Thursday, September 29, 2011
Joey's Soapbox: My Biased 2011 Division Series Picks
The Pirates, who were in first place in July, obviously did not make the playoffs. But eight teams did, some of which had to overcome large deficits to crash the postseason party. Fans of my annual postseason picks already know that there are two teams I always pick for early elimination (Yankees and Phillies). Just like the Pirates always finish below .500, I will continue to do pick those two teams to be bumped in the opening round of the playoffs. But what about the other teams? And how many victories am I giving the Yankees and Phillies in the first round? Let's begin with my biased division series picks!
American League Division Series
Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
The Yankees come stumbling into the playoffs, having been swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in the season's final regular season series. It was the first time in 11 years that the Bronx Bummers were given the broom treatment by the Rays (who were still the Devil Rays back then). The Tigers, on the other paw, were practically unstoppable over the season's final seven weeks.
On the morning of August 19, the Tigers were only seven games above .500 (65-58) and in danger of giving up their lead in the AL Central. But after defeating the Cleveland Indians that night, Detroit went on a roll, winning 30 of their final 39 games. From mid-August until the end of the season, the one-two punch of Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander and trade deadline acquisition Doug Fister went a combined 14-0 for Detroit. That combination will more than likely start the first two games of the series against the Yankees, a team that only had two regulars hit above .276 (Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter).
If CC Sabathia can't win Game 1 for the Yankees, the playoff untested Ivan Nova will have to shut down the Tigers offense in Game 2. This is an offense that features the American League batting champion (Miguel Cabrera), the best hitting catcher in the AL (Alex Avila) and a former catcher turned DH that quietly produced an outstanding year (Victor Martinez, who hit .330 and drove in 103 runs).
The Yankees lost the season series to the Tigers, four games to three, and Joba Chamberlain was the winning pitcher in two of the three games. They'll be lucky to force a deciding game in this series.
Prediction: Tigers in 4.
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers
No one expected the Rays to make the playoffs prior to the 2008 season. Now the Rays are playing in October for the third time in four seasons, despite having a payroll that's less than the combined salaries of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. How did they do it, despite losing hitting stars Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña, and pitchers Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano? No, it didn't happen with smoke and mirrors. It was all pitching and speed (and a little help with OBP).
The Rays had the league's second lowest ERA (3.58) and gave up the fewest hits and home runs of any American League team. They also led the league in complete games (15), with James Shields finishing what he started 11 times. The ability of the starters to go deep into games placed less stress on the bullpen, keeping them fresh for their unexpected run to the wild card.
Texas won their second straight division title and hopes to return to the World Series after their magical run in 2010. However, this year's team has no Cliff Lee and looks more like the late-'90s Rangers, who slugged their regular season opponents to death before falling in the ALDS three times to the Yankees. They might not be able to reproduce their pennant-winning success with that recipe.
Prediction: Rays in 5.
National League Championship Series
Cardinals vs. Phillies
Let's make this simple. The Phillies have great pitching, perhaps the best in the major leagues. The Cardinals have Albert Pujols and his merry men. The Cincinnati Reds were swept by the Phillies in the NLDS last year, but that Phillies team had great hitters as well. This year's Phillies can't hit nearly as well. Of the nine players who played in 100 games for the Phillies, catcher Carlos Ruiz had the highest batting average (.283). Also, Ryan Howard was the only Phillie to hit over 20 HR. That being said, I don't like the Phillies, I never will and I'll never pick them to win any postseason series, even if they were playing the Bad News Bears.
Prediction: Cardinals in 4.
Diamondbacks vs. Brewers
Arizona came out of nowhere to win the National League West, making Kirk Gibson the odds-on favorite to win the National League Manager of the Year Award. Ian Kennedy won 21 games for Arizona and former Met J.J. Putz led the team in saves with 45. Justin Upton continued to blossom, hitting .289 with 31 HR, 88 RBI, 105 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. But that's pretty much everything Arizona has to offer.
Milwaukee is more than just Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and the Sausage Race. They boast a fearsome threesome in the rotation, with Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum combining to go 46-23 for the Brewers, and the Killer G's striking out over 200 batters apiece. Also, they boast a fantastic bullpen, with K-Rod taking the eighth inning duties and John Axford (1.95 ERA, 46 saves) coming out for the ninth.
The Brewers won two more games than the D-Backs did during the regular season. They'll do the same in the division series.
Prediction: Brewers in 4.
So there you have it, my friends. If my biased predictions are right, we'll have a Tigers-Rays matchup in the ALCS and a Cardinals-Brewers battle in the NLCS.
Of course, I could be wrong with one or more of my predictions, but I'm feeling confident. As confident as I was when I said Dillon Gee would lead the Mets in wins this year and Carlos Beltran would be traded with two months left in the season and still lead the team in home runs and RBI. You remember that, don't you?
Enjoy the playoffs, everyone!