You won't find a team in this year's MLB playoffs that believes it is doomed to fail.
Each of the 10 participants in postseason baseball is a supremely confident squad that believes that it can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere. It's the kind of mindset that a team has to have if success—and a world championship—is in its future.
Yet there are a number of factors that can work against even the most confident and talented teams that are playing meaningful October baseball, from the wave of momentum that their opponents have ridden into the postseason, to a lack of playoff experience, to something as simple as not having home-field advantage and spending more time in hostile territory than they'd like.
All of those factors will conspire in the next few weeks to ensure that early exits await the talented clubs which follow.
All the numbers point to Cincinnati beating Pittsburgh in the National League Wild Card Game.
The Reds have the more potent offense; a more experienced team; and, over the past month or so, a superior pitching staff. The season series between the two division rivals is tied at eight games apiece, though the Reds have outscored the Pirates by eight runs in those 18 games.
With a season-ending series at Great American Ballpark still to come this weekend, positioning in the wild-card race is still very much in flux.
Yet I can't shake the feeling that the Pirates will be hosting the NLWC, and while Cincinnati has had recent success at PNC Park, taking two of three from Pittsburgh on its home turf last weekend, the Reds are no better than a .500 team on the road.
It's been a long time since the Pirates were in the playoffs:
But it's also been a long time since Cincinnati advanced past the first round of the playoffs (1995), having been eliminated in the NLDS in both 2012 (3-2 to the Giants) and 2010 (3-0 to the Phillies).
The atmosphere in Pittsburgh will be electric, the Pirates will be fired up, and Cincinnati's run of bad luck in the postseason will continue, as the Reds drop a close one to everybody's favorite underdog.
There would be nothing more fitting than to watch Terry Francona march the Indians into Fenway Park for an ALDS-deciding Game 5 and advance to the next round of the playoffs, courtesy of one of these from Jason Giambi:
But alas, that dream will have to wait, as Cleveland, after dispatching the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card Game, will find the momentum that it built up down the stretch coming to a screeching halt.
While the two teams haven't met since late May, the Red Sox have taken six of seven from the Indians, outscoring Cleveland 43-30. The disparity in offense between the two teams over the course of the season has been even more significant, with the Sox outscoring the Tribe by 115 runs (815-710).
Then there's the fact that Boston not only has the best record in the American League, ensuring home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but also has the league's best home record, at 53-28.
Cleveland isn't nearly as dangerous a team on the road as it is at Progressive Field, sitting three games under .500 (37-40), a record that includes a three-game sweep at Fenway earlier this season in which the Indians were outscored 19-8.
Finally, there's the matter of experience. Much of Boston's roster has been through the rigors of playoff baseball before, while Cleveland has only a handful of players—most notably Giambi, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn—who know what it takes to win in the postseason.
That's simply too much for one team to overcome, and it's why Cleveland's remarkable season will end within the next two weeks.
Tampa Bay Rays
While the Rays may currently occupy the first wild-card spot in the American League, Cleveland will jump ahead of them in the standings by the end of the week thanks to an easier schedule, making the Indians the hosts for this year's AL Wild Card Game.
Like Cleveland, Tampa Bay struggles on the road, sitting two games below .500 (37-39). Unlike the Indians, the Rays' bats have gone largely silent this month, with only Wil Myers (.317/.937) and Desmond Jennings (.279/.927) performing anywhere near expectations.
It's that lack of consistent offense that will cost Tampa Bay dearly in the win-or-go-home scenario that the Wild Card Game brings with it.
David Price is sure to get the start for the Rays, and his one start against Cleveland this season—a 10-hit, eight-run disaster on April 7—is largely irrelevant in this discussion, seeing as how the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner was injured when making that start.
He's healthy now.
Still, Price hasn't won a game since Aug. 24 against the Yankees, pitching to a 4.10 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP over his last five starts. The same can't be said about Cleveland's likely starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been as hot a pitcher as baseball has had for quite some time.
Over his last 22 starts, Jimenez has pitched to a 2.47 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. In 16 of those starts, Jimenez allowed two earned runs or fewer 16 times, only once allowing more than three. Over the last month—five starts—those numbers get even more impressive, dropping to an ERA of 1.30 and a WHIP of 1.04.
While Price may be the more talented of the two aces, Jimenez has the hot hand—and that makes all the difference in the world in a one-game playoff.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through September 24.
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