MLB Playoffs 2012: Complete Guide to the Entire Postseason

Robert KnapelCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2012

MLB Playoffs 2012: Complete Guide to the Entire Postseason

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    After 162 regular-season games, the 2012 MLB postseason has finally arrived. The 2012 MLB playoffs will be different than those in the past, because this is the first season that two wild-card teams in each league will be involved. This adds yet another element to an event that was already special.

    This piece should serve as your complete guide to the 2012 MLB playoffs. It provides background on the teams involved, the first-round matchups and game schedules, as well as predictions for how things will shake out.

    October baseball is always fun to watch, and it produces a number of great moments. Think back to David Freese's home run against the Texas Rangers, Kirk Gibson's walk-off and Billy Buckner's blunder. It is quite possible that we could see yet another fantastic moment like this during the 2012 MLB postseason.

New York Yankees

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    Record: 95-67 (AL East Champions)

    Runs Scored: 804

    Runs Allowed: 668

    It came down to the wire, but the New York Yankees have once again ended the season as the champions of the American League East. The quest for the 28th World Series title in franchise history is set to begin with their first game against the winner of the AL wild-card play-in game.

    Led by Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and a resurgent Derek Jeter, the Yankees offense is one that will put a scare in opposing pitchers. They will be a force to be reckoned with this October.

    CC Sabathia will play a major role for the Yankees this postseason. They need their ace to be on his game every time he steps on the mound this year. If there is one area that the Yankees need to be concerned about, it is at the back end of their starting rotation.

Detroit Tigers

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    Record: 88-74 (AL Central Champions)

    Runs Scored: 726

    Runs Allowed: 670

    It may have taken a while, but the Detroit Tigers finally seem to be clicking on all cylinders. The Tigers were able to overtake the Chicago White Sox during the last few weeks of the season to earn their spot in the playoffs.

    The biggest story for the Tigers is Miguel Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Joining Cabrera in the Tigers lineup is slugging first baseman Prince Fielder. Either one of them can be a game changer this October.

    Anchoring the Tigers pitching staff is 2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander. Detroit has a number of other solid options in its rotation, including Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer.

Oakland Athletics

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    Record: 94-68 (AL West Champions)

    Runs Scored: 713

    Runs Allowed: 614

    The MLB playoffs are about getting hot at the right time. Just look what the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals did late last year. The Oakland Athletics are looking to follow in their footsteps.

    While they were not considered a serious contender before the year, the Athletics managed to not only reach the playoffs, but they beat the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers for the American League West title.

    Outfielders Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes have been huge additions for the Athletics this season, and they were key to the team's turnaround.

    Oakland's strength lies within its starting rotation. While they may be young, they are certainly talented. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin will hopefully bring some youthful exuberance and wins to Oakland.

Texas Rangers

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    Record: 93-69 (AL Wild Card)

    Runs Scored: 808

    Runs Allowed: 707

    The Texas Rangers had the American League West title in their hands, and they let it slip away during the last week of the regular season. However, they are still in the playoffs as the wild card.

    Texas has reached the World Series in each of the past two seasons, and it will be looking to get back and win the first title in franchise history this year.

    Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler will have a lot of pressure on them this postseason. They are the team's two biggest stars, and they need to come up with hits or defensive plays in big moments.

    Yu Darvish will be making his postseason debut this year, and he will be the one getting the ball in the play-in game. Matt Harrison has been outstanding this season, and midseason addition Ryan Dempster will look to turn things up a notch.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Record: 93-69 (AL Wild Card)

    Runs Scored: 712

    Runs Allowed: 705

    The American League East was expected to be a three-team race this year, but the Baltimore Orioles were not expected to be one of those teams. No one told them that, and the Orioles played their way to the American League Wild Card.

    Star outfielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters have been fantastic this season. The August call-up of Manny Machado really helped energize the team, and he could have the same impact in the postseason.

    Baltimore's starting pitching has not been great this year, but Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have emerged as solid starters this season. The Orioles bullpen has been lights out, and they were the key to their success this season.

Washington Nationals

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    Record: 98-64 (NL East Champions)

    Runs Scored: 731

    Runs Allowed: 594

    There was a lot of attention surrounding the Washington Nationals this season because of Bryce Harper. While the teenage phenom has put up good numbers, the Nationals gave people a number of other reasons to watch: They ended the year with the best record in baseball.

    With Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Mike Morse and Ian Desmond in addition to Harper, the Nationals have a very solid core. Players like Jayson Werth will need to pick things up a bit if the Nationals are going to be the World Series champions.

    Pitching has been the Nationals' strength this season. Led by National League Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals starting rotation had the second-best ERA in baseball this year (h/t ESPN).

Cincinnati Reds

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    Record: 97-65 (NL Central Champions)

    Runs Scored: 669

    Runs Allowed: 588

    The Cincinnati Reds ran away with the National League Central this season and finished nine games ahead of the second-place St. Louis Cardinals.

    Cincinnati has some veteran leadership that should help some of its younger players this winter. Scott Rolen could help out the players who have never been to the playoffs before, while Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will be two keys to success.

    Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo make a solid quartet for the Reds. If Cincinnati takes a lead into the eighth inning, they are a very hard team to beat with Sean Marshall and Aroldis Chapman closing things out.

San Francisco Giants

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    Record: 94-68 (NL West Champions)

    Runs Scored: 718

    Runs Allowed: 649

    Even after all of the big-name acquisitions the Los Angeles Dodgers made this year, they could not catch up to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants played well all year and were able to hold onto the division title.

    Buster Posey played like an MVP candidate and had a phenomenal second half. He was supported by the performance of Pablo Sandoval and the acquisition of Hunter Pence.

    Even with the struggles that Tim Lincecum had this year, the Giants rotation still performed well. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong all had good years. If Lincecum can build on his strong second half, the Giants could be a very dangerous team.

Atlanta Braves

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    Record: 94-68 (NL Wild Card)

    Runs Scored: 700

    Runs Allowed: 600

    Chipper Jones is set to end his career once the 2012 season is over for the Atlanta Braves; the future Hall of Famer certainly wants to go out on a high note.

    Along with Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn and Brian McCann, Jones will try to lead the Braves to what would be their first World Series title since 1995.

    Tim Hudson provides veteran leadership for the Braves' young staff. He is backed up by Mike Minor, Kirs Medlen and midseason acquisition Paul Maholm.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Record: 88-74 (NL Wild Card)

    Runs Scored: 765

    Runs Allowed: 648

    The defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals only reached the postseason in 2012 because of the second wild card, but they are certainly still out to prove that they deserved to be there.

    While the Cardinals will need to try to defend their title without Albert Pujols, they do have Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran to lean on. Both have been fantastic for the Cardinals this year.

    Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn have been two of the biggest surprises in baseball while leading the Cardinals rotation. While Adam Wainwright has not been great, he is still a very valuable asset in the postseason.

AL Wild Card Game: Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers

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    Schedule: Friday, Oct. 5 at 8:30 ET

    Season Series: 5-2 Texas

    Facing off on the hill for the American League wild-card game will be Yu Darvish for the Texas Rangers and either Joe Saunders or Steve Johnson for the Baltimore Orioles (h/t Tyler Kepner of The New York Times). Regardless of who the Orioles send out there, they will have a tough time beating the Rangers.

    Texas has to be the favorite in this game because of its postseason experience and outstanding offense. While the Orioles will likely put up a good fight, it will likely not be enough.

    The Orioles can hang their hats on making their first postseason appearance since 1997.

    Prediction: 6-2 Rangers

NL Wild Card Game: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves

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    Schedule: Friday, Oct. 5 at 5:00 ET

    Season Series: 5-1 Atlanta

    The Atlanta Braves were fairly dominant during the regular season against the St. Louis Cardinals, and they are hoping that trend carries into the NL wild-card game.

    Atlanta will be hoping that Kris Medlen can throw a gem, while the Cardinals will be turning to Kyle Lohse. The Braves have won the last 23 games that Medlen has started, so he certainly has an added bit of confidence out there on the mound (h/t Associated Press via ESPN).

    This should be a very entertaining game that goes back and forth. It could come down to the wire, and it would not be surprising if Chipper Jones came up with a hit that keeps his career alive.

    Prediction: 4-3 Braves

ALDS: Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

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    Schedule: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 6:00 ET

    Sunday, Oct. 7

    Tuesday, Oct. 9

    Wednesday, Oct. 10 (if necessary)

    Thursday, Oct. 11 (if necessary)

    Season Series: 4-3 Tigers

    While the Oakland Athletics may have won the American League West title, that does not mean that they wound up with an easy matchup. Facing the Detroit Tigers will challenge the Athletics.

    Both teams have good pitching staffs, but youth and inexperience could prove to be costly for the Athletics. Justin Verlander should take control of the game when he is on the mound, and that could set the tone for the remainder of the series after his start.

    Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder should be difference makers in this series and push the Tigers closer to the American League Championship Series.

    Don't expect the Athletics to go down without a fight. Most of the games should be close, and Oakland should pick up at least one win.

    Prediction: Tigers in four

ALDS: Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees

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    Schedule: Sunday, Oct. 7

    Monday, Oct. 8

    Wednesday, Oct. 10

    Thursday, Oct. 11 (if necessary)

    Friday, Oct. 12 (if necessary)

    Season Series: 4-3 Yankees

    After winning the American League wild-card game, the Texas Rangers would face off against the New York Yankees. This would be a tremendous series at the start of the postseason, and it will also feature an interesting juxtaposition of a franchise going for its 28th World Series against a team trying to pick up its first title.

    The two teams match up with each other very well. They each have powerful, run-producing offenses as well as solid starting rotations with their own question marks.

    This should be a back-and-forth series as the two teams struggle to get control of it. New York could get out to an early series lead, but home-field advantage will not be enough to help it get past the talented Rangers squad.

    Prediction: Rangers in five

NLDS: Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants

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    Schedule: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 9:30 PM

    Sunday, Oct. 7

    Tuesday, Oct. 9

    Wednesday, Oct. 10 (if necessary)

    Thursday, Oct. 11 (if necessary)

    Season Series: 4-3 Cincinnati

    They say that pitching wins championships, and these two franchises have outstanding starting rotations. The key to this round and the postseason for the San Francisco Giants will be Tim Lincecum. If the Giants can get a good start out of Lincecum, then they should win the series.

    Potentially playing three games at Great American Ballpark could help shift the series towards the Cincinnati Reds because they have the better offensive team.

    The winner of the series will depend on if it is a set of pitching duels or if it is full of offensive battles.

    Prediction: Reds in five

NLDS: Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals

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    Schedule: Sunday, Oct. 7

    Monday, Oct. 8

    Wednesday, Oct. 10

    Thursday, Oct. 11 (if necessary)

    Friday, Oct. 12 (if necessary)

    Season Series: 10-8 Nationals

    This NLDS matchup pits two National League East foes against each other. The teams have already played 18 times this year, and there is certainly some tension that should add some extra excitement to the series.

    Having to use Kris Medlen in the National League wild-card game certainly hurts the Atlanta Braves' chances, because they will not be able to use him twice. Medlen has been phenomenal as a starter this year, going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts.

    Washington's starting rotation is outstanding and should carry it through this matchup. With the Nationals' third victory in this series, Chipper Jones' outstanding career will come to an end.

    Prediction: Nationals in four

ALCS: Texas Rangers vs. Detroit Tigers

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    Schedule: Saturday, Oct. 13

    Sunday, Oct. 14

    Tuesday, Oct. 16

    Wednesday, Oct. 17

    Thursday, Oct. 18 (if necessary)

    Saturday, Oct. 20 (if necessary)

    Sunday, Oct. 21 (if necessary)

    Season Series: 7-3 Rangers

    The Texas Rangers will be one step away from their third straight World Series appearance, but they will have to find a way to get past the Detroit Tigers first.

    This series will be a repeat of the 2011 ALCS. Last season, the Rangers pulled it out in six games.

    Both teams have had some changes since then, but we should still expect a great series. Two great offenses and two great pitching staffs will be facing off. Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler will square off against Justin Verlander, while Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will try to get to Yu Darvish.

    Home-field advantage could be key for this series, as the Rangers certainly are more comfortable at home, where they went 50-31 this season.

    Predictions: Rangers in six

NLCS: Cincinnati Reds vs. Washington Nationals

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    Schedule: Sunday, Oct. 14

    Tuesday, Oct. 15

    Wednesday, Oct. 17

    Thursday, Oct. 18

    Friday, Oct. 19 (if necessary)

    Sunday, Oct. 21 (if necessary)

    Monday, Oct. 22 (if necessary)

    Season Series: 5-2 Washington

    The pitching matchups in this series will be a thrill for baseball fans. Gio Gonzalez could face off against Johnny Cueto. Jordan Zimmermann could be on the mound against Mat Latos. Free agent-to-be Edwin Jackson could be pitching opposite of Homer Bailey.

    This series will feature the two best teams in the National League. These two were fighting each other for home-field advantage throughout the season, and that could prove to be integral in what could be a seven-game series.

    Bryce Harper will be the key to this series for the Washington Nationals. The teenager has had tons of hype surrounding him all season, and he lived up to it with his 22-home run, 18-stolen base performance.

    This series is the moment that Harper can justify all of the attention that he has gotten. If he can come through in a big situation, then the Nationals could have one more series to play.

    For the Cincinnati Reds, Drew Stubbs will be important to their success. The Reds know what they can expect out of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, but Stubbs is a wild card. If he can produce, it helps the Reds' chances.

    Washington and Cincinnati will fight down to the wire, and this series will drag out. They could be fighting in extra innings to try to decide who goes to the World Series.

    Prediction: Nationals in seven

World Series: Texas Rangers vs. Washington Nationals

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    Schedule: Wednesday, Oct. 24

    Thursday, Oct. 25

    Saturday, Oct. 27

    Sunday, Oct. 28

    Monday, Oct. 29 (if necessary)

    Wednesday, Oct. 31 (if necessary)

    Thursday, Nov. 1 (if necessary)

    Season Series: Did not play

    It is said that the third time is the charm, and the Texas Rangers are certainly hoping that is the case as they make their third consecutive appearance in the World Series.

    Standing in their way this season will be the Washington Nationals, who are making their first playoff series since they moved to the nation's capital.

    Thanks to the National League's victory in the 2012 All-Star Game, the Nationals will have home-field advantage throughout the series.

    The biggest story of this series could be the two teenage participants. Bryce Harper will be starting for the Nationals, and there is a chance that Jurickson Profar will be on the Rangers bench. Having two teens playing in the biggest series in baseball will certainly help showcase the future of the game on a national stage.

    When it comes down to starting rotations, the Nationals have a slight edge, but the difference is probably negligible. At the plate, the Rangers have the edge, but once again the difference is not too big.

    Once this series is over, a new champion will be crowned. For the first time since they began play in 1961, that team will be the Texas Rangers.

    Prediction: Rangers in six