October baseball has begun, and it is beautiful.
The Pittsburgh Pirates kicked off the postseason with a 6-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League wild-card playoff. Although the NL side of the playoff bracket is set, the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays still have to determine which team will make the final cut.
The American League is very open in terms of who could win. Sure, the Indians have their flaws. But they're also extremely hot and seem to have the kind of magic lesser teams ride to World Series titles. On the other hand, they still have to win that playoff, and the Rays have plenty of talent to get by. Their pitching can also carry them far.
Then you've got the division winners—Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Oakland A's—all of whom you could easily see winning the league and representing the AL.
It should be a lot of fun no matter how it shakes out.
For an overall picture of how the postseason will unfold, check out this bracket on MLB.com. Here's the slate for the ALDS, followed by a preview for each series.
|1||TAM/CLE @ BOS||Fri., Oct. 4||3 p.m.||TBS|
|2||TAM/CLE @ BOS||Sat., Oct. 5||5:30 p.m.||TBS|
|3||BOS @ TAM/CLE||Mon., Oct. 7||TBD||TBS|
|4*||BOS @ TAM/CLE||Tue., Oct. 8||TBD||TBS|
|5*||TAM/CLE @ BOS||Thu., Oct. 10||TBD||TBS|
|1||DET @ OAK||Fri., Oct. 4||9:30 p.m.||TBS|
|2||DET @ OAK||Sat., Oct. 5||9 p.m.||TBS|
|3||OAK @ DET||Mon., Oct. 7||TBD||TBS|
|4*||OAK @ DET||Tue., Oct. 8||TBD||TBS|
|5*||DET @ OAK||Thu., Oct. 10||TBD||TBS|
Note: * denotes game may not be necessary.
Every playoff game on TBS is available to stream at TBS.com.
Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays/Cleveland Indians
If you're the Boston Red Sox, you want to see the Indians win that wild-card playoff. Boston was 6-1 against Cleveland during the regular season.
The Tribe have a very good offense from top to bottom. And as Jason Giambi has demonstrated, Terry Francona has some flexibility with the bench. He can bring on a big bat or two in the right situation.
The problem for Cleveland is its pitching staff, which finished 15th in earned run average and 27th in quality starts. Ubaldo Jimenez has been great since the All-Star break, but there isn't a ton behind him to inspire confidence.
Who advances to the ALCS?
The bullpen is also a mess, as Chris Perez has been removed from the closer role, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Stephanie Storm. Justin Masterson has adapted well to a reliever role, so maybe he can be the ninth-inning guy.
Against an offense as good as Boston's, a lack of top-end pitching is a major problem. The Red Sox were first in runs and slugging percentage and second in batting average during the regular season.
Although the Rays were only 7-12 against their AL East rivals, Tampa would present a much more even series.
Take out Jeremy Hellickson, and this is a very good starting rotation. If the Rays can get that far, David Price would be ready to go for the ALDS. He was 2-2 against Boston with a 2.48 ERA. Matt Moore was also good against the Red Sox, winning both of his starts.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether Wil Myers can provide the spark on offense. He's been great since getting called up, but performing in the regular season and performing in the postseason are two different things.
With such a great offense and a good enough pitching staff, you'd expect the Red Sox to get through to the next round.
Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers
For all the regular-season success Billy Beane has helped bring to Oakland, it hasn't translated into the postseason. The A's have made it past the ALDS just once, in 2006, when they eventually lost to the Tigers in the ALCS. Oakland could exorcise some demons by advancing to the ALCS.
This should be a very entertaining series. It is a repeat of last season's ALDS, which Detroit won in five games.
Who advances to the ALCS?
However, Oakland had the advantage in the regular season, winning four of the seven matchups between the two.
Detroit has an absolutely loaded lineup. You've got Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera as the heavy hitters, and they're surrounded by the likes of Victor Martinez, Jose Iglesias, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson.
As a team, the Tigers were first in batting average and second in runs and slugging percentage. Good pitching usually beats good hitting, but it will be hard for anybody to break down this kind of offensive firepower.
The A's just may be able to do that, and they may fight fire with fire. While they can't match the Tigers in terms of star power, what they've done so well this year is level the playing field by taking advantage of whatever inefficiencies they can.
Bob Melvin is the unquestioned master of the platoon offense. He's not afraid to shuffle the lineup to create the best possible situations.
Take a guy like Brandon Moss. The seven-year veteran had never hit more than eight home runs in a season before he moved to Oakland in 2012. Moss hit 21 homers last year and 30 in 2013. That's largely because 573 of his 711 at-bats came against right-handed pitchers.
Melvin may not have the most talent at his disposal, but he should be able to figure out how to handle Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.
The bigger question is whether his pitching will be able to hold up. Losing AJ Griffin isn't going to help matters, via Jane Lee of MLB.com.
Griffin has been dealing with elbow tendinitis, which is why he's not in rotation.— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) October 1, 2013
Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily are all good pitchers, but they'll have to be great in the postseason.