Reasons Each World Series Contender Can Win It All
With the MLB regular season drawing to a close, it is now clear who the contenders for the World Series title will be in 2013.
Each team that still has a chance of making the playoffs has the ability to go on a run and become champions for a variety of reasons. For some, it is pitching, while for others, it is having an X-factor.
Regardless of which team goes on to win the title, the reasons listed here will certainly be among those that helped it get there.
Note: Includes all teams with at least a five-percent chance of reaching the playoffs as of Sept. 24, according to MLB.com
Boston Red Sox
Reason 1: The Offense
No American League team has averaged more runs per game this year than the Boston Red Sox. They have scored 5.16 runs a game, and if they are able to keep up that level of production in the postseason, they will be very hard to beat.
Reason 2: The Bullpen
There have been two players that have really stood out in the Red Sox's strong bullpen this year. Craig Breslow has a 1.91 ERA on the year and has been able to shut opponents down in key situations. Closer Koji Uehara is having a year to remember, as he has a 1.12 ERA and 21 saves. If the Red Sox reach the later innings with a lead, the door is basically shut.
Reason 3: Veteran Leadership
While most of the Red Sox were not around for the franchise's championships in 2004 or 2007, they do retain some players that contributed to those teams. David Ortiz has been a leader in Boston for years and could help motivate his younger, less experienced teammates to win a title.
Reason 1: The Starting Rotation
In a short playoff series, pitching is of the utmost importance, and the Detroit Tigers' elite starting rotation certainly puts them at an advantage. Having to face Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister is no easy task during the regular season, and it gets much harder once the stakes are raised.
Reason 2: Miguel Cabrera
There are few, if any, hitters in baseball right now that are more feared than Miguel Cabrera. He is coming off another incredible season and has the ability to win a game with one stroke of the bat. If Cabrera gets hot in the playoffs, the Tigers could ride him all the way to a title.
Reason 3: Hunger
During the past two postseasons, the Tigers have come up short in their quest to win the World Series. In 2011, they reached the ALCS, and last season, they reached the World Series. Detroit has gotten a taste of October baseball and wants to finally bring home a title for the first time since 1984.
Reason 1: Power Bats
The Oakland Athletics rank third in all of baseball in home runs thanks in part to 20-plus-home-run seasons from Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp. That power potential means that the A's are never really out of a game.
Reason 2: Pitching Staff
Not only do the Athletics get things done on the offensive end, but their pitching staff has been dependable as well. Oakland has the second-lowest staff ERA in the American League, and there is no weak link in its bullpen.
Reason 3: Bob Melvin
Game management is incredibly important when the calender turns to October. The Athletics have a highly respected manager in Bob Melvin, who has earned two Manager of the Year awards in the past six seasons. Members of the A's organization can be very confident in the decisions that Melvin makes in key spots.
Tampa Bay Rays
Reason 1: Young Arms
One of the things that the Tampa Bay Rays organization has been able to do very well for an extended period of time is develop young arms. The Rays have consistently been able to produce pitchers, such as David Price and Alex Cobb, who can carry them deep into ballgames and have attained high levels of success on the mound.
Reason 2: Playoff Experience
While the Rays missed out on the playoffs last year, they've managed to reach the postseason in three of the past five seasons. Although only some of the players were on the roster for those seasons, that playoff experience will still be very helpful.
Reason 3: Ability to Get on Base
The Rays' team batting average sits right at the American League average in 2013. However, the team is still very productive in terms of drawing walks and getting on base. In fact, it ranks first in free passes and third in on-base percentage. That ability to reach base and create runs will be key for the Rays in the postseason.
Reason 1: Terry Francona
Even though most members of the Cleveland Indians do not have recent playoff experience, the team is in luck because it has a manager that does. Terry Francona has won two World Series titles over the past nine years and should be able to impart some of that wisdom on his players.
Reason 2: The Bench
In the postseason, all 25 players need to contribute. Every last player could potentially have an opportunity to influence a game and a team's World Series odds. Cleveland's bench, nicknamed the "Goon Squad" by Mike Aviles, has been outstanding this year, and fill-in players such as Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are good sources of power regardless of whether they're starting or coming in as a replacement.
Reason 3: Power Arms
Every team in the playoffs will face at least one situation where they need a strikeout in a key situation. Luckily for the Indians, they have a number of pitchers that generate a high number of strikeouts. With four starters featuring K/9 rates of at least 8.3 (five if you include Danny Salazar) and four relievers with K/9 rates of 8.5 or better, the Indians have multiple options to turn to when they need a strikeout. It should also be no surprise that the team ranks second in the AL in strikeouts this year.
Reason 1: Yu Darvish
There is no reason to doubt the fact that in just his second year in the big leagues, Yu Darvish is an ace. He has demonstrated that he is one of the best pitchers in the majors while striking out batters at an impressive 11.9 K/9 clip this year. If the Rangers reach the postseason, they should feel confident a win is on the horizon anytime Darvish is on the mound.
Reason 2: A Well-Balanced Lineup
While some teams are geared more towards power and others are built on speed, the Rangers lineup features a good mix. Texas gets power from its corner infielders, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland, but has a number of speedy outfielders as well. The team also has players like Ian Kinsler who provide a combination of both.
Reason 3: Past Performances
The Texas Rangers roster may have gone through some changes in the past few seasons, but the fact still remains that there are many pieces from the team's World Series runs in both 2010 and 2011. That should not be lost on teams as they face the Rangers.
Reason 1: Power
Home runs have been a key source of production for the Atlanta Braves this season, and they lead the National League in that category. Six Braves hitters have at least 15 homers on the year. This type of power distribution throughout the lineup is hard for opposing pitchers to deal with.
Reason 2: Craig Kimbrel
As important as shutdown closers are during the regular season, they have even more value in the playoffs as teams look to put away both games and series. Craig Kimbrel has established himself as a dominant force, and his 49 saves, 1.25 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 64 innings prove that once he's entered the game, a victory is as close to a sure bet as you can get.
Reason 3: Confidence
For almost the entire season, the Braves have been in first place in the National League East. The team was one game back after its first series and has either been tied for or in first place since then. That sort of longstanding success gives a team a lot of confidence heading into the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals
Reason 1: David Freese
It is difficult to think of a player that has come up with bigger postseason hits in recent memory than David Freese. That clutch ability should not be counted out, as the St. Louis Cardinals will likely find themselves in at least one situation where they need a hit with the game on the line.
Reason 2: The Bullpen
Although three of the key cogs in the Cardinals bullpen are under the age of 25, they have not let their youth show. Kevin Siegrist has put up an absurd 0.48 ERA in his 42 appearances this year. Trevor Rosenthal and Seth Maness have not been too shabby, either. And the bullpen will only get stronger if they throw Michael Wacha into the mix.
Reason 3: Recent Success
There is something to be said about a team that repeatedly shows that it can win. In the past two seasons, the Cardinals have won the World Series and have gone to Game 7 of the NLCS. Teams are able to build on performances like that, and the Cardinals will look to do the same this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Reason 1: Momentum
Even after all their transactions in the past year and a half, the Los Angeles Dodgers did not look like a playoff team in baseball's first half as they went 47-47. However, the team caught fire after the break and has not looked back since, going 44-19 since the All-Star Game in New York. Los Angeles hopes that it can carry that momentum into the playoffs.
Reason 2: Yasiel Puig
Finding a player that can serve as a spark plug is a big plus for a playoff team, because it can give the players someone to rally around. Yasiel Puig has been that player this season for the Dodgers, as he has hit .326 with 19 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 99 games since he was called up. Offensive numbers aside, Puig has invigorated his team with his outstanding play in the field, too.
Reason 3: Clayton Kershaw
Although it is Clayton Kershaw's sixth year in MLB, opposing hitters have still not been able to figure him out. For the third straight season, Kershaw leads the National League in ERA. Having a pitcher like Kershaw available for multiple games in each round of the playoffs is a huge plus for the Dodgers.
Reason 1: An Energized Fan Base
Following losing season after losing season, there was not much for Pittsburgh Pirates fans to be excited about entering this year. Now, the team's winning record and postseason berth have revitalized the fan base, and that could give the team an even greater home-field advantage down the stretch.
Reason 2: The Starting Rotation
With a mix of older pitchers (A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez), a top prospect (Gerrit Cole), a former All-Star looking to return to form (Francisco Liriano) and a couple that were trying to get their careers going in the right direction (Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton), the Pittsburgh Pirates were able to assemble a rotation that has the fifth-best ERA in the majors. Pittsburgh has six starters to choose from that can make an impact this postseason.
Reason 3: The Bullpen
As good as the Pirates starting rotation has been this season, their bullpen has been even better. Pirates relievers have the third-best ERA in baseball. With Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon holding down the fort at the end of games, the Pittsburgh can take solace in knowing that late-inning leads are safe.
Reason 1: Offensive Production
Led by Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds have been one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball this season. They rank third in the National League in runs scored. Cincinnati brings a lot of power to the plate, as five of its players have at least 18 home runs on the year.
Reason 2: Dusty Baker
Since taking over the Reds in 2008, Dusty Baker has been able to get the most out of his players. He has been a key component of the Reds' transition from a cellar dweller to a perennial playoff contender and boasts 20 years of National League managerial experience, including a World Series appearance. Baker will likely have a number of key decisions to make this postseason, and based on his track record, they can be confident that he will make the right call.
Reason 3: Billy Hamilton
There may not be a bigger X-factor or more exciting player in this season's playoffs than Billy Hamilton. The team will surely find a spot for him on its playoff roster after he has gone 13-for-13 in stolen-base attempts since being called up.
Letting a Reds player get on base late in a close game will be a huge issue for opponents, because it means that Hamilton could come in to pinch run. He has done this multiple times over the past three weeks and proceeded to swipe second and later score on many occasions. Additionally, he gets in the head of opposing pitchers. This type of weapon is one that could propel the Reds to victory this postseason.