Thursday, October 3, 2013

Joey's Soapbox: My 2013 Unbiased Division Series Picks

What's going on?  Have you been enjoying the baseball playoffs yet?  In case you don't know who I am, I'm Joey Beartran, your fav'rit Studious Metsimus prognosticator.  And if I'm not your fav'rit, I should be.  After all, who correctly predicted that Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay would win their respective wild card games, huh?  Me, that's who!

So let's not waste any more time on idle chitchat and dive right into my picks for the four division series.  Will I be right on all four?  Does a bear poop in the woods?  (Actually, I poop in the bathroom of a Citi Field luxury suite, as you can see here.)  Here are my unbiased division series picks!

National League Division Series

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals

How great was it to see the Pirates win the wild card game in front of a packed house at PNC Park?  And how sweet was it to have former Met Marlon Byrd get the action started with a home run?  Word indeed!

Every few years, we see a team of destiny.  The 1969 season had the Miracle Mets.  Thirty-five years later, the Red Sox said goodbye to the Curse of the Bambino.  And who can forget the Rockies and Rays making unlikely runs to the World Series in back-to-back seasons just a few years ago?

This year, the Pirates appear to be that team, swashbuckling their way through the NL's best teams.  Despite hitting just .245 as a team, Pittsburgh showed great power (161 HR - 3rd in the league) and tremendous pitching.  Six pitchers made at least a dozen starts.  All of them had ERAs under 3.60.  Six relievers appeared in 50 or more games.  Only one of them had an ERA above 2.81, and it wasn't that much higher (Bryan Morris had a 3.46 ERA in 55 appearances).  Top that with a league-leading 55 saves from the bullpen and you have a team that can beat you in all kinds of ways.

Yes, St. Louis has far more playoff experience.  And yes, they also have home field advantage in the series.  But despite St. Louis going 46-30 against the NL Central, Pittsburgh won the season series, 10-9, giving the Cardinals one-third of their losses within the division.  The Pirates took one more game than St. Louis did in their head-to-head matchups during the regular season.  They'll do the same in the postseason.

Prediction:  Pirates in 5.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves

After winning 14 consecutive division titles in the '90s and '00s, the Atlanta Braves did not win another division crown until this year, eight years after their last one.  But the Braves won the NL East despite having two everyday players (Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton) fail to hit .200 for the season.  They also had very little speed on the team, as only two players (Upton, Jordan Schafer) stole more than eight bases.  And how about their hefty strikeout total, as five players struck out 116 or more times, contributing to their league-leading total of 1,384 whiffs.

Basically, a case can be made that Atlanta won the division because of their 13-2 start and their 14-game winning streak shortly after the All-Star Break.  They went 69-64 in all other games.  But they also won because they hit a lot of home runs (a league-leading 181 HR) and had an unreal bullpen (Craig Kimbrel, David Carpenter and Luis Avilan combined to go 13-4 with 50 saves, a 1.50 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP).

But the Dodgers have a few good pitchers of their own in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, who will add a few more strikeouts to the Braves' already-embarrassing totals.  And Los Angeles can also hit.  A lot.  Even without Matt Kemp and a fully healthy Andre Ethier, the Dodgers still have a multidimensional lineup with speed (Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig) and power (Ramirez, Puig, Adrian Gonzalez).

The Braves are too one-dimensional with their offense to expect to beat the Dodgers.  If they can't hit the ball out of the park, they can't score.  And if they can't score, their vaunted bullpen can't protect any leads.  Los Angeles should have no problem handling Atlanta.

Prediction:  Dodgers in 4.

American League Division Series

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox

Can both teams win this series?  Absolutely.  And I wish both teams could.  But since only one can, it will come down to which team has destiny on its side (see Pirates, Pittsburgh).

Boston had the best record in the American League.  They also defeated Tampa in 12 of their 19 regular season meetings.  But most of that came during the first half of the season, when Tampa was struggling to stay above .500 (Boston won nine of 12 meetings prior to the All-Star Break).

Tampa Bay is red hot right now.  Including the wild card tiebreaker game against Texas and the wild card game versus Cleveland, the Rays have won 15 of their last 20 games.  Meanwhile, Boston took it easy over the season's final three weeks, going 10-8 after September 7.

Take out Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA) and the rest of Boston's starting rotation is just slightly better than mediocre (48-37, 4.01 ERA).  And Buchholz is only slated to start one game of the ALDS, as manager John Farrell is going to use Jon Lester and John Lackey in the first two games.

Meanwhile, Tampa has three aces in their starting rotation in Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29 ERA), David Price (10-8, 3.33 ERA) and Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA and a scoreless outing against the Cleveland Indians in the wild card game.  Pitching wins championships.  But before you win a championship, you have to win a division series, and Tampa Bay will ride their starting pitchers into the ALCS.

Prediction:  Rays in 4.

Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A's

Last year, the Tigers won a hard-fought division series against the A's, going the distance before defeating Oakland in Game 5.  This year, they'll have to put up a bigger fight if they want to return to the ALCS and World Series.  But how much fight does a wounded team have?

Detroit's big bopper, Miguel Cabrera, has been battling aches and pains over the last month.  And Justin Verlander, although seemingly healthy, has not looked like himself this year, going 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA.  As a result of Cabrera's maladies and Verlander's inconsistencies, the Tigers went 16-16 over their final 32 games, barely holding off the Indians in the AL Central race.

Oakland, on the other hand, finished strongly, going 25-10 in their last 35 games.  The A's might not have the sexy names in their starting rotation, but a staff comprised of 18-game winner Bartolo Colon, 14-game winner A.J. Griffin and 12-game winners Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone can certainly get the job done.

The A's have power (seven players hit 12+ homers) and are willing to wait for their pitch, even if it means taking a walk (ten players walked 36 or more times).  They also have a great bullpen, as the four-headed monster of Grant Balfour, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Jerry Blevins combined to post 17 wins, 42 saves and a 2.85 ERA, while holding opposing batters to a .219 batting average.  That's something the Detroit Tigers just don't have.  It cost them last year and it will cost them this year.

Prediction:  A's in 5.

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