The Tenth Inning – Week 23

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The Tenth Inning – Week 23 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

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With the playoffs nearly upon us, it’s time to take a deep look at the contenders in each league. With the AL nearly set, we’ll start there this week, allowing the Rockies and Giants to sort some things out in the NL before we tackle each of the top four next week. So here we go – the four current playoff teams, broken down piece by piece.

New York Yankees
Offense – Probably the best in baseball, and with good reason. The lineup hits for power and average, and boasts incredible balance top to bottom. They have lefties (Damon, Cano, Matsui), righties (Jeter, A-Rod) and a number of switch hitters (Teixeira, Swisher, Posada), all of whom are extremely dangerous. There are no easy outs in this order, which has carried them to the best mark of any team in baseball.

Rotation – Losing Wang hurts the depth, but with a top two of Sabathia and Burnett, this team still has some punch. The issue is the inability of C.C. to pitch well in any of the postseason trips he’s made, though it might be made easier on him this year as opposed to ’08 with Milwaukee, as he won’t be pitching on three days rest at any point in the regular season. If Pettitte can pitch like he has always done in the postseason, the Joba becomes a non-factor.

Bullpen – Rivera’s health is crucial, as he will likely be called on to get multiple inning saves. The set-up situation is sketchy, with Phil Hughes as the only truly reliable option. If Girardi selects the 8-day series in the first round as opposed to the 7-day series, the Joba will not be needed to make a start and can be used in relief, which would certainly help to keep him fresh and keep some of the other relievers off of the mound in big, late-game situations.

Intangibles – Having Derek Jeter on the field is huge, but it’s somewhat overshadowed by the elephant that follows A-Rod around. Rodriguez has never played in a World Series, and every team he’s been on has failed to meet expectations. With the best record and homefield throughout the playoffs in the Yankees corner, anything short of title 27 is a failure, and it will fall on his shoulders if he doesn’t play well. The other issue is Girardi, who will be managing in the postseason for the first time.

Los Angeles Angels
Offense – While they don’t have the names that the Yankees and Red Sox do, the Angels still possess a superb offense, and unlike the two East giants, this team can run. Figgins has 40 stolen bases, Abreu 28, Aybar 13, Izturis 12, and even Hunter has 16 after missing over a month. For the Angels, it’s not about the nine players in the lineup, it’s about the 13 or 14 players on the team, all of whom contribute. This is an AL team with an NL lineup, something Mike Scioscia has used with great success during his time in LA. The only question will be who earns the starts in each game, especially in a crowded outfield.

Rotation – John Lackey continues to lead the rotation and the addition of Scott Kazmir is big, but more pressure will fall to Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders this season, the likely third and fourth starters. They will need to pitch deep into games in order to take pressure off of a sometimes shaky bullpen, entering the playoffs without Francisco Rodriguez for the first time since prior to the World Series. The odd man out is Ervin Santana, who has a 5.52 ERA is 20 starts this season.

Bullpen – As mentioned, the bullpen is shaky, with no K-Rod and virtually nothing all season from Scot Shields. Brian Fuentes has not been as dominant in the closers’ role as K-Rod or his predecessor, Troy Percival, but they have gotten solid years from Darren Oliver and Jason Bulger. This is a team built for tight, low-scoring games, meaning the bullpen will be expected to get the final 6-9 outs against offenses like the Yankees and Red Sox, certainly no easy task by any means.

Intangibles – Mike Scioscia knows how to win, and the Angels have been very good on the road, tying the Yankees for the best road record in the AL at 42-30 thus far. They will likely draw the Red Sox unless the Rangers can catch Boston in the Wild Card, and they have had horrible luck with Boston in the postseason. On the flip side, they’re the one team the Yankees simply do not want to play – LA has owned NY in the postseason during Scioscia’s tenure.

Detroit Tigers
Offense – This team clearly revolves around Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson, two players who are extremely difficult outs. Brandon Inge has had a good power year with 27 HR, but his average is now down to .234, and they still have Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez at the top of the order as well. For the Tigers to succeed, though, the role players will have to step up and perform at the bottom of the order. They probably have the weakest back end of the order of any team, with slick-fielding but soft-hitting Adam Everett at short as the prime example. Those players must come through for a repeat of 2006.

Rotation – Obviously any team with Justin Verlander at the top of the rotation will feel at least comfortable, if not confident, heading into a road series in LA or NY. Plus, he and Nate Robertson were members of the Tigers team that beat the Yankees back in the ’06 LDS. Add a stellar season from Edwin Jackson to the mix – another pitcher with postseason experience – and this could be as good a rotation as any of the other AL teams. They would have no problem with playing the Yankees in the extra-day series and not needing a fourth starter.

Bullpen – It seems like a recurring theme, but the Tigers, too, have bullpen concerns, though they might be the most stable of any postseason team. If Zumaya can remain healthy and pitch as he’s capable of pitching, Detroit will have possibly the hardest thrower in the AL, with Papelbon maybe the lone exception. Add him to Brandon Lyon and Bobby Seay setting up Fernando Rodney, and this team has four quality relievers, something not a lot of other contenders can say.

Intangibles – Jim Leyland has won many games and been in a few postseasons, but he’s never won a World Series. He has more experience than Girardi, but pales to Scioscia and Francona. The team also has a number of players who have made a World Series, but only Cabrera and Jarrod Washburn have actually won one. Sometimes, though, the greenest team can be the better team under pressure.

Boston Red Sox
Offense – With a down year from David Ortiz, the Red Sox lack that one big bat in the middle of the order, but instead they seem to be more balanced than in recent years. Pedroia, Youkilis, Ortiz, Bay, Drew, and Lowell provide a solid middle of the order, no matter how they stack around each other. Jacoby Ellsbury provides a leadoff hitter that is unmatched with regards to speed and excitement in either league. The key is Victor Martinez, who will be the primary catcher in the postseason. He’ll need to hit AND handle the pitching staff as well as Varitek and Mirabelli used to in order for Boston to reach the World Series again.

Rotation – Boston has used just about everyone to start a game for them this season, and still only have Lester and Beckett as reliable postseason options. They’re hoping Matsuzaka and Wakefield can recover from their injuries and pitch well enough in September to earn the 3 and 4 spots as they were expected to in the preseason, but if not the options are somewhat scarce. Clay Buchholz and Junichi Tazawa are the other likely options, not exactly threatening to any of the other contenders.

Bullpen – What Boston lacks in a rotation, they make up for in the bullpen. Papelbon keys the back end, but with set up guys like Hideki Okajimi, Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, and Manny Delcarmen, the Red Sox can still feel comfortable in winning games, even if they get only 5 innings from the back end of their rotation.

Intangibles – This is still very similar to the team that won the 2007 World Series, but without Manny and a potent Ortiz, this team is not nearly what they were offensively. The clutch hitting from Lowell, Pedroia, and Drew will need to re-emerge, and another good postseason from Jason Bay would help as well. Francona knows what buttons to push, but he falls just a little short in matching up in a head game with Leyland or Scioscia.

 

Trivia Question
As we enter playoff mode, we focus on the Yankees, who will try to win the World Series while having homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Who was the last team with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs to win the World Series?

Last week’s answer: Aside from Jim Thome, the other players with 500+ homeruns to be traded mid-season are Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., and Manny Ramirez – all last season.

 

2009 Playoff “Dead List”
May 25 – Washington Nationals
June 1 – Colorado Rockies
June 8 – Baltimore Orioles
June 15 – Arizona Diamondbacks
June 22 – Kansas City Royals
June 29 – Cleveland Indians
July 6 – Oakland Athletics
July 15 – San Diego Padres
July 27 – Pittsburgh Pirates
August 3 – Cincinnati Reds
August 10 – Toronto Blue Jays
August 17 – New York Mets
August 24 – Milwaukee Brewers
August 31 – Houston Astros
September 7 – Chicago White Sox
September 14 – Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa becomes the third playoff team from 2008 to receive the death knell, and after their last two weeks, rightfully so. The defending AL Champs have had a miserable September at a time when they could least afford it, posting a 2-12 record in the month, mostly thanks to an 11-game losing streak. Just two games over .500, 19.5 games behind New York and 12 games behind Boston, the season is officially over for the Rays. But even with a disappointing follow-up to their first ever winning season and the trade of Scott Kazmir, don’t discount this team next year from being even with the Red Sox and just a hair behind the Yankees.

This week, watch for…
1) NL Wild Card Showdown (COL @ SFG)
2) Angels Tough Week (@ BOS; @ TEX)
3) Cards, Dodgers, and Phils Look to Put Divisions Away
STL – vs FLa; vs CHC
LAD – vs Pit; vs SFG
PHI – vs Was; @ Atl

Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper

Send comments on this article to webmaster@ultimatecapper.com

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Jay has been watching and following sports since he could walk and turned to betting in his late teens. His favorite sport is MLB and has been producing winners on UltimateCapper for almost 15 years. Follow Jay's free sports picks and enjoy the winners.