2012 Divisional Series: Complete Breakdown of Every Potential Matchup

Pete Schauer@@Pete_SchauerCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2012

2012 Divisional Series: Complete Breakdown of Every Potential Matchup

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    It took all 162 regular season games, but MLB postseason baseball is finally upon us, folks.

    The 2012 MLB playoffs begin with this year's new addition—a Wild Card playoff game between both leagues to determine who advances to the Division Series—on Friday, Oct. 5.

    The Atlanta Braves will host the St. Louis Cardinals at 5 p.m. ET while the Baltimore Orioles will travel to the Texas Rangers at 8:30 p.m. ET, both of which can be seen on TBS.

    We have you covered, breaking down every potential Division Series matchup for the 2012 MLB postseason.

    Here's your preview:

Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants

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    2012 Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 4-3 (Reds)

    The Cincinnati Reds will have the home-field advantage against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS in what promises to be a premiere matchup.

    The Reds—who were without 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto for a lengthy portion of the season—won the NL Central with incredible pitching, as they ranked in the top four in the MLB in ERA, quality starts and WHIP.

    Johnny Cueto—who led the Reds' staff in wins (19) and ERA (2.78) will get the nod for Game 1 against Matt Cain and the Giants, according to CSN Bay Area reporter Andrew Baggarly.

    Nats win. It'll be Cain vs. Cueto on Saturday at AT&T Park as #SFGiants and #Reds square off in NLDS.

    — Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) October 3, 2012

    Cueto will face a tough Giants offense that ranked No. 5 in batting average and No. 7 in OBP while sporting one of the MLB's top pitching staffs despite struggles by two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.

    The Reds have the advantage of finishing the series at home, where they sported a 50-31 record during the regular season all while posting a plus-81 run differential.

    The key for Cincinnati will be to get the ball to Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning to nail the game shut. If the Reds' starters can keep the Giants' hitters at bay—most notably Buster Posey—I like the Reds to advance to the NLCS.

Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 4-3 (Tigers)

    The MLB postseason is all about who comes in hot and the Oakland Athletics are certainly the hottest team in baseball right now.

    After trimming what seemed to be an insurmountable AL West lead and defeating the Texas Rangers with the division on the line on Wednesday, Oakland enters the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers having won six in a row.

    ESPN's Sports Center twitter account put the A's accomplishment in perspective, tweeting:

    The @athletics are AL West champs, coming back from 4 runs down & a 13-game division deficit to shock the Rangers.

    — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 3, 2012

    But it's going to be tough for an Oakland A's pitching staff—that was surprisingly effective in 2012—to contain 2012 AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers' offense, which ranked No. 11 in runs and No. 3 in OBP during the regular season.

    The key to this matchup will be if the A's pitching staff can hold down the Tigers' offense. Oakland's offense ranked near the middle-to-bottom in terms of offensive production during the regular season while the Tigers boasted a pitching staff led by Just Verlander that ranked No. 5 in strikeouts.

    As you can see above, these two teams didn't see too much of each other during the regular season, but you can bet they'll be prepared come Saturday.

    Despite the average offense displayed by the Athletics this season, I like Oakland in this series. They're the hotter team coming into the postseason and know how to win close games when the pressure's on.

Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees

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    2012 Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 9-9

    The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles saw a lot of each other this season and I think I speak for most MLB fans when I say this would be the best matchup to see in the ALDS.

    The Orioles had a handful of players step up to make a run at the division, including Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and pitchers Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman Jason Hammel, and of course closer Jim Johnson.

    These two teams split the season series, and despite posting just a plus-7 run differential, the Orioles found themselves in prime position to win the AL East division entering the final day of play.

    The Yankees, on the other hand, boasted the second-highest run differential (plus-136), led the MLB in home runs and earned the best record in baseball.

    While New York's pitching staff ranks in the middle of the pack statistically, they have experience on their side with guys like Andy Pettitte and C.C. Sabathia and an offense that can overpower you with just a few swings (just ask the Boston Red Sox).

    As good as this matchup was during the regular season, I'd take the Yankees if this matchup were to occur because of the team's postseason experience and the roster itself.

    Derek Jeter had arguably his best offensive season, Robinson Cano is the hottest hitter in the game and Ichiro Suzuki has been a revelation for the Bronx Bombers.

    I think ESPN's tweet describes Cano's hot hitting the best:

    If you throw to Robinson Cano right now, he will completely demoralize you.

    — ESPN (@espn) October 4, 2012

    Baltimore didn't exactly contain Cano during the regular season, as the slugger hit .282/.354/.479 with three home runs and eight RBI.

    Hats off to what the Orioles have done this season under Buck Showalter, but I have to think that the Yankees would beat Baltimore in the ALDS if the O's defeat the Rangers in the Wild Card game.

Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees

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    2012 Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 4-3 (Yankees)

    The Texas Rangers are reeling, fresh off Wednesday's loss that saw them relinquish the division after holding an enormous lead for most of the season, while the Yankees clinched the AL East after battling the Baltimore Orioles for the latter portion of the 2012 campaign.

    Even the Texas Rangers organization made note of the team's collapse, tweeting:

    Texas Rangers looked like the US Ryder Cup team this week....leading until the end collapse #MLB #Playoffs bit.ly/PErvZA

    — Texas Rangers (@MLB_Rangers_) October 4, 2012

    If the Rangers beat the Orioles and meet New York in the ALDS, the Yankees would have the advantage.

    For one, the Bombers have the confidence of never once giving up the division lead while the Rangers blew it, and while both teams have big postseason experience, New York has players who have found success in October.

    The Rangers can beat teams with their offense, but their pitching is average and the Yankees have the playoff pitching to shut down the Texas offense.

    Texas enters the one-game Wild Card game against the O's having lost seven out of its last 10 games while New York has lost just three of its last 10 games and is winning with great pitching and a scorching offense.

    I believe the key to this series (if it happens) will be the Yankees' starting pitching, but more importantly Andy Pettitte. For his entire career, Pettitte has been a big-game lefty and would likely get the ball for Game 2 on the road, giving New York the advantage.

    In the end, I think the Rangers' collapse will come back to haunt them. Whether it's in the Wild Card game against Baltimore or in the ALDS against the Yanks, you won't be seeing the Rangers in the World Series for a third consecutive year.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals

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    2012 Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 4-3 (Nationals)

    Having made the postseason for the first time and amassing the best record in Nationals' franchise history (via Nationals' twitter account), Washington looks poised to make a deep run in the 2012 postseason.

    The #Nats finish the regular season 98-64, the best record in Nationals/Expos franchise history

    Washington Nationals (@Nationals) October 3, 2012

    The Nats enter the playoffs 6-4 in their last 10 games and boasted the highest run differential in the MLB, with a plus-137 mark.

    If St. Louis get into the NLDS, the scrappy Cardinals will present a tough matchup for Washington.

    These two squads only played seven games against each other this season, and without their best pitcher entering the postseason for the first time, there could be some butterflies floating around the Nationals' dugout.

    The Cardinals are a battle-tested club with a winning mentality and receive an immediate boost with the return of Chris Carpenter to the starting rotation.

    Washington pitching, which ranks in the top five in the league in terms of ERA, quality starts, WHIP and batting average against, needs to contain Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and a Cardinals' offense that ranked No. 5 in runs and No. 1 in on-base percentage.

    With the new playoff format, the Nationals will play the last three games of the divisional series in Nationals Park, where they were 50-31 during the regular season.

    If St. Louis is going to advance to the NLCS, they'll need clutch hits from Molina, Beltran, Holliday and more to overcome one of the most dominant pitching staffs in all of baseball with Gio Gonzalez leading the way.

    I'm picking the Nationals to advance to the NLCS against the Reds.

Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals

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    2012 Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 10-8 (Nationals)

    As division foes, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals saw a lot of each other this season.

    The Braves clinched the Wild Card with superb pitching, highlighted by a team ERA of 3.42 (No. 5) and a 1.23 WHIP (No. 4). However, the problem that I see with Atlanta going forward is run production.

    Atlanta ranked in the lower-half of the MLB in runs, batting average and on-base percentage, making it extremely tough to get anything going against a Nationals' starting staff that ranked No. 2 in the league with a combined 3.40 ERA and .240 batting average against.

    Offensively, the Braves will be looking to Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to produce runs, while Kris Medlen, in my mind, is a huge key to the Braves' success in the postseason, as this tweet from the Braves' official twitter account shows:

    The Braves have won the last 23 games that Medlen has started, the longest streak in Major League history.

    — Atlanta Braves (@Braves) September 30, 2012

    If Braves' pitchers surrender a lot of runs against this Nationals, it's going to be difficult to come back. Washington has proven time and time again this season that they can win close games and don't need a lot of run support to earn a victory.

    Whether it's the Braves or the Cardinals, I think the Nationals' roster is built to make a postseason run behind a strong rotation and an above-average offense.

    Nationals advance.

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