MLB Playoff Picture: The Biggest Flaw of Each Playoff Team
As we put the 2012 MLB regular season in our rear-view mirrors, the postseason picture may have finally gained some clarity. But in all likelihood, the fireworks we've seen down the stretch are just the beginning of what will be a great postseason.
It will all take shape on Friday when the Texas Rangers host the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves host the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals in MLB's first wild-card games.
While every team still alive has plenty of positive points that set them apart from the rest, these very same teams ultimately have downfalls (as all teams do) that can instantly turn the tables in their opponent's favor.
With October baseball, sometimes there is no "tomorrow," so minimizing these flaws will no doubt be a focal point as teams get into the swing of things this weekend.
Atlanta Braves: Power
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It may have been Freddie Freeman's walk-off blast that clinched a postseason berth for the Atlanta Braves, but their strong pitching staff throughout the season has certainly had a hand in the proceedings in 2012. The pitching will likely make the difference in the team's wild-card tilt against the St. Louis Cardinals.
A strong outing from a pitcher can easily steal a one-game playoff, but in a series full of ups and downs, the Braves offense will need to step up.
From an overall offensive standpoint (home runs, doubles, slugging, OPS), the Braves rank last among all NL playoff teams, and those are all things they'll need on a nightly basis if they hope to make it past the NLDS.
Baltimore Orioles: Parity
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After spending year after year towards the bottom of the tough AL East, the Orioles are finally back in the postseason, and while they came up just short of a division title, they'll be battling the Texas Rangers for the final division series spot.
A number of elements have factored into the Orioles taking things so far this season. It seems as though every night Baltimore wins, a new hero emerges.
That very element could potentially be their undoing in the postseason should they reach the ALDS, because even though baseball is a team game as much as any other sport out there, having one star that can take over games sometimes means the difference between extending a series and going home.
Cincinnati Reds: Offense
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With all the great pitching staffs in large markets that get plenty of attention, some can lose sight of the fact that the Cincinnati Reds staff is better in almost every facet.
The team ranks seventh in batting average against, but the Reds rank third in the league in both team ERA (3.39) and WHIP (1.23). Better yet, they're second in quality starts, which gives a team's offense a chance to get to work night in and night out.
On the offensive side, however, the team is far less consistent, with the Reds ranking in the bottom third of the league in runs scored, batting average and on-base percentage.
Detroit Tigers: Defense
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Not many pitchers have had success against Miguel Cabrera, and as he may very well not even be in the prime of his career, it's scary to think of what he and the Detroit Tigers are capable of.
He's not alone there, however, as offseason acquisition Prince Fielder has given the Tigers another element of intimidation in the lineup.
In the field—well, that's another story.
The Tigers rank near the bottom of the league defensively with a minus-28.1 UZR, and while a team can rebound from a bad night in the field during the regular season, errors are magnified in the postseason as there's not always a tomorrow.
New York Yankees: Starting Pitching
The New York Yankees have been playing extremely good baseball in 2012, and though they were in a dog fight with the Baltimore Orioles over the AL East title, there's no doubting that the Bronx Bombers and their many stars have what it takes to make a run.
Whether it's Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter or Curtis Granderson, the offense is intimidating enough to strike fear into the best of pitching staffs.
And while the Yankees pitching staff once had the same impact, beyond CC Sabathia, they're very beatable as of late.
Hiroki Kuroda was a good signing for New York, but he posted a 5.22 ERA in September, and Ivan Nova was even worse before being pulled from the rotation.
Oakland Athletics: Patience
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After watching the Oakland Athletics' ascent in the AL West standings this season—namely in the past two weeks—it's hard not to believe that we could be witnessing something special heading into the postseason.
For all the positives that they've embodied, however, their lack of patience in the batter's box could get them into trouble as they go up against some of the best pitchers in the league.
The A's ranked 28th in the league in batting average in 2012, and they were nearly just as bad in on-base percentage, with their league-leading 1,387 strikeouts no doubt contributing to that downfall.
San Francisco Giants: Depth
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With one of the game's best (and highest-paid) pitchers leading things off for the San Francisco Giants, the team finds itself in a great position to get off to a good start in the NLDS.
Beyond Matt Cain, however, things get a little muddier.
Madison Bumgarner has been a good pitcher in 2012, but he has struggled as of late, and with Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong struggling as well, someone after Cain will need to step up to bring a World Series title back to the Bay Area.
St. Louis Cardinals: Starting Rotation
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The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals will no doubt look to do everything they can to retain their title, and while they've shown enough to lead many to believe they can make the wild-card push again, there are some deficiencies that could be exposed.
With Kyle Lohse at the top of the rotation, the Cardinals aren't putting out a a true "ace." While Adam Wainwright has recovered nicely from Tommy John surgery, he's been struggling somewhat of late, and it takes a few solid starters to make it past the NLDS.
Texas Rangers: Momentum
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After seeing where the Texas Rangers were just a month ago, it's hard to believe they now find themselves stuck in a one-game wild-card playoff just to get into a division series.
Losing a large division lead in the final two weeks of the season is demoralizing enough, but when you look at how they've fallen, there's plenty of concern that they're heading in the wrong direction.
Luckily for the Rangers, they've been in this position before, and with two straight World Series appearances under their belt, they know what it takes to perform in October.
Washington Nationals: Strasburg
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There will no doubt be a huge hole in the rotation this October with Stephen Strasburg on the shelf, and while Jordan Zimmermann and acquisitions Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson will hold down the top end of the rotation, the team would clearly benefit from having Strasburg around.
Strasburg's innings limitation ultimately cut short what was a great season, as he won 15 of his 28 starts while punching out better than 11 batters per nine innings.
In a shortened series, efforts from the team's starting pitchers should be plenty to advance, but as the postseason rolls on, the Nationals would obviously benefit from having one of the best pitchers in the league toeing the rubber at least a couple times during a series.