Thursday, September 29, 2011

A highly uneducated look at the postseason

Last night. Oh boy, last night. Last night was one of those nights. It happens right about this time every year, the end of September and into October, as the playoffs approach and teams get desperate, or the playoffs start and the nerves set in. It's the time of year when you sit at the edge of your couch instead of leaning back, when you go into work the next morning with an extra large coffee and bags under your eyes and absolutely no regrets. It was perfect.

I was going to write about last night, but plenty of other writers beat me to the punch, writing about the games far better than I could.

I'll just say this: Last night was absolutely exhilarating, and I didn't even have a horse in the race (unless you count the Twins brave attempt to avoid 100 losses, which they did so in dramatic fashion (Note: Exactly 20 years ago, the Twins season also ended with a 1-0 walk off victory. That one was much more dramatic, though (Do you like my triple parentheses there?))).

So instead of trying to rehash last night in a unique way, I'll instead look forward to the postseason. I figured I'd preview each of the first-round series, with the added benefit that I don't really know what I'm talking about. In fact, I know next to nothing about some of these teams. So without further ado, here's my postseason preview.

Texas vs. Tampa Bay
Tamps crawled and fought their way through September, completing one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history last night with a 12-inning victory over the Yankees after Tampa entered the eighth inning trailing 7-0. So you could say they have some momentum going into the playoffs.

What is Tampa's reward for their dramatic victory? A first-round meeting with the defending AL champion Rangers, who beat Tampa in five games in last year's ALDS. The Rangers have had a weird season in that they are the defending American League champions, made offseason moves to make their team better (Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, anyone?), yet have been largely ignored this year. Maybe it's because everybody figured they'd win the weak AL West in a walk. Maybe it's East Coast bias. Whatever. This isn't a team that should be ignored.

Tampa's a strange team to figure. I'm looking at their roster right now (Oh, sorry. Here's a visual aid), and I can't really say who their best player is. I guess it could be Evan Longoria, he of the two clutch home runs last night, but he only hit .244 this year. I guess, then, it's picther James Shields, but his career postseason stats are kinda "blah."

Really, Tampa's biggest advantage is their manager Joe Madden, who is well-read and well-spoken (and by this I mean by normal human standards, not by baseball standards, because really, it doesn't take much to be well-spoken by baseball standards). He also makes non-traditional moves like sending guys who hadn't gotten a hit since April up to pinch hit in the biggest - and possibly last - at bat of the season, then watches with a smirk as those moves work to perfection - like Dan Johnson's game-tying home run last night.

So who's gonna win? The problem with Tampa is that Joe Maddon doesn't play. And while the Rays seem to be the charmed team going into this postseason, something tells me that baseball writers will start to regret largely ignoring the Rangers this year.

My pick: Rangers in 4

New York vs. Detroit
Let's face it, the Yankees are a slow-pitch softball team. Yes, C.C. Sabathia is a great pitcher, a legitimate ace. But who are they following him with? Rookie Ivan Nova and Freddie Garcia, who hasn't been good since 2006. With their massive payroll, it's stunning the Yankees can't come up with a better No. 3 starter for the postseason than Garcia.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have the incredible Justin Verlander ready go to for Game 1 and a potential Game 5, and they'll fill their postseason rotation with a pair of 15-game winners and Doug Fister, who has good numbers but a bad win-loss record because he spent half the season pitching for Seattle. The Tigers definitely have the pitching advantage in this series.

In fact, what is normally the Yankees' single biggest advantage - their mystique (just ask the many Twins teams who politely rolled over and played dead when they met the Yankees in the postseason) - doesn't mean much in this series. The Tigers beat the Yankees in the first round in 2006. They've done it before, and they're not afraid to do it again. Plus, they have the chain-smoking Jim Leyland as manager. He truly doesn't give a shit about the Yankees or any other team. The Tigers will follow his lead - with the not giving a shit, not with the chain smoking. I think.

My pick: Tigers in 4

Milwaukee vs. Arizona
I gotta admit, I don't know anything about Arizona except that they swept the Twins in June when the Twins were emotionally compromised from attending Harmon Killebrew's funeral before the series started (at least that's the excuse I'm going with). Oh, and the Diamondbacks have one of the Upton brothers. I think it's the one who had Michael Cuddyer's wife as a high school English teacher. The other brother plays for Tampa Bay. Wouldn't it be cool if they met in the World Series? That, my friends, is hard-hitting analysis.

I know the Brewers a little better. I know that there's a national argument about whether Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun is the team's MVP, even though most Brewers fans will tell you it's obviously Braun. I know they have one of the most powerful offenses in the National League and have a mildly misplaced reputation for subpar defense. And I know that this might be their only chance at the title in a while.

Here's the thing: These two teams are much more even than I think a lot of people imagine. The Brewers are high in the National League in most hitting stats, but the Diamondbacks for the most part finished right behind them. Looking at the numbers, the pitching seems relatively even, which means Arizona should have a slight edge because they have the single best pitcher in this series in Ian Kennedy, who just finished one of the quietest 21-4 seasons a pitcher has ever had.

Brewers fans should be terrified - I repeat, terrified - of a potential Game 4 pitching matchup between Kennedy and Zach Grienke. I know Grienke went unbeaten at home this year, but that one would be on the road. And based on his history of "clutch" starts in his years in Kansas City ... well, just hope that if it gets to Game 4, the Brewers are the ones with a 2-1 lead.

That said, the Brewers didn't take this magic carpet ride just to flame out in the first round. Milwaukee made moves this offseason knowing this was their one chance in a while to make a run. Arizona is likely in "happy to be here" mode after finishing last a year ago. And while you could say that this puts the pressure on the Brewers, their strong finish showed that they aren't going to melt when the heat is on.

My pick: Brewers in 5

Philadelphia vs. St. Louis
Did you know Tony LaRussa is a genius? Really, he is. Just ask any St. Louis baseball beat writer. Or really, any baseball writer who has spent time with LaRussa and wants to continue to have up-close access to him. He's a genius. That's the only explanation for how the Cardinals made their big comeback to win the Wild Card on the final day of the season.

The Cardinals have a decent lineup, what with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday and PED test case comeback kid Lance Berkman. Up and down the lineup, they're fairly consistently strong. Plus, they have Nick Punto, who will, at some point in this series, slide head-first into first base. With that and the genius of LaRussa, they should have a pretty good chance, right?

But then take a look at the pitching matchups for a minute.

Game 1: Roy "I threw a postseason no-hitter last year" Halladay (PHI) vs. Kyle "I once destroyed Ron Gardenhire's office door with a bat" Lohse (STL)
Game 2: Cliff "I've won 7 postseason games the last two years" Lee (PHI) vs. Edwin "I've been traded four times in four years" Jackson (STL)

In other words, my God. Really, that's the best St. Louis could do? That has "bloodbath" written all over it.

On the other hand, if the Cardinals can somehow steal one of those first two games in Philadelphia, then Game 3 will be:

Game 3: Cole "I was the 2008 World Series MVP" Hamels (PHI) vs. Chris "I've been the unquestioned ace of my team since 2004" Carpenter

Then it gets intriguing. If Philadelphia goes into that game tied 1-1, things could get a little tight around the collar for Mr. Hamels. Things could get interesting there.

On the other hand ... naah.

My pick: Phillies in 3

Second round
I feel weird picking the second round because I know at least one, if not all, of my first-round picks will be wrong. But this is a preview blog post, so I might as well preview the shit out it.

ALCS: Wait, what did I pick, again? Oh yah, Texas vs. Detroit. Gosh the Rangers look good. And I know the Tigers would have Verlander for two, possibly three, games in that series, but still. Texas can beat him. It won't be easy, but they can beat him. And they can surely beat the rest of Detroit's pitchers.

My pick: Rangers in 6

NLCS: Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee
Look, I'll be cheering hard for the Brewers if they get this far. I hate the Packers, but I have no problem with the Brewers. I only want them to lose when they're playing the Twins. But really, honestly, Philadelphia was built for the postseason. They're going to be so, so hard to beat. See, I mentioned their three aces without even mentioning their No. 4 starter, Roy "I was the 2005 NLCS MVP over Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte" Oswalt. Good Lord they're loaded with pitchers. Milwaukee's good, and they have a chance to give Philadelphia a run for their money. But I don't think they're good enough to beat them.

My pick: Phillies in 6

World Series: Philadelphia vs. Texas
This is hard to say. Both these teams lost to San Francisco in the playoffs last year, and both would probably say that they didn't play nearly as well as they were capable. Both went out and got better and seem perfectly set up for a championship. Philadelphia has an obvious advantage in their pitchers, but Texas has the big edge offensively.

The thing is, it's been very difficult to predict the World Series in recent years. It seems like the World Series champions are being decided more by random luck than by any particular skill. So who knows? What looks like a matchup that could make for a great World Series, it's possible one of these teams will be just gassed by the end and thus ineffective.

I'll stop waffling now. I'll say that my back-and-forth means I'm predicting the first 7-game World Series since 2002, and that in the end, it will be Phillies in 7.

Now. Game time. It's time to sit at the edge of my couch, enjoy the drama, and live with the lack of sleep for the rest of the month.


  1. The Brewers don't have mildly subpar defense, they are frickin awful on defense. Every position outside of CF is average to below average. Brewers nation is much more worried about the black whole on the left side of their infield. Anytime McGehee or Benecourt come up in a key situation or have a ground ball hit their way, we'll all be holding our breath.

  2. See, I keep hearing that, but I looked at their defensive numbers, like runs saved and stuff, and they were actually in the top half of the league. I know that advanced metrics for defense are still a work in progress (at best), but they say what they say. Still, though, I'll trust the guy who's watched the majority of their games.

    I still think they'll beat the D-Backs, though.