MLB Playoff Bracket 2012: Plotting Each Team's Path to the World Series
With the MLB playoff bracket now set in stone, it's time to take a look at how each team will need to perform in order to reach the Fall Classic.
Rarely do we see the best team in baseball winning the World Series. There are a myriad of things that factor in to a team winning it all like momentum, matchups, as well as clutch hitting and the strength of a pitching staff.
So when all of these factors are taken into account, here's what each team needs to do in order to reach the World Series.
San Francisco Giants
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The San Francisco Giants—even though they clinched a playoff berth way back on September 23—haven't taken the foot off the pedal since Melky Cabrera was suspended for the rest of the regular season.
The Giants of 2012 are a much different team than they were in 2010 when they won the World Series. They were a team that was reliant on hitting home runs and depending on their pitching staff to shut down opposing offenses.
This year, however, they have a legitimate offense that ranks 12th in the majors in runs scored with 717.
The pitching will be there for the Giants, and it starts with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. After that, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are both pitchers that are capable of bringing it on any given night.
What the Giants will need to succeed in the postseason is simply the top of the lineup to keep doing what it's doing.
Have Pagan and Scutaro get on base in front of Pablo Sandoval, Posey and Hunter Pence and manufacture runs that way.
Don't let the Giants fool you. The offense will be the main reason why they'll be successful in the playoffs.
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The thing about the NL this year is that there's no one team that is a clear-cut favorite to win it all.
The easy answer would've been the Washington Nationals around a month ago, but they just aren't as scary without Stephen Strasburg in the starting rotation.
Instead, they will be rolling with Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler—both solid pitchers—but the depth of the Nationals' rotation took a devastating hit as soon as the organization decided to sit Strasburg down for the season.
Luckily for the Nationals, you can win with two aces atop the rotation, and that's exactly what they have with Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. They also have a respectable bullpen, whose team ERA of 3.25 is the eighth-lowest in the majors.
On offense, Jayson Werth is one of the few players on the roster with some playoff experience, so look for him to come up with some clutch hits.
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Out of all the teams in the postseason, the Cincinnati Reds are the most complete and well-balanced.
The pitching, which has been a weakness of the team for at least the last decade, has turned into a strength.
The bullpen has the lowest ERA in the majors at 2.66, which is the main reason they should be the favorites to win the Fall Classic this year.
But it's not just the bullpen.
They have three legitimate starters in Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey, all of whom possess the ability to shut down opposing offenses.
And don't forget about the lineup that has names like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.
What the Reds need to do is put runs on the board early and have a lead by the sixth inning. Then Dusty Baker can turn the game over to his bullpen and let them take care of the rest.
Balance is a key feature for a team to have in the playoffs because when something is going wrong, the team can find another way to win.
That's exactly what the Reds are capable of doing.
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Similar to the Cincinnati Reds, the Atlanta Braves' strength lies in their pitching—specifically the bullpen.
Their team ERA currently sits at 2.80, which is the second-lowest in the majors.
First of all, they'll need to rely on Kris Medlen to get them past the Wild Card stage. If they happen to win that game, the depth in their starting rotation will allow them to make it far in the postseason.
However, the offense is no juggernaut by any means. They scored 696 runs during the regular season, good enough for 17th in the majors.
One player that will need to step up is Michael Bourn. He is the sparkplug of this offense and has the capability to wreak havoc on the base paths. If he can get on base consistently ahead of Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, the Braves can put up runs in a hurry.
St. Louis Cardinals
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The St. Louis Cardinals got hot at the right time last year, and that's mainly why they were able to win the World Series.
This year, however, they did just enough to creep into the postseason by posting a 16-13 record to finish off the season.
One player that will need to step up is Carlos Beltran. After getting off to an extremely hot start in the beginning of the season, he cooled off as the season progressed by batting .200 in July, .211 in August and .286 in September.
New York Yankees
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It's as simple as this: if the New York Yankees hope to make some noise in the postseason this year, the starting pitching is going to need to produce.
Outside of C.C. Sabathia, there isn't a pitcher on the staff the Yankees will feel comfortable sending to the mound. Hiroki Kuroda might be another, but his 5.22 ERA in the month of September is quite alarming, especially for a 37-year-old.
But because they are the Yankees, the pitching staff doesn't have to be lights out every game. Their offense scored the second-most runs in the majors during the regular season.
If Kuroda and Andy Pettitte can keep the Yankees in ball games, don't count out the Yankees quite yet.
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If there is one thing in baseball essential for a team to have in order to win in the postseason, it's momentum.
Luckily for the Oakland A's, that's exactly what they have and more so than any other team in the majors.
Absolutely no one—probably not even Billy Beane himself—could've predicted the A's being this successful this season, and they will milk every ounce of the underdog card that they possibly can.
What the A's are built around is solid pitching and hitting the long ball, which is eerily reminiscent of the San Francisco Giants in 2010.
It's a recipe for success that works in some cases, so don't be too surprised to see the A's representing the AL in the World Series this season.
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The Baltimore Orioles are a very peculiar team.
They have an average offense in terms of scoring runs and do not have a single ace in their starting rotation. From a statistical standpoint, they are just an average team.
Herein lies why Buck Showalter, the potential Manager of the Year in the AL, is such a genius.
He took a team that was on the brink of breaking through for a few years and turned them into a team that was this close to taking the AL East away from the New York Yankees.
The Orioles are a similar team to the Oakland Athletics offensively, as they rely on home runs to put points on the board. In fact, they have five players with at least 20 home runs during the regular season.
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About two months ago, it was all but etched in stone that the Texas Rangers were going to win the AL West.
They looked unstoppable, and no one was going to get in there way of reaching the World Series for the third season in a row—but actually win it this time around.
Then the Oakland Athletics heated up... and then they took the AL West crown on the very last game of the regular season after not being in first place for the entire season.
Limping into the postseason is not the way a team wants to start the playoffs, especially when they have to win a one-game playoff in order to play in an actual series.
The one thing that has prevented the Rangers from winning the World Series the past two years is a lack of starting pitching. This year is no different. The team lacks a true ace, and the top-three pitchers—Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish—are no better than middle-of-the-rotation starters on a contending team.
If Texas wants to win this year, they'll need those three starters to step up and allow the offense to stay within striking distance.
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One player that will be essential to the Detroit Tigers' success in the postseason will be Matt Scherzer.
When healthy, he has some of the best stuff in the game. However, he has been banged up a little bit towards the end of the season with shoulder problems and twisted ankles.
With Justin Verlander and a healthy Scherzer, the Tigers could be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason, especially with Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez being the third and fourth starters.
Having the Triple Crown winner on your team doesn't hurt either.