gets the nod in game two. All of that could change, but regardless of who throws, the Rays will have to play their typically stellar defense and keep the games close in order to pull off another stunner. The much-maligned bullpen actually got the job done for Tampa the last two weeks, but they’ll need to continue that – and then some – if Tampa wants to get back to the World Series.

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NATIONAL LEAGUE
Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Game 1 – Saturday, October 1, 5:07pm @ Philadelphia
Game 2 – Sunday, October 2, 8:07pm @ Philadelphia
Game 3 – Tuesday, October 4, TBA @ St. Louis
*Game 4 – Wednesday, October 5, TBA @ St. Louis
*Game 5 – Friday, October 7, TBA @ Philadelphia

Projected Phillies Lineup                                            Projected Cardinals Lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins (.268, 16, 63)                                 CF Jon Jay (.297, 10, 37)
2B Chase Utley (.259, 11, 44)                                     LF Allen Craig (.315, 11, 40)
RF Hunter Pence (.314, 22, 97)                                  1B Albert Pujols (.299, 37, 99)
1B Ryan Howard (.253, 33, 116)                               RF Lance Berkman (.301, 31, 94)
CF Shane Victorino (.279, 17, 61)                              3B David Frese (.297, 10, 55)
LF Raul Ibanez (.245, 20, 84)                                     C Yadier Molina (.305, 14, 65)
3B Placido Polanco (.277, 5, 50)                                2B Skip Schumaker (.283, 2, 38)
C Carlos Ruiz (.283, 6, 40)                                         SS Nick Punto (.278, 1, 20)
P TBA                                                                         P TBA

Projected Phillies Rotation                                         Projected Cardinals Rotation
G1 – RP Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35)                           G1 – RP Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39)
G2 – LP Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40)                                   G2 – LP Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56)
G3 – LP Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79)                             G3 – RP Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45)
G4 – RP Roy Oswalt (9-10, 3.69)                              G4 – RP Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3.79)
G5 – RP Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35)                           G5 – RP Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39)

Projected Phillies Bullpen                                           Projected Cardinals Bullpen
Closer – RP Ryan Madson (4-2, 2.37, 42)                  Closer – RP Fernando Salas (5-6, 2.28, 24)
Set-Up – RP Brad Lidge (0-2, 1.40, 1)                      Set-Up – RP Octavio Dotel (3-3, 3.28, 2)
Set-Up – LP Antonio Bastardo (6-1, 2.64, 8)             Set-Up – RP Jason Motte (5-2, 2.25, 9)

Analysis
The Phillies have built this team for just this moment – the postseason. The four big guns in the rotation are expected to carry this team to a championship, but they didn’t draw as favorable a matchup as they would have had the Braves beaten the Cardinals in the Wild Card race. Instead of facing a young and inexperienced Arizona squad, the Phillies instead get a veteran-laden St. Louis team that is riding high after winning 16 of their final 21 games – including three of four from the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. In order for the Phillies to reach their goal, however, they must hit at least a little to support the pitching staff, because if it becomes a battle of bullpens at any point, Philadelphia loses its biggest advantage. This is a team that’s known for their clutch hits, but only Pence hit .300 for the year, and he spent half of it in Houston. And remember, the Phillies offense struggled mightily down the stretch during that 8-game losing sreak and the finished in the middle of the pack in runs scored, and that’s without having to face the best starting pitching staff in baseball – their own.

The Cardinals are hot, but their hopes of advancing beyond the LDS are stymied slightly after learning they will have to play this series without Matt Holliday or Rafael Furcal, both nursing injuries that might prevent them from even being included on the roster. The key for St. Louis will be winning one of the first two games on the road, setting up a game three at Busch Stadium with Carpenter on the mound. That game is only starting pitching matchup that clearly favors the Cardinals, and in the history of the LDS, the winner of game three is 52-16 all-time in winning the series. The question for Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is how he’ll fill-in his rotation leading up to Carpenter. Lohse has postseason experience and pitches well against the Phillies, and he was slated to pitch if there was a need for a one-game playoff, so I’d look for him to get the ball in game one. The Cardinals still have the most feared hitter in the game in Pujols, who singlehandedly changes the way opposing managers work the game.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Game 1 – Saturday, October 1, 2:07pm @ Milwaukee
Game 2 – Sunday, October 2, 4:37pm @ Milwaukee
Game 3 – Tuesday, October 4, TBA @ Arizona
*Game 4 – Wednesday, October 5, TBA @ Arizona
*Game 5 – Friday, October 7, TBA @ Milwaukee

Projected Brewers Lineup                                          Projected Diamondbacks Lineup
RF Corey Hart (.285, 26, 63)                                      3B Ryan Roberts (.249, 19, 65)
CF Nyjer Morgan (.304, 4, 47)                                   2B Aaron Hill (.246, 8, 61)
LF Ryan Braun (.332, 33, 111)                                   RF Justin Upton (.289, 31, 88)
1B Prince Fielder (.299, 38, 120)                                C Miguel Montero (.282, 18, 86)
2B Rickie Weeks (.269, 20, 49)                                  1B Paul Goldschmidt (.250, 8, 26)
3B Casey McGhee (.223, 13, 67)                               CF Chris Young (.236, 20, 71)
SS Yuniesky Betancourt (.252, 13, 68)                      LF Gerardo Parra (.292, 8, 46)
C Jonathan Lucroy (.269, 12, 59)                               SS Willie Bloomquist (.266, 4, 26)
P TBA                                                                         P TBA

Projected Brewers Rotation                                        Projected Diamondbacks Rotation
G1 – RP Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52)                     G1 – RP Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88)
G2 – LP Randy Wolf (13-10, 3.69)                            G2 – RP Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49)
G3 – RP Zach Greinke (16-6, 3.83)                            G3 – LP Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69)
G4 – RP Shaun Marcum (13-7, 3.54)                         G4 – RP Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88)
G5 – RP Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52)                     G5 – RP Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49)

Projected Brewers Bullpen                                         Projected Diamondbacks Bullpen
Closer – RP John Axford (2-2, 1.95, 46)                    Closer – RP J.J. Putz (2-2, 2.17, 45)
Set-Up – RP Francisco Rodriguez (6-2, 2.64, 23)      Set-Up – RP David Hernandez (5-3, 3.38, 9)
Set-Up – RP Kameron Loe (4-7, 3.50, 1)                   Set-Up – LP Joe Patterson (0-3, 2.91, 1)

Analysis
While Philadelphia might have the single best component of the big three aspects of the game (starting pitching, lineup, and bullpen), Milwaukee is probably the most complete team considering all of those elements. The Brewers have four starters who all won 10 games and had sub-4.00 ERA’s, something even the Phillies can’t say. Plus, with Axford (2 blown saves all season, none since April 18) and K-Rod (0 earned runs in last 16.2 innings) solidifying the back end of the bullpen, the Brewers can essentially turn their games into seven-inning contests. Combine that with the best 1-2 punch in any postseason lineup with Braun and Fielder, and the best home-field advantage of any team in baseball (57-24 at home in 2011), and suddenly it’s really not a stretch to see this team winning an NL pennant for the first time. The biggest thing for Milwaukee will be to avoid getting overwhelmed by either Philadelphia or St. Louis – two teams with infinitely more postseason experience – if they get to the LCS. Role players like Hart and Weeks looked overmatched in 2008 against the Phillies, and they’ll be needed to provide support for Braun and Fielder for the entire postseason in order for Milwaukee to turn the clock back to 1982.

Every four years it seems like there’s a “new” team that arrives on scene with loads of young talent, and this year it’s Arizona. As the newcomer, the D-backs can go one of two-ways – they can be the “shock-the-world” newbies like the ’03 Marlins and run the table to a World Series championship, or they can be the more common “we’re-a-little-too-unprepared-for-this-right-now” team and bow out quickly, in the same manner as the ’95 Yankees, ’99 D-backs, and ’07 Phillies, all of which won a title within the next two seasons. Had they been playing the Phillies, where all they needed was to get great starting pitching to even the playing field, their chances would have actually been better. As it is, Milwaukee is better in all three phases of the game, plus the Brewers have home-field, so the new “baby Backs” will have to measure up quickly to avoid an early exit. As such, I’d expect manager Kirk Gibson to roll out Ian Kennedy on short rest ahead of Josh Collmenter if the series goes to a game four, which would then allow Daniel Hudson to pitch a potential game five back in Milwaukee on full rest. If it works, this could be the next shocking World Series winner. History dictates, though, that they’ll likely follow the more common path and return in ’12 or ’13 as a potential NL front-runner.

PREDICTIONS
League Division Series
New York 3, Detroit 1 – Verlander will beat Sabathia in game one, but the Yankees lineup is simply too good for the rest of the Detroit staff. Even if Leyland goes with Verlander in game four, Sabathia has much more experience on short rest and will atone for game one
Texas 3, Tampa Bay 2 – Unlike last year, Texas doesn’t have Cliff Lee, but their rotation is still better than many think. They’ll mash their way to the second round and a rematch with the Yankees, ending the Rays dream run.
Philadelphia 3, St. Louis 2 – I don’t like the Philly offense, but there’s no way this team loses a short series with home-field AND those four horses. The Cardinals give them all they can handle, but it’s not enough without Holliday and Furcal.
Milwaukee 3, Arizona 1 – Greinke isn’t great on the road, so I’ll give Arizona a game three win, but the Brewers lineup is simply too good. Milwaukee’s starting staff will challenge the D-backs lineup, and that’s a matchup Arizona simply can’t win.

League Championship Series
New York 4, Texas 2 – The Rangers actually have the better ballclub right now, but the Yankees to have Sabathia, who’s better than anyone in the Texas rotation. Expect a lot of high-scoring games between these two team in these two ballparks, but in the end the Yankees will ultimately get their revenge on the Rangers, who ended their season a year ago.
Milwaukee 4, Philadelphia 2 – While the Phillies starters are a notch ahead of Milwaukee’s, the Brewers are better in the single-biggest playoff area – bullpen. Just ask the Phillies (see: Lidge, Brad – 2008). Once Halladay, Lee, and Hamels leave the game, it’s all advantage Brewers.

World Series
I typed this paragraph four times, each time trying to find a way to convince myself the Brewers can beat the Yankees in a seven-game series, but even with Milwaukee having home-field, I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger. The Yankees can hit from 1-9 in the order, and have two pitchers in Sabathia and Rivera that are better than anyone on the Brewers. I’d love to see C.C. start a game in Milwaukee just to see the reception, and these two teams would certainly provide a tremendous series, but in the end there’s no way this postseason comes to a close without the world’s most obnoxious fan base (save for all Philadelphia sports fans) celebrating their 28th World Series championship.
New York 4, Milwaukee 3

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