MLB Playoff Bracket 2013: Complete Breakdown of Every Divisional Series

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 3, 2013

MLB Playoff Bracket 2013: Complete Breakdown of Every Divisional Series

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    With the one-game playoffs now behind us, it's time to roll out a full breakdown of the best-of-five series in the 2013 MLB postseason.

    What are the key batter vs. pitcher matchups in each ALDS and NLDS pairing?

    Which team has the head-to-head advantage in each of the major components of the game?

    Can we watch every game for free on our computers and mobile devices?

    Thanks to TBS, that last question is an easy one to affirmatively answer. The other ones required a little more digging, but come along for the ride to find out which teams should advance to their respective League Championship Series.

    *All statistics on the following slides are courtesy of ESPN.com, Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

Atlanta vs. Los Angeles: Matchups to Watch

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    1) Clayton Kershaw vs. Atlanta's batters: .146/.205/.232, 1 HR, 26 K

    In his career, Kershaw has held opponents to a .207 batting average. Among the 513 pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched since 1969, that's the third-lowest batting average against.

    The fact that he has held Atlanta's batters to a .146 batting average is almost incomprehensible.

    Freddie Freemanwho went 1-for-2 with a home run and two walks in his only game against Kershawis the only person on the team that might sort of kind of be able to hit Kershaw. If the Braves expect to win this series, they might have to do it in Games 2 through 4.

     

    2) Craig Kimbrel vs. Los Angeles' batters: 5-for-41, 0 R, 0 XBH, 3 BB, 23 K

    On the other hand, if the Dodgers expect to win this series, they'll have to do it in the first eight innings.

    Those combined eight hits and walks against Kimbrel are courtesy of A.J. Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker, who are a combined 5-for-10 with three walks in their careers against Kimbrel. No other current Dodger has reached base against him in 31 tries.

     

    3) Brian McCann vs. Ricky Nolasco: 20-for-58, 8 HR, 23 RBI

    As of Wednesday afternoon, the Dodgers have yet to announced who they intend to start in Game 4 of this series. This is presumably because they're downright terrified to let Nolasco take the mound multiple times against McCann.

    I wouldn't even know where to start doing the research to verify it, but that has to be one of the most prominent displays of ownership by one batter against one pitcher.

     

    4) Adrian Gonzalez vs. Mike Minor: 3-for-5, 1 HR, 3 BB

    Not a huge sample size, but Game 2 is where the Dodgers will be expecting Gonzalez to be their hero.

    Take Minor and the injured Tim Hudson out of the equation, and Gonzalez is just 11-for-64 with nary a home run against the other members of Atlanta's pitching staff.

     

    5) Reed Johnson vs. J.P. Howell: 4-for-7, 1 BB, 1 K

    Howell has a 2.03 ERA and 1.05 WHIP this season and has become the most trustworthy non-closer in the Dodgers bullpen.

    Unfortunately for Los Angeles, aside from Paco Rodriguezwhose splits indicate he should only ever face left-handed battersHowell is the only decent southpaw in the bullpen and Fredi Gonzalez has Howell's kryptonite on his bench.

    It'll be a lot of fun to watch the managerial chess match while playing matchups in this series.

     

    X-Factor: Chris Capuano

    Of course, if Capuano becomes a reliable left-handed presence in the bullpen, that changes everything.

    In his career, Capuano has held Freeman and Jason Heyward to a combined 3-for-25 with no extra base hits and nine strikeouts.

    They're typically staggered well enough throughout the Braves lineup that Don Mattingly won't be able to simply call on Capuano to mow them both down in one inning, but it warrants mentioning that he could be a huge force coming out of the bullpen.

Atlanta vs. Los Angeles: Categorical Breakdown

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    1) Baserunning: Wash

    Neither Atlanta nor Los Angeles scores very well in the baserunning department. The Dodgers are statistically the worst in the National League, but the Braves aren't much better.

    That slight edge for Atlanta is washed out by A.J. Ellis' cannon behind the plate. Ellis has caught 28 would-be base-stealers, which is tied for second most in the majors. His 44 percent caught stealing rate is the best among all catchers who have been run on at least 35 times this season.

     

    2) Fielding: Slight edge for Los Angeles

    I know. Andrelton Simmons is amazing. He'll probably win at least half a dozen Gold Gloves in his career. But he and Jason Heyward are about all that Atlanta has on defense.

    Jordan Schafer is a back-up outfielder, and he ranks third and fifth on the team in UZR/150. Juan Francisco has been playing for Milwaukee since the beginning of June, and he still ended up being Atlanta's fourth most valuable defender for the year.

    Meanwhile, Los Angeles has Yasiel Puig to counterbalance Heyward, and we already mentioned Ellis' contributions behind the plate. It's the surprising contribution from the hot corner, though, that gives Los Angeles a slight advantage.

    Juan Uribe has been astoundingly valuable at third base this season, committing just five errors all year and posting the highest UZR/150 at a position that includes peers like Manny Machado, Evan Longoria and Nolan Arenado.

     

    3) Starting pitching: Edge for Los Angeles

    With all due respect to Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran, they are not Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

    This should be an excitingly low-scoring series, but Los Angeles is significantly more likely to end up with at least one complete game shutout from a starting pitcher.

    Case in point, Kershaw has seven starts this season in which he pitched at least eight innings without allowing a run to score. Atlanta's trio has combined for only two such outings.

     

    4) Relief pitching: Significant edge for Atlanta

    This is more than just a battle of who has Craig Kimbrel.

    The Braves have three relieversKimbrel, David Carpenter and Luis Avilanwho have logged more than 60 innings this season with a sub-1.80 ERA.

    Kenley Jansen (76.2 IP, 1.88 ERA) is the only Dodger particularly close to making that claim. J.P. Howell has been solid and Paco Rodriguez is a quality left-handed specialist, but aside from that their best reliever is some heavily bearded fellow that they signed off the streets at the end of July.

    Brandon League has been a colossal disaster all season, Ronald Belisario has had struggles of his own and there's no way anyone actually expects Carlos Marmol to pitch well in the clutch.

    The Braves will instantly become the heavy favorite in any game that is tied in the late innings.

     

    5) Quick strike ability: Edge for Atlanta

    As far as the pitching is concerned, this is a total wash. Amazingly, both Atlanta and Los Angeles have allowed 127 home runs in 1,450.1 innings of work.

    However, the Braves lead the National League in home runs hit and have five players that have hit 20 or more on the year. Puig and Hanley Ramirez should provide a couple of blasts for the Dodgers, but the Braves have a more formidable lineup from top to bottom.

     

    6) Overall: Slight edge for Atlanta

    Medlen struggled earlier in the year but has caught fire at exactly the right time. In five September starts, he had 33 strikeouts in 36 innings of work and allowed only four runs to score.

    If he can keep it up and even remotely go toe-to-toe with Kershaw in their showdown(s), Atlanta could not only win the series, but do so with ease.

    Of the four division series, I believe this is the one most likely to go the distance. And in what figures to be a quintet of low-scoring affairs, I'm giving the nod to the team with the home-field and bullpen advantage. Atlanta advances to the NLCS in five games.

Detroit vs. Oakland: Matchups to Watch

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    1) Justin Verlander vs. Oakland's batters: .216/.292/.299, 2 HR, 34 K

    Having eviscerated the Athletics in the 2012 ALDS and generally owning their batters throughout the course of his career, Verlander gets the call in Game 1. He would also start the do-or-die Game 5 if the series goes the distance.

    Coco Crisp (8-for-24 with two doubles), Seth Smith (2-for-9 with a home run and five walks) and Yoenis Cespedes (3-for-6 with a double) have fared reasonably well in their careers against Verlander, but the rest of the team might as well not even be carrying a bat to the plate against him.

     

    2) Bruce Rondon vs. Oakland's batters: 3-for-3, 1 HR, 1 BB

    It's the very definition of a small sample size, but Rondon was lit up in his one career appearance against the A's back in late August.

    Since the beginning of August, Rondon has logged 14.2 IP with 18 strikeouts and only two runs allowedone of which came in that game against the A'sbut we'll see if Jim Leyland lets him pitch with the game in the balance given his poor performance against Oakland.

     

    3) Miguel Cabrera vs. Oakland's pitchers: .380/.477/.620, 4 HR

    A couple of relief pitchers have had success against Cabrera. Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner have combined to hold him hitless with four walks and four strikeouts in 18 career plate appearances.

    However, Cabrera has dominated Oakland's projected starting pitchers. Against Bartolo Colon, A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, Cabrera is 14-for-26 with two home runs, nine RBI, one walk and three strikeouts.

    Cabrera has never faced Sonny Gray.

     

    4) Coco Crisp vs. Detroit's starting pitchers: 24-for-73 (.329 AVG), eight XBH, 10 K

    On the whole, Oakland's outfielders have really struggled to get on base this season.

    Among the 104 players with at least 550 plate appearances this season, Crisp's .335 on-base percentage ranks 53rd but is the best among Oakland's primary outfielders. Seth Smith checks in at .329, Josh Reddick's rate is .307, Yoenis Cespedes is at .294 and Chris Young's .280 OBP is among the worst in the entire league.

    At least Crisp's history against Detroit's starting five provides some hope for a breakout series.

     

    5) Torii Hunter vs. Oakland's pitchers: .311/.356/.589, 10 HR

    Some of those numbers stem from his days with the Angels, but Hunter has had Oakland's number this season, as well.

    In 26 at-bats against Oakland in 2013, Hunter is 12-for-26 and slugging an even 1.000.

     

    Possible X-Factor: Seth Smith

    Smith sees the ball pretty well at Comerica Park. In 10 career games there, he's batting .269/.387/.692 with three home runs, five walks and only two strikeouts.

    Smith has also seen the ball pretty well against Anibal Sanchez, against whom he is 6-for-17 with two home runs in his career.

    Wouldn't you know it? Sanchez is scheduled to start Game 3 at home for Detroit.

    Smith has played sparingly this season, receiving just 28 at-bats in the month of September. Something tells me he'll start that game, though, and somehow he'll play a huge role in the outcome.

Detroit vs. Oakland: Categorical Breakdown

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    1) Baserunning: Big edge for Oakland

    The Tigers are the worst team in the league in regard to runs created on the basepaths, and it's not even close.

    As an entire team, they have 35 stolen bases this season. That means that they might steal one base if the series goes the distance. Austin Jackson leads the team with eight stolen bases and has been caught stealing in four of his last six attempts dating back to June 19.

    Oakland doesn't exactly sprint around the basepaths with 74 stolen bases on the season, but that's more than double Detroit's number.

     

    2) Fielding: Slight edge for Detroit

    Josh Donaldson has manned the hot corner very well for Oakland (and plays much better defense than Miguel Cabrera) and Josh Reddick is no slouch in right field, but Jose Iglesias might be the second coming of Ozzie Smith.

    With Jhonny Peralta returning from his suspension and possessing a much better bat than Iglesias, it'll be interesting to see how they divvy up the playing time among their middle infielders.

     

    3) Starting pitching: Huge edge for Detroit

    Oakland's starters certainly haven't been terrible, but Detroit's rotation is just out of this world.

    Trailing Detroit's collective WAR of 25.3, the second-place Rangers (16.0) are closer to the 26th-place Blue Jays (6.9) than they are to the Tigers.

    Better yet, Detroit's weak linkRick Porcellowon't be asked to start games in the postseason, leaving the team with one of the top eight pitchers in the American League starting every postseason game.

    That's not even fair.

     

    4) Relief pitching: Slight edge for Oakland

    Oakland has better overall numbers, but take the (failed) Jose Valverde experiment and the departed Brayan Villarreal out of Detroit's equations, and the Tigers don't look so bad anymore.

    And though he isn't the greatest starting pitcher, Detroit will be able to use Porcello out of the bullpen in a long relief role, removing Jeremy Bonderman and Jose Alvarez from potential use in a crucial situation.

    Still, I would trust Oakland's stable of primary relievers (namely Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Grant Balfour and Sean Doolittle) over whoever Detroit plans on using in addition to Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly.

     

    5) Quick strike ability: Wash

    Regardless of how much stake you put in the existence of momentum in sports, nothing can change it in baseball quicker than a home run.

    The A's did hit 10 more home runs during the regular season than the Tigers, but that's hardly enough to suggest that they're more likely to turn the tide with one swing of the bat.

     

    6) Overall: Edge for Detroit

    It'll be a good series, but Detroit is too much for this Oakland team. Whatever advantage the A's have in the baserunning department is completely mitigated by the fact that Detroit's starting pitchers don't allow many baserunners to begin with.

    Oakland will take one game in the seriesI'm guessing it's Game 3but Detroit advances to the ALCS in four games.

Pittsburgh vs. St. Louis: Matchups to Watch

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    1) Francisco Liriano vs. St. Louis' batters: .146/.216/.191, 0 HR, 21 K

    Having shut down the Reds in the play-in game, Liriano will only make one start against the Cardinals in the NLDS.

    When he does start, though, he'll likely dominate.

    Not only has he pitched well against these Cardinals in his career, but he has been almost untouchable in games played at PNC Park this season. The Pirates haven't officially announced any starters beyond A.J. Burnett in Game 1, but common sense suggests Liriano will start Game 3 at home on four days' rest.

     

    2) Carlos Beltran vs. A.J. Burnett: 14-for-44, 2 HR, 13 RBI

    Though these teams play each other 19 times per season, there isn't a ton of historical pitcher vs. batter data between them. Thanks to a plethora of starting pitchers like Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke who have combined for roughly 12 minutes of MLB service time, it's rare to find a significant enough sample size to mention.

    With 29 combined years of service time, however, Beltran and Burnett have crossed paths more than a few times. Beltran has marginally gotten the better of Burnett, and will look to continue that trend in the NLDS.

     

    3) Marlon Byrd vs. Edward Mujica: 4-for-7 with two home runs

    Mujica was relieved of his closer duties late in the season, ceding the final five saves of the year to Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness. In the month of September, he had an 11.05 ERA, allowing three home runs and striking out only three batters.

    Who knows if he'll actually be used in any situation of importance? If he is brought in with the game on the line, though, Mike Matheny might want to make sure that it isn't with Byrd coming to the plate.

     

    4) Lance Lynn vs. Andrew McCutchen: 4-for-26, 0 HR, 0 BB, 10 K

    Lynn will start Game 2 of the series and would likely be available out of the bullpen in Game 5 should the Cardinals need to turn to someone who has made a career out of victimizing the presumed 2013 NL MVP.

    In general, McCutchen struggled against the Cardinals this season, going 17-for-69 with just two home runs, 17 strikeouts and no stolen bases. Those numbers look even worse when compared to his successes against the other teams in the NL Central.

    It has been Lynn in particular who has given him headaches, though. In Lynn's five starts against the Pirates this season, McCutchen is just 2-for-22 with nine strikeoutswhich also includes his at-bats against relief pitchers in those games.

     

    5) Shelby Miller vs. Pittsburgh this season: 22.0 IP, 29 H, 13 ER, 9 BB, 21 K, 6 home runs, 0-4 record

    If not for Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig, Shelby Miller would probably be the leading candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year.

    Pittsburgh was not impressed.

    In Miller's four starts against the Pirates this year, Pittsburgh outscored St. Louis 24-1 and won all four games by something of a landslide.

    Joe Kelly has been named St. Louis' Game 3 starter, meaning Miller could be headed to the bullpen after exclusively appearing as a starter this season.

    Assuming he shows up at some point in the series, though, Garrett Jones has particularly destroyed Miller, going 7-for-10 with two home runs, two walks and no strikeouts in their 12 head-to-head battles.

     

    X-Factor: Michael Wacha vs. Pittsburgh's batters: 3-for-30, 3 BB, 6 K

    Where one rookie has struggled, another has flourished.

    In Wacha's two appearances against the Piratesone as a starter and one as a relieverhe has been almost unhittable.

    Actually, Wacha's season both started and ended by being nearly unhittable. He took a perfect game into the fifth inning against Kansas City in his major league debut, and pitched 8.2 no-hit innings against the Nationals before losing his no-no in the 9th inning last week.

    We'll see whether the Cardinals use Wacha as their Game 4 starter or as a long reliever, but he's the one pitcher that Pittsburgh is hoping to avoid at all costs in this series.

Pittsburgh vs. St. Louis: Categorical Breakdown

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    1) Baserunning: Significant edge for Pittsburgh

    Both teams have incredible arms behind the plate. Yadier Molina and Russell Martin have each gunned down at least 40 percent of would-be base-stealers, with Martin's 36 stopped thefts representing the most in the majors.

    I wouldn't expect there to be much stealing by either team, but the Pirates are much more likely to pull it off. Jon Jay leads the Cardinals in stolen bases with 10 of them, but also leads the team in times caught stealing with five. In general, the Cardinals don't run much, and have thus accumulated the fewest stolen bases in the National League.

    As an entire team, the Cardinals only stole four more bases than Pittsburgh's Starling Marte. Marte has a .414 on-base percentage against the Cardinals this season and was 4-for-5 in stolen base attempts. Coupled with Andrew McCutchen's speed and Russell Martin's surprising ability to steal bases, this one is no contest.

     

    2) Fielding: Significant edge for Pittsburgh

    Save for the woeful Phillies, the Cardinals had the worst defense in the National League. The only worthwhile defender on the team outside of Molina is Pete Kozma, and one could very easily argue that his MLB-worst .273 slugging percentage more than detracts from whatever benefit he provides with his glove.

    Pittsburgh certainly doesn't have the greatest defense in the league, but they're much better than thatespecially if they follow St. Louis' lead and stomach Clint Barmes' .211 batting average in order to have his 14.2 UZR/150 at shortstop.

     

    3) Starting pitching: Edge for St. Louis

    These two teams are pretty close in both ERA and WAR among starting pitchers, but I'm giving the edge to St. Louis for two big reasons.

    First, the Pirates have the worst walk rate in the National League and will desperately need to find the strike zone against the NL leaders in on-base percentage.

    Second, the Cardinals could be getting two starts from Adam would-be-the-2013-NL-Cy-Young-if-not-for-Clayton-Kershaw Wainwright. If this series came down to a fifth game, St. Louis would have a massive advantage in getting to start Wainwright at home as opposed to A.J. Burnett on the road.

     

    4) Relief pitching: Slight edge for Pittsburgh

    We mentioned Mujica's struggles on the previous slide, and now it's time to bring up the dominance of Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli this season.

    The Pirates have also gotten significant positive production out of Tony Watson, Justin Wilson and Vin Mazzaro—each of whom has pitched more than 70 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA.

    I love Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist as much as the next guy, but Pittsburgh is more likely to hang on to a late lead.

     

    5) Quick strike ability: Edge for Pittsburgh

    Pedro Alvarez led the National League in home runs during the regular seasonas well as strikeoutsand McCutchen and Martin have pretty powerful swings, as well.

    St. Louis, on the other hand, has hit a near NL-worst 43 home runs since the All-Star break. Carlos Beltran hit 19 home runs in the first half but has lost his power since then, hitting only five in his last 61 games.

     

    6) Overall: Edge for Pittsburgh

    This won't be a popular pick because the Cardinals have won 57 postseason games since the last time the Pirates played in one, but Pittsburgh feels like a pretty significant favorite in this series.

    I don't suspect that they will do so, but I'll go so far as to say that the Pirates would sweep the Cardinals if they can beat Wainwright in St. Louis on Friday.

    Assuming St. Louis wins Game 1, however, I'll take Pittsburgh to win the next three, advancing to the NLCS in four games.

    (If I'm right on both NLDS predictions, get ready for way too much video footage of the 1992 NLCS between Atlanta and Pittsburgh.)

Boston vs. Tampa: Matchups to Watch

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    1) Ben Zobrist vs. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz: 13-for-84, 1 HR, 24 K

    Over the past five seasons, Zobrist has been the third most valuable batter in the majors. Seriously. But he has been unable to solve the conundrum of Boston's starting pitchers for Games 1, 3 and 5.

    If that trend continues and Boston is able to completely neutralize Tampa Bay's 2013 hits leader, this could be a short-lived series.

     

    2) Boston's batters vs. Tampa Bay in 2013: .208/.280/.333, 13 HR, 165 K

    Tampa Bay sees Zobrist's struggles against two of Boston's pitchers and raises Boston's entire team struggling against the entire Rays' pitching staff.

    Overall this season, the Red Sox are batting .277/.349/.446 and averaging better than one home run per game, so that's a pretty significant disparity.

    Certainly Mike Carp has had some success against the Raysgetting hits in six of his 14 at-bats, including an extra innings grand slam in Septemberbut his is a smaller sample size than most. There are 10 Red Sox batters with at least 25 plate appearances against the Rays this season, and only David Ortiz (.281) is batting better than .245 with those opportunities.

    And you thought Atlanta vs. Los Angeles was going to be a low-scoring series.

     

    3) Koji Uehara vs. Tampa Bay's hitters: 8-for-77 with 30 K

    Adjust the lens to Uehara vs. Tampa in 2013 and the numbers are even more unfair: 10.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 13 K.

    Fernando Rodney (11-for-73, 3 HR, 28 K) hasn't exactly been a pushover in his career against Boston's hitters, but there's no question which team has the edge in the 9th inning.

     

    4) Matt Moore vs. Boston's hitters: .165/.214/.266, 1 HR, 19 K

    Moore has been known to hand out his fair share of walks. This season, his 4.55 BB/9 ratio was the second-worst in the majors among the 128 pitchers who logged at least 120 innings.

    However, he has been Captain Control against the Red Sox, issuing just four walks in 83 plate appearances.

    Despite being a lefty vs. lefty battle, David Ortiz has hit Moore pretty well, going 6-for-13 with two doubles and a home run in his career against the southpaw. Aside from Ortiz, the rest of Boston's roster is 7-for-66 with three doubles, no home runs and 19 strikeouts against Moore.

     

    5) Clay Buchholz at Tropicana Field: 55.2 IP, 37 H, 14 ER, 14 BB, 53 K, 2.26 ERA, 0.92 WHIP

    For whatever reason, Buchholz has pitched well in Tampa Bay. He has also pitched very well in Cleveland, so it's no surprise that the Red Sox named him their Game 3 starter hours before the AL Wild Card game even began.

     

    X-Factor: James Loney

    Loney is just 1-for-6 in his career against Buchholz, so we won't expect much out of him in Game 3.

    The other four games, however, are right up his alley.

    At .351, Loney's road batting average was by far the best among all qualified hitters this season. Nearly 75 percent of those hits have been singles. It would be foolish to expect a Loney slugfest, but it wouldn't be far-fetched for him to go 5-for-13 with a couple of clutch hits in Fenway Park if the series goes five games.

    Loney has also done well in his career against Boston's Game 4 starter, Jake Peavy. In 31 at-bats, Loney has three singles, five doubles and two home runs off of Peavy for an uncharacteristic OPS of 1.021.

Boston vs. Tampa Bay: Categorical Breakdown

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    1) Baserunning: Significant edge for Boston

    Tough to say at what health percentile Jacoby Ellsbury and Desmond Jennings will be entering the series, but it's probably safe to assume that neither will be doing their best Billy Hamilton impression on the basepaths.

    Remove Boston's top base-stealing threat and it still has Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia as possible pilferers. Detract Jennings from Tampa Bay, and it's left with a roster that stole just six bases in 14 attempts in Septemberand that doesn't include Jose Molina's predictably failed stolen base attempt in Wednesday night's AL Wild Card game.

     

    2) Fielding: Slight edge for Tampa Bay

    Between Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay has one of the better defensive infields in the leaguea fact that resonates with its .990 fielding percentage on the season.

    Boston is pretty solid up the middle in its own right with Stephen Drew and Pedroia, while Ellsbury and Victorino provide better-than-average range in their respective outfield positions.

    However, the stark difference at the hot corner is enough to give a slight edge to the Rays. Longoria is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game today. Will Middlebrooks is definitely not.

     

    3) Starting pitching: Edge for Tampa Bay

    Looking at full season stats in this location would be pointless. Clay Buchholz missed a few months for Boston, and Jake Peavy wasn't even with the team until the end of July. Meanwhile, Alex Cobb missed two months with a concussion, and for all intents and purposes, David Price didn't really show up until July.

    However, over the final month of the season, I would have to hand this category to Cobb, Price and the Rays.

    John Lackey and Peavy have each struggled down the stretch, posting September ERA of 4.98 and 5.40, respectively. And though Buchholz has had a solid ERA, he hasn't been anywhere near as dominant as he was over the first two months of the season.

     

    4) Relief pitching: Edge for Tampa Bay

    This ruling doesn't initially make sense considering the Koji Uehara love on the previous slide, but we're looking at more than just the closers for this category.

    Craig Breslow hasn't pitched very well in his career against Tampa Bay's hitters, and neither has Brandon Workman. Junichi Tazawa (.225/.238/.350) has done relatively well against the Rays, but there's hardly a lights out middle reliever among the bunch.

    Meanwhile, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos and Alex Torres have absolutely owned Boston's batters in their careers, limiting them to 20 hits in 125 at-bats (for a .160 batting average) with 39 strikeouts and no home runs allowed.

     

    5) Quick strike ability: Slight edge for Boston

    Tampa Bay hits one home run for every 37.8 trips to the plate while Boston is slightly better at 35.8 plate appearances per home run. The Red Sox also have a 20-point lead in both batting average and on-base percentage, so they're not only more likely to homer but also more likely to do it with runners on base.

     

    6) Overall: Edge for Tampa Bay

    Unless Ellsbury is at full strength and running so wild on the Rays that it alters the outcome of the series, it's hard not to like the Rays in this one.

    An intangible working in their favor is that fact that they've been playing and winning elimination games all week while the Red Sox have been left to try to stay fresh by competing in intrasquad games. Whether you believe in momentum in sports or not, that has to benefit Tampa Bay to a certain extent.

    I like Tampa Bay to win in four games, and as a bonus prediction, this will be the only series featuring a benches-clearing "discussion."