Each MLB Contender's Worst Would-Be Playoff Matchup
Every team in the MLB playoff hunt just wants to make it to October. Players on contending teams will tell you that they don't really care which team they have to face once they get there.
What they won't tell you is that there's at least one team out there that each of them really, really doesn't want to face.
This is true even of the best teams in each league. The Yankees have teams that they just don't match up well against, and so do the Nationals. The Rangers and Reds have mortal enemies of their own as well.
Teams would no doubt love if they could pick and choose the teams they get to play in the postseason, but in the end it will be the luck of the draw.
Here's a look at matchups that MLB contenders are hoping they don't draw once they get to October.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. We'll start in the AL East and work our way to the NL West.
New York Yankees: Tampa Bay Rays
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When the Yankees get to the postseason, the question will be which team in the American League has the best shot at keeping the Bombers from bombing away.
That would be the Tampa Bay Rays. No question about it.
The Rays are 7-5 against the Yankees this season, and their pitching is a big reason why. Rays pitchers have a solid 3.98 ERA against the Yankees in 2012. Just as important, Rays pitchers have limited Yankees hitters to a .400 slugging percentage.
No other team in the American League has held the Yankees to such a low slugging percentage. Furthermore, Rays pitchers have held Yankees hitters to a .721 OPS, their lowest against any team.
Keep in mind that the Yankees haven't played the Rays since early July when the Rays were still treading water while waiting for Evan Longoria to come back. With him back and David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields all pitching well since the All-Star break, the Rays look like more of a matchup problem for the Yankees now than ever before.
The Yankees would be much better off playing the Rangers. Seeing as how they're the two-time defending AL champs with the second-best record in the league, that's saying something.
Tampa Bay Rays: Baltimore Orioles
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Right about now, it's looking like the Rays have far and away the best pitching staff in the American League. Because of that, they'll stand a chance against any team they come up against in the postseason.
Except maybe the Orioles.
Rays pitchers have handled the Orioles just fine this season, posting a 2.38 ERA against them in 12 games. The problem is that O's pitchers have somehow managed to master Rays hitters this season, holding them to a .210 batting average and a mere .626 OPS.
Just as concerning for the Rays is the fact that the Orioles have a bullpen that's just as good as their own. The Rays and Orioles rank first and third in the AL in bullpen ERA, respectively, and the Orioles pen ranks second in the league in wins and first in saves.
The Orioles are at their best when games are close, as they boast an absurd 23-6 record in one-run games. Despite their great pitching, the Rays are only 18-19 in such games.
These two teams could very well end up playing each other in the AL Wild Card play-in game. It would be a mismatch on paper, but you shouldn't be surprised if the O's were to pull off the upset.
Baltimore Orioles: Oakland A's
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Due to their shaky starting pitching and hit-or-miss offense, the Orioles don't look like a playoff team.
It's looking like they will be a playoff team, however, and that's due to their timely hitting, their deep bullpen and the confidence they have playing under Buck Showalter.
Timely hitting? Deep bullpen? Swagger?
That's a mix the Oakland A's can match better than any team in the AL.
The A's have cooled off a little bit in the month of August, but that's understandable considering they were hotter than the surface of the sun in July. They scored walk-off victory after walk-off victory, and their bullpen ended up going a perfect 9-0 for the month.
The Orioles tend to win games in which they get six quality innings out of their starting pitcher and then just let their bullpen take over. Mix in a clutch hit or two, and you've got an Orioles victory.
The A's would easily be able to hang with the Orioles in games like those in the postseason. Their bullpen goes just as deep as Baltimore's, and their offense is just as good at producing clutch hits as Baltimore's is, if not better.
Sounds like a recipe for an instant classic of a play-in game.
Chicago White Sox: Detroit Tigers
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The White Sox have been the most consistent team in the AL Central all season long, but there's a perception out there shared by many that they're just a placeholder for the underachieving Tigers.
The White Sox didn't do much to dispel this notion the last time they played the Tigers in July. They were swept in three games at Comerica Park in convincing fashion.
It was apparent then that the Tigers are a bad matchup for the White Sox, and that's a notion that's supported by the numbers. Sox hurlers have a 4.77 ERA against the Tigers this season, and Sox hitters have hit just .239 with a .688 OPS against Tigers pitchers.
There'd be hope for the White Sox in a postseason series against the Tigers if they matched up well against Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Alas, they don't. Cabrera has an .876 OPS and three home runs against Chicago this season. Fielder has fared even better, posting a .429 average and a 1.084 OPS against the White Sox.
Also worth noting is the fact that Chris Sale has an ERA of an even 6.00 against the Tigers, and Jake Peavy has an ERA over 5.00 against them.
If the White Sox make it to October, they better hope they draw someone else.
Detroit Tigers: New York Yankees
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The Tigers will be a dangerous matchup for any team if they make it to October, as they'll be able to line up Justin Verlander and Doug Fister to support a lineup featuring three elite hitters in Cabrera, Fielder and Austin Jackson.
But if they come up against the Yankees, they should be worried.
The Yankees were dominated by Verlander the last time they faced him, but he has a tendency to look human against the Bombers. Even despite his dominant outing against them earlier this month, Yankees hitters have managed to hit Verlander at a .294 clip in three starts this season. No other team in MLB has a higher average against him.
Tigers pitchers in general haven't fared well against the Yankees. They have a 5.30 ERA against the Bombers, with 15 home runs allowed in 10 games.
There's also the revenge factor to consider. The Tigers knocked the Yankees out of the postseason in 2011. New York would no doubt love to return the favor.
Texas Rangers: New York Yankees
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The Rangers just lost three out of four to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, so seeing the Yankees listed as their nightmare matchup here shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
And besides, let's be honest: The fact that the Rangers were knocked around by a Yankee team without CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte just doesn't bode well.
The chief concern for the Rangers against the Yankees would be how much Texas would be able to rely on its starting pitchers, some of whom would surely have problems against the Yankees.
Yu Darvish has control problems, which would be an issue against a Yankees team that ranks fourth in baseball in on-base percentage.
Derek Holland has a bad case of gopheritis. The Yankees lead MLB in gopher balls.
Ryan Dempster...well, we all saw what the Yankees did to him.
The Rangers would surely need a little extra offense against the Yankees if these two clubs were to meet in the postseason. Unfortunately for the Rangers, only two teams have held them to lower batting averages this season than the Yankees.
Keep in mind that the Yankees are looking for revenge against the Rangers, too. It was the Rangers who knocked them out of the playoffs back in 2010.
Oakland A's: Tampa Bay Rays
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The A's should not be underestimated, because of how strong their pitching staff is, but all their pitching won't do them much good if a team manages to master their offense.
That's by no means an impossible mission, but the Rays are better equipped to do it than any other team in the Junior Circuit.
Rays pitchers have a solid 2.73 ERA against the A's this season, and they've held A's hitters to a triple-slash line of .185/.272/.295. That's good for a .568 OPS. Only the Kansas City Royals have done better against Oakland's offense this season (go figure).
It was just a couple weeks ago that the Rays and A's played each other. The A's took the first game of a three-game series but then scored just one run against James Shields and Alex Cobb in the next two games.
Shields and Cobb may be the two weakest links in Tampa Bay's starting rotation at the moment, which says something about just how well the Rays starting pitchers have been performing in recent weeks.
Against the likes of David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson in a short postseason series, the A's would be in trouble.
Los Angeles Angels: Tampa Bay Rays
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The last team the Angels want to see right now is the Rays.
After their four-game sweep of the Angels over the weekend, the Rays are now 9-1 against the Angels this season. Their pitchers have a 2.02 ERA against the Angels, who have hit just .228/.268/.338 against the Rays.
Worse, Angels pitchers have a 5.46 ERA against the Rays, whose hitters have a solid .793 OPS against Angels pitchers.
Not even Jered Weaver could master the Rays, who tagged him for a career-worst nine earned runs on Friday. The very next day, C.J. Wilson fumbled away an 8-0 lead.
It's going to take an extraordinary run for the Angels even to make the postseason. If they get there and find the Rays waiting for them, despair will be prevalent.
Washington Nationals: Cincinnati Reds
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The Nationals have the best record in baseball, at 75-46, and their mix of pitching, hitting and defense makes them a tough matchup for every contender in the National League.
The team that matches up best against them, however, is the Cincinnati Reds.
The Nationals are a better offensive team than the Reds, but the Reds have two pitchers in Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos who are perfectly capable of taming Washington's bats. Cueto has been money all season, and Latos has posted a 2.42 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP since the All-Star break.
It would be one thing if the Nationals knew they were going to have Stephen Strasburg in the postseason, but it would be up to Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez to match wits with Cueto and Latos in the playoffs if these two teams come up against each other. Zimmermann and Gonzalez represent a great one-two punch, but no doubt the Reds think their one-two punch is better.
One thing the Reds know for sure is that their bullpen is definitely better than Washington's. The Reds bullpen leads the MLB with a 2.67 ERA, and games are pretty much over as soon as Cincinnati has Aroldis Chapman on the mound with a lead.
What's even scarier for the Nationals is the fact that Joey Votto has a 1.458 OPS against them this season. They'd rather not see him in October if they can help it.
Atlanta Braves: Washington Nationals
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The Braves are the biggest sleeper in the National League, but one team that won't be afraid of them in October is the Nationals.
The Braves are just 4-8 against the Nationals this season, who have outplayed the Braves in just about every aspect of the game. Braves pitchers have a 5.13 ERA against the Nats, and Braves hitters have hit just .239/.322/.366 against Nats pitchers this season.
As far as pitching goes, Zimmermann and Gonzalez would match up well against whomever the Braves choose to throw at them. Just as problematic is the fact that the Nats have several hitters who have feasted on Braves pitching this season.
Bryce Harper has been a thorn in Braves' side, hitting three homers and posting a .924 OPS against them. Ryan Zimmerman has four homers and 15 RBI against Atlanta this season. Michael Morse has homered twice against the Braves and posted a .941 OPS.
A matchup between the Braves and Nationals in the playoffs would be a matchup between the old guard and the new guard. If it comes to that, the new guard will have the edge.
Cincinnati Reds: Arizona Diamondbacks
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The Nationals would be a very tough matchup for the Reds, but the Reds would struggle most with a team that can handle their beastly pitching.
The numbers favor the Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks and Reds have met only once this season, splitting a four-game series at Great American Ballpark in July. The Diamondbacks gave the Reds hell in that series, hitting .308/.369/.473 with five home runs.
Keep in mind that this is with a Johnny Cueto-led shutout mixed in. Take that game out of the equation, and Arizona's offensive numbers against the Reds are even more impressive.
The Reds would almost certainly have home-field advantage in a playoff series against the Diamondbacks, but that's something that could actually work to Arizona's advantage. Diamondbacks pitchers have a 3.39 ERA on the road, compared to 4.43 at home.
A lot of things have to happen for this series to become a reality, but it would be a good one if it comes to fruition.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Los Angeles Dodgers
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The Dodgers are to the Pirates as the Rays are to the Angels. For a variety of reasons, the Dodgers just have had Pittsburgh's number this season.
The Dodgers are 6-1 against the Pirates in 2012, and that record is no fluke. They've thoroughly outplayed the Pirates in their matchups.
Dodgers pitchers have a 3.05 ERA against the Pirates this season, holding their hitters to a triple-slash line of .219/.263/.362.
Pirates pitchers haven't fared nearly as well against Dodgers hitters, posting a 5.70 ERA while allowing Dodgers hitters to hit them at a .298/.337/.401 clip.
Matt Kemp likes hitting against the Pirates, driving in six runs against them with a .370 batting average. Hanley Ramirez has a 1.399 OPS against the Pirates with two homers and eight RBI.
The Pirates would be better off playing the Reds than they would the Dodgers. They may be the only team in the NL that can honestly say that.
St. Louis Cardinals: Atlanta Braves
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The Braves don't look like such a tough matchup for the Cardinals on paper. But as is usually the case, what is true on paper hasn't been true out on the field.
The Cardinals are just 1-5 against Atlanta this season, and that's thanks in large part to poor pitching. Cardinals hurlers have a 6.38 ERA against the Braves in 2012, their highest against any team. Braves hitters have an .805 OPS against Cardinals pitchers, second only to the Colorado Rockies among Cardinals opponents.
Michael Bourn has enjoyed himself against the Cardinals, hitting .357 against them with a pair of home runs. Chipper Jones has hit .333 against them. Freddie Freeman has hit .375 against them.
What's troubling for the Cardinals is that Braves hitters have been particularly productive against them at Busch Stadium, hitting .290/.385/.452. They racked up those numbers in a three-game sweep of the Cardinals at Busch Stadium back in May.
My guess is that the Cardinals would rather not host them again in October.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Arizona Diamondbacks
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The Dodgers have played very good baseball since they made all their moves just before the trade deadline, but the Diamondbacks were able to stand in their way without any trouble. They swept the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium just a few weeks ago.
All told, the Diamondbacks have actually won six in a row against the Dodgers, dating back to early July. Their domination of the Dodgers is no accident, as the Diamondbacks have clearly outplayed them when they've gotten together.
Diamondbacks hitters are hitting .283/.352/.459 with 13 home runs against Dodgers pitchers this season. Their own pitchers have a 2.78 ERA against the Dodgers, holding them to a .677 OPS.
They say Dodger Stadium is a pitchers' park, and Diamondbacks pitchers can most definitely vouch. They're 4-1 in LA's home digs with a sparking 1.43 ERA.
The Diamondbacks don't have anybody who can match up against Clayton Kershaw, but it's pretty clear that they're a troubling matchup for the Dodgers everywhere else.
San Francisco Giants: Washington Nationals
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We haven't talked about the Giants yet, and there's a good reason for that: As good as their pitching is, it hasn't fared very well against quality teams. Giants pitchers have an ERA of 3.16 against teams with sub-.500 records and an ERA of 4.29 against teams with records of .500 or better.
The Nationals have done their part to drive that number up this season. They've won five of six against the Giants, and they've done that largely by owning Giants pitching.
Giants pitchers have an ugly 7.49 ERA against the Nats, who boast a triple-slash line of .333/.387/.551 against San Francisco.
The one victory the Giants have managed against the Nats in 2012 came courtesy of a complete game by Madison Bumgarner. However, the Nats offense was also responsible for Bumgarner's worst start of the season, battering him around for seven earned runs on July 4.
Giants hitters haven't fared all that poorly against the Nationals this season, but one guy who may not be around to help is Melky Cabrera. He hit .368 against the Nats this season, but his 50-game suspension could very well cost him a chance to help the Giants beat them if they happen to meet the Nats in the division series.
Whether the Giants can even get that far without Cabrera is very much debatable.
Arizona Diamondbacks: St. Louis Cardinals
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You can't sleep on the Cardinals after what they did last season, and we'll know they're primed for another deep run in October if they find themselves matched up against the Diamondbacks in the postseason.
Pitching is not Arizona's main strength, and the Cardinals have definitely taken advantage of that reality in their games against the Diamondbacks this season. They've hit .284/.341/.543 with 12 home runs in only six games against Arizona this season, winning five of them.
Not to be outdone, Cardinals pitchers have also had their ways with the Diamondbacks this season, posting a 2.50 ERA and holding Arizona hitters to a .676 OPS.
Chase Field was very kind to the Cardinals when they visited the Diamondbacks in May. They swept the Diamondbacks in a three-game series, hitting eight home runs in the process.
The Diamondbacks are going to need a strong run in the season's final weeks to make the postseason. They better hope that the Cardinals don't go on a run of their own.
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