Saturday, October 6, 2012

ALDS and NLDS Picks: The Fun And Games Are Over

And no reset button
Oakland vs. DETROIT

Here's the biggest single problem with picking the A's to survive: Justin Verlander. The best starting pitcher in baseball gets the ball in Game One, and while Jarrod Parker is all kinds of tough and talented and ready... he's just, well, not Justin Verlander. So the Tigers are going to win Game One.

The second biggest problem for the A's is that they are going to run Tommy Milone out there in Game Two, and the soft-tossing lefty is deadly at home, but not so good on the road. He's opposed by Doug Fister, who is a lot better than his record indicates, and well, hey presto. 2-0 Tigers, holding serve at home. Not too encouraging there, either.

Game Three gets a little more manageable, as Anibal Sanchez is very hittable and the A's will be at home and welcoming back Brett Anderson. So it's not going to be a sweep. But Game Four sees the A's turning to A.J. Griffin, last seen piddling all over himself in the AL West winning game against the Rangers, against the brutal or brilliant Max Scherzer. So Game Four is also doable, if not a locked down thing...

But in Game Five, the Tigers get to throw Verlander out there again. Against the team that struck out more times than any team in baseball history. And while the game will be in Oakland under MLB's odd new 2-3 format.

So... If the A's win, it won't be *that* shocking. They do have the odd home-field advantage.  They are dramatically better on defense, deeper in the bullpen, well-coached, on all kinds of a roll. They won 6 more games than Detroit.

But they don't have Verlander, and they don't have the absurd twosome of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. It's been the most fun run in a generation, but it ends with Verlander.

Baltimore vs. NEW YORK

Here's the most telling fact about this series: when you look at the probable starting pitchers in this series, one out of ten -- ten! -- starting pitcher slots are currently listed. That would be CC Sabathia, starting Game One for New York. For the Orioles, it's a more or less complete mystery. Just the way they like it.

If the rotation is an actual indicator, Baltimore will go with Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman... but honestly, they could do anything. The Yanks will probably roll out some combo of Hideki Kuroda (better than Sabathia this year, by the numbers), Andy Pettite and under the shortest of leashes, Ivan Nova. Advantage, New York.

But the game won't be won by the starters; rather, it will go the bullpens. That is, at least, what Baltimore is hoping for, given that the bullpen ERA is the lowest it's been in 20 years, and they still haven't lost a single game in 2012 that they led after 7. So you can clearly pick the Orioles on the merits, because they've been just as good as New York this year, but just in an entirely different way.

A way that, well, will evaporate under the enormity of the bigger stage. Because, well, the Yankees have too much in their starting eight to not exploit this staff, and the Orioles need guys like Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, and the last days of Jim Thome to match them.

It's a best of five, the Yankees' recent playoff performance is not imposing, and the O's do a lot of things well -- defense, in-game management, prolonging at-bats. But, well, it's money time. And there's a reason why the Yankees spend all that money.

San Francisco vs. CINCINNATI

Kind of the under the radar series in the NL, where the Giants have the edge in playoff experience and maybe starting pitching, if only because in the coin flip that is Matt Cain vs. Johnny Cueto, I'm going with Mr. Perfect.  And there's something unsettling about Bronson Arroyo for me, good yar or no, especially against Madison Bumgarner... but the series keeps going after that, and the Reds roll out Mat Latos and Homer Bailey, while the Giants counter with Tim Lincecum (a pinata this year), and maybe even Barry Zito (a pinata every year).

So the longer this series goes, the better it is for the Reds, especially when you consider just how dominant Aroldis Chapman has been at the end of games. (And he looked just fine at the end of the year, too.) Then you look at the lineups on the field, and it starts to really separate for the Reds, especially when you go to Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier -- all of whom would be the second best hitter on the Giants. (Who is, behind Buster Posey, the second-best hitter on the Giants? Well, by the OPS, it's Marco Scutaro. No, seriously.)

Playoffs are not generally won by position players; the pitchers dominate, and the big hitters don't get enough chances to take multiple games over. But for the Giants to win, Posey pretty much has to be the best hitter... and I just can't see the Reds giving him the chance, or anyone else on that roster doing enough. The Reds move on.

ST LOUIS vs. Washington

Experience versus youth. The National League's answer to the Yankees for lifetime dominance against the once (and future?) Expos. The last playoff qualifier against the team with the best record in baseball. So why am I so confidently taking the team with 10 fewer wins, even after picking against them (stupidly, in that I should have guessed the Braves are eternal choke artists, but still) in the wild card round?

Well, it's because the Cardinals have spent six months gearing up to this point, rather than spending their best innings (yes, that's a Stephen Strasburg dig) just to get here. Because this is a middling at best Natty offense, dependent on journeyman Adam LaRoche, the not quite right Ryan Zimmerman, and the not quite ready Bryce Harper to do damage. Because something in my stomach just says that Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez aren't experienced enough to manage the adrenalin of a playoff start. Because the lockdown bullpen that got them here is starting to wear down, and because they are going to go with some eminently hittable starters in Games 3 and 4... while the Cardinals are going to roll out Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse. Also known as the guys who did this for them last year. But on the plus side for the Nats, they won't have to answer those Strasburg questions in deeper playoff series...

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