MLB Playoffs 2013: Key Question for Each Division Series

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistOctober 6, 2013

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 04:  Pedro Alvarez #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates slides safely to score a run in the second inning before catcher Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals gets the ball during Game Two of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 4, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

No team enters the 2013 MLB playoffs without at least one shortcoming that could cost them the World Series. So the ultimate question is: Which team can overcome those shortcomings to wear the crown this season?

The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals ended the regular season as the top two teams in baseball, but that doesn't mean they're even guaranteed to advance beyond the divisional series. With just two games in the books in both the AL and NL side of the playoff bracket, questions still remain for each of these series.

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Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 04:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a RBI single in the second inning to score a run against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Two of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 4, 2013 in St Lo
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Can Pittsburgh Ride Home-Field Advantage to Upset Win?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are certainly the feel good story of the 2013 postseason. They've made it to the big dance for the first time since 1992 and have already notched a win over the Cardinals thanks to a great pitching performance from Gerrit Cole. 

Now the Pirates have the opportunity to take the series with the next two games taking place at PNC Park. As Jeff Passan noted, the Pittsburgh crowd has been raucous thus far in the postseason. It just might be enough for the Pirates to pull off the upset. 

If the Pirates can pull out a game in St. Louis, the Cardinals are going to have a miserable time with this crowd. Absolute, positive bedlam

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 2, 2013

On the other hand, a matchup against Adam Wainwright could await them in Game 5. Considering Wainwright picked up the win against them in Game 1, these next two games are must-win for the Bucs. 


Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves

Should the Dodgers be the National League Favorite?

On paper, the Los Angeles Dodgers certainly look like a team that can win the World Series. 

The pitching staff, anchored by Clayton Kershaw, has a trio of high-quality starters who can match up with anyone in Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The lineup features stars like Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. 

The question is: Can they put it all together in their first playoff appearance since 2009?

The Braves haven't won a playoff series since 2001, so it isn't as though they are an experienced playoff contender either, but this should be a good measuring stick for how far the Dodgers can go. 


Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 05: Wil Myers #9 of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts in the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox  during Game Two of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on October 5, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/G
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Do the Rays Have What It Takes to Come Back?

The Tampa Bay Rays finished well behind the Red Sox in the regular season, but they at least had the advantage of being the hotter team coming into the playoffs. They finished 8-2 in their final 10 games and won the AL Wild Card Game against the Cleveland Indians to get to this point. 

They weren't able to leverage that into a win in Boston, though. The Sox's 7-4 win in Game 2 gives them a 19-6 advantage in runs in the first two games and a 2-0 lead as the series heads to Florida. 

With such a hot start at the plate for the Red Sox, coming back will be difficult. 

All is not lost, though. David Price gave up seven runs in the team's latest loss but ate up seven innings to give the bullpen some much-needed rest. The return home and a rested pen may be just enough to turn things around. 


Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 05:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers reacts after being struck out in the third inning against the Oakland Athletics during Game Two of the American League Division Series at Coliseum on October 5, 2013 in Oakland, Cali
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Will Either Team Find Consistency at the Plate?

The Detroit Tigers finished the regular season as one of the most prolific offensive ball clubs in the league. They were second in the league in runs, on-base percentage and slugging, with the lead in batting average. 

The Oakland Athletics weren't too far behind. The A's lineup exhibited patience and timely hitting by finishing eighth in on-base percentage, fourth in runs and slugging percentage, with a 14th-place ranking in average. 

With all that firepower in the lineups, we should be witnessing slugfest after slugfest in this series, right?

Well, not exactly.

Pitching has been the story as the two teams split the first games of the series. The Tigers took Game 1, 3-2, on the strength of a three-run opening frame but were unable to bring home any runners after that. 

After being shut out in Game 2, 1-0, the Tigers haven't scored a run in 17 straight innings. They'll need those bats to get going if they expect to upset the Athletics in Detroit.