Some might argue that the playoffs start tonight, as the previous two nights’ contests are more akin to qualifier games than playoff series. Major League Baseball disagrees, and there was certainly a playoff atmosphere in Kansas City and Pittsburgh (did I just write that?) these last two nights, so we’ll call this a playoff inter-view, rather than a preview.
For the record, I would have picked the A’s and Giants to beat America’s Teams, and I’m happy to have gotten at least one wrong. Looking ahead, here are my picks for the series that kick off tonight and tomorrow:
Angels over Royals in five
In NCAA Tournament terms, this is the game where a #1 seed you could see being eliminated early goes up against an uninspiring #8 seed. The Angels are a strong team, of course, and the Royals have probably inspired more joy than any other team this season, but I can’t get excited about either as a playoff team. California is aces up the middle, with Chris Iannetta, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar all having solid seasons (11.7 total fWAR) and Mike Trout holding down the title of Best Baseball Player in the World by a silly margin. That said, Colin Cowgill, David Freese, and maybe even Brennan Boesch will figure prominently in the Angels’ chances, and their rotation starts with a guy (Jered Weaver) with a 4.19 FIP this year and doesn’t get any better unless Matt Shoemaker comes back healthy and sharp in Game 2.
Why don’t I see the Royals knocking off the Angels then? Several reasons, and the foremost may be Ned Yost. We regularly see managers in October that don’t embrace “The Book”, but Yost is a horrific bullpen manager, a serial bunter, and a “go-with-the-gut-even-if-that-puts-Raul-Ibanez-in-a-key-spot” type of guy. KC’s pitching is good, but won’t consistently mow down Trout, Pujols, and Kendrick. Their defense and bullpen are great too, but they’re not well equipped to take advantage of LA’s mediocre pitching. They should make it a series, but the team that won 98 regular season games is a little better than the team that survived the play-in.
Orioles over Tigers in five
Detroit has all the arms and some great bats, but I’d’ve preferred to see Justin Verlander closing with a healthy Anibal Sanchez in the rotation. That Verlander is starting Game 2 suggests that Brad Ausmus is planning on throwing David Price and Rick Porcello in Games 3 and 4, leaving Sanchez out of the mix. Sanchez could be just as strong in the closer’s role, but I have a scary feeling Ausmus is planning on keeping Joe Nathan in the ninth inning. If the starters go deep into games and build big leads, that will work, but with Baltimore’s power, that’s no guarantee.
With the A’s eliminated, there are no great teams left in the American League. Baltimore depends heavily on the likes of Steve Pearce, Caleb Joseph, and Ryan Flaherty, and their pitching is no great shakes, but they should be good enough to stay in games, especially when Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz are launching homers, and O’s fans will be more comfortable with late leads than Tigers fans will. It takes 17 or 18 contributors to win a playoff series and Detroit may come up a few short.
Nationals over Giants in four
Baseball is a fickle pursuit, particularly in short bursts. As we saw in Kansas City on Tuesday night, no one can predict who will win a baseball series. If baseball were at all predictable, I’d put a lot of money on the Nationals, who are by far the best team in baseball, to win the World Series. Matt Williams can choose any of his five starters and dump him on a bullpen that doesn’t need any help, leaving four more-than-qualified arms. Here’s guessing that Tanner Roark will be the odd man out. They’re not going to give up a lot of runs. The lineup isn’t exactly star-studded, but Anthony Rendon was a quiet MVP candidate this season, Jayson Werth can still rake, and guys like Harper, Desmond, Span, and Ramos are solid two-way players.
The Giants burned Madison Bumgarner in the play-in and have nothing but question marks in Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and whoever emerges as the fourth starter. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence lead a reasonably strong lineup, but they’re up against a guy with dominant stuff every night, and all of them looked strong toward the end of the season. It’s time the Giants lost a playoff series for the first time since the Bush administration.
Cardinals over Dodgers in four
Like Ned Yost, I’m playing a hunch on this one. The Dodgers have the best pitcher in baseball, two more great starters, a lights-out closer, and All-Stars at almost every position. The Cardinals have Adam Wainwright, a roster full of adequate players, and all the mystique and aura the Yankees left in Phoenix in 2001. Nobody ever picks the Cards to win in October. They usually win anyway.