Saturday, October 24, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased World Series Pick

I don't think Pete Rose believes I should be sharing my picks on this platform.

Hi, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran and it's time to share my World Series pick.  I'm picking the Mets.  That was simple, wasn't it?

Well, if you came to this page, that means you probably want to see more than just an obvious pick from a roving reporter/culinary expert.  So I guess I should give you a reason why it would be a wise decision to pick the Mets to win their first World Series in 29 years instead of the team that was the defending world champion when the Mets last lifted the trophy.

The reason is because I've correctly picked 87.5% of this postseason's winners.  I chose the Astros and Cubs to win their respective wild card games.  I was two-for-two with those picks.  Then I batted .750 in the four division series, banging out hits when I picked the Blue Jays, Royals and Mets to advance to the league championship series.  However, I whiffed by picking the Cardinals to advance.  Hey, even Daniel Murphy doesn't hit one out of the park every once in a while.

Once the ALCS and NLCS were both set, I picked the Royals and Mets to face each other in the World Series.  And sure enough, my picks were as automatic as Jeurys Familia has been in the ninth inning (and sometimes the eighth as well).

What?  Picking seven out of eight winners isn't a good enough reason for you to place a bet on the Mets in the Fall Classic?  Did Pete Rose coerce you into thinking that?  Fine.  Here's why I think the Mets will defeat the Royals in the World Series.

World Series

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals

The Mets have already taken out the 92-win Dodgers and the 97-win Cubs en route to their fifth National League pennant.  They've gone 7-2 in doing so, with only one of the losses being legitimate.  (The Dodgers didn't earn the Chase Utley game, but Chase Utley sure earned his suspension and his tee time on the golf course.)  Meanwhile, the Royals needed to go the distance against the upstart Astros in the division series, needing a furious comeback in Game Four just to force a fifth and deciding game.  Then they lost two more games to the Blue Jays in the ALCS and could have lost a third, but they had help from a fan in the outfield on a "home run" by Kansas City's Mike Moustakas and also benefited from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson's strike zone, which became wider than Bartolo Colon's waistline when Ben Revere was at the plate in the ninth inning with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

Kansas City has an excellent bullpen.  But the Royals need to have the lead to use their top relievers.  And their starting pitchers aren't exactly turning heads.

Their four starters (Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto and former Met Chris Young) were quite ordinary in the regular season and continued to be so in the postseason.  The not-so-fearsome foursome combined to post a 3.77 ERA and 1.22 WHIP during the regular season - numbers that would have been worse had it not been for Young's contributions (3.06 ERA, 1.09 WHIP).  And as good as Young was during the regular season, it was mostly due to what he did in the first two and a half months.  Through June 16, Young had a stellar 1.98 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.  In his final 20 appearances (10 starts, 10 relief outings), those numbers shot up to 4.06 and 1.24, respectively.

When Chris Young has a lower ERA and WHIP than these guys, it shows they don't have a true ace. (USA TODAY Sports)

Once Volquez, Ventura, Cueto and Young got to the postseason, they fell apart, combining to post a 5.33 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.  They also became more erratic with their control, walking 31 batters in 59 innings.

Of course, the team's hitters bailed them out on numerous occasions, as Kansas City scored five or more runs in six of their seven victories against the Astros and Blue Jays.  But both Houston and Toronto shared so-so starting rotations and bullpens, and it showed in the playoffs.  Neither team had a deep starting rotation and neither club had a Jeurys Familia-type closer.

The Mets have all of that, and then some.

Kansas City went 5-44 in the regular season when they scored fewer than three runs.  That continued in the postseason, as they lost all three games in which they failed to cross the plate three times.  It should be noted that in the 171 games the Mets have played this year, they've allowed three or fewer runs in 90 of those contests.  For all you kids out there, that's 52.6% of the time.  That bodes well for the Mets as they go up against a starting rotation that combined to post an ERA north of 5.00 in their 11 postseason starts.

The Royals also have a starting rotation that's entirely right-handed, with only Franklin Morales and Danny Duffy pitching from the left side out of the pen.  That means more at-bats for Michael Conforto and more comfortable plate appearances for Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson.

The key to defeating the Royals is to get into the late innings with a lead, as Kansas City boasts a three-headed monster in the bullpen with set-up men Ryan Madson (2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP), Kelvin Herrera (2.71 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) and closer Wade Davis (0.94 ERA, 0.79 WHIP).  That's where the Mets' starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz will come into play, and they're more than up to the task.

The four pitchers combined to post a 2.92 ERA and 1.08 WHIP during the regular season and continued to shine in the postseason against potent Dodgers and Cubs lineups (2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP).  Kansas City finished tenth in the majors in ERA and 13th in WHIP.  And for all of you saber-dudes out there, the Royals' 4.04 FIP was below the 3.96 league average.  When the Royals faced a team that was better than them in all three categories, their won-loss record was 17-20.  They were 78-47 against all other teams.  For the record, the Mets were fourth in the majors in ERA, second in WHIP and sixth in FIP (3.53 - more than half a run better than the Royals).

Last year, the Royals hit well against the Giants in the Fall Classic, scoring 26 runs in the 40 innings not pitched by Madison Bumgarner.  Of course, they crossed the plate just once in the 21 innings tossed by the Bumgarner Buzzsaw and that was enough to give San Francisco the crown.  The Royals are now about to encounter a staff full of Bumgarners when they face the likes of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey in this year's World Series.

Kansas City might be Royal, but it's the Mets who will be celebrating a coronation.

Prediction: Mets in 5.

See you at the World Series!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm Keith Hernandez - Happy Birthday To Me!

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 62 years old.

In honor of my 62nd birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early pictures.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  That is also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  St. Louis was also the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of ... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the NL East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

After my tenure with the Mets ended in 1989, I decided to give acting a try.  I wasn't going to tell you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a movie star as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians.  It was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode #34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games. 

I'm all of those people. Although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 62 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Cubs May Hit Their Share of Home Runs, But...

During the 2015 regular season, the Chicago Cubs became the first team to ever sweep a season series of more than six games against the Mets.  The Cubs outscored the Mets, 27-11 en route to a 7-0 record against New York.  Chicago hit seven home runs in the seven games, en route to a season total of 171 long balls.

Chicago's penchant for hitting the ball out of the park continued in the postseason, as they homered twice in the wild card game against the Pirates and walloped ten home runs in the four NLDS games versus the Cardinals, including six in Game Three.

When you combine the Cubs' power with an ace pitcher like Jake Arrieta, it's not surprising that Chicago won 97 games in 2015.  However, they can be beaten, and the Mets may just be the right team to keep the curse of Murphy the billy goat intact.

As much as the Cubs flexed their muscles at the plate during the regular season, it was the Mets who finished with more home runs.  New York hit 177 homers, or six more than the Chicago's total.

Kris Bryant was one of the Cubs' top home run hitters, smacking 26 homers in 151 games.  However, it should be noted that he hit just five of those home runs on the road, and that handful of homers came off the following pitchers:

  • Kyle Lohse, Brewers (5.85 ERA, 1.46 WHIP)
  • Odrisamer Despaigne, Padres (5.80 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)
  • David Murphy, Indians (a position player)
  • Alex Wood, Dodgers (4.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)
  • Alec Asher, Phillies (9.31 ERA, 1.79 WHIP)

For all you kids out there, those four pitchers and one position player combined for a 5.82 ERA and 1.43 WHIP during the 2015 campaign.  Those were the only players Bryant could muster a homer against away from the Friendly Confines.  It should be noted that the Mets will have home field advantage in the NLCS.

With great power comes great strikeout-ability, and the Cubs created enough of a breeze with their swings and misses to power a wind turbine.  Led by Bryant's league-leading 199 whiffs, Chicago batters struck out a mind-boggling 1,518 times during the regular season.  That's the most in franchise history, surpassing the team's old mark of 1,477, which was set just last year.  Prior to then, no Cubs team had ever struck out more than 1,269 times.  In addition, the Cubs had more strikeouts than any other team in the majors.  Houston had the second-most strikeouts in the big leagues with 1,392, but was still well behind Chicago's total.  And with six of the seven games potentially being started by Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, who combined to fan 559 batters in 530 innings, Cubs batters should be seeing strike three quite often in the series.

Speaking of the Mets starting pitchers, let's talk about what they did against the Dodgers in the division series.  For as many home runs as Chicago hit, it was Los Angeles that led the National League, as Dodgers players circled the bases 187 times in 2015.  That gave the Mets valuable experience against a team that knows how to hit balls out of the park.  So how many times did the Dodgers take Mets starting pitchers deep in the five-game series?

That's a big fat zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Cubs batters might have done well against lesser hurlers this season, but they're in for quite a surprise when they face the velocity and movement of pitches thrown by Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom.

So if the Mets prevent the Cubs from hitting homers, can Chicago score any other way?  The answer is one that even Grumpy Cat can agree with.

As mentioned before, the Cubs hit 171 home runs during the regular season.  They accomplished this in 5,491 at-bats.  They also had 1,174 hits that didn't leave the yard.  That means when the Cubs kept the ball in front of the outfield fence, they only batted .221.  Chicago scored 414 runs this year that didn't cross the plate on the strength of a home run.  That's just 2.6 non-homer aided runs per game.  In the division series against the Cardinals, it was homer-or-nothing for the Cubs, as ten of their 30 hits in the series left the yard.  Chicago batted just .175 (20-for-114) when they didn't hit the ball out of the park and scored 14 of their 20 runs on homers, averaging just 1.5 runs per game that weren't because of home runs.

The Mets, in particular their starting pitchers, have done their best to limit their opponents from producing big innings against them.  One way they've done this is by keeping the ball in the park.  Including the postseason, Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom did not allow a home run in 50 of their 87 starts.  Harvey, the Mets' Game One starter, has not allowed a home run since September 2.  He has pitched 28 consecutive innings without giving up a tater.

So yes, it's true that the Cubs' offense revolves around the home run ball.  But they may be running into the worst possible team at the worst possible time if they plan on continuing to score most of their runs on 360-foot trots around the bases.  The Mets will still have to score some runs of their own, but they may not have to out-slug the Cubs to do so.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased LCS Picks

I'm a bear, not a Cub.

What's shaking, everyone?  This is Joey Beartran, back with more postseason predictions that may or may not be biased.  Have you been following along with my prognostications since the playoffs began?  If so, you would know that I correctly picked both wild card game winners and three of the four division series winners (stupid Cardinals had to put a blemish on my record).

It's now time to continue sharing my expert picks with you, as tonight we'll kick off the first of two league championship series.  But first, here's a little tidbit that is sure to make your brain explode like Marvin in Pulp Fiction.

The four participants in this year's league championship series (Blue Jays, Royals, Cubs, Mets) have each not raised the World Series trophy in over 20 years, with Toronto being the most recent champion, having won it all in 1993.  That's the first time since the advent of divisional play in 1969 that none of the final four teams had won a championship in more than two decades.  (The 2006 final four teams - Tigers, Athletics, Cardinals, Mets - had their most recent champion in 1989, when Oakland won it all.)  And the odd thing about that 20-plus year drought is that prior to this season, the Blue Jays had gone the longest without a postseason appearance - 22 long years.  But they're still the most recent World Series champion of the four remaining teams, as the Royals and Mets haven't won it all since they won consecutive championships in 1985 and 1986, respectively, and the Cubs haven't worn the World Series crown in about a thousand years, give or take a couple of campaigns.

This year, someone will end an over two-decade dry spell.  But before we get to that point, we have to whittle down the contestants from four to two.  And these are the teams that will be left standing in late October and perhaps early November.

American League Championship Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals

Let's get one thing out of the way quickly.  The Blue Jays played their home games outside of this country.  But their offense was completely out of this world.

Toronto led the American League in home runs, doubles, runs scored, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and spectacular bat flips.  Their pitching wasn't as potent, but it wasn't that bad either, as the Blue Jays were fifth in the league in ERA, third in WHIP and issued the fewest walks of any staff in the league.  But I did find one problem with their pitching.

Will the A.L. flag rise in K.C. again?
Four of the team's five starting pitchers produced FIPs above 4.00.  That's not good.  At all.  The only starter under 4.00 was David Price, and he produced his exceptional 2.22 FIP in only 11 starts with the team.  And because the team regularly bludgeoned its opponents, they pitched in fewer save situations than most teams.  But when games were tight, the bullpen did not come through as well as they would have liked.  Toronto's bullpen had a combined 4.47 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in save situations, which contributed to the Blue Jays' awful 15-28 record in one-run games.  When Toronto blew out the opposition (winning by five or more runs), the team won 37 of 49 games.  When their opponents kept the game relatively close (within four runs), the Blue Jays were a sub-.500 team (56 wins, 57 losses).

Meanwhile, Kansas City had an exceptional bullpen that recorded 56 saves (second in the A.L.) and posted a 2.22 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in save situations, which pretty much explains the high save total.  That allowed the Royals to win tight contests (23-17 in one-run games) as well as affairs that were not very competitive (26-17 in blowouts).

Pitching wins championships, and as long as the Royals and Blue Jays are keeping the score close, that will swing the pendulum in Kansas City's favor dramatically.  Well, that and the fact that the Blue Jays had a losing record on the road, Kansas City was 51-30 at Kauffman Stadium and the Royals have home field advantage in the series.

Prediction: Royals in 7.

National League Championship Series

Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets

Dude, do you really have to ask?  No analysis necessary.  And you can not throw out the narrative of the Mets losing all seven regular season games to the Cubs.  That was pre-Cespedes, pre-Conforto, d'Arnaud and Wright were on the disabled list, and players like Eric Campbell, Johnny Monell, John Mayberry Jr. and Darrell Ceciliani all started games against Chicago.  Any team could be a world beater against those guys.

The Mets are a different team now.  A better team.  They just won a series in which former and future Cy Young Award winners started four of the five games.  Jake Arrieta might be the Cubs' Mike Scott (minus the scuffing), but the rest of the staff is not that impressive to me.

The Mets have several aces, and Cubs hitters will be introduced to all of them just minutes before they return to their dugouts after making yet another out against them.

New York will make Chicago fly the "L" flag.

Prediction: Mets in 5.

I ain't 'fraid of no Cubs.  And neither should the Mets.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Offer To The Mets In Response To Ruben Tejada's Injury

While many Mets bloggers have discussed and will continue to discuss ad nauseum the play that added nausea (along with a few other things) to Mets fans everywhere - a play that ended with Ruben Tejada fracturing his right fibula - I am going down a different path.

I will not talk about the details of "The Crack Heard 'Round The World".  I will not even mention the player on the opposing team's name.  I am just going to make an offer to the Mets instead.

After a season in which the Mets gave us so many happy moments, I would like to give something back to them.  It's something that would please me and millions of other Mets fans if the team chooses to accept it.

In 2013, as part of Season Ticket Holders' Appreciation Day, I entered a trivia contest to win a Mets prize.  I was asked by Mets public address announcer Alex Anthony to identify the only player who played for the Mets in each season in the 1980s.  My correct response of Mookie Wilson won me an autographed Ruben Tejada baseball.

I have held onto that ball for two years now but I am now willing to part with it.  I will gladly donate it to the Mets on one condition.  They have to somehow find a way to get it into a division series game, especially when a certain dirty player comes to bat.

And they have to drill him with it.

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

Not only do they have to drill him with it, but they have to do it so skillfully that the ink from Tejada's signature is permanently tattooed on the player's skin.

Am I asking for too much from the Mets in return for the donation of this baseball to them?  Maybe.  But someone has to do something in response to what happened to Ruben Tejada in the seventh inning of last night's affair.  Obviously, the most P.C. thing to do is make the dirty player watch the Mets celebrate on the field after New York wins two more games in the series.  But due to the nature of Tejada's injury and the repeated offenses on Tejada - and other middle infielders - by this player,  I demand that more should be done.

That is why I'm offering this baseball to the Mets.  The ball has become more special to me than I ever thought it would, but in light of the events of last night's game, I am more than willing to part with it for this appropriate cause.

Do the right thing, Mets.  Take my baseball, please.  And make sure the dirty player never forgets Ruben Tejada's name.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased Division Series Picks

I heard "O Canada" on the day this photo was taken.  We'll all hear it in the postseason for the first time since 1993.

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran and it's time to start the most exciting week for baseball fans - the division series week!  If you love baseball, you're about to get wall-to-wall excitement.  And if you're a fan of not getting any sleep and then getting to work late because you forgot to set the alarm at night, this week won't affect you because the late games are all on the weekend!

This year's division series matchups feature nothing but expansion teams in the American League, as Toronto (a league neophyte in 1977), Kansas City (born in 1969), Houston (took its first breath in 1962) and Texas (1961 newbies as the second coming of the Washington Senators) will battle it out to earn spots in the League Championship Series.

Meanwhile, in the Senior Circuit, you have teams that your great-great-great grandparents probably saw when they paid 50 cents for a box seat.  I'm talkin' 'bout the Cardinals, Cubs and Dodgers.  Hey, did I leave a National League team out?  Oh, yeah, and my New York Mets are playing in their first division series since I was just a cub (not the Chicago team).

So which teams do I think will come out of the four division series that will take place over the next week?  And why do I think they will advance?  Read on, my friends.  Read on.

American League Division Series

Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Rangers went from last place to first place in claiming their first division title since 2011.  That was also the year the Blue Jays were finishing up their 18th consecutive season without a playoff appearance.  Texas was the only one of the six division champions that failed to win at least 90 games, while Toronto steamrolled their way through the final two months of the season to finish the season with 93 wins.  It was the Blue Jays' first season with 90-plus wins since their 1993 championship season.

Picking this series is actually quite easy.  Texas has Cole Hamels on its roster.  Toronto has a distinguished gentleman in R.A. Dickey.  The Blue Jays also have the ability to pound Hamels into submission.  And who wouldn't want to see Hamels get bludgeoned by the booming bats of the Blue Jays?  Just like Hamels himself, this one's a no-brainer.

Prediction: Blue Jays in 3.

Cole Hamels won't be smiling much when this series is over.

Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals

I love the Houston Astros.  I really do.  They have good pitching.  They have the most power of any team that plays south of the Canadian border.  And they swipe bags more than any other team in the American League.  That being said, I think the highlight of their season will be the victory over the Yankees in the wild card game.

Kansas City got some much-needed postseason experience last year, sweeping their way through the American League playoffs until they ran into the San Francisco Bumgarners in the Fall Classic.  And although they lost closer Greg Holland to a season-ending elbow injury, their bullpen is still better than adequate, combining to post a 2.73 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.

The Royals may not have much power, as no one on the team hit more than 22 home runs, but what they don't have in strength, they make up for it in smarts.  Kansas City makes lots and lots of contact, as evidenced by their .269 team batting average (only Detroit's .270 mark was higher in the A.L.) and their incredibly low strikeout rate.  The Royals struck out 973 times in 2015, which was 146 fewer whiffs than the next best team, Oakland.  And when you put the ball in play as often as the Royals do, good things usually happen.

Kansas City has home field advantage in this series.  They went 51-30 at Kauffman Stadium this year.  Houston will have to win at least one game there to have a chance of dethroning the defending American League champions.  That might be too much to ask for a team that finished a league-worst 33-48 away from home.

Prediction: Royals in 5.         

For someone who looks like he forgot his dentures when he pitches, former Met Chris Young has been quite dependable.  (Brad Remple/USA TODAY Sports)

National League Division Series

New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

I'll make this quick and painless.  Unless if you're a Dodgers fan or a direct descendant of Tommy Lasorda.

Prediction: Mets in 3.

The Mets are going to step all over the Dodgers just like I stepped all over their field.

Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

The fiercest rivalry in the American League is Red Sox-Yankees.  With apologies to Giants and Dodgers fans, the most heated rivalry in the National League is Cubs-Cardinals.  The Red Sox and Yankees have played each other in the postseason three times (1999, 2003, 2004) and also squared off in a one-game, winner-take-all Game No. 163 in 1978.  Meanwhile, this is the first time the Cubs and Cardinals have ever faced each other in the postseason.

This historic matchup of long-time rivals features the 100-win, first place Cardinals and the 97-win, third-place Cubs.  The Cubs are the hotter team entering the series, as they went 45-18 over their last 63 regular season games before defeating the Pirates in the wild card game.  But the Cardinals are the Cardinals.  They know what it takes to make it to the NLCS, as they've played in the league's final series in nine of the last 15 seasons, including the last four years.  St. Louis also handed Chicago 11 of its 65 losses.  Including the postseason, the Cubs were 90-54 against everyone else.

Jake Arrieta may have gotten the Cubs past the Pirates in the wild card game, but he won't be facing the Cardinals until Game Three of the division series.  And by then, Chicago could be more than halfway to being eliminated by St. Louis.  Arrieta will win his start, but that's the only game in which the Cubs will raise the "W" flag.

Prediction: Cardinals in 4.

It's not polite to point, Yadi.  As punishment, the Mets will take care of you this time in the NLCS.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased Wild Card Game Picks

When in the state of Texas, you always have to wear your cowboy hat.

Howdy, pard'ner.  This here's Joey Beartran.  And if it's the beginning of October, then I reckon it must be time for my annual playoff picks.  (And how did I end up with this Texas twang?  Maybe it has something to do with my picks, y'all.)

Anyway, a lot has changed in the last few years of me making postseason prognostications.  Just two years ago, the Red Sox, Tigers and Athletics were all division champions.  This season, they were all cellar dwellers.  And the team with the most World Series championships (they shall remain nameless here) is back in the playoffs as a wild card, as is the team that's gone the longest without a title (they shall remain known as the Cubs).  That team I root for?  They crashed the playoff party for the first in nearly a decade, as did their 1962 expansion buddies from Houston.

But the Mets shall be discussed when it's time to share my division series picks.  You see, since they won the N.L. East, I don't have to worry about them potentially losing a do-or-die wild card game.  That's what the Astros, Yankees, Cubs and Pirates have to deal with.

So before my horse runs away without me on it, let me share my wild card game picks, which may or may not be biased, especially in one league.

American League Wild Card Game

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees

The last time the Astros made the playoffs, they still played in the National League and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was still an active player.  That was 2005, when Houston was swept in their first-ever World Series appearance by the Chicago White Sox.  For those who like to keep track of meaningless things, if the Astros had been awarded a ring for every postseason game they won in their 54-year history, they'd still have six fewer rings than the Yankees have to commemorate each World Series title they've won.  (If you can't do the math in your head, just ask a Yankee fan to do it for you.  They know that number by heart and are more than happy to share it with you at all times.)

Carlos Gomez
The Astros led the A.L. West for most of the season, but settled for a wild card, although they did win six of their last eight games to finish the campaign on a high note.  Meanwhile, the Yankees had a supposedly comfortable lead in the A.L. East in early August, then stumbled to the finish line, losing six of their last seven games and 16 of their last 26.

One thing that stands out about this matchup is the fact that the Yankees were really bad at home over the final month and a half of the season.  New York was 10-15 in their last 25 home games, which included losing two out of three to the Astros in late August.  The Yankees were outscored, 21-4 in those three games.

Houston can beat you with power (230 HR - second in the A.L.) and speed (121 SB - tops in the league), and they'll be playing in a park that gives up its share of homers against a team that allows its share of stolen bases (base runners stole 50 bases against No. 1 catcher Brian McCann).  They also fared very well against Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka when they faced him earlier this year, scoring six runs in five innings against him.  And I haven't even mentioned Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who won 20 games and is a top contender for the Cy Young Award.

As a Mets fan, it was obvious who my pick was going to be in this game, but I don't have to be a fan of a 1962 team to know that our brother in expansion is going to win this game.

Prediction: Houston will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

This is the third straight season that the Bucs are playing in the wild card game.  They won the one-game playoff in 2013, but fell to the eventual World Series champion Giants in last year's game.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are making their first trip to the postseason since 2008.  Chicago has not won a playoff since Game Four of the 2003 NLCS.  If you know who Steve Bartman is, you know how that series ended up.

Jake Arrieta
The Cubs have advanced in the playoffs just once since the advent of divisional play and are hoping to move on to the division series to take on their hated division rivals in St. Louis.  To do so, they'll have to defeat the Pirates - a team they beat 11 times during the regular season.  But the Cubs will have Jake Arrieta on the mound at PNC Park.  And how did he fare in Pittsburgh's ballpark in 2015?  How about a 0.82 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and just 12 hits allowed in three starts in Pittsburgh?  And considering that Arrieta had a 0.75 ERA after the All-Star Break against every team he faced (an MLB record), how could anyone pick against him?

Madison Bumgarner was the hottest pitcher on the planet last October and he began his run of dominance in Pittsburgh in the wild card game.  Arrieta - a native Texan, y'all - has already had a head start and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be great in this game.

The Pirates may have won 98 games, but that won't be enough against a blazing hot pitcher who only needs to win one game.

Prediction: Chicago will advance to the NLDS.