Monday, September 29, 2014

News and MLB Playoff Predictions You Could Not Possibly Care About

Toss Coin, Hope
The worst champ- ionship team in my fantasy league's history has been put to bed... and it's mine, god dammit, and flags fly forever. It's my first championship in my own damned league; I've finished distant second twice, and sixth last year, in a league of 12, so that's now officially a win on the money. Combined with my second place in hoop, and it's the one thing that's gone well this year in re hustle money.

Having said that... man alive, did I hate this team. I finished the year Logan Morrison and Ryan Rua (yeah, he's some kid in Texas) as my corner infielders, along with the spectacular disappoint that was Xander Bogaerts. (Didn't do much this year, but he's still 21 and relatively cheap on auction numbers, so, meh.) My offensive output was a middle of the pack collection of not good enough, saved by Dee Gordon's emergence as SBs from Heaven, and the other top contenders not doing enough to stop my armada of slugs. The club was carried by pitching, and not even the kind of pitching that makes you feel good about winning (i.e., all-in bets that worked of cost-nothing guys that worked out); instead, I go there with middle bets like Kyle Lohse, Jon Lester, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir.

About the only thing that made me happy about this year, beyond the money and the championship, was that I did nothing in the way of rent a pennant deals to get over the hump. Even when my team was last in saves and just needed a fungible closer to get into contention, I didn't pull the trigger on the dozens of deals that the non-contenders threw my way, mostly because closers tend to get hurt and lose their jobs as soon as you deal for them. I never believed in my guys, and they won; it's the perfect abusive relationship. (Also, I secretly think they're great and will be better next year, especially if Manny Machado comes back strong and Javier Baez ever makes a little bit of contact. But don't tell them this. We've got a good thing going here.)

And with that... on the crapshoot predictions of the not really playoff games, before the actual playoff games.

Oakland (Jon Lester) v. Kansas City (Jams Shields) - Tuesday night

Well, this is why Jon Lester is here, right? Unfortunately for the A's, James Shields isn't exactly a small game kind of guy, and the Royals have been (a) playing better and (b) at home. Lester is 3-0 against the Royals this year and 9-3 lifetime, with a 1.84 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, his best marks (by far) against any other AL team. However, those numbers are just 2-3 / 3.10 / 1.31 at Kaufman Stadium, so most of the damage has been in road games. Shields is 6-4 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.15 WHIP lifetime against the A's, and 1-0 in two starts of 14 innings against them this year. If you are looking for Green and Gold hope, Shields is 4-6 / 3.51 / 1.22 at home this year, and a lot better on the road. So by the numbers, the A's have a small but significant advantage at SP.

In the starting 8, it's a pretty mixed bag. KC is better defensively in lots of places (C and OF being the most obvious), especially with Oakland battling injuries. The infield is pretty much a wash, or even a KC edge with 3B Josh Donaldson gutting it out through knee issues; it kind of helps him that this game isn't in Oakland, since he won't have as much foul ground to deal with. Offensively, KC doesn't hit for a lot of power, which Oakland theoretically does... but that's been mostly a theory for a month and a half now.

It's also, of course, the first playoff game in KC in a stunning amount of time, and the place is going to be crazed for it. Which isn't that big of a deal for Lester, given his past experience in WS meat grinders... but he's also been working without his best stuff for weeks now, and could be more pliable than expected. The bullpen is also a KC advantage, and frankly, I think the A's are going to have better chances against Shields than they would the KC corps.

So... I'm leaning KC, but it's not very solid, because teams in front of desperate crowds like this don't always pan out (see Pittsburgh v. St. Louis last year), and Oakland might actually play a little loose and easy now that the threat of Worst Collapse Ever is off their chests. The better bet is with the home team, and it's hard to see how Oakland just flips the switch and starts hitting and playing defense like a good team again.

Royals 4, A's 2


San Francisco (Madison Bumgarner) v. Pittsburgh (Edinson Volquez) - Wednesday night

Bumgarner is a weird case; alternately dominant (18-10 and 2.98 ERA) and fungible, more combative than most, and able to handle the stick. He's usually better later in the year and has been good against Pittsburgh in relatively few lifetime starts, but it's hard to know exactly what you are going to get.  It helps that he's also their best SP in 2014, which has to give them a nice bit of confidence going into this game.

This pales in comparison with Edinson Volquez, who has given the Pirates a fine year (13-7, 3.04 ERA) and is probably their best this year... but is on his fourth franchise and 66-59 lifetime. He doesn't have the best stuff on staff -- that's either Gerrit Cole or Francisco Liriano -- but he keeps them in games, for the most part, assuming he's not battling control issues. In other words, this is a big edge for the visitors.

Offensively, the Giants are better than you think (their home park murders their numbers), and have loads of post-season experience to fall back on. They get after it pretty well defensively, and do pretty well in late and close situations, though the bullpen isn't as airtight as past years. Pittsburgh has the more electric offensive talent with Andrew McCutcheon and Josh Harrison, but they also have the letdown of not winning their division and getting in this game in the first place.

So, despite the home field, you have to think the road team are the favorites here... and for cause. Overcoming experience is one thing, but experience and the better SP is too much.

Giants 5, Pirates 3

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