Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 MLB Playoffs

I admit, I'm not consistent with my blog posts. They've become incredibly sporadic, and apparently they draw the uncontrolled ire of readers. (Still curious about that one...) However, one thing I have been able to keep up with since the earliest days of my blog is the MLB Playoffs. I like to think I typically know what I'm talking... er, blogging about in regards to October baseball. So here goes:

Texas RANGERS (90-72) vs. Tampa Bay RAYS (96-66)

2010 Regular Season Series: Tampa Bay, 4-2

I'll tell you right now, the Rays are my favorite to represent the AL in the World Series. Do they have flaws? Big time. A team that hits .247 collectively is not one to typically rally behind. They were dangerously close to being no-hit multiple times this season and were held to two or fewer hits eight times this season. Patient at the plate they are not, which is normally a major key to success. Their offense, however, is opportunistic. Give them an inch and they'll make you pay dearly. With news coming out last night that Evan Longoria has been cleared to play in Game 1, their lineup becomes that much stronger. While BJ Upton went on an absolute tear in the 2008 playoffs - which definitely propelled them - he should still be feared and heavily respected. Obviously, Longoria, Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford are the big guns to look out for, but Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and even Sean Rodriguez can make you pay with their excellent situational hitting. I'm actually incredibly pleased to see the Rangers back in the playoffs finally. They're a franchise that deserves to win sooner rather than later. I can appreciate Nolan Ryan and his eagerness to produce a winner down in Arlington. Also, bringing in Cliff Lee was the best midseason move any team made - yes, including the Roy Oswalt deal in Philadelphia. Lee gives the Rangers the legitimate ace the team has lacked since ... well ... maybe Ryan himself. Despite Lee's late season struggles, you can't ignore his postseason dominance of a year ago (4-0, 1.56 ERA, 33/6 K:BB ratio in 5 starts for the Phillies). Past Lee though, the Rangers' rotation scares me. Lee has the ability to simply dominate teams and keep them guessing. CJ Wilson and Tommy Hunter do not. While posting respectable season stats (15-8, 3.35 and 13-4, 3.73, respectively), they'll be overmatched with the Rays' firepower. Both teams have terrific bullpens, featuring two of the top three closers in the league in Rafael Soriano and soon-to-be-named AL ROY Neftali Feliz. So caution to both teams: don't get caught down a run or two late, or else it's over. One area that the Rangers do have going for them is their potent offense. Regaining the AL MVP in Josh Hamilton keeps considerably and Vladimir Guerrero is already an established postseason stalwart. The Rangers led the entire league in batting average, which clearly cannot be ignored; however, I just feel the overall lack of postseason experience will catch up to the Rangers. And oh yeah - I'd take Joe Maddon 50 times out of 50 before ever taking Ron Washington in a series. That really cannot be ignored. I expect Lee to beat the Rays in Game 1 before the Rays take the next three, which includes beating Lee on short rest in Game 4.

My prediction: Rays in 4.

New York YANKEES (95-67) vs. Minnesota TWINS (94-68)

2010 Regular Season Series: New York, 4-2 So let's get this straight. The Twins are the home town and only one separated these two teams during the regular season? So why does this series feel so lopsided? The Twins have a better team batting average than the Yankees (.273 to .267), and a better team ERA (3.95 to 4.06). Is it the famed Yankee mystique? The utter, inexplicable quality that makes baseball analysts blindly pick them despite numbers that argue otherwise (::cough cough:: Jon Heyman)? The Yankees definitely stumbled down the stretch, giving away the division - and home field advantage in the AL - to the Rays. Their pitching staff looked absolutely miserable during the final week and a half, save for one AJ Burnett start. However, history is just against the Twins. Dating back to 2002, the Twins are 3-16 in their last 19 postseason games, including a 2-9 stretch in the last three postseason meetings (2003, 2004 and 2009). The Twins, unfortunately, always seem to have the "happy-to-be-here" appearance every October. Despite making an incredible push during the second half of this year sans their All-star closer and All-star, former MVP first baseman, I don't see this series going past the minimum. This series will ultimately come down to one area in my mind - the Yankees offense versus the Twins slightly-above-average pitching. The Yankee squad averaged more than 5 runs a game and beat up very good pitching. Despite Derek Jeter's uncharacteristic season and Mark Teixeira beating slightly beat up, the Yankees should feast on the likes of Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing. Francisco Liriano had a great comeback season and would normally be a great option to rely on for a Game 1 victory; however, CC will continue to be a beast for the Yankees. Given the choice, I'm not sure I'd take any pitcher in the playoffs over CC for Game 1. The Yanks announced today that they'll be going with a three-man rotation of Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, which is definitely the right decision, as you can bring CC back on short rest. Pettitte didn't look sharp closing out the season, but he's among the most proven vets in the playoffs ever. Hughes was one of the few (or ... two...) Yank starters that didn't have the deer-in-the-headlights look to close out the season. Lastly, with Mo waiting in the pen to close it out, I don't see the Twinkies standing a chance. Maybe the Twins steal the game Pettitte starts, but I highly doubt it. My prediction: Yankees in 3
Cincinnati REDS (91-71) vs. Philadelphia PHILLIES (97-65)

2010 Regular Season Series: Philadelphia, 5-2 Nice season, Cincinnati. You held off the perennial favorites in the Cardinals and look large strides forward to realizing the talent you have. Joey Votto is my pick for the MVP and the pitching staff was quite surprising. However, this is about all I can say about the Reds for this series. Roy Halladay has never pitched a postseason inning and he'll be beyond amped to finally get a crack at it. Between Halladay, Oswalt and 2008 WS MVP Cole Hamels, no team will beat the Phillies in the short series ... or a long series, either. Not only do the Phillies have by far the best postseason rotation, they have quite the offense, too. Even with a slightly injured Jimmy Rollins, they're still loaded top to bottom. Jayson Werth has taken off during the final month+, slamming 9 HRs and driving in 22 runs. Add his late-season emergence to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez' power and the Cincinnati staff doesn't stand a chance, even with Placido Polanco still ailing. I like the Phillies in a sweep with their rotation showcasing its dominance.

My prediction: Phillies in 3.
Atlanta BRAVES (91-71) vs. San Francisco GIANTS (92-70)

2010 Regular Season Series: Atlanta, 4-3 In this series, two things make the difference for me - pitching and home field and the Giants have both in their favor. Offensively, the teams are pretty even, with the Braves collectively hitting .258 and the Giants .257. The Braves are peskier though, holding the fourth-best on-base percentage in the majors at .339, so they know how to get on. A little hypocritically speaking too, the Braves have the more proven postseason pitchers in Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. Postseason newbie Tommy Hanson is certainly no pushover, either. I personally think beating Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain three times in five games is impossible, but if there's a way to do it, it's through pesky at-bats and finding ways to get on base. Neither pitcher has thrown a frame in the postseason, which is definitely something to keep in mind. Honestly, the more I analyze these teams, the closer I see the match-up being. Thus, in such a situation, I'll always go with the home team. I think Lincecum and Cain will be too overmatching to beat three times in a series. Thanks for the memories, Bobby Cox. I'll go against the season series results for the first time.

My prediction: Giants in 5. So Rays-Yankees and Phillies and Giants. I like Rays in 7 and Phillies in 6. A rematch of the 2008 World Series - same ending, too. I'll take the Phils (in their third-straight WS appearance).

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