Friday, October 5, 2012

Playoff Predictions

It's a fool's errand to try and predict the baseball playoffs, because anything can and will happen during a short series. And hell, before we even get to any short series, there will be two do or die Wildcard Games this evening. You might as well flip a coin at that point. I'd like to think I'm smarter than a nickel though, and I'm nothing if not a fool, so I figure I might as well try my hand at guessing what happens over the next four weeks. I will totally gloat if I'm right about anything, because it will prove just how smart I am, and when I'm not about things, we'll just pretend this never happened.

Wildcard Games:

Atlanta vs. St. Louis
Kris Medlen is pitching for the Braves. He was moved from the bullpen into the rotation at the end of July and he's been on an incredible roll since then, putting together a 0.97 ERA over 83.2 innings. Including his relief work bumps his ERA up, but it was still a shiny 1.57 over 138 innings. ERA+ takes a player's ERA and adjusts it for the parks he's pitched in and the run-scoring environment of that particular season, 100 is average, 110 is 10% better than average, etc. Medlen sports a 256 ERA+, meaning he's been 156 better than average. I was born in 1980. Since then, here are the pitchers who've thrown at least 100 innings in a season with a better ERA+ than that: Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez. In a single-game crap shoot, I'm not going against a man keeping that kind of company.

Texas vs. Baltimore
Before the season, I picked the Orioles to be the worst team in the American League. I don't know what sort of sorcery they used to contend in arguably the toughest division in baseball, but it was quite a trick. I dig what they've accomplished and I will be cheering for them for as long as they're in it. It's somewhat surprising to see the Rangers in this game too, but for opposite reasons. Going back to April, they seemed like a lock for the division. The Angels made a mid-season push, but fell back again, and that, it seemed, would be that. Oops. Fortunately for the Rangers, momentum doesn't really carry over from the regular season, at least not in any very meaningful way, and they go into tonight's game with a lot more talent than the Orioles, and in Yu Darvish, the better pitcher.

League Division Series (I'm not sure what that name means):

New York vs. Texas
Probably the two best hitting teams in the American League playoffs, with the Yankees rating as the best lineup in baseball, I'd say. The Rangers make up much of that difference in being a far better base running and fielding team. The pitching strikes me as fairly even, though neither team has looked all that good over the last month or so. By the time this series ends though, September will be a distant memory. The Rangers have won the American League each of the last two seasons, and it certainly wouldn't be a surprise to see them win it a third time, but anyone who knows me knows I expect the worst to happen when the playoffs roll around, and it doesn't get any worse than watching the Yankees win.

Oakland vs. Detroit
If you picked the A's to win the A.L. West this year... Nope, you're a liar. With a roster younger than many minor league teams, in a division with two big spending powers, Oakland is one of the most surprising division winners in baseball history. Unlike the Orioles, who won a ton of 1-run and extra inning games, the A's have the run differential of a very good team, even though they don't have any real standout players. The Tigers are a different story, they were expected to be here and they've got a bunch of standout players (3 or 4 of the top dozen players in A.L. MVP voting will be Tigers). The A's advancing would be a neat story, but I expect their offense to struggle against Justin Verlander, and in a five game series, that's trouble.

Washington vs. Atlanta
The Nationals were another surprise to a lot of people, but they're a team I expected to do well (not "best record in baseball" well, but I thought they'd be good). They have the best starting rotation in baseball and they outscored the Braves by almost a run a game after the All-Star break (that's a lot). By record and by run differential, Washington was the best team in baseball this year and deserves to be favored in this round. Sometimes it's not just quiet though, it's too quiet. The Braves are no slouches. They allowed the fewest runs in the N.L. after the All-Star break and they're a fantastic fielding team. Plus, I have a crush on Jason Heyward. I'm going to swim against the current on this one.

Cincinnati vs. San Francisco
The Reds play in a hitters park, have a powerful lineup, and score a ton of runs. The Giants play in a pitchers park, have a fantastic rotation, and don't allow many runs. Well, that's the commonly held wisdom anyway. In reality, the Reds allowed the fewest runs of any team in baseball and scored the fewest of any team in the playoffs, while the Giants had the highest OPS+ in the N.L. and the worst ERA+ of any team in the playoffs. Weird, huh? The Reds had the better record and run differential, but the Giants were ahead of them on both accounts over the last couple months. It's strange to have two teams playing so against their perceived type.

League Championship Series:

New York vs. Detroit
I think the A's will have trouble scoring against Detroit's best pitchers, but the Yankees don't have much trouble scoring against anyway. Plus, the advantage of having Justin Verlander (the best pitcher in baseball) go twice in a series isn't as pronounced over seven games as it is over five. The Tigers have a lot of dead spots in their lineup, and while Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, and Prince Fielder are all great, Detroit will be giving many innings away. The Tigers also have a dreadful defense, and in my mind the Yankees are always benefiting from a couple WTF plays in October. I hope I'm wrong, but I see happy Fox execs cheering as the Yankees advance to the World Series.

San Francisco vs. Atlanta
Buster Posey and Jason Heyward are forever linked in my mind by the tremendous rookie season each of them put up in 2010. I think Heyward had the far better season that year, but Posey had the narrative on his side, and the narrative is a huge part of award voting. In any event, no one in the National League was better than Posey this year, and I predict a couple more big moments from him in this series. Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel became the first pitcher ever to strike out more than half the batters he faced, which is mind-boggling. I'd love to see a Posey/Kimbrel battle with a game on the line!


San Francisco vs. New York
It's been 50 years since these two played each other in the World Series, when the Yankees beat San Francisco in a dramatic Game 7. And of course, the two teams played one another in six World Series between 1921 and 1951, when they both played in New York. It would be pretty cool to see their old rivalry renewed. If it comes to that, I expect Posey and Matt Cain will face the same fate as Willie Mays and Mel Ott.

Here's to being wrong!

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