Thursday, October 2, 2014

MLB Playoff Predictions: You Don't Have To Like It To Win

No Sir, I Do Not Like It
So I'm 2-0 on the one-day crapshoots, and man alive, did it hurt. My A's didn't lose the slow burn 4-2 Not Enough Offense game; instead, they went down 8-7 with their best and most experienced SP on the mound, mostly because the opposition blooped in a half dozen lucky hits, then ran the bases like a relay team against poor Derek Norris, who will probably never ever play catcher again. (Norris was in for Geovany Soto, who got hurt when the Royals ran into their only out early in the game.) In the next game, form, Madison Bumgarner and experience held as the Freaking Giants did the deed again to Pittsburgh, and they are well on their way to their third World Series championship in the last 12 months. (OK, not quite, but it just feels that way. It's not easy to be an A's fan.)

But there's no rest for tears or profit. Let's get into it.

DETROIT at Baltimore

The case for Detroit: They have the best SPs in the playoffs. They will bring Anibal Sanchez in for bullpen work. Miguel Cabrera can take over the game. They have a fairly strong amount of playoff experience, much of it positive. Dominant starting pitching is the best predictor of postseason success.

The case against Detroit: The SPs haven't been that dominant, especially Justin Verlander. David Price seems to bunch all of his baserunners in big innings. Max Scherzer is a monster, but he tends to rack up big pitch counts. Rick Porcello has had his best year to date and has strong talent, but he's still fairly hittable. Defense has been a problem for so long that they've kind of forgotten that it's a problem. They don't have home field, and the bullpen looks absolutely primed to implode. It's hard to remember a deep playoff run with this weak of a closer situation.

The case for Baltimore: Have been the best team in the league for a surprisingly long run. Might have the best offense in the playoffs, and that's with the loss of their starting catcher and corner infielders. Bullpen has been lockdown, and they have home crowd and a huge home field advantage. Given what they've overcome and how well they've played, there's a certain sense of destiny here.

The case against Baltimore: When three of your four SPs in a playoff series are listed as Undecided, despite having a week of meaningless games... well, um, wow. (OK, they are probably just going to throw Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen after Chris Tillman, but you get the point.) Almost no playoff experience, which tends to crop up when things get tight, especially on offense.

The pick: Detroit in four. Baltimore will score more runs in the series thanks to one big blowout, but Detroit will take care of the others in tight fashion, with the Tiger relief corps doing just enough to get it done.

Kansas City at LOS ANGELES (Not Really)

The case for Kansas City: Immense home field advantage. Dominant late inning relief. Best outfield defense in MLB; infield defense is nearly as good. Can turn games with their base running, obviously. Shouldn't have gotten this far, which means they are totally playing with house money.

The case against Kansas City: Just can't hit, and the SPs aren't so good as to overcome that problem. Manager Ned Yost makes bizarre decisions. Yordano Ventura is scheduled to pitch Game 2 right now, despite throwing on Sunday and getting pounded in relief of James Shields.

The case for Los Angeles (kind of): They've got the best player in the game in OF Mike Trout, and a downright terrifying middle of the order with the resurgent Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Other hitters (David Freese, Chris Iannetta, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar) have been rounding into shape. Kole Calhoun is the best OF in the AL that no one has ever heard of. With Matt Shoemaker and Jered Weaver, they have two of the better SP options in this series, and close Huston Street has been absolutely lights out since coming over.

The case against Los Angeles (kind of): Middling defense, especially in the infield. Starting pitcher depth went out the window when Garrett Richards got hurt, and the set up men (outside of Joe Smith) are pretty fungible. A lot of post-season experience, much of it not happy. A home field that is a little spoiled, honestly, and haven't brought the deep hurting since the Rally Monkey nonsense of a decade ago.

The pick: Angels in four, and maybe even three. When you have the best half dozen hitters in a series, and the two best SPs, and home field, you should win. Easily. Especially when your opponent had to beat itself senseless to get here. The Angels are getting the closest thing to a bye in MLB.

San Francisco at WASHINGTON

The case for San Francisco
: Lots of experience in winning World Series. The best catcher in the playoffs in Buster Posey. Solid starting pitching and defense. Several hot runs this year when they were the best team in baseball. Plainly and obviously dangerous.

The case against San Francisco: Well, they didn't win their division, mostly because they spent September kicking the ball around. Bullpen isn't nearly as airtight as past year, and SP depth isn't as solid, either. if OF Hunter Pence isn't on his game, the offense is ordinary at best, and there isn't much on the bench that scares you. Don't have home field, which is a big deal, considering how big their edge is at what I'm still calling Pac Bell.

The case for Washington: Just the best overall talent in the NL, with five top-drawer performers (Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche), and we're not even getting to Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Asdrubal Cabrera. That's not even getting to the best part of this team, the SP corps of Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez. By the pure talent involved, this might be the best team in baseball.

The case against Washington: Not all that much post-season experience. Bullpen isn't terrible, but has been unsettled. Spent much of 2014 just stumbling around and not winning a terrible division, which speaks to a certain lack of top-drawer management. Prone to big strikeout and dumb mistake games, though not recently.

The pick: Washington in five. It would be less if SF didn't have experience and home-field advantage, and I wouldn't be shocked if it's a sweep; burning Bumgarner to get past the Pirates is a big problem. But the Nats were going through regardless.

ST. LOUIS at Los Angeles (actually)

The case for St. Louis:
They do this every freaking year. There's really nothing more that you need to say about them; they do this every freaking year. Adam Wainwright is dominant, and the offensive players are gelling. They play solid defense, enjoy a great home crowd, and don't panic in big games. Betting against them is like betting against the tides.

The case against St. Louis: SP depth isn't quite as good as usual, in that I'm not fan of John Lackey. Bullpen has been unsettled, with closer Trevor Rosenthal doing everything he can to lose the gig recently. They don't win every year, and they don't have clearly superior talent in this matchup.

The case for Los Angeles: Will start Clayton Kershaw twice, which should mean that they only have to win one of three games he doesn't pitch. (The problem with that: Wainwright might neutralize him.) The OF has game-changing talent with Yasiel Puig and the comebacking Matt Kemp. Adrian Gonzalez led the NL in RBIs, and Dee Gordon led the league in SBs. Hanley Ramirez is still here and still great. Zach Greinke is solid, and so is Hyun-Jin Ryu. They don't have to use Dan Haren in a short series. They have home field, and an excellent bench.

The case against Los Angeles: Billpen can be dicey; for a guy with 44 saves, Kenley Jansen has been surprisingly hittable. Puig can do exasperating and pointless things. Coach Don Mattingly is prone to odd moments and more drama than you'd like. They are prone to putting Carl Crawford in the starting line up, which is never a good idea. They are an emotional team, with lots of brushback moments inspired by Puig's weirdness.

The pick: St. Louis in four. On talent, the Dodgers have this hands down, but the games aren't always won on talent.

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