Monday, September 29, 2014

Joey's Soapbox: My 2014 Not-So-Biased Wild Card Game Picks

Greetings, salutations and howdy, everyone!  I'm Joey Beartran, your fav'rit Studious Metsimus prognosticator and masticator.  For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the Yankees and Red Sox both failed to make the playoffs.  In addition, the Phillies finished in the cellar for the first time since the Mets' last World Series appearance in 2000.  (Unfortunately, the Mets finished below .500 for a sixth straight season, so not all of my prayers were answered.)

Ten teams qualified for the postseason, including five that haven't won a championship since the '80s (Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Dodgers and A's).  One hundred percent of teams that call Missouri home made it (Royals, Cardinals) and eighty percent of California teams are still playing (sorry, Padres).

Twenty percent of those ten playoff teams will be going home by the time I have breakfast on Thursday.  Will it be the Royals, who are in the playoffs for the first time since Buddy Biancalana led the team to a World Series title in 1985?  Will it be the Pirates, who just completed their second winning season in a row after two decades of futility?  Or will it be one of the Bay Area teams, who both have to go on the road for their wild card games?

Why am I asking so many questions?  And what am I having for breakfast on Thursday after the playoff field is down to eight?  Let's just got on with the wild card game predictions, shall we?

American League Wild Card Game

Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

Since 1986, the A's have made a dozen trips to the playoffs and been to three World Series, which is 12 postseason appearances and three pennants more than the Royals have over the same time period.  Experience usually prevails in these situations, right?  Not so fast.

The starting pitchers for Oakland and Kansas City will be Jon Lester and James Shields, respectively.  Lester and Shields have never faced each other in the playoffs, but their former teams have, as the Red Sox (Lester's team in 2008) and Rays (Shields' previous club) squared off in a classic seven-game American League Championship Series six years ago.

Lester won all three of his starts against the Royals in 2014, while Shields defeated the A's once and received a no-decision in his other appearance against Oakland, a game the Royals eventually won.  But this game is in Kansas City, where the Royals took three of four from Oakland in August.  And Oakland finished the year with a losing road record (40-41), which includes losses in 26 of their final 39 games away from home.

Shields isn't called "Big Game James" for nothing, and it's hard to overlook just how bad the A's have been outside of Oakland.  And although Lester did go 3-0 versus Kansas City this year, two of those wins came before he was traded to Oakland from Boston.

Prediction:  Kansas City will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Giants have as many championships in the last four years as the Pirates have winning seasons in the last two-plus decades.  Which means absolutely nothing in this win-or-go-home game.  What does matter is the following.

Pittsburgh finished with a 51-30 record at PNC Park.  That was tied for the best home mark in the National League.  The Pirates also went 20-13 versus left-handed starters.  Only Washington and Los Angeles (owners of the two best records in the league) fared better.  Why are those facts important?

The wild card game will be played in Pittsburgh.  And San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner is a southpaw.

As good as Bumgarner was this year (18-10, 2.98 ERA), he had a very inconsistent season, allowing four runs or more in 12 of his 33 starts.  Meanwhile, Pirates starter Edinson Volquez posted a career-best 3.04 ERA and finished strongly, going 9-1 with a 1.85 ERA over his last 17 starts.

It's hard to ignore how dominant Volquez has been since late June.  It's also difficult to look past Pittsburgh's success at home and against left-handed pitchers.

Prediction:  Pittsburgh will advance to the NLDS.

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