Saturday, October 8, 2011

Joey's Soapbox: My Not-As-Biased 2011 LCS Picks

Greetings, everyone!  This is your fav'rit Studious Metsimus correspondent, culinary expert and prognosticator Joey Beartran.  I'm writing this to you from my cubby hole in the Mets dugout since the team isn't really using it much right now.  So have you been enjoying the 2011 baseball playoffs as much as I have?  The hated Yankees and Phillies have been eliminated from championship contention, with both teams losing the fifth and deciding game of their respective division series in front of their spoiled and obnoxious fans.

If any of you missed my division series predictions last week, shame on you!  You missed that I correctly predicted the demise of the Bronx Bummers and the Phightless Phils to the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.  I also correctly predicted the Brewers' series victory over the Diamondbacks, while erring on the Rangers-Rays series.  But hey, as Meat Loaf would have said had he added one extra series to his song, three out of four ain't bad.

So now we are left with the ALCS and the NLCS, featuring no East Coast teams and no West Coast teams.  The Midwest is alive and well in the 2011 baseball playoffs.  It's a round of playoffs John Mellencamp would be proud of.

On that note, let me stop yapping and start giving you what you came for when you chose to read this.  With no Yankees and Phillies to root against anymore, here are my not-as-biased predictions for the 2011 American League and National League Championship Series.

American League Championship Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers

The Detroit Tigers might not have the experience the Texas Rangers have, as this is only the Tigers' second trip to the ALCS since 1987, while most of the Rangers are making their second consecutive trip to the League Championship Series.  However, the Rangers, for all the offense and experience they might have, are missing one key thing from last year's team.

They no longer have Cliff Lee.

As Lee went in the 2011 playoffs, so went the Rangers.  In three appearances against the Rays and Yankees in the ALDS and ALCS, Lee was dominant, winning all three starts while giving up two runs in 24 innings for a 0.75 ERA.  He also allowed only 14 baserunners (13 hits, one walk) for a microscopic 0.58 WHIP, while striking out 34 batters.  Then came the World Series against the Giants, when Lee crash landed back to Earth, losing both of his starts and posting a 6.94 ERA.  Naturally, the Rangers couldn't ride on Lee's shoulders and they lost the World Series.

The Tigers have their own version of Cliff Lee in Justin Verlander. However, they don't need Verlander to win every start to win this series.  Detroit has a very good pitching staff following their Cy Young candidate, a rotation that includes Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.  And of course, there's the formidable one-two punch in the bullpen of Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, who has been a perfect 51-for-51 in save situations.

Good pitching defeats good hitting, as the Yankees can attest.  The Rangers have good hitting, but the Tigers have the weapons to stymie their big bats.  As for Texas' starting pitchers, although all five starters won at least 13 games apiece, they were bailed out by their offense more often than not.  C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94 ERA) is a legitimate ace, but he's no Justin Verlander (or Cliff Lee, for that matter).  Colby Lewis and Derek Holland went a combined 30-15, but also collectively had an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP approaching 1.30.  That doesn't bode well when facing a team that can boast a pair of hitters in the middle of their lineup who hit .330 with over 100 RBI (Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez).

The Rangers might have the home field advantage, but the Tigers have the edge in this series.  It'll be close, but Detroit will prevail.

Prediction: Tigers in 6.

National League Championship Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

In early September, if you would have said that a pair of division rivals were going to square off in the NLCS, odds are that it would've been the Braves and Phillies fighting it out for the pennant.  But how quickly things change, courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals erased a 10½-game lead to overtake the Braves for the National League wild card and then took out the Phillies in a hard-fought division series.  They did this without ace Adam Wainwright throwing a pitch for them all year and with Albert Pujols having his first sub-.300, sub-100 RBI campaign.  It's a testament to the managerial skills of Tony La Russa, who has now guided the Cardinals to the NLCS seven times since becoming their skipper in 1996.  Despite the seven trips to the NLCS, St. Louis has been able to win the pennant only two times.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, has only been to the World Series once in over four decades of existence.  That came in 1982, when they faced (you guessed it) the St. Louis Cardinals, losing the title in seven games.  If the Brewers want to play for the championship, they'll have to get by the team who prevented them from winning the championship in 1982.

The 1982 Brew Crew was nicknamed Harvey's Wallbangers.  Let's just say it wasn't because of their pitching staff.  That Brewers team featured two future Hall of Famers (Robin Yount and Paul Molitor) in their everyday lineup, as well as sluggers Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper and Gorman Thomas.  Their pitching staff was serviceable, but they mostly rode on the shoulders of their high-octane offense. (Kind of Texas Ranger-like, don't you think?)

The 2011 Brewers have two great hitters in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but they also have an outstanding threesome at the top of their rotation.  Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum combined to go 46-23 for Milwaukee this season.  In nearly 600 innings pitched, the three hurlers had a collective 3.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and nearly a strikeout per inning (566 Ks in 579.2 innings).

The Cardinals have a good staff, but it is not very deep.  A rotation that has Kyle Lohse leading it in ERA can't be that good.  In the division series, it was just good enough to get past the Phillies, who were ninth in the National League in batting average (.253) and eighth in home runs (153).  Being "just good enough" will not suffice against Milwaukee, who finished third in the league in batting average (.261) and led the NL in homers (185).

St. Louis might have more playoff experience and the better manager, but Milwaukee is too good right now.  They can beat you with their bats and their arms (I didn't even mention John Axford, who saved 46 games for Milwaukee and was the proud owner of a 1.95 ERA) and will be playing four out of a potential seven games at Miller Park, where their 57-24 home record was the best in the majors.

The Cardinals make for a fine Cinderella story, but the glass slipper won't fit against Milwaukee.

Prediction: Brewers in 6.

And that'll do it for my League Championship Series predictions.  If my prophetic skills are as good as I think they are, it'll be a Tigers-Brewers World Series.  It's not the World Series America might want, but it's one small town America might embrace.  Isn't that right, Mr. Mellencamp?

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