Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Joey's Soapbox: My 2013 Unbiased Wild Card Game Picks

Greetings and salutations, everyone!  I’m Joey Beartran and I’m ready to give you my unbiased picks for the upcoming wild card round of the baseball playoffs.  In the past, my picks have occasionally been biased because I would never pick the Yankees or the Phillies to advance to the next round.  But this October, the Yankees and Phillies are only fighting for who gets the first tee time on the golf course.

Do you know how long it’s been since the Yankees and Phillies both missed out on October baseball?  Well, this is only the second time since the Yankees started sending out invitations to their annual postseason party in 1995 that they forgot to invite themselves.  The only other time in that nearly two-decade period that they failed to make the playoffs was in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series.  Now if you recall, because of the players’ strike, the World Series was canceled in 1994, but the year before the strike, the Phillies won the National League pennant.  They didn’t win the World Series in 1993 because Mitch Williams served up a fat pitch that made Joe Carter’s eyes get as big as Cole Hamels’ ego.

You have to go back to 1992 to find the last postseason that didn’t have the Yankees or Phillies in it to torment Mets fans, making them root for whoever was matched up against them.  And 1992 was also the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates received a playoff invite until this year.  Hmmm.  Maybe all we have to do is make sure the Pirates make it to the playoffs every year and then we won’t have to worry about seeing the only two teams whose players make Scott Atchison look like a young whippersnapper.

On that Geritol-sponsored note, let’s get to my picks for the National and American League wild card games, where we can talk some more about the Pittsburgh Pirates.

National League Wild Card Game

Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

Last week at this time, this wild card game had a chance to be played at Great American Ballpark in the Queen City.  But then the Mets socked it to the Reds once again, just as they did in the 1973 NLCS and the 1999 wild card play-in game.  The Mets took two out of three from the Reds in Cincinnati, starting a season-ending five-game losing streak for Bronson Arroyo, Aroldis Chapman and the rest of the Shama-Lama-Ding-Dong crew.  That, combined with the Pirates’ three-game sweep of the Reds to close out the season, moved this do-or-die game to the Steel City.  Clearly, the hotter of the two teams is Pittsburgh.  However, as the old saying goes, you’re only as hot as that day’s starting pitcher, and Cincinnati’s starter is Johnny Cueto.

Because of injuries, Cueto only made 11 starts this year, but with a 5-2 mark and a 2.82 ERA, the Reds are confident he’s the man to lead them to the NLDS.  Pittsburgh, for all the success they’ve had this year, have rarely done well against Cueto over the years.  The Pirates have faced him 21 times and have only pinned four losses on him.  They’ve also had a difficult time scoring against the right-hander, as evidenced by Cueto’s 2.37 lifetime ERA against the Bucs.

Of course, Pittsburgh is sending their ace, Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA) to the mound, giving them their best chance to advance in the postseason for the first time since 1979.  But you don’t have to remind Liriano that three of his eight losses came at the hands of the Reds.  I’m sure he's already quite aware of that.

That being said, PNC Park will be rocking on Tuesday, hosting its first ever playoff game.  In a city known for the more successful Steelers and Penguins, the Pirates are finding their way back into the hearts of Pittsburgh sports fans.  And with two members of the Mets’ 2013 Opening Day roster now toiling for the Buccos (Marlon Byrd, John Buck), they have an extra rooter in myself.  The Pirates won’t let their success-starved fan base down.

Prediction:  Pittsburgh will advance to the NLDS.

American League Wild Card Game

Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians

Earlier today, I was listening to the radio and heard ESPN’s Mike Lupica mention that over the last six years, the Tampa Bay Rays have spent as much money on their entire roster as the Yankees spent on Alex Rodriguez.  Tampa has now made the playoffs four times in the last six years, while the Yankees have also made the playoffs four times in six years.   Clearly, the Rays are a team that knows how to get the most of their players.

Unlike Tampa, Cleveland was willing to spend money this past offseason, signing outfielders Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to free agent contracts.  Both Bourn and Swisher had typical seasons (which for Swisher means 20 or more homers, lots of walks, even more strikeouts and the ire of opposing fans who pray on a nightly basis that he’s stricken with a severe case of laryngitis).  But one of the big finds for the Indians was former Mets’ first round draft pick, Scott Kazmir.  The Mets saw firsthand how dominant Kazmir can be when he had a 12-strikeout, no-walk performance against New York on September 6.  But Kazmir won’t be starting the wild card game for Cleveland.  Neither will ace Ubaldo Jimenez, who won 13 games for the Tribe.  Rather, it will be rookie non-sensation Danny Salazar.  Salazar will facing Alex Cobb, who was brilliant for the Rays in 2013, going 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA.

Basically, this matchup is the equivalent of Al Leiter facing Steve Parris in 1999 for the right to advance to the National League Division Series.  And we all know who get the better of who in that game.

It doesn’t matter that Tampa has to travel to Cleveland to play this game.  They traveled to Texas on Monday to play one game against a team they historically couldn’t beat after Game No. 162.  That history is now … uh … history.  Tampa has the right pitcher on the hill for this game while Cleveland does not.  Fans of “Bro-hio” will be singing “Bro-hi-NOOOOO!!” after this game is over.

Prediction:  Tampa Bay will advance to the ALDS. 

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