Saturday, October 6, 2012

Joey's Soapbox: My Biased 2012 Division Series Picks

Hi, kids!  This is Joey Beartran, still recovering from that National League Wild Card game.  So did the Braves get "infield fried" or what?  It almost made the American League Wild Card game boring by comparison.

With St. Louis and Baltimore advancing to their respective league's division series (which I correctly predicted here), the next round of the playoffs is set.  Beginning with Saturday's Tigers-A's matchup, we'll be treated to a week where baseball's best players will square off to determine who gets to play for the pennant.

Now, if I was a respected veteran reporter instead of just a cub reporter (literally), I'd have to be professional and unbiased with my picks, giving logical reasons for my selections.  But I'm far from professional.  And I'm certainly biased (especially against a particular team from the Bronx).  So let's stop with the chit-chat and move on with the picks!

American League Division Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics

Unlike the regular season, in the playoffs, a team can go very far with one hot player.  It happened in 1988 when Orel Hershiser willed the Dodgers past the heavily favored Mets and A's on the way to their most recent World Series title.  This year, one man has the potential to be to his team what Hershiser was to the Dodgers almost a quarter century ago.  That man is Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera hit every team well on his way to becoming the first player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.  But he was absolutely ridiculous against the A's in the seven games he played against them this year.  In those contests, Cabrera hit .483 with three homers and 14 RBI.  His OPS was an ungodly 1.377.

Although Saturday's Game 1 starter (Jarrod Parker) is a rookie and is facing the Tigers for only the second time in his career, he has faced Cabrera during his limited action.  What was the result?  2-for-3 with an RBI.  In other words, veterans and rookies alike can't get Miguel Cabrera out.

Game 2 might not need a vintage Cabrera performance for the Tigers to come out on top.  That game has a scheduled first pitch of 12:07 PM, or 9:07 AM Oakland time.  The A's will be coming to bat in the first inning at a time when they normally would still be in bed.  By the time they wake up, Cabrera might already have a three-hit game.

Oakland is used to performing strongly in the second half of the season.  They're also accustomed to bowing out of the playoffs early, as they've lost five of the last six playoff series they've participated in, dating back to 2000.  This year will be no different.

Prediction: Tigers in 4.

Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees

I'm not quite sure if Jeffrey Maier is being tabbed to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.  But you can be sure Orioles players have been made aware of what Maier did to their team in 1996.

Also, Buck Showalter has a score to settle with the Yankees.  It was the Yankees who gave Showalter his first managerial job in the major leagues.  It was also the Yankees who fired him after he led the team to a first place finish in the strike-shortened 1994 season and their first postseason appearance since 1981 the following year.

The Orioles lost their first four meetings against the Yankees this season, all in close fashion.  Who closed out the O's in the final inning in three of those four games?  Mariano Rivera.  He's not there now.  Which is why the Orioles were able to win nine of their last 14 meetings versus the Yankees.

The Yankees might have finished with the better record during the regular season.  But the Orioles are the hotter team right now.  They're playing each game as if their season depended on it.  And their season will continue after this series with the Yankees.

Prediction: Orioles in 5.

National League Division Series

San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds

This is a tough series to predict.  Both teams have strong pitching, with the Giants possessing a great starting rotation and the Reds boasting a tremendous bullpen.  Both teams also overcame the loss of a key hitter, with San Francisco losing Melky Cabrera to a PED suspension and Cincinnati losing perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto to an injury.

The Reds finished with their best record since the days of the Big Red Machine.  But none of the players on their roster have celebrated a victory in the postseason while in a Reds uniform.  Meanwhile, more than half of the Giants' roster owns a World Series ring that says San Francisco on it.

In 2010, the Giants were able to shut down a good offense in Atlanta, a better offense in Philadelphia and one of the best offenses in recent memory in Texas on the way to their first title since 1954.  Shhh.  Don't tell anyone, but the Reds have a pretty good offense too.  And in seven head-to-head meetings this year, the Giants held that offense to 28 runs.  But nine of those runs came in the first game they played each other back in April.  In their remaining six games, the Giants' staff held the potent Reds offense to only 19 runs, barely more than three runs a game.

Yes, Cincinnati has a wonderful bullpen.  But how many leads are they going to protect if their bats are being shut down by the Giants' starters?  This may be the Reds' best season since 1976, but they'll have to wait another year before they can truly compete with the Big Red Machine.  That team was a postseason juggernaut.  This Reds team is not quite there yet.

Prediction:  Giants in 4.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals

I like Davey Johnson.  I really do.  But not having Stephen Strasburg available to pitch in a short series is really going to hurt the playoff-inexperienced Nationals.

After Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals have Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler in their starting rotation.  Those three pitchers made 90 starts for the Nats in 2012, finishing with a combined 32-27 record.  For a team that won a major league-best 98 games, having three pitchers finish a combined five games over .500 despite making more than half of the team's starts doesn't bode well for the team's immediate postseason future.

The Cardinals have four 13-game winners in their starting rotation.  Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn combined to go 34-10 this year.  Adam Wainwright, coming off a lost season in 2011, recovered to win 14 games in 2012.  And Jake Westbrook improved upon his win total from 2011, while lowering his ERA and WHIP considerably.  Let's not forget Jason Motte in the bullpen, who tied Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel for the league lead in saves.

Washington might have Bryce Harper and a slew of good young hitters in their everyday lineup.  But St. Louis, despite losing Albert Pujols to free agency, still produced five players who hit 20 or more homers.  But they weren't all homers like a certain American League team I won't mention, as St. Louis led the National League in hits and on-base percentage, while finishing second in batting average and runs scored.  They know how to put the points on the board, and they know how to do it in various ways.

And there's also this thing about playoff experience...

Prediction: Cardinals in 5.

Someday, we'll see playoff baseball at Citi Field.  I promise.

That's all for now.  Assuming my picks are perfect, like they were in the wild card games, we'll be looking at a Tigers-Orioles matchup in the ALCS and a Giants-Cardinals battle in the NLCS.

Before the playoffs began, we already knew we weren't going to have the Phillies in our faces.  After one game, Chipper Jones is also no longer with us.  A Yankee-less ALCS is three Oriole victories away.  I don't need to be biased in my picks.  I just need to be correct.  And so far, this postseason is going exactly as planned.   Let's run the table in the four division series as well.

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