CliffsNotes: MLB Playoffs Preview

 

The lazyman's guide to postseason baseball.

 

October has arrived and so has playoff baseball. Only three of these postseason teams returned from last year so a little cramming can help the average fan. Here’s the CliffsNotes on each divisional series…

RAYS VS. RANGERS – Game 1 Wednesday 1:37 pm

There are good divisions… then there’s the AL East. Many say the 162 game baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Top that off with a 12-round boxing match and you’ve got the AL East. The Rays, not the defending champion Yankees, were the last one standing when regular season play ended Sunday.

While the two playground bullies slugged and spent their way to division titles in the early 2000s, Tampa Bay quietly built themselves a nice little franchise. All those past #1 picks have bubbled up to the surface in the form of an annual contender. They have the deepest rotation in the league and boast a lineup a lineup that hits lefties better than anyone. Their first round opponent Texas Rangers they has two: Cliff Lee and CJ Wilson.

Texas is a throwback to the late 90s — a team that leans heavily on power hitters sandwiched between aggressive speedsters and table setters. They spent like a late 90s AL team too… frantically dealing away young talent at the trade deadline to solidify a roster that had some obvious holes. While many will argue Tampa Bay is the most complete team in the league, the one thing they don’t have is Clifton Phifer Lee. The guy has a knack for the postseason: carrying the Phillies in ’09 to the tune of 4 wins and a 1.56 ERA.

Lee can’t do it alone and Game 1 starter David Price is well equipped to handle the Rangers lineup because of his regular season experience. Couple that with Matt Garza and this could be a very short series. One AL East starting pitcher recently shared with me how battling in such a tough division can be a major competitive advantage: “pitching against those types of teams so often increases the learning curve… you really gotta develop a lot quicker and when you go against teams that maybe don’t have the types of offenses like the Yankeers or the Rays do,  you can take what you learned and really dominate those lesser offensive teams.”  Prediction: Rays in 4 games.

Reasons to watch this series: Look for Cy Young candidate David Price to dial up his 100 MPH fastball and show everyone why he’s the best pitcher in baseball. Also a new chapter will be added to The Josh Hamilton Story: his first trip to the postseason.

YANKEES VS. TWINS – Game 1 Wednesday 8:37 pm

If you’re a stat junky this is the series for you. The Yankees are the most patient team in the league – Brett Gardner led the league with an average of 4.61 pitches per plate appearance – and routinely wear out opposing pitchers. On the flip side, Minnesota pounds the strike zone and had the lowest walk rate with 2.37 allowed per game. Expect the Yankees to grind Twins starters into submission while their stellar lineup seals the deal in late innings. Not even Carl Pavano’s lucky mustache will muster a win. Prediction: Yankees sweep.

 

Pavano's new 'stache led to 17 wins, 3.75 ERA.

Reasons to watch: Twins strikeout artist Francisco Liriano (9.43 K’s per 9 innings) will be backed by a boisterous home crowd in Game 1. Robinson Cano grew from all star to superstar this season with .319 BA, 29 HRs, and 109 RBI. In true New Yorker fashion, the Yankees have a flare for the dramatic with 18 walk-off wins this year. If Matt Capps enters the game, do NOT change the channel.

PHILLIES VS. REDS – Game 1 Wednesday 5:07 pm

Ugh, they’re back. Phillies starter Cole Hamels has regained his 2008 form and the thought of Game 1 starter Roy Halladay going two games this series is just plain scary. But if there’s any team that can derail Philly’s return to the World Series it’s the Cincinnati Reds. First baseman Joey Votto led the way with .324 BA, 37 HRs, and 113 RBI.

 

Last time Cincy made the playoffs, Sabo was rocking the Rec Specs at third base.

Reds manager Dusty Baker will lean heavily on his bullpen during the late innings to stymie the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jason Werth. Bullpen pitching is so critical in the postseason and the Phillies ranked 18th in the league with a 4.02 ERA during the regular season. Cincinnatti will exploit that. Brad Lidge’s presence alone is worth at least two losses this series. Prediction: Reds in 5.

Reasons to watch: Votto vs. Halladay. The Reds will be making their first trip to the postseason since 1995 and Cincinnati fans NEED this. Nicknamed the “Cuban Missile”, Reds reliever Aroldis Champman recently recorded the fastest pitch in major league history: 105.1 MPH.

GIANTS VS. BRAVES – Game 1 Thursday 9:37 pm

While the scenic AT&T Park in San Francisco is home to some of baseball’s greatest fans, the Atlanta Braves struggle to sell out playoff games. Thursday’s game by the Bay will kick off a series that boasts the two best pitching staffs in the NL. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathon Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner remind many of those four young Braves pitchers that started a dynasty in the early 90s. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they play for the other team. This series will be won by positional depth and clutch play in the late innings. Prediction: Giants in 5.

Reasons to watch: This matchup includes two Rookie of the Year finalists on opposite teams — Giants catcher Buster Posey and Braves outfielder Jason Heyward. The Giants have a player nicknamed “Kung Fu Panda” in Pablo Sandoval and their closer Brian Wilson believes he’s a certified ninja. Game 1 starter Tim Lincecum has one of the more unique pitching deliveries in the game and needs to regain his Cy Young form if they’re going to do anything this postseason. Let’s hope for Giants fans he gets on track in Game 1.

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