One Reason Each MLB Playoff Team Can Still Win the 2012 World Series
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Based on what we've seen so far in the 2012 playoffs, the Washington Nationals aren't about to be undone by their youth, the Detroit Tigers have the baseball gods on their side, the New York Yankees are still the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds are probably the best team ever.
On the flip side, it would seem that the Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles were massive flukes in the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals are out of gas and the San Francisco Giants may as well be partaking in a tackling competition with the New York Giants.
Is it too soon to draw conclusions such as these?
It most definitely is (though the Giants certainly look doomed). There's a lot of baseball left to be played in this postseason, and history tells us that there are still plenty of surprises waiting to emerge.
For example, one of the four seemingly doomed clubs could go on to win the World Series. That may seem like a stretch now, but the bright side for the four clubs currently dealing with series deficits is that each of them have one good reason why they can still win the World Series.
For that matter, so do the four teams that are leading.
Let's give all eight teams their due credit, shall we? Here's a look at one reason why each of the eight teams still standing in the postseason can win the World Series.
Note: Stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Baltimore Orioles: Jim Johnson Isn't Going to Implode Again
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The Orioles tended to adhere to a certain formula when they won games during the regular season. They got decent innings out of their starting pitchers, a home run or two out of their offense and then they just turned things over to their bullpen.
The formula worked for the most part because Buck Showalter had an excellent bullpen to turn to, but it's hard to imagine the Orioles winning as many games as they did without Jim Johnson. When he pitched, the Orioles won the ballgame about 90 percent of the time.
Hence the reason their defeat in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees was so strange. The Orioles fought hard, but in the end, it was Johnson who let them down. Upon entering the game in the ninth inning, he gave up a go-ahead home run to Russell Martin and only got one out before departing. He was ultimately charged with five earned runs.
Now, one's first instinct is to say that Johnson should have never been in the game in the first place. Showalter made the mistake of bringing his closer into a tie game—something that should never be done under any circumstances.
Think again. Johnson had virtually the same numbers in non-save situations this season as he did in save situations. He had a 2.42 ERA in save situations and a 2.70 ERA in non-save situations. He held opponents to a .550 OPS in save situations and a .576 OPS in non-save situations. And so on.
What's more, giving up home runs was a rare occurrence for Johnson in the regular season. In fact, the long ball he surrendered to Martin was Johnson's first since early June.
As such, all signs point towards Johnson's meltdown in Game 1 as being a fluke. He's going to be better than that going forward.
If so, the Orioles are going to be fine. After all, the game could have been won in the bottom of the ninth or in extra innings had Johnson done his job. And goodness knows the Orioles had a tendency to come through with such heroics during the regular season.
Cincinnati Reds: They're Clearly the Most Complete Team in the Field
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If they weren't already, the Reds are now clearly the team to beat in this postseason.
Yes, two games is a very small sample size, and comebacks from 0-2 deficits have happened before. Plus, we know the Giants are better than they've shown so far in their NLDS matchup against the Reds.
I get all this, but in response, I'll just say something that can only be expressed in all caps:
HOLY MOLY. HAVE YOU GUYS SEEN THE REDS?
Cincinnati didn't just win Games 1 and 2 in San Francisco. The Reds owned Games 1 and 2.
The only time things were ever in doubt for them was when Johnny Cueto left in the first inning of Game 1 after throwing only eight pitches, and that instance of doubt lasted only a handful of minutes. The Reds took a 2-0 lead on Brandon Phillips' home run in the third inning, and the series has been all Reds ever since.
Game 2 was a perfect example of baseball dominance. The Giants could do nothing against Bronson Arroyo, the Reds went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position and Joey Votto had his first three-hit game since late June.
Right about now, there are plenty of Reds fans who are sitting at home or work saying, "Do you see?"
They are right to do so, as the Reds really haven't done anything in the NLDS that they didn't do during the regular season. Dominant pitching and timely hitting were what the Reds were all about this year.
And indeed, Cueto has been limited to eight pitches and Mat Latos hasn't even started a game yet.
The reason why the Reds can win the World Series is simple: They're clearly the best team out there.
Detroit Tigers: Their Starting Pitching Is Living Up to the Hype
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The Tigers finished the regular season with the worst record among the five teams that qualified for the American League playoffs. A lot of people rightfully saw them as the ugly duckling of this year's AL field.
Others saw them as a threat to go all the way for one really good reason: Among the AL teams that qualified for the postseason, the Tigers clearly had the best starting pitching.
Even before the playoffs got underway, it was hard to argue the notion. No team in the AL field has a starting rotation deep enough to match up with the likes of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer.
The only real question was whether these pitchers could be as good in the postseason as they were in the regular season. More specifically, could Verlander finally come through as a dominant postseason pitcher?
Verlander was untouchable after giving up a leadoff home run to Coco Crisp to start Game 1, ultimately going seven innings and striking out 11. He allowed only two hits after Crisp's leadoff homer.
Fister was nearly as good in Game 2, going seven innings and giving up two earned runs with eight strikeouts. He looked like he didn't have his best stuff, but he was still able to get the better of an A's lineup that's more potent than it gets credit for.
The Tigers would love to get more production out of their offense (ahem, Prince Fielder), but they'll be able to live with lackluster offense as long as their starting pitchers are giving them seven dominant innings on a daily basis.
If this is to be the status quo for Detroit's starting rotation in the postseason, then the Tigers may be the team to beat in the American League. And if they do get to the World Series, their starting pitching will play well there too.
New York Yankees: CC Sabathia Is Back and Maybe Better Than Ever
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When the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, CC Sabathia was everything they'd hoped he would be when they signed him to a massive contract the previous offseason.
He won 19 games in the regular season, for starters, but what's more important is that he was able to put his past postseason struggles in the rear-view mirror when October arrived. He ended up going 3-1 in the 2009 playoffs, with a 1.98 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP to boot.
Could the Yankees have won the World Series without him? Yeah, probably. They had a truly great team in 2009.
That said, I think you and I can agree that it certainly would have been a lot harder.
Now, one of the questions people were asking as recently as Sunday afternoon was whether the Yankees could win the World Series this year without Sabathia. This time around, the answer should have been a resounding "no." If Sabathia was anything like he was in the playoffs in 2010 or 2011, the Yankees would be doomed.
Fortunately for the Yankees, it looks like Sabathia has turned back the clock to 2009.
Outside of a tough third inning, Sabathia was in total control in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Orioles. He lasted 8.2 innings, giving up only two earned runs and striking out seven. He threw 80 of his 120 pitches for strikes.
Dating back to the regular season, Sabathia has now strung together four straight dominant outings. In the process, he's completely erased whatever doubts people may have had about his health and his ability to dominate like he used to. Sabathia looks like himself for the first time since last season.
And that's a scary thought for the rest of the teams in the field. The Yankees are playing the best baseball they've played all season, and there's nothing they can't do as long as Sabathia is pitching lights-out.
Oakland A's: They're a Different Team at Home
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Any other year, the AL West champion Oakland A's would have opened with two straight home games in the ALDS with a chance to return home for Game 5 if the series lasted that long.
Not this year. MLB's wild-card expansion created a scheduling dilemma that forced the league to go with a 2-3 format for the Division Series round this year, and this format forced the A's to leave Oakland after they wrapped up their first division title in six years.
So far, this year's one-time-only format has cost the A's dearly. With Game 3 of their ALDS matchup against the Tigers set to be played on Tuesday, the A's find themselves with an 0-2 hole to climb out of.
But rest assured, they can climb out of it. Now that the A's are back home, we should see them play like, well, the A's.
Oakland is a completely different team at home. The A's went 50-31 at home this season, and that was largely due to two things.
1. A's pitchers very much enjoy pitching at O.co Coliseum. They posted a 3.08 ERA at home, as opposed to a 3.95 ERA on the road.
2. The A's definitely benefit from the weird kind of energy that has pervaded the Coliseum in recent weeks. A's home games are more electric than they've been in years.
The A's could easily win three straight games at home to win the ALDS. What's more, they could end up playing five straight home games if they happen to meet the Orioles in the ALCS, as the A's would have the home-field advantage in that matchup.
A nice homestand is just what this A's team needs to get on a roll. And if they do get on a roll, watch out.
San Francisco Giants: We Know Their Offense Is Better Than This
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The Giants' two staff aces couldn't get the job done in Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS. Matt Cain lasted only five innings and gave up three earned runs on Saturday. And Madison Bumgarner followed suit by allowing four earned runs in 4.1 innings on Sunday.
But as disappointing as the Giants' pitchers were in Games 1 and 2, their hitters were an even bigger disappointment.
The Giants have scored a grand total of two runs in their NLDS matchup against the Reds, and one of those came courtesy of an Aroldis Chapman wild pitch. In Game 2 on Sunday night, they were held to just two hits.
While far from perfect, we know that the Giants' offense is better than this.
Like, a lot better.
The Giants finished sixth in the National League in runs scored this season, but that doesn't really reflect how much they picked it up in the final two months of the season.
In August, the Giants hit .281/.341/.420 as a team and led the NL in runs scored. In September, they hit .288/.343/.437 as a team and finished third in the NL in runs scored.
So, over the last two months of the regular season, the Giants were one of the NL's elite offensive teams. We know they can do better than two runs over two games.
And if you want to look on the bright side, you'll realize that they're going to a place that is rather conducive to offense. Great American Ballpark is a notorious hitters' ballpark, and this year, it rated as the second-best home run haven in baseball, according to ESPN.com's park factors.
If the Giants get their bats going again, they could turn into a juggernaut.
St. Louis Cardinals: They've Been Down This Road Before
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The Cardinals seemed to be the underdog in their matchup against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Wild Card Game, but they shocked a lot of people by walking away with a 6-3 victory.
And if we're being honest, the controversial infield fly call that went the Cardinals' way in the eighth inning probably wouldn't have made a difference in the end had it gone the Braves' way. The Cardinals were clearly the better team on the field, and they were sitting on a moderately comfortable lead.
The Cardinals weren't the better team on the field in Game 1 of their NLDS matchup against the Nationals. They collected only three hits, and they were undone by a two-run single off the bat of a rookie in the eighth inning that came after first-year manager Mike Matheny made a very odd pitching change.
But whatever you do, don't write the Cardinals off just yet. They're in a situation they've proven they can handle.
In 2011, the Cardinals found themselves down 1-0 against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS, and they came back and won that series. They then found themselves down 1-0 in the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers, and they came back and won that series.
The Cardinals, of course, went on to win the World Series last year. Many of the guys who were on that team are back this year.
Do they look like a World Series-caliber club? I honestly don't think so.
Then again, I didn't think they looked like a World Series-caliber club last year either, and look how that turned out.
Washington Nationals: Their Best Baseball Is Yet to Come
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The Reds may be the most complete team in the 2012 playoffs, but the Nationals aren't far behind them. They can pitch, they can hit and they can field.
So, by their standards, the Nats' win in Game 1 of their NLDS matchup against the Cardinals was pretty ugly.
Gio Gonzalez was limited to five innings due to control problems that saw him throw 110 pitches and walk a total of seven hitters. The Nats made two errors on the day, one by slick-fielding third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and another by the usually sure-handed Adam LaRoche.
Offensively, the Nats were far from explosive. Their top three hitters went 2-for-15 with seven strikeouts, and their fourth and fifth hitters went 1-for-8.
Yet they still managed to come away with a victory. That makes you wonder what the Nats could do in these playoffs if they played up to their capabilities.
They might just go far. Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann can match up with anyone, and the Nats feature an offense that finished second in the NL in runs scored in the second half of the season.
The Nats won't be long for these playoffs if they continue to be as sloppy as they were on Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. But if they play their game, the sky's the limit.
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