MLB Playoff Schedule 2012: What to Watch for in Divisional Round
Although the wild card games in both the American League and National League have yet to be played, we can still look ahead to the divisional round matchups featuring the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds.
Each series starts on Saturday on TBS. The full schedule can be found on MLB.com.
Here's a breakdown of each series.
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
It took the final day of the regular season to determine who the Athletics would play, and it turns out they will play the AL Central champion Tigers after winning the AL West.
There is actually a lot to like out of an Athletics club seemingly made up of scraps in the offseason. Despite losing Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill in the offseason, the Athletics' pitching staff has been outstanding, ranked second in the AL in team ERA this season (3.48). That includes the third-best starters' ERA in the league (3.80).
The Athletics' offense, much like the Giants' in 2010, completely turned around in the second half of the season. After ranking dead last in the AL in runs scored before the All-Star break (319), the Athletics scored 394 runs in the second half, tops in the league. You almost never see a turnaround that significant.
It's been a total team effort on offense, with 13 different players getting 100 at-bats or more in the second half and Cuban offseason pickup Yoenis Cespedes leading the way (.311 average, 14 home runs, 46 RBI, 51 runs and 10 stolen bases after the break).
As for the Tigers, they have the second-best ERA in the AL after the break (3.50) and the starters have compiled the second-best ERA in the league this season (3.76).
Yet, despite having Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder on their side, they rank eighth in the AL in runs scored since the break (339) and ranked 10th in the league in September.
The Tigers own the head-to-head between the two for the season (4-3).
In what should be a fantastic series, the Giants face the Reds in the divisional round, starting with two games in San Francisco.
What's important to note about the Giants is that, while they still have a strong pitching staff, it isn't the same as when they won the World Series in 2010. Part of that has been the struggles of the bullpen (ranked eighth in the NL in bullpen ERA) and starters Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong.
On the other hand, the Giants' offense has been on a tear lately, led by NL batting champion Buster Posey. After ranking 12th in runs scored in the NL before the break, they ranked third in the league in the second half (380 runs).
The Reds have been practically a polar opposite as the team we've seen in years past. Cincinnati no longer relies on its offense; instead, its pitching has become its strong point.
Cincinnati owns the second-best team ERA in the NL after the break (3.30) and has the fourth-best starters' ERA in the league this season (3.64). The Reds own the best bullpen ERA in the majors this season (2.65), led by closer Aroldis Chapman, who has a 1.51 ERA and 0.81 WHIP and has converted 38 of 43 save chances this season.
As for the offense, the Reds have scored the ninth-most runs in the NL in the second half (311). Cincinnati ended the regular season losing two of three to the St. Louis Cardinals and scored a total of five runs in those games.
Who will win?
In the American League, I'm taking the A's over the Tigers. This team has a little thing I like to call "chemistry" that can be mighty influential when the postseason comes around.
In the National League, I'm going to go with the Giants, although I think this series could go either way. My main reason is that I like Matt Cain over Johnny Cueto in Game 1 in San Francisco and Madison Bumgarner over Bronson Arroyo in Game 2. Cain has a 2.03 ERA this season at home.
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