With every series going down to a deciding fifth game, the recent MLB divisional playoffs have all made for great baseball. And now that the four League Championship Series teams have been decided, we break down for you the four potential World Series matchups, highlighting our predictions for each and the most exciting opportunities for fall glory they present.
Even Michelle Obama digs the long ball.
Did the Nationals fold in Game Five of the NLDS because Stephen Strasburg wasn’t there to pitch?
It’s hard to say, although nine runs allowed certainly does speak to a need for stronger arms. Regardless, the question is moot: the upstart Nationals had their chance; now, the St. Louis Cardinals will aim to repeat as World Series champions.
And who’s most likely to stand in their way?
The New York Yankees.
The Yankees have won more World Series titles than any other franchise, and the Cardinals are second.
History suggests that this should be a good matchup if it comes to pass, and with the Cardinals having won the World Series just last year with a very similar squad (save—ahem—two missing older stars), it’s a plausible argument that the Redbirds, if faced with the Yankees in the World Series, could repeat.
I just don’t believe it.
Both teams have plenty of offense, no question there. Every threat the Yankees have, the Cardinals can counter. Slap hitters, power, and sudden playoff darling—sDerek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Raul Ibanez.
The Cardinals have their own models of each in David Freese, Carlos Beltran, and Daniel Descalso. Even without Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, the Cardinals led the league in OBP this year and were fifth in runs scored. Their offense is fine.
But here’s the thing: the Cardinals limped into the postseason, and the Yankees are a team that feasts on weakness.
David Freese can’t fly under the radar again like he did in 2011, and Adam Wainwright needs to regain his form in order to pitch effectively in the Bronx.
It’s not that the Cardinals are not without a shot, or without talent—far from it. But on paper, the Yankees edge ahead of the Cardinals in almost every category, including starting pitching and offensive power. So how might the Cardinals get the win? If they can get the Yankees to beat themselves.
Will Phil Hughes, for instance, be able to maintain his fortitude in the face of a tough and hungry Yadier Molina coming off a career year?
Will Andy Pettitte’s leg issues and A-Rod’s recent benching hobble the Yanks against this swagger-heavy St. Louis team?
It’s impossible to say; that’s why they play the games, and that’s what makes playoff baseball so exciting. Even Drew Storen would agree.
A Cardinals vs. Yankees World Series matchup has the potential to go to the wire, with high tension and drama all the way.
But watching the Cardinals almost losing in Game 5 to a Nationals squad built very similarly to the Yankees, it will be interesting to see how the Redbirds and rookie manager Mike Matheny play their hand if they’re faced with the Yankees in the postseason’s final week. Lacking more magic, however, advantage in this matchup has to lie with the Bronx Bombers.
The last time the Tigers made the World Series was in 2006, when they were trounced in five games by the St. Louis Cardinals.
If the Nationals had closed the deal and done the Tigers’ dirty work, that could have presaged a return of the World Series trophy to Detroit, but what about now?
Much has been made of the Cardinals’ pitching this playoffs, and for good reason. Kyle Lohse has a two-game ERA of 2.13 and Chris Carpenter’s is a perfect 0.00, as are the ERAs of five of the Cardinals relievers. But it’s dangerous to focus on the Cardinals staff alone: the Tigers pitchers, too, have been roaring this postseason.
All year long, Max Scherzer has been a strikeout master, and Justin Verlander has made a case for himself to be renamed the Cy Young Award winner.
But these two have hauled their pitching prowess into the postseason like Gunga Din, and just as a rising tide of water lifts all boats, they’ve brought number three starter Doug Fister along with them. Fister has 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched – and that’s only good enough for fifth-best on the squad? Yowza.
With a team ERA hovering around 2.00, the Tigers’ pitchers are looking every bit as good as the Cardinals’, which is to say: nigh-unhittable. Their starters look especially nasty: Verlander alone has a 2-0 record and a 0.56 ERA through 16 innings.
The crafty veteran Octavio Dotel has cozened up to his new role in the bullpen, too, and even though the Tigers entered the postseason with the worst record of any division champ, if the Tigers and Cardinals match up against each other in the World Series, Detroit’s overpowering pitchers just might be strong enough to give the team a shot. Even though the defending champion Cardinals have done just fine without him, it’s possible a matchup like this will leave St. Louis fans shaking their heads about letting Pujols go.
It comes down to this: the Tigers have plenty of offensive power. The Cardinals, though potent, have less. Even though St. Louis is enjoying a Cinderella story, a Tigers/Cardinals matchup seems to favor the men from Motor City.
He may be out, but if they do win, the Giants' Brian Wilson may wear to the White House... again.
The Giants won their last World Series in 2010. The Tigers’ last occasion to hoist the trophy?
That’s a long time. But the last time the Tigers won, they beat a California team, the Padres, and Detroit is a town hungry for a champion. If the Tigers match up against the Giants in the World Series, could this finally be manager Jim Leyland’s year?
The Tigers and Giants have never played each other in the postseason before. They did meet for a three-game series in 2011, which the Giants won, two games to one.
But there’s not much history between the two clubs, and if San Francisco and Detroit do meet in the Fall Classic, this matchup is going to come down to one thing: limiting the impact of the other team’s clutch hitters.
The Giants relied on Buster Posey to deliver at the plate all season long, and he has. He’s not slowed in the postseason, either, cracking two big home runs in the Giants’ five games.
Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan have been factors as well, and of course, erstwhile batting average champ Melky Cabrera will finally be returning to the team. The onus will be on the Tigers’ pitching staff to contain these four dangerous Giants hitters.
On the flip side of the coin, the Giants hurlers will be looking to keep quiet Prince Fielder, the surprising Omar Infante, speedy Austin Jackson, and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera and Fielder are always dangers to change the tide of a game with one swing, and letting Jackson or Infante on the base-paths spells trouble—the two lead the Tigers in runs this postseason.
Can the Giants deliver?
Given their very recent track record of playoff success, it’s hard to imagine they can’t, regardless of how good a year Miguel Cabrera and this Tigers team has been having.
If the Giants and Tigers meet to end the season, the Giants probably have the edge.
While it’s not fair to say that we’re saving the best for last, the Giants meeting the Yankees would make for the most historically engaging World Series of all the potential matchups.
The Yankees as a franchise have 40 World Series appearances and 27 World Series wins, tops in either league in both categories.
The Giants, for their part, are no slouches either, with 18 World Series appearances and 6 World Series wins, tied for second overall and second in the NL in those categories, respectively.
Yes, the Cardinals have won more World Series crown than the Giants—and they won last season—but little real Cardinals-Yankees rivalry remains.
The Giants, however, spent half their team’s history sharing a city with the New York Yankees, and a Giants-Yankees match would dredge up the kind of bitter memories that make for great baseball—and great Turkish coffee, but that’s another article.
Though history is on the Yankees’ side, the Giants are the more recent victors, having won the title in 2010 with effectively the same squad they have this year. The Yankees finished the regular season with one more win than the Giants, but in a best-of-seven series, anything can happen.
The Yankees hold the World Series edge over the Giants, having won their last five postseason matchups and owning an overall record of 5-2 against their sister squad. But the two teams haven’t met in the Fall Classic since 1962, and a lot can change in half a century.
With the highest OPS in the majors and the second-highest run total, the Yankees’ hitters are a fearsome force.
There are no weak spots in the Yankees’ lineup, and that’s scary. Heck—their offense is strong enough that they can afford to bench A-Rod.
But good pitching beats good hitting, and with strong outings from Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong—as well as a near-unhittable bullpen that includes a returned-to-form Big Time Timmy Jim, Tim Lincecum—if this is the matchup that the League Championship Series produce, the Giants might just have a shot.
Of course, as any Yankees fan will tell you, you can never count the Bronx Bombers out. They fought off an impressive late-season surge from the Orioles, and they managed to fend off the O’s again in a five-game division series that was characterized by close games.
Once the Yankees reach the postseason, they turn into a whole new team. They’re like sharks who frenzy when they smell blood in the water.
The Yankees tend to turn nigh-unbeatable in the late fall—and even if the Yankees do end up being forced to face the Giants in the World Series, the smart money says they’ll take home their 19th Championship in 2012.