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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The Good, The Bad, The Astros

Of the Big Four, Major League Baseball most closely mirrors the world of business because it’s much more than a schedule of games. The baseball season is a timeline and that dictates market conditions for future gains. Wins, losses, injuries, and performance create a supply and demand. Here’s a look at some of trade deadline buyers, sellers, winners, and losers:

BUYERS

New York Yankees
It’s hard to start this entry without mentioning the Big Apple, right?  There’s a reason why Yankees GM Brian Cashman chose the font silian rail for his business cards and the word “cash” is part of his name… he’s the shrewdest of all negotiators. Have you ever wondered what happens to these “prospects” the Yankees trade away at the deadline every year? Nothing. The Yankees always keep the Robinson Canos and the Derek Jeters of the world. They added 1B/DH Lance Berkman for pennies on the dollar and filled in a couple holes with some spare parts from the Cleveland Indians. Berkman looked a little awkward in Yankees garb the other night but he will pay dividends as a #7 hitter. Read that again. Lance Berkman is going bat 7th. Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns will be solid role players for the Yankees. Wood struck out the side in his first appearance as a Yankee. Situational relievers and power off the bench are at a premium come playoff time. The Big Apple is ripe for a repeat: GRADE A+.

Someone needs to remind the Texas Rangers that they don’t play in the AL East. The Cliff Lee pickup in early July was phenomenal, but did they really need those impulse buys at the cash register? Jorge Cantu’s production has dropped off significantly since May and Cristian Guzman is… well… Cristian Guzman. He’ll be relegated to the bench once Ian Kinsler returns from the DL anyway. Shame on the Rangers for not having more positional depth. What ever happened to Chris Davis anyway? The guy hit 21 home runs in half a season last year. GRADE C.

The Anaheim Angels landed Dan Haren without giving up prized prospect Mike Trout (not to be confused with former Angel Tim Salmon). Joe Saunders, a couple mid-level prospects, and a plater to be named later doesn’t seem like fair market value. Haren’s numbers will likely improve moving from a ballpark that surrendered the third most HRs in the league. Their postseason rotation could shape up to be Haren, Jered Weaver, and Ervin Santana. GRADE B.

SELLERS

Houston Astros
Billy Madison: I bet that snack pack is pretty good huh?
[the little kid smiles and nods]
Billy Madison: Wanna trade me the rest of it for this banana?
[the little kid smiles and shakes his head]
Billy Madison: You know how badly I could beat you, right?

That’s exactly what Brian Cashman did to Astros GM Ed Wade. The Astros surrendered Lance Berkman to the Yankees for two crummy side items. Triple-A pitching prospect Mark Melancon will have immediate value as a situational reliever while Jimmy Paredes will fade into minor league obscurity. Worst of all, Houston will pay most of Berkman’s contract. Michael Bourn’s bunting skills probably won’t be enough to keep Houston fans coming through the turnstiles.

Billy Madison: Bunt. B-U-N-T, in perfect cursive. Any more brain busters?
Veronica Vaughn: “Rizzuto”? [Billy ponders, then writes]
Veronica Vaughn: Rirruto?
Billy Madison: Those’re Z’s.
Veronica Vaughn: They look like R’s to me.
Billy Madison: That’s not fair! Rizzuto’s not a word! He’s a baseball player! You’re cheating!

Ed Wade cheated the rest of the AL East by making this deal. Of course, the ‘Stros tipped their hand early by dealing Roy Oswalt to the Phillies for pitcher JA Happ, Jonathan Villar, and OF Anthony Gose. While Happ will slide right into the #3 starter, Anthony Gose was the key piece of this deal. Wade quickly swapped the 19-year-old speedster for Blue Jays prospect Brett Wallace. The guy has crushed Triple-A pitching to the tune of .301 AVG 18 HRs 61 RBI and was immediately called up to take Berkman’s spot in the lineup. Wallace has now been involved in deals for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Matt Holliday, and Roy Oswalt. Not sure what that suggests but we’ll find out over his next two months in the bigs. Wallace was a great consolation prize but the Astros still receive a GRADE F. Perhaps Ed Wade should go back to school… “the Billy Madison wayyyy!”

Washington Nationals
Nats brass has learned a few things from those summer interns who use Craigslist religiously. Post a bunch of your stuff that’s available for sale, set prices ridiculously high, and sit back while your inbox gets flooded with stupid questions. Unfortunately the asking price for free-agent-to-be Adam Dunn was too expensive (Daniel Hudson +1) for the White Sox GM Kenny Williams’ taste. Alfonso Soriano anyone?
Even though the big name stayed put, the Nats quietly pieced together some nice deals. Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps was an absolute steal. The development of closer-in-waiting Drew Storen made The Mad Capper expendable and LHP Joe Testa was also a decent bargain grab for the Nats.
The longest tenured National Christian was exported to Texas for a couple minor leaguers. RHP Ryan Tatusko projects as a #4 starter while RHP Tanner Roark has a long way to go. Without the presence of Guzman, shortstop Ian Desmond and his pancake hands will challenge baseball’s modern day errors record (Joe Cronin – 62). The biggest loser in this deal is Nats color guy Rob Dibble because he’ll be tasked with the responsibility of making non-Strasburg games interesting for viewers. No deal for Dunn, but the Nationals still get a GRADE B for their ability to land top catching prospect Wilson Ramos.

Cleveland Indians
All this guff about Lebron James had everyone forgetting that Cleveland still has a really bad baseball team too. The Kerry Wood trade makes sense because it saves money and gives 8th inning guy Chris Perez a chance to shine in the closer role. But why would you trade Jhonny Peralta and Austin Kearns when there’s no one to replace them? 19-year-old LHP Giovanni Soto (not to be confused with Cubs catcher Geovany Soto) had some success at the Single-A level and is the lone bright spot of these deadline deals. Adding insult to injury for Cleveland fans, Jake Delhomme was on Sportscenter this morning talking about how he’s ready for week 1. Ugh. Speaking of Jakes, they couldn’t get more than Corey Kluber for Jake Westbrook? Cmon Shapiro, you’re better than that. GRADE D.

WINNERS

The Boston Red Sox were penny-wise at the trade deadline and took a flier on catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Every week there’s a new All Star coming back from the DL and it’s hard to gage how good or bad this team can be. Playing it safe was the right move here.

LOSERS

Chicago White Sox failed to land Adam Dunn and settled for Edwin Jackson. Division rivals Minnesota and Detroit also got better at the deadline. Dunn would’ve been the perfect anchor in that lineup as a DH. Chicago missed its chance to set themselves apart. They might win the division, but October will be an early exit for the South Siders.

Did the Philadelphia Phillies really need to make that deal for Oswalt? It seems like that move was motivated by pure paranoia. If the Phillies kept Cliff Lee rather than dealing him to Seattle in the offseason this trade wouldn’t have been necessary. JA Happ outshined Oswalt in his first start for the Astros. Perhaps Ed Wade didn’t do so bad after all.

What’s a “Player To Be Named Later”?

Today the Diamondbacks traded Dan Haren to the Angels for Joe Saunders, Raphael Rodriguez, Patrick Corbin, and a player to be named later. While the term “player to be named later” may remind many of the 2008 trade that sent a minor leaguer packing in exchange for 10 baseball bats, the PTBNL is more than just a throw-in.

Famous PTBNLs include David Ortiz, Scott Podsednik, and Moises Alou. These players were part of a deadline deal but not immediately traded because the receiving team was still in the process of evaluating their talents and positional needs. For sake of convenience negotiating teams usually agree on a list of 5 to 10 players that can ultimately be chosen. The player must change leagues and a cash sum is negotiated if the two teams cannot agree on a player. By rule, teams have six months to complete this part of the deal.

As for the Diamondbacks, there’s speculation that the player will be named Tyler Skaggs, a 19-year-old lefty who’s considered one of the best arms in the Angels farm system. In 14 starts this year he’s 8-4 with a 3.61 ERA for Class-A Cedar Rapids. At 7-8, Haren’s fortunes will likely change going to a contender with strong run support. He has a National League leading 141 strikeouts in 141 innings pitched this season. The Angels will owe Haren $33 Million on a contract that runs through 2012 and includes club option for 2013. Kudos to Angels GM Tony Reagins for completing this trade without surrendering top prospect Mike Trout. Their potential post season rotation would start with Haren followed by Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Joel Piñeiro. Lackey who?