Full Predictions for the MLB Divisional Playoff Series
As we put the 2012 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 play-in games.
On Saturday, each division series will take shape, and whether it's a pitching staff that has top-line starting pitching or a pair of sluggers who can intimidate anyone facing them on the mound, every team has something that sets it apart from the rest.
Here are the full predictions for the 2012 MLB divisional playoff series.
AL Wild-Card Game: Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers
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After two consecutive World Series losses, the Texas Rangers have all the motivation they need to produce down the stretch and get over the hump so they can take the Fall Classic by storm.
Additions to the pitching staff since last fall have done enough to help out on that end, but it will ultimately be the team's offense that will make the difference down the stretch.
Unfortunately (maybe) for the Rangers, they're going up against one of the best stories in baseball, as the Baltimore Orioles have emerged as contenders after spending countless years toward the bottom of the tough AL East.
Though they came up short of a division title, what has gotten the Orioles this far is what will likely continue to propel them. Every night they win, the O's have a new hero emerge; whether it's a strong start from their rotation, an offensive burst or a late-inning shutdown, anyone can lift the O's on any given night.
ALDS: Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers
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Following the massive sell-off that GM Billy Beane engineered this past offseason, the Oakland Athletics' successes have to come as a surprise to many around baseball.
The team currently ranks in the top 10 in the league in quality starts, batting average against, ERA and WHIP—and a season-ending series win against the Rangers sent an emphatic message. The team came back from a 5-1 deficit to take the division title and head into the ALDS with plenty of momentum.
They'll run into a Detroit Tigers squad that has some momentum of their own, having spent the majority of the season looking up at the Chicago White Sox in the standings only to overtake them down the stretch for the AL Central crown.
You also need to factor in baseball's newest Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, who has had success against seemingly every pitcher out there. He had a .483 average in seven games against the A's this season and drove in 14 runs.
He's not alone there, however, as offseason acquisition Prince Fielder has given the Tigers another element of intimidation in the lineup that could prove too much to handle in a fully drawn out series.
Winner: Tigers in 5
ALDS: Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees
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The New York Yankees have been playing extremely good baseball in 2012, and though they were in a dogfight 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 another run.
A who's-who of players like Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and CC Sabathia, among many others, can change the game on their own. When you look at the collective effort, facing the Yankees is always a tall task.
The Baltimore Orioles, however, have done an admirable job facing the beasts of the east. They split the season series with the Yankees, 9-9, and narrowed the gap down the stretch to force the Yankees to produce in their final series of the regular season.
As good of a story as Baltimore has been in 2012, the Yankees are better conditioned for the rigors of postseason play. While they'll no doubt give them all they can handle, the nightly run of heroes for the O's could run out.
Jeter alone has shown his ability to rise to the occasion in a postseason series, and as he sits in the midst of one of his best seasons as a professional, he'll key New York to yet another ALCS appearance.
Winner: Yankees in 5
NL Wild-Card Game: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves
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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.
The Braves staff ranks fourth in MLB in batting average against, fifth in ERA and sixth in WHIP. And with a solid contingent of bullpen options, any opposing team better hope it can score its runs early.
With the Cardinals, you have a team that has done a very admirable job pacing the offense without one of the game's best hitters in the lineup in Albert Pujols.
With MLB's best team on-base percentage (.339), fourth-best team batting average (.271) and fifth-most runs scored (745), this game should come down to the wire as the two teams have relatively different strengths—meaning something will have to give.
NLDS: Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants
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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.
Homer Bailey was the latest Red to make a big impact with his no-hitter just a couple weeks back, but it's been a team effort all season long that's gotten this team into postseason positioning once again in 2012.
The team ranks eighth in BAA but ranks third in the league in both team ERA (3.39) and WHIP (1.23), and, better yet, second in quality starts, which gives a team's offense a chance to do its job night in and night out.
They'll go up against a San Francisco Giants squad that's balanced enough to hold up to such a rotation, but when it comes down to it, the Reds could prove to be too much to handle.
Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner pace an impressive Giants rotation, and the young phenom Buster Posey leads the team's offense. It still wouldn't be surprising to see the Reds advance in a hard-fought series that comes down to late-inning offense as the difference-maker.
Winner: Reds in 4
NLDS: Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves
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After seeing just how good the Atlanta Braves' pitching staff can be throughout the season, the Washington Nationals will no doubt have their hands full should they end up facing their division foe in the NLDS.
The Washington Nationals are no different from a pitching standpoint, as they're sitting second in the league in team ERA, WHIP and batting average against.
Atlanta scored fewer runs (69) against the Nationals than any other team in the NL East but had its share of successes in head-to-head matchups, narrowly losing the season series 8-10.
There will obviously be a huge hole in the rotation this October with Stephen Strasburg on the shelf, but with Jordan Zimmermann and acquisitions Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson holding down the top end of the rotation, the team is still in great hands.
Having not made a postseason appearance in more than three decades, the franchise is certainly taking this series seriously. They will be out there with everything they have as the team looks for all the offseason efforts in the front office to bear some fruits.
Winner: Nationals in 4