Wednesday

10-6-10: MLB Post-Season Mayhem

Hello again everybody...

Let the mayhem begin!

The 2010 MLB post-season begins today, and that's a big enough deal to me to hold off my weekly college football picks until tomorrow.

Today it's all baseball. There are four division series to look at. Three start today and the fourth begins tomorrow.

Who wins, who loses? That's anybody's guess. (Although I did call Phillies/Yankees back in March.)

Today, I'll tell you what each of the eight teams needs to do to win their series. From there, you all can take your best guesses as to who will win.

Sounds good? Let's get to it...

Right after the quote...

“Think twice before you speak, and then you may be able to say something more insulting than if you spoke right out at once.”
- Evan Esar (1899 - 1995), American humorist


Good advice is always clever in it's delivery, no?

MLB Post-Season Mayhem



Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees: Yankees won the season series 4-2

What the Twins need to do to win:

There's no question that New York has owned the Twins in recent years. That psychological advantage is real and shouldn't be underestimated.

But that doesn't mean the Twins can't win this series. The way I see it there are three things they need to do:

One, the Twins' left-handed pitchers have to be on their game. The Twins start southpaws in Games 1 and 3 (Liriano and Duensing), and have two pretty solid situational lefties in the bullpen in Brian Fuentes and Jose Mijares. Why is that so important? Because New York has struggled this season against good left-handed pitching.

Let's take a look at the Yankees probable line-up and how they've fared - batting average/on-base/slugging - against left-handed pitching:

1- Derek Jeter, SS .321/.393/.481

2- Curtis Granderson, CF .234/.292/.354

3- Mark Teixeira, 1B .278/.413/.528

4- Alex Rodriguez, 3B .217/.314/.441

5- Robinson Cano, 2B .285/.343/.514

6- Nick Swisher, RF .294/.415/.433

7- Jorge Posada, C .257/.340/.493

8- Lance Berkman/Marcus Thames, DH .171/.261/.256 - .300/.352/.454

9- Brett Gardner, LF .252/.373/.352

So as you can see, New York has exactly two potential starters that hit over .300 against lefties. In the cases of Granderson, Rodriguez, Berkman and Gardner, there's a significant drop-off in their splits against left-handed pitchers.

If the Twins starters are good, and manager Ron Gardenhire can mix and match his bullpen in the late innings, the Twins will have a good shot.

Two, their lineup needs to produce. Minnesota scored a lot of runs this season (781), but they scored the fewest of any of the AL playoff teams. Denard Span and Orlando Hudson need to have success getting on base early in this series to set up RBI opportunities for Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome and Michael Cuddyer.

Three, the mental errors that have plagued the Twins in the past when they've faced New York have to be eliminated. No base-running blunders. No fielding errors. No missed signs. They need to play relaxed and confident from the get go. If they get tight and start pressing, they're dead.


What New York Needs to do to win:

Simply put: they need to be the Yankees.

As I mentioned, New York owns a solid psychological edge over Minnesota. For that edge to come into play, CC Sabathia needs to come out and have a dominant Game 1.

Yes, the Yankees have struggled against left-handed pitching, but they hit .309 off of Game 1 Twins starter Francisco Liriano in the two games in which they faced him this season. If they can put some runners on base early and keep Liriano from getting into a groove, they have an excellent chance to win.

If they win Game 1, they put all the pressure in the world on the Twins to win Game 2. And as we've seen in the past, the Twins don't play well against the Yankees when they're under that kind of pressure.

Game 1 is even more critical when you consider the fact that New York has no idea what they're going to get from Andy Pettitte in Game 2. Pettitte has been dominant against the Twins in the past, but with his balky back and coming off a groin injury, there's no way to know how long he'll be able to go.

The Yankees have to win one of the first two games at Target Field, and clearly Game 1 is going to be their best shot. If they get the win tonight, they can salt things away at home. If not, then the pressure will be squarely on them to win Game 2, because if they don't win that one, the series is all but over before it ever goes to Yankee Stadium.


Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers: The Rays won the season series 4-2

What Tampa needs to do to win:

The Rays are perhaps the most balanced team in the AL playoffs. They have pitching, hitting, speed and defense.

For them to win this series, they need to maintain that balance.

While all of those elements have been demonstrated over the course of the year, they haven't always been there at the same time. Every team goes through ups and downs, but the key in the post season is to be firing on all cylinders.

David Price, James Shields, Matt Garza and Wade Davis all won double-digit games for the Rays this year. Price is dominant and will be in the mix for the AL Cy Young. Shields didn't have a great record, but struck out only one fewer batter than Price. Garza threw a no-hitter this season, but has been shelled plenty of times as well. When these guys are on, they can wear you out. When they're not... well, outside of Price they can be pretty dicey.

Their line-up trails only the Yankees in all of baseball in producing runs. Evan Longoria had an OPS of .879 and Carl Crawford wasn't far behind him at .851. Carlos Pena led the club with 28 home runs. Scoring runs isn't a problem for Tampa. Doing so consistently against a guy like Cliff Lee? That's another story.

For the Rays to win this series, they're going to have to get quality starts from their rotation and consistent scoring from their line-up.


What Texas needs to do to win:

Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee.

When you make a deal like the one the Rangers did to get Cliff Lee, you do so with the hopes he can carry you in October. Well, it's October now, and if Texas doesn't get dominant performances from him in this series, they have no shot. He'll go in Game 1 and likely in Game 4.

What's not in Texas' favor? Lee faced the Rays three times this season, lost all three, and compiled a 4.54 ERA along the way. Two of those games, however, were while he was still with Seattle, and as we all know, “Seattle” and “run support” don't occur in the same sentence with out a “lack of” in the middle of them.

The other key for Texas will be the health of Josh Hamilton. Hamilton injured his ribs in the teams second trip to Minnesota, and hasn't been a consistent contributor since. The odds-on favorite to win AL MVP, Hamilton will be crucial to Texas' chances of beating Tampa. If he's effective in the line-up it forces teams to pitch to the batters around him which makes guys like David Murphy, Michael Young and Vladimir Guerrero serious threats.

Texas is the underdog here, but if Tampa's pitching stumbles, they could slug their way to a trip to the ALCS.


Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds: Philadelphia won the season series 5-2.

What the Phillies need to do to win:

Keep on a'rollin.

Philly was 50-25 in the second half and a blistering 21-6 in September. That's because they have perhaps the most fearsome 1-2-3 pitching punch in all of baseball, and the meat of their order can pound out runs at a prodigious rate.

Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels have all been outstanding down the stretch. If they're as good as advertised in the post-season, I'm not sure anyone can beat Philadelphia.

What Philly fans should fear, however, is the unknown. Halladay's never pitched in the post-season. Oswalt has limited experience as an Astro (2004-05). Hamels ironically has the most post-season experience of the three, but his playoff numbers are pretty average (5-3, 3.86).

Playoff baseball can mess with players heads sometimes. If it messes with those three, the Reds have a shot to pull off the upset.

Offensively, Philly's best players have to be their best players (copyright The Hammer). Five of the nine Phillies position players have OPS's near or over .800. That's a pretty sick number. If Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth all produce, Philly will score 4 or 5 runs per game at least. And if they do that, Cincinnati has to score 5 or 6 against the Halladay/Oswalt/Hamels troika to win.

Not likely.


What the Reds need to do to win:

Pray.

For all the reasons stated above, Cincinnati is the clear underdog in this series.

But the Reds have over-achieved and defied expectations all season long. There's no reason they can't continue that into the post-season.

First and foremost, presumptive NL MVP Joe Votto has to have a monster series. We know the Phillies can score. We know that runs will be at a premium against Philadelphia's pitching. For the Reds to have a shot, Votto has to be the MVP of the series. He has to get his hits, he has to drive in runs, he has to force Philadelphia to pitch to the guys around him in the line-up, and those guys have to take advantage of his presence.

As for Cincinnati's pitching? Well they have to be better than advertised. Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto were the only Reds starters to win double-digit games, and coincidentally, they were the only starters with 20+ starts who had ERA's lower than 4.00. If that's an indication of how Cincy will pitch in the post-season, they'll be out early. But if they can find some magic from their starters, they have the tools to pull off the upset. Francisco Cordero saved 40 games for the Reds this season. If they get late into a game with a lead, he can shut the door.

The Reds will need a lot of breaks to fall their way, but that's been their story in 2010. A win here is absolutely possible.


San Francisco Giants vs. Atlanta Braves: The Braves won the season series 4-3.

What the Giants need to do to win:

Their pitching has to be dominant and they have to find a way to score enough runs.

Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez. That might be the best pitching threesome outside of Philadelphia. But each has had their struggles this season.

There was a point in the middle of the year where Lincecum was pretty awful. But whatever the problem was, he fixed it and has had an outstanding home-stretch. Cain's been the most consistent of the three. Sanchez is clearly the “weak link”, if you want to call a guy with “13-9, 3.07” numbers “weak”.

If those three are on their games, Atlanta's going to have a rough go. But that's a definite “if”.

No team in the playoffs - AL or NL - scored fewer runs this season than San Francisco. Their pitching was good enough to make up for that in the regular season. But in the playoffs, you have to be able to score to win series.

Against Atlanta in 2010, the Giants hit .197 with a .582 OPS. They simply have to hit better than that, or it doesn't matter how good their pitching is.

C Buster Posey has been the team's best hitter since he joined the club, but relying on a rookie in the post-season is a dicey proposition. 1B Aubrey Huff can step up, and so can 3B Pablo Sandoval. If those three guys knock it around some, San Francisco can definitely win this series.

If not, well, those three starters better be pitching shut-outs every night.


What the Braves have to do to win:

Like the Giants, the Braves will also have to lean on their pitching and find a way to scratch out some runs.

Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson can be a formidable pitching threesome, but Hanson is awfully young and Hudson has been struggling of late (September/October = 2-4 with a 5.32 ERA).

As I mentioned, they're not facing murderer's row by any means in the Giants, but they still need to step up, because they're not likely to get a ton of run support themselves.

Like San Francisco, Atlanta's best hitter is also a rookie, Jason Heyward. The beauty of this series is that you'll see the top two NL Rookie of the Year candidates (Heyward and Posey) duke it out. It won't impact the award (those votes are already cast), but it will be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure.

After Heyward, Brian McCann, Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones and Martin Prado were the Braves best hitters. Prado is out with an injury and Jones is one bad sneeze/cough from being out.

Atlanta's ability to score runs has mystified me all season. If they hadn't proven me wrong over 162 games, I'd have serious doubts about them heading into the post season. But they have proven me wrong, so I have to give them a shot in this series.


So there you have them folks. Eight teams. Four series. Some are closer than others, but every last one of them will be damned interesting to watch.

All of the games are on TBS. Check your local listings for starting times.

That'll do it for today. I'm back tomorrow with a special Thursday edition of my college football picks.

Until then, thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. Friday better be Why We Love/Loath Randy Moss Day.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's kinda been "done" though hasn't it?

    ReplyDelete