The Tenth Inning – Week 26 Playoff Preview and Picks

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The Tenth Inning – Week 26 – Playoff Preview and Picks ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


By Mike Ivcic

This is going to be a really hard column to write, because it’s extremely difficult to project how a postseason will turn out when a quarter of the final eight teams haven’t even been determined yet. The Yankees and Nationals have to sit and wait, watching Friday’s games before boarding a plane and traveling to the site of their first two LDS games. It’s the price we’re paying for these one-game playoff scenarios, but it’s only for a year, so we’ll take it (or at least I will).


That said, a quick look at the five biggest things I got wrong and the five biggest things I got right from the preseason predictions column for the AL and NL. We’re starting with the bad first so I can end on a good note and feel better about myself when it’s all said and done.

Five Things I Got Wrong
1) The Los Angeles Angels will win the World Series. Ok, so it’s probably never a good thing when your preseason champion fails to even make the playoffs, so it’s the most obvious place to start. But many other experts agreed that this LA team was built to make a deep October run, and no one (and I mean no one) saw this A’s team doing what they did in the second half, so I almost feel like this one’s not really as bad as some of the others because everyone missed this.

2) The Atlanta Braves will finish last in the NL East. This prediction looked great for about a week and a half, when the Braves started off slowly and struggled to get their footing. Then the talent on this team meshed and Atlanta took off, solidifying the first wild card spot with about two weeks to go in the season. Nice work by the Braves, and a terrible performance by me on this one.

3) The Boston Red Sox will finish second in the AL East and make the playoffs. This one is solely on me. So many pundits and experts looked at this roster and the hiring of Bobby Valentine as a toxic mix, and they were right. Boston turned in their worst performance in more than five decades, and Valentine, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Diasuke Matuszaka are all casualties of the season. The feel will be much different at Fenway for the next couple of seasons while this team recovers from the last two seasons.

4) All three last-place finishers in the American League. Had the White Sox managed to hold off the Tigers in the AL Central and clinch that bid, I would have had all three teams that I picked to finish last make the playoffs – which, coupled with the Braves, would have been probably the first time in history that someone had four last-place picks make the postseason. Even still, the A’s and Orioles surprised me tremendously, and I’ll be rooting for the winner of Texas and Baltimore throughout the AL playoffs.

5) The San Diego Padres will be the worst team in baseball. A solid month of August lifted the Padres past the Rockies in the NL West, and past more than a handful of teams in the overall standings. Perhaps there’s something starting to brew along the coast, as San Diego tries to begin the difficult climb to the top of a surprisingly tough division. Either way, the Astros were pitiful and the Padres were somewhat less pitiful than that, so I was wrong here.

Five Things I Got Right
1) The New York Mets won’t finish last in the NL East. I’m hanging my hat on this sucker because everyone thought this group would lose 100 games and that the NL East was a four-team race. As it happened, the Mets were more competitive than both the Marlins and Phillies through the All-Star break before their late-July tailspin, but still took care of enough games to finish 5 ahead of Miami and only 7 behind Philadelphia. Now if only the owner had some money to spend this offseason…

2) The first three teams in the NL West. Yes, believe it or not I got so many things right this year that I can count the predicted order of Giants-Dodgers-Diamondbacks as one unit. It was hard not to see Arizona taking a step backwards, considering the sheer number of career years that propelled them to the division title last year, and the Dodgers actually made some shrewd moves in the offseason before gambling on that mega-deal with Boston before the deadline. Still, with Buster Posey healthy this was clearly the Giants division, and they proved it.

3) The New York Yankees will win the AL East. I know, I know, that’s kind of like saying the leaves on the trees will change colors and fall down, since the Yanks just captured their 13th division title in 16 years. Still, those three non-winning years were recent (’07, ’08, and ’10) so it’s not like this has been a given in the last few years. The pitching held up enough for the offense to carry the day, which is a great recipe for the regular season. The postseason is a different story, though… but we’ll get to that.

4) The Detroit Tigers will win the AL Central. This was the third division winner that I nailed in the preseason, which honestly should have been the easiest one to call. The White Sox were a surprise, for sure, but the sheer talent on this roster should have overwhelmed the other four teams much earlier than it actually did. Still, they made the playoffs, and now anyone looking to knock out Detroit must do so facing the duo of Justin Verlander and Maz Scherzer. Good luck.

5) The St. Louis Cardinals will make the playoffs. Yes, I realize I picked them to win the division, but they were never really threatened over the course of the final three weeks of the regular season en route to the second wild card slot, and now get to play what we would have seen last year had this playoff structure been in place – a one-game playoff against Atlanta. It’s painful to watch this team play postseason baseball, especially after the ’06 NLCS, but I said they would in March, and here they are.

And with that, we move on to our predictions…

NL Wild Card Game
St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves
Friday, 5:07pm, TBS
Bad news for the Cardinals – Kris Medlen is pitching for the Braves, who have only won 23 straight games in which Medlen has started. Kyle Lohse is a good pitcher, and anything can happen in one game, but I’m going with the track record of the team who hasn’t lost a game behind their starting pitcher all season. Yes, you read that right – the last time the Braves lost a game that Medlen started was May 23, 2010, before Tommy John surgery and a trip to the bullpen. I’m not picking against that kind of season.
Pick: Atlanta 5, St. Louis 2

AL Wild Card Game
Baltimore Orioles @ Texas Rangers
Friday, 8:37pm, TBS
There are plenty of reasons to take the Orioles here – along with the A’s, they are the feel-good story of the season, they have lots of great, young players, Texas finished the season terribly (2-7 last 9 games, three shots to win the division against Oakland and got swept), and everyone’s seen the Rangers have their two chances at a World Series. But Baltimore still hasn’t announced their starting pitcher, probably because they really don’t have an ace. Meanwhile Texas is turning to their major offseason acquisition in Yu Darvish for the exact reason they signed him in the first place – to win a game like this. Better starter, better offense, and home field. I’m taking the Rangers.
Pick: Texas 6, Baltimore 4

NL Division Series
Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals
Sidebar for a second – I think the number one seed should be able to choose, immediately after the order of every playoff team is determined, whether they want to face the wild card game winner or the third division winner. Since divisional matchups are now allowed in the LDS, Washington should have been able to avoid having to potentially play a team they’ve already seen 18 times if they so desired.  But that’s not part of the new format (yet), so assuming Medlen and the Braves carry through St. Louis, we’ll get another dose of these two NL East rivals. Since Atlanta will only get Medlen for one start in this series, the advantage immediately shifts to the Nats, but Washington is full of players without a whole lot of playoff experience – especially on the pitching staff. Gio Gonzalez in a must-win game five would be a great thing to see, but I just don’t think it gets there.
Pick: Washington 3, Atlanta 1

San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds
No matter who wins this series, I will root for that team in the NLCS because I’m not a big fan of any of the other three teams. That said, I was really hoping for this to be the NLCS battle because I think, right now, these are the two best teams in the National League. Unlike two years ago, where the Reds took off early and steamrolled the division, this season has been an uphill battle through injuries (Ryan Madson, Joey Votto, Scott Rolen) and question marks (left field, shortstop, fifth starter) that have all played out in Cincinnati’s favor. The top three of Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, and Mat Latos actually might sound better right now than the Giants list of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum. I actually think this is a good matchup for the Reds, and planned on picking them – until I remembered I took San Francisco to make the World Series back in March. As hard as it is going against my own eyes and mind in this head-to-head matchup, I can’t turn my back on my original preseason thoughts after six months.
Pick: San Francisco 3, Cincinnati 2

AL Division Series
Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees
Like the paragraph above, this should be the ALCS because these are, from a talent-on-the-roster perspective, the two best teams in the American League. Still, Texas might not even get here, and the Yankees pitching is still very suspect. Andy Pettitte is a postseason god, but can he really be counted on behind C.C. Sabathia to do what he did three years ago? Ivan Nova, last year’s number two, will likely not even make the rotation, which means Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, and Freddie Garcia are about to play significant roles in this series. Every Yankees fan just cringed. Again. It’s the division winner against whom Texas actually has the advantage in the starting pitching, and the bullpens are a wash considering Joe Nathan’s year in Arlington and the absence of Mariano Rivera. Runs will definitely be scored in this series, and the Yankees will win if words “Nelson Cruz” and “fielding” are ever mentioned in the same sentence, but I can’t get the image of Josh Hamilton hammering a fat, 92-mph fastball from Hughes deep into the Bronx night like it’s nothing more than Home Run Derby part two.
Pick: Texas 3, New York 2

Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
Perhaps players on the Oakland team visit this site and read this column. Perhaps they don’t. Either way, I have said for months now that I’m just waiting for the slipper to come off the foot of this A’s team and the carriage to turn back into a pumpkin, and yet it’s now midnight and this team’s still dancing away without a care in the world. That bothers me. I don’t quite understand how a team can continually trade away good, cornerstone-type players and take a bunch of no-names and win. Forget Ted Williams – when Billy Beane passes away, I want him cryogenically frozen so we can examine his brain and figure out if it was just dumb luck or if he really was that much smarter than everyone else. And now that I’ve gone through virtually an entire paragraph without actually saying anything about the series (I do this when I really don’t know as much as I would like to or should know about a given team) I will just reiterate what I said above – Verlander and Scherzer. Oh, and a guy that just won a triple crown who’s apparently somewhat good. The last time Oakland made the playoffs was 2006, when they beat Minnesota in the LDS before losing to… yup, Detroit. A four-game sweep punctuated by a Magglio Ordonez walk-off bomb in game four. No sweep this time, but close.
Pick: Detroit 3, Oakland 1

NL Championship Series
San Francisco over Washington

AL Championship Series
Detroit over Texas

World Series
Recently it seems like the World Series winner has been a team that scraps and claws their way into the postseason, sometimes even clinching on the final day (’11 Cardinals, anyone?) and then rides their hot play to a championship. It’s all about playing well down the stretch, and on Monday, September 17 the Tigers lost to the White Sox 5-4 and fell three games back of Chicago in the AL Central. All they’ve done since is go 11-5, including take two of three from Oakland during that stretch. This pick is entirely dependent upon Scherzer being healthy enough to pitch in the playoffs (he’s listed as day-to-day) but assuming he is, I’m taking the underdog Tigers to bring home the World Series over the Giants.
Detroit over San Francisco

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