Monday, August 18, 2008

Season 4 NL Playoff Preview

The National League playoffs weren't set until the final game in season 4. In the West, San Diego and Colorado tied with 100-wins apiece, but Colorado received the division title and first-round bye because of winning the season series 6-4. The Cubs and Braves once again ran away with their divisions, as the Braves earned home-field throughout the playoffs with hopes of defending their World Series title.

In the East, Pittsburgh grabbed a division title while the real fireworks came from Washington- they rattled off seven straight wins to snatch the final wild card spot from first time owner coachdeal10 and the Houston Astros. So can Washington ride that momentum through their first-round matchup with Chicago?

#3 Chicago Cubs (arodsagent2) 96-66, 851 RS (5th), 765 RA (6th)

#6 Washington D.C. Nationals (chase39) 88-74, 916 RS (2nd), 793 RA (9th)

Season Series: 5-5

A dead even season matchup between these two teams sets the stage for what should be a very good series. Chicago's offense boasts six hitters with a .500+ SLG, including the 2-3-4 combo of Cory Sherman, Victor Solano and Edgardo Calles. Combatting the Cubs' big bats will be a Nationals' staff lacking that go-to starter. While Dave Rizzo posted a career best 18 wins, hitters won't be losing any sleep before facing him. Getting closer Vin Toca from Cincinnati helped solidify an already sound bullpen, but they'll need to be at their best against this Cubs' lineup.

With only one pitcher starting 30 games due to injuries, the Cubs have gotten used to counting on their bullpen to win games. And despite 28 blown saves, the Cubs went an NL best 28-16 in one-run games. Cesar Gill is probably still their best starting option, and then Joey Caldwell and the bullpen step in to hold down the fort. And they'll certainly have their hands full facing the best offense not in Coors in the NL. A young nucleus of Miller Locke, D'Angelo DeLeon and Evan Strange powers Washington's offense. They should force Chicago to dip into that bullpen early and often.

Prediction: In a real tight series Washington's offense will carry them to a certain point, but their pitching won't keep the lid on the Cubs' enough to take the series. Chicago in five.

#4 Pittsburgh Pirates (afatrain) 89-73, 779 RS (11th), 677 RA (3rd)

#5 San Diego Padres (Natic_Empire) 100-62, 798 RS (7th), 676 RA (2nd)

Season Series: 6-4 PIT

These two teams are very similar to each other, built on pitching and small ball. While Pittsburgh's offense was 4th in AVG and 2nd in SB, they were 14th in SLG. Rolando Diaz is the big bat, and he's surrounded by solid contact hitters and a couple speedsters. But San Diego's pitchers are usually up to the task, led by Cy Young candidate Fergie McLemore, RP Pascual Barrios and a very solid staff all the way through. The starters racked up an astounding 20 complete games, so the Padres bullpen shouldn't get too taxed.

The Pirates' pitching, while similar to the Padres' in numbers, is much different in its makeup. Veteran Jared Peters and ROY hopeful Lew Cannon do cause fits for opposing hitters, but the Pirates aren't afraid to go to the pen as that's where the real strength lies. They just need to get the ball to closer Albert Dorsey, and he usually takes care of the rest. Of course all San Diego needs is some baserunners to make magic happen. They led the majors with 292 SB, having five guys with 20+ SB. The centerpiece of this crew is Giomar Lugo, who put up a ridiculous 40-2B, 31 HRs, and 112 SB.

Prediction: As I write this, Pittsburgh is up 2-0 in the series. I planned on picking SD, so I'm gonna stick with that and say the Padres rally back at home to even the series and take game five in PIT. (This is obviously not a wise choice, but since I wanted to have this out yesterday I don't want to flip-flop my guess based on games played) San Diego in five.

Waiting in the Wings

#1 Atlanta Braves (shakazulu5) 103-59, 909 RS (3rd), 669 RA (1st)

The Braves appear to be in good shape to defend their title having earned home-field advantage after posting a 56-25 home record during the season. MVP candidate Miguel Martin and 1B Garrett Woodson garner most of the attention, while the rest of the lineup is not flashy but still quite productive focusing on getting on-base and gap-to-gap power.

After last year's CYA winner Sam Betemit and this year's Cy Young candidate Vinny Andrews, the staff is not overly impressive. But, like their hitting, the Braves' strength is not having any glaring weaknesses. Expect the staff to be even tougher once the rotation is shortened for the playoffs.

Outlook: A second-round matchup with SD or PIT will be a tough test, as the offense has gone through droughts at times. But with the pitching able to pick them up, I'll take Atlanta in six.

#2 Colorado Rockies (mr_stickball) 100-62, 1064 RS (1st), 848 RA (11th)

Any discussion involving Colorado's chances has to start with the offense, having outscored the next closest offense by 148 runs and leading the league in most every offensive statistic. They have four guys with over 40 HRs in the lineup, led by Humberto Rincon and his 64 dingers, while Nigel Shibata sets the table atop the order. The Rockies will be in any game strictly because of this potent attack.

Pitching in Coors is never a good thought, but Cy Young hopeful Vin Moya and crafty veteran Vin Navarre have led this staff to the least runs allowed in the Rockies' history. Aaron Wright heads a bullpen that thins out after the first few solid arms. With the opposing pitching always better in the playoffs, Colorado's starters will need to give quality starts to keep the pen fresh and give the offense a good chance to bust out.

Outlook: Colorado's impressive hitting would be put to a bigger test playing Chicago, but they have too much firepower. The Rockies' pitching is good enough to keep the Cubs' offense at bay and Colorado should advance in six.

NLCS Prediction: Another battle of the top two seeds, this one would be a real tight one. I'm not sure that Atlanta's pitching is strong enough to contain the Rockies' bats, but the Braves' offense is certainly no slouch either. This series may come down to a couple low-scoring games, and I'm giving the edge to Atlanta simply based on their depth for late inning close games. Braves in seven.

Friday, August 15, 2008

AL Playoff Preview

The Season 4 Playoff fever has hit Major Leagues World. In the AL there were a couple races coming down to the wire, but none more exciting than the battle for division "supremacy" in the South. If this were the Kentucky Derby all four horses would be put down after the race. But alas, it's baseball, and anything can happen in the playoffs. So Kansas City limped in with an eye-popping 73-89 record.

The reigning AL champion Minnesota Twins proved how badly they want another crack at a World Series title by dominating the North, seemingly locking up the division by the All-Star break. In the West, Oakland edged Seattle in the last few games of the season to earn the #1 seed and, more importantly, a first-round bye. But the loser of of this division race still gets the good fortune of drawing KC in the first round.

Rounding out the playoff field are the #3 and #6 seeds, and division rivals, Baltimore and Boston. This will likely be the more intriguing matchup in the first round, so let's take a closer look.

#3 Baltimore Orioles (gydk) 100-62, 988 RS (1st), 755 RA (5th)

#6 Boston Red Sox (Stewart_UK) 95-67, 840 RS (5th), 705 RA (4th)

Season Series: BAL 8-2

Baltimore's making their first playoff appearance despite winning 90 and 88 games in seasons 2 & 3. The bats have carried them into the postseason, as they've put up staggering numbers at the plate. There is power throughout the lineup, but the glue is still RF Harry Price. Boston's ace Joaquin Gongora needs a good outing as the shaky back end of the rotation will rely heavily on the bullpen, which is fortunately very solid. The biggest factor could be "super reliever" Zack Damon- with Baltimore's offense he should see a lot of action, especially relieving the 3 and 4 starters.

The Baltimore rotation is solid throughout, but they lack a true ace. Graham McCartin has been the closest thing to it this season, and he will be available after an injury to throw Game 1 if gydk chooses. The biggest weakness for the Oriole staff is giving up the long ball; fortunately for them, Boston hit the second least HRs in the AL. But they make up for their 5th lowest team SLG% with a very efficient offense. Second in the AL in AVG and 3rd in SBs, expect to see some small ball out of Boston. Young CF Mike Fasano sets the table for guys like 1B Kyle Graves to knock em in.

Prediction: Boston's top-heavy rotation should make things interesting, but in the end Baltimore has too much offense. The Orioles pitching, while not spectacular, is just good enough to keep the Red Sox' scoring low enough to let the Baltimore bats lead the way. Baltimore in four.

#4 Kansas City Royals (grissom97) 73-89, 800 RS (12th), 855 RA (10th)

#5 Seattle Mariners (letchkins) 101-61, 803 RS (10th), 624 RA (2nd)

Season Series: SEA 7-3

The AL West has been the running joke throughout the season, although it's mostly been the teams in the division making those jokes. Nevertheless, after beating out Nashville for the division title the Royals are not planning on going quietly. What makes them dangerous is their ability to manufacture runs, as evidenced by their league-high 285 SBs. Midseason call-up Johnny Rowan has added some much needed pop to this lineup, but the Royals will need some other bats to get hot to score against the Mariners' pitching. Kyle Powell and Bernie Cordero make up a dangerous 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, followed by uber-prospect Mike DeJean who's hit the ground running in his rookie season.

The Royals pitching is only marginally better than their hitting. Midseason acquisition Tim Truby is the only starter who's shown some consistent success, so expect to see a lot of the Royals' bullpen in this series. The good news for KC is that the Mariners offense had some troubles of its own. The potent heart of the order is their 2-3-4 combo of Fisher, Escobar and Hendrick. They'll be doing all the heavy lifting, but will need some contributions from others if they want to make a deep playoff run.

Prediction: On paper, Kansas City looks completely outmatched... and they are. Barring some truly inspired performances by Royals players who haven't done it all season, Seattle should be making flight plans for Oakland in round 2. Seattle in four.

Waiting in the Wings

#1 Oakland Athletics (pstrnutbag44) 104-58, 891 RS (4th), 633 RA (3rd)

"The Commish" has put together quite a team, posting the best record in the ML. The offense will get on base a lot, having drawn 75 more BB than the next closest AL club. MVP candidates Turk Weaver and Terry Heffner get most of the attention, but the lineup also has three other hitters with an OBP of .400+ and a SLG of .475+.

Two young SPs, Steve Kennedy and Fernando Rosado, head a solid rotation front to back. If any starters run into trouble early, pnut doesn't worry too much as Lance Woolf picks up the slack.

Outlook: Likely facing Seattle in the second round will be a test, but the A's should get by in six. From there they want a rematch with arch-rival Minnesota and a chance to go to the World Series. Grab your popcorn for that series, it should be a dandy.

#2 Minnesota Twins (zbrent716) 102-60, 808 RS (9th), 579 RA (1st)

The Twins will be the team to beat in the AL until proven different. They've made it to the ALCS all three previous seasons, going to the World Series in two of those seasons. So now zbrent's only goal is finishing up and getting the title. Minnesota's offense has a ton of power, but the reliance on a couple youngsters makes it somewhat inconsistent. Herbert Lieberthal and midseason pickup Hiram Bang (very fitting name) are an imposing duo, even moreso with the power hitters that surround them.

As scary as the Twins lineup can be, the pitching is what makes this train go, setting a Major Leagues World team record for least runs allowed. Of course the spotlight will stay on soon to be four-time Cy Young Award winner, C.Y. Nen. But Nen's not alone, Jang and Bellhorn would be #1's on most teams in the league and will follow in the rotation. The bullpen is solid, and a healthy Twins rotation will make life difficult for any opposing lineup.

Outlook: I can't see Baltimore beating this team more than twice, but I'll go ahead and take the Twins in five. In a short series, you'll probably only see a three-man rotation from Minnesota and even Baltimore's offense won't consistently put up runs against these guys. Then it's on to Oakland.

ALCS Prediction: In a rematch of last season's ALCS, the question is can Oakland take the next step? I don't think this is the year. Last year's Twins team made it to game 7 of the WS despite losing all but the batboy to injuries, so there's no reason to think this team won't get back to the October Classic. Minnesota in seven.