MLB Playoff Picture: Breaking Down the Most Likely AL and NL Scenarios

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

MLB Playoff Picture: Breaking Down the Most Likely AL and NL Scenarios

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    After Wednesday's article offered up 25 predictions for the final month of the 2014 MLB season, including full predictions on who will reach the playoffs, it's time to dive a bit deeper into those potential October matchups.

    Obviously, much can change between now and the end of the season, as there is still an awful lot of baseball to be played, but based on the most likely outcomes, we can take a quick look ahead at how the Wild Card Round and Division Series could play out.

    What follows is a quick overview of how the most likely Wild Card Round games could unfold, followed by a complete overview of each subsequent Division Series matchup—looking at the hitting, starting pitching and bullpen of each team.

    Again, these matchups are based on predictions made Wednesday, and things could certainly play out differently. This is just a quick look ahead at how things could shape up to kick off October baseball a month from now.

NL Wild Card Round

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    Predicted Matchup

    Milwaukee Brewers (73-66) at San Francisco Giants (76-64)

     

    Predicted Starting Pitchers

    Yovani Gallardo (8-8, 3.43 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (16-9, 2.97 ERA)

     

    Wild Card Game Overview

    Here at the beginning of September, the two leading candidates for the NL wild card are heading in different directions.

    The Brewers are riding an eight-game losing streak and have relinquished their stranglehold on the NL Central lead, while the Giants have climbed back in the NL West race thanks to a 12-6 hot streak.

    The Brewers pitching staff has fallen off of late, after posting a 4.09 ERA in August and being a mainstay of the team all season. An injury to Carlos Gomez is also a blow to the offense, but this team still has enough talent to hold off the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates for the second wild-card slot.

    Meanwhile, the Giants offense has stepped things up with Buster Posey and Hunter Pence firing on all cylinders, while the starting rotation is once again a strength behind Madison Bumgarner and Jake Peavy.

    There is still time for the Brewers to get back on track and the Giants to climb back to the top of the NL West heap, but if this does wind up being the matchup, the Giants have to be considered the favorites at this point.

    The Giants lead the season series 4-2.

NL Matchup: (3) St. Louis Cardinals (76-63) vs. (2) Los Angeles Dodgers (78-62)

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    Offense Overview

    • Cardinals (.254 BA, 3.84 RPG) vs. Dodgers (.259 BA, 4.11 RPG)

    The above numbers may paint a significant advantage for the Dodgers, but recent performance may be a better indicator here. The Cardinals averaged 4.41 runs per game in August, compared to just 3.82 runs per game by the Dodgers.

    As a whole, both teams have underperformed offensively this season, at least relative to expectations. Health has played a part in that, but both lineups are intact heading into the final month.

    Juan Uribe and Hanley Ramirez are back for the Dodgers after stints on the disabled list, while Yadier Molina is back behind the dish for the Cardinals after missing significant time with a thumb injury.

    A slumping Yasiel Puig is a legitimate concern for the Dodgers at this point, as he has carried their offense for stretches this season. Top prospect Joc Pederson received a September call-up and could make an impact, but they need Puig at the top of his game.

    On the flip side, there may be not a hotter player in baseball right now than Matt Holliday, who is hitting .324 with four home runs and 16 RBI in his last 10 games. If he can stay hot, he would give the Cardinals offense a huge boost.

    "Matt Holliday has become a one-man wrecking crew," tweeted Bob Nightengale of USA Today at the beginning of the month, and he hit the nail on the head.

     

    Starting Pitching Overview

    • Cardinals (3.61 SP ERA) vs. Dodgers (3.12 SP ERA)

    Projected Rotations

    • Adam Wainwright (16-9, 2.69 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (17-3, 1.70 ERA)
    • John Lackey (13-8, 3.74 ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (13-8, 2.72 ERA)
    • Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.85 ERA) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-6, 3.18 ERA)
    • Michael Wacha (5-5, 2.79 ERA) vs. Dan Haren (11-10, 4.27 ERA)

    The X-factor here will be Michael Wacha, who is set to make his first start since June 17 on Thursday. He was 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA in five playoff starts last season, including 2-0 with 13.2 scoreless innings in two starts against the Dodgers to earn NLCS MVP honors.

    The Dodgers have a clear edge at the top. Clayton Kershaw is having a historic season, and Zack Greinke has been a stud in his own right. Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright is dealing with some dead arm, and John Lackey has been inconsistent since coming over from Boston.

    Lackey does have experience on his side, though, and Lance Lynn is quietly having a breakout season in his own right, so this one may not tilt as heavily in the Dodgers' favor as one may think.

     

    Bullpen Overview

    • Cardinals (3.70 RP ERA) vs. Dodgers (3.69 RP ERA)

    The Cardinals' late-inning duo of Pat Neshek (63 G, 1.37 ERA) and Trevor Rosenthal (64 G, 41 SV, 3.43 ERA) has been solid this season, but behind them the bullpen is not as dominant as a year ago.

    Seth Maness (62 G, 2.94 ERA) and Sam Freeman (34 G, 2.27 ERA) are also having strong seasons, while Kevin Siegrist (33 G, 6.35 ERA) and Carlos Martinez (45 G, 4.44 ERA) will look to prove they are capable of late-inning work down the stretch.

    For the Dodgers, J.P. Howell (62 G, 1.21 ERA) and Brandon League (54 G, 2.95 ERA) have done a solid job of setting up closer Kenley Jansen (59 G, 39 SV, 3.20 ERA), but the rest of the pen has been shaky at best.

    Brian Wilson (52 G, 4.89 ERA) and Jamey Wright (54 G, 3.78 ERA) have been fairly disappointing but should see significant action as well.

NL Matchup: WC San Francisco Giants (76-64) vs. (1) Washington Nationals (79-59)

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Offense Overview

    • Giants (.255 BA, 4.16 RPG) vs. Nationals (.251 BA, 4.29 RPG)

    These two teams have battled significant injuries offensively this season but have really hit their stride at the plate in the past month or so. The Giants put up 4.86 RPG in August with an MLB-best .288 team average, while the Nationals plated 4.66 RPG and hit .265.

    Buster Posey has caught fire and looks like he could climb into the NL MVP picture, while Hunter Pence continues to be a steady producer. Rookie second baseman Joe Panik has helped shore up what was a revolving door at the position.

    For the Nationals, Bryce Harper has finally found his power stroke. Asdrubal Cabrera has helped fill what was the one big offensive hole, and Anthony Rendon continues to be the team's most valuable player.

    Both teams also have a potential impact player who could return from the DL in September, as Brandon Belt has dealt with concussion issues for the Giants and Ryan Zimmerman is rehabbing from a torn hamstring.

    The Nationals offense is probably the more consistent of the two, but both teams are clicking at the plate right now and could be dangerous come October.

     

    Starting Pitching Overview

    • Giants (3.76 SP ERA) vs. Nationals (3.23 SP ERA)

    Projected Rotations

    • Jake Peavy (4-13, 4.15 ERA) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (10-5, 2.93 ERA)
    • Tim Hudson (9-9, 3.08 ERA) vs. Doug Fister (12-6, 2.66 ERA)
    • Madison Bumgarner (16-9, 2.97 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (11-10, 3.49 ERA)
    • Ryan Vogelsong (8-10, 4.06 ERA) vs. Tanner Roark (12-9, 2.91 ERA)

    The scales tip heavily in favor of the Nationals here, if for no other reason than the fact that Madison Bumgarner would be the likely pitcher in the Wild Card Round, making him unavailable until Game 3 at the earliest.

    The Nationals will have a decision to make as far as who to bump from their rotation that will likely come down to Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez (7-9, 3.89 ERA). Roark has far superior numbers, but Gonzalez is their only left-hander, and they may want to throw a different look at the Giants.

    Jake Peavy (7 GS, 3-4, 2.66 ERA) has been terrific since coming over from Boston, and Tim Hudson remains a steady veteran influence. Ryan Vogelsong will be the wild card, as he has been inconsistent at best this season but is throwing the ball well of late.

     

    Bullpen Overview

    • Giants (2.87 RP ERA) vs. Nationals (2.92 RP ERA)

    Both of these teams rank in the top six in the MLB in bullpen ERA, but they have gotten there in different ways.

    The Giants have struggled to find consistency on a player-to-player basis, but someone always seems to step up just as another guy is falling off.

    For now it looks like it would be Jean Machi (62 G, 1.95 ERA), Sergio Romo (57 G, 3.98 ERA), Javier Lopez (56 G, 2.12 ERA) and Jeremy Affeldt (55 G, 2.55 ERA) setting up Santiago Casilla (47 G, 14 SV, 1.79 ERA).

    For the Nationals, it's been the solid trio of Drew Storen (53 G, 1.38 ERA), Tyler Clippard (64 G, 2.09 ERA) and Rafael Soriano (57 G, 31 SV, 2.59 ERA) at the back end. August waiver addition Matt Thornton (12 G, 0.00 ERA) has given them a terrific fourth option and a much-needed veteran left-hander.

AL Wild Card Round

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    Predicted Matchup

    Seattle Mariners (75-63) at Oakland Athletics (79-60)

     

    Predicted Pitching Matchup

    Felix Hernandez (14-5, 2.18 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (13-9, 2.54 ERA)

     

    Wild Card Game Overview

    It's a tough call at this point between the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners for the No. 2 wild-card spot. There's a very good chance the Royals walk away with the AL Central title, but at this point my pick is still the Mariners.

    If this is in fact how things play out, there may be no tougher draw than Seattle in a one-game Wild Card Round, as Felix Hernandez would make things awfully tough on what has been a slumping Athletics offense.

    The A's pulled off the blockbuster deal to acquire Jon Lester in large part because of his fantastic postseason track record, and this would be his opportunity to show that it was worth it.

    These teams have already met head-to-head 16 times this season, with the Mariners holding a 9-7 lead after wrapping up a series victory in Oakland on Wednesday.

    The A's have three more games remaining in Seattle next weekend, and if the Athletics can't find a way to right the ship, this Wild Card Game could wind up being played in Seattle as well, as opposed to Oakland.

AL Matchup (3) Detroit Tigers (76-63) vs. (2) Baltimore Orioles (81-57)

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    Offense Overview

    • Tigers (.276 BA, 4.67 RPG) vs. Orioles (.258 BA, 4.36 RPG)

    This would be a matchup of two of the best offenses in baseball this season, as the Tigers lead MLB with a .276 team batting average and the Orioles are tops with 182 home runs.

    The Tigers are led by the dynamic trio of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez in the middle of the lineup, but secondary pieces like Torii Hunter, Ian Kinsler and rookie Nick Castellanos have chipped in as well.

    Nelson Cruz has paced the Orioles attack, as he leads the AL with 36 home runs. Adam Jones is also having a top-flight season, but the rest of the offense has gone somewhat unnoticed on an individual level.

    Losing Matt Wieters and Manny Machado for the season hurt the Orioles, but they have found a way to overcome that with the emergence of guys like Steve Pearce and Caleb Joseph. The Tigers have managed to remain relatively healthy, but the offense did take a blow when they shipped out Austin Jackson in the David Price trade.

    The Orioles are hitting .242 and averaging 4.48 RPG in the second half, while the Tigers are at .268 and 4.42 RPG, so both teams have continued producing at a high level of late.

     

    Starting Pitching Overview

    • Tigers (3.91 SP ERA) vs. Orioles (3.80 SP ERA)

    Projected Rotations

    • Max Scherzer (15-5, 3.26 ERA) vs. Chris Tillman (11-5, 3.36 ERA)
    • David Price (13-10, 3.25 ERA) vs. Bud Norris (12-8, 3.83 ERA)
    • Rick Porcello (15-9, 3.10 ERA) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (14-4, 3.83 ERA)
    • Justin Verlander (12-12, 4.80 ERA) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (8-7, 3.38 ERA)

    If you had said the Orioles would have a better starter's ERA than the Tigers at the beginning of the season, most would have called you crazy, but that's exactly how things stand here at the start of September.

    It has not been smooth sailing all season for the Orioles staff, but they have come on strong in the second half. Chris Tillman (9 GS, 4-0, 1.85 ERA) has been lights-out since the break, and the rest of the staff has fallen into place behind him.

    That being said, the Tigers rotation is still awfully scary in a playoff series, as they have the last three AL Cy Young winners at their disposal, as well as a pitcher in Rick Porcello who is having by far the best season of his career.

    The X-factor for the Tigers has to be Justin Verlander, who caught fire down the stretch last year after a poor regular season and went on to dominate in the postseason. For the Orioles, rookie Kevin Gausman (7-7, 3.93 ERA) could pitch his way into the playoff rotation with a strong finish, and he's capable of dominating when he's at his best.

     

    Bullpen Overview

    • Tigers (4.34 RP ERA) vs. Orioles (3.15 RP ERA)

    This could wind up being the Achilles' heel for the Tigers in the playoffs, as their bullpen has been a nightmare all season.

    Blaine Hardy (30 G, 2.06 ERA) and Al Alburquerque (62 G, 2.54 ERA) have quietly emerged as a reliable setup duo alongside Joba Chamberlain (59 G, 3.50 ERA), while Joe Nathan (53 G, 29 SV, 5.04 ERA) has nailed down 10 of 11 save chances since the All-Star break.

    As a whole that group is still shaky, though, and how confident does the team really feel turning a one- or two-run lead over to the pen in the seventh inning?

    For the Orioles, picking up Andrew Miller (13 G, 1.42 ERA) at the deadline has turned their pen into a legitimate strength.

    Zach Britton (62 G, 32 SV, 1.87 ERA) has been one of the breakout relievers of 2014, while Darren O'Day (58 G, 1.34 ERA), Brian Matusz (56 G, 3.66 ERA) and Tommy Hunter (49 G, 3.51 ERA) round out a strong core unit.

    Experience is on the side of Nathan in the ninth inning, but Britton still looks like the safer bet to nail down a game in the ninth inning this season.

AL Matchup: WC Seattle Mariners (75-63) vs. (1) Los Angeles Angels (83-55)

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    Offense Overview

    • Mariners (.247 BA, 3.96 RPG) vs. Angels (.259 BA, 4.65 RPG)

    The Mariners spent big in the offseason to shore up their offensive attack, and while Robinson Cano has performed at an elite level once again, the team's other acquisitions wound up being flops.

    However, Kyle Seager and Dustin Ackley have both elevated their games this season, and the deadline pickups of Austin Jackson, Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia have helped turn this into a unit that is at least respectable from top to bottom.

    On the other hand, the Angels are perhaps the best offensive team in baseball right now, led by AL MVP front-runner Mike Trout and a rejuvenated Albert Pujols.

    It goes beyond those two, though, as the unheralded middle infield duo of Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar have been rock solid. Kole Calhoun is enjoying a breakout season in the leadoff spot, and catcher Chris Iannetta has been an on-base machine with a .375 OBP.

    If Los Angeles can get Josh Hamilton going, this offense could be lethal come October, and that would help take a lot of pressure off an inexperienced rotation.

     

    Starting Pitching Overview

    • Mariners (3.36 SP ERA) vs. Angels (3.63 SP ERA)

    Projected Rotations

    • Hisashi Iwakuma (13-6, 2.90 ERA) vs. Jered Weaver (15-8, 3.56)
    • James Paxton (5-1, 1.91 ERA) vs. Matt Shoemaker (14-4, 3.14 ERA)
    • Felix Hernandez (14-5, 2.18 ERA) vs. Hector Santiago (4-7, 3.28 ERA)
    • Chris Young (12-7, 3.46 ERA) vs. C.J. Wilson (10-9, 4.66 ERA)

    The big story here is the Angels' loss of ace Garrett Richards to a season-ending knee injury, but the team has rallied around that to this point and has thrown the ball better in the past month than at any other point in the season.

    Jered Weaver has returned to the role of staff ace and is having a very nice season, but it's rookie Matt Shoemaker who could really make a difference in the postseason. He's gone 7-2 with a 1.67 ERA since the All-Star break.

    "When G went down we all knew we were all going to pick each other up," Shoemaker said of Richards to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. "We were going to pick it up for us, pick it up for him. That's a testament to such a good group of guys that we have. We're able to do that and rally around each other and keep getting better."

    A potential Game 4 matchup of C.J. Wilson and Chris Young would be interesting, as both pitchers have struggled at times this season, and Young in particular has been roughed up of late. If he continues to struggle, Seattle could tap Roenis Elias or Taijuan Walker to make that start.

    Not having Felix Hernandez available until Game 3 works against the Mariners, but they have a legitimate second ace in Hisashi Iwakuma to take the ball in Game 1.

    That would make rookie James Paxton the likely Game 2 starter, setting up a matchup of perhaps the two best rookie pitchers in baseball right now.

    "With way James Paxton is throwing now, alongside Felix and Iwakuma, Mariners would be a dangerous postseason team if they get in," tweeted Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.

    The advantage has to go to the Mariners with their pair of aces, but the Angels rotation is far from the glaring weakness that some have made it out to be.

     

    Bullpen Overview

    • Mariners (2.42 RP ERA) vs. Angels (3.32 RP ERA)

    This was a slam-dunk advantage for the Mariners heading into July and still is, as they have the best bullpen ERA in baseball.

    However, the Angels' relief corps has been significantly improved since the additions of Huston Street (19 G, 11 SV, 1.00 ERA) and Jason Grilli (31 G, 2.36 ERA). Those two are joined by Kevin Jepsen (66 G, 2.03 ERA) and Joe Smith (66 G, 2.07 ERA) to form a terrific foursome at the back of the pen.

    Meanwhile, the Mariners have had the best bullpen in the league this year. They may not have the lights-out trio that the Washington Nationals or Kansas City Royals do, but they have seven truly reliable arms.

    Closer Fernando Rodney (60 G, 41 SV, 2.51 ERA) has been joined by left-handers Joe Beimel (48 G, 1.99 ERA) and Charlie Furbush (57 G, 3.76 ERA) and righties Yoervis Medina (56 G, 2.27 ERA), Danny Farquhar (55 G, 2.43 ERA), Tom Wilhelmsen (48 G, 2.02 ERA) and Dominic Leone (48 G, 2.34 ERA).

    Both of these teams are capable of shortening games with their late-inning arms, but the Mariners are better equipped to deal with a short outing from their starter, as Elias and/or Walker will likely join the aforementioned group.

     

    All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted and accurate through Wednesday, Sept. 3.