MLB Postseason: Previewing Each First Round Series
Major League Baseball is about to begin its second season on Wednesday as the playoffs will start in three cities. On Thursday, all eight contending teams will have played at least a game.
With that, it's time to preview each of the four Division Series matchups. Here's a complete breakdown of what to look forward to in each series, who has the edge, and who will ultimately advance for the right to go to the World Series.
ALDS (A): Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
The Texas Rangers are in their first postseason since 1999 and have never won a playoff series. They will be taking on the Tampa Bay Rays, who made their first postseason in 2008 and won the AL pennant.
Both of these teams have some good hitting and some guys who can pitch. The first game on Wednesday at 1:37 p.m. ET will feature two left-handed aces matching up with Cliff Lee going against David Price.
Lee didn't do as well when he was traded to the Rangers from the Mariners. He did have a solid finish to his season. In September, his ERA was 1.93. David Price had a fantastic season for Tampa Bay by winning 19 games.
Who has the edge?
The Texas Rangers have always been known for having a powerful offense, although their pitching did step up this season.
Texas acquired some offensive help at the trading deadline and have gotten back their star left fielder Josh Hamilton from a rib injury.
The Rays have a decent offense led by third baseman Evan Longoria. The one issue for them is first baseman Carlos Pena had a terrible season at the plate, hitting .196 for a full season.
Their middle infield of Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett isn't too powerful, and other than Carl Crawford, they didn't get a whole lot of production from their outfield.
While the Rays have guys who can get on base, the Rangers have guys who can hit the ball out with Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. After all, the Rangers did lead all of baseball in team batting average.
To make this series all the more interesting, these two teams ranked second and third in the AL in team ERA.
The Rangers really found two guys who weren't expected to ever be big time starters in C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter. Wilson, who hadn't started a game since 2005 before this season, won 15 games and Hunter went 13-4. Those two along with Lee will make for a tough challenge in a short series for Tampa Bay.
The Rays don't have awful pitching obviously, but James Shields had a terrible season. He lost 15 games with an ERA over five. Price and Matt Garza, though, should provide a steady one-two punch to try and get past the threesome in Texas.
When the games come down to the final inning and it's close, expect some good pitching from two great closers. The Rays' Rafael Soriano set the franchise record with 45 saves, and the Rangers Neftali Feliz saved 40 at the age of 22.
ALDS (B): New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
The defending World Series champion New York Yankees will be shooting for the first repeat in Major League Baseball since 2000. The Yankees themselves won three straight from 1998-2000 and beat the Twins in the ALDS last season.
The Twins are always in the postseason, but haven't been to the ALCS since 2002. The Twins will be without first baseman Justin Morneau, who has been sidelined since July with post-concussion syndrome.
Just like in the Rangers-Rays series, Game One on Wednesday at 8:37 p.m. ET will feature two ace left-handers. The Yankees will pitch CC Sabathia, and the Twins will go with Francisco Liriano.
After spending three seasons trying to recover from Tommy John surgery, Liriano came back with a flourish in 2010. He won 14 games after putting together a dreadful 2009.
Sabathia had a career year for the Yankees, winning 21 games and most likely earning his second career Cy Young award.
Who has the edge?
The Yankees have arguably the best offense in baseball. Their infield offense is one of the best in recent memory with Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, and Rodriguez from first to third base.
At the beginning of the season, it looked as if their outfield production would be down, but Curtis Granderson picked it up big time in the second half. Overall, from one through nine, the Yankees have an offense that is capable of competing with any of the other seven teams in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Twins ranked third in baseball in team batting average and once again were the most clutch team in the league. The impressive thing about the Twins is that they won games without Justin Morneau during the entire second half.
Delmon Young had a career season, surpassing his career-highs in batting average, home runs, doubles, and runs batted in.
While their offense isn't on the same level as the Yankees, it still very potent, led by Joe Mauer, who hit .327.
The Yankees starting rotation looked extremely formidable during the early part of the season, but it kind of caved in as the Yankees stumbled to finish the season.
Sabathia was good but not great, and the other three guys they rely on all had their problems. A.J. Burnett had an awful second season in the Bronx, Phil Hughes ran out of steam, and Andy Pettitte struggled coming back from injury. What looked like an outstanding foursome turned out to be an ace and many questions.
Although Pettitte has been a great postseason pitcher, will age and injury deny him from having success this October? It's a very big question.
The Twins don't have a very deep rotation, but they have the goods to compete against the Yankees. Francisco Liriano will pitch in Game One, and then former Yankee Carl Pavano will go.
Pavano couldn't pitch in New York, but certainly could in Minnesota after winning 17 games this season.
At the end of the game, the Yankees have the clear-cut advantage at closer with the great Mariano Rivera, although he has had some problems just like the rest of his team in September.
Matt Capps came over from the Nationals during the season and pitched better for the Twins than he did with Washington, but he's never pitched under the pressure of the postseason, unlike Rivera.
NLDS (A): Cincinnati Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies
There hasn't been a National League team appear in three straight World Series since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals. There could be one this season. The Phillies are attempting to win their third straight NL pennant and are the favorites to do so.
They'll be challenged by the Reds, who are in the postseason for the first time since 1995. That season the Reds swept the Dodgers in the first round, but got swept to the Braves in the NLCS to upset the potential all-Ohio World Series.
Expect this series to be all about hitting, as both teams have great offenses. Well, maybe not. The Phillies of course have the big three, but we'll get to that later.
Game One will have Phillies ace Roy Halladay opposed by Reds right-hander Edinson Volquez. Halladay had a terrific and quite historic first season in Philadelphia. He started slow and wasn't getting any run support, but still managed to win 21 games. Just imagine how many he would've won if the Phillies hit early on. He has never pitched in the playoffs though, so now we'll see if he can pitch under pressure.
Edinson Volquez is a strange choice by Dusty Baker to open their playoff series. The 27-year-old only started 12 games this season, sitting out the first 50 due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension. In his starts, he was average at best.
Who has the edge?
The Cincinnati Reds pitched well this season, finishing in the middle of the pack, but their offense was the best in the NL. They ranked first in the league in batting average, and they have some guys who flat out rake.
It all starts out of course with Joey Votto. He had a breakout season, threatening for the triple crown at one point. He led the NL in on-base and slugging percentage.
Looking at the rest of the offense, there's virtually production at every position. Brandon Phillips and the rest of the infield can all hit and are all pesky. Right fielder Jay Bruce can also hit for power, as he hit the game-winning home run to clinch the NL Central for the Reds. He's hit 21 or more home runs in each of his three seasons in the big leagues.
The Reds, though, aren't the only team in this series that can hit. The Phillies do their share and overcame some first half slumps.
The Phillies were fighting to stay over .500 and in the playoff race in May and June due in part to a complete lack of consistency. Heck, they got shut out in a three-game sweep to the Mets in May.
Then their injured players returned and they became, well, the Phillies. Their entire team is fully healthy, and every player on the depth chart listed first is ready to go. That includes the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Jayson Werth.
The offenses should almost be evenly matched, but the Phillies have more experience, having appeared in three straight postseasons.
Is the debate about which team has the pitching edge in this series even worth discussing? The Phillies may have the best playoff rotation in history. That may be a stretch, but not that much of one. When a team has Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels as their three starters, that's hard to compete with, and most importantly, beat.
As mentioned earlier, Halladay had an amazing first season in Philadelphia. The other Roy that the Phillies traded for at the deadline—Oswalt—couldn't have been any better. In 12 starts, he went 7-1 with an ERA of 1.74.
The third member of the crew, Hamels, had a pretty good year. He didn't get any run support whatsoever, but still won 12 games and pitched to an ERA just over three.
The Reds pitching isn't too bad, but it just isn't anywhere near where the Phillies are. Bronson Arroyo will pitch in Game Two, and he had a great season. Game Three will have Johnny Cueto pitching for the Reds.
Expect to see a lot of drama at the end of close games. Both closers aren't what you'd call lights out, with the Reds Francisco Cordero and the Phillies Brad Lidge having trouble at times shutting things down.
NLDS (B): Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants
Maybe the strangest of the four first-round series, the Braves and Giants will face off. Strange because neither team has been to the postseason since 2005 when the Braves went. The Giants haven't gone since 2003.
When the Braves missed the playoffs in 2006, it snapped their string of 14 consecutive NL East titles. The Mets won the division in 2006 and the Phillies have won the last four. The Braves are this year's NL Wild Card representative.
The Giants battled to make the playoffs last season, but fell short to the Rockies, and will attempt to make their first NLCS since 2002.
Unlike the other NL series, this one should be all about pitching. In fact, this is the most evenly matched series of the four, with both teams having strong pitching and decent-but-not great hitting.
This series will not start until Thursday night at 9:37 p.m. ET, and when it does, the Braves Derek Lowe will face the Giants Tim Lincecum.
Lowe has been a solid postseason pitcher with a lot of experience. This will be his seventh playoff appearance, and in the first six, he has an ERA of 3.33. He had as average a season as possible this year, going 16-12 with an ERA of exactly 4.00.
Tim Lincecum will make his postseason debut, and had a weird but successful season. He lost a career-high 10 games, but still won 16 and pitched to an ERA in the mid-threes. He also led the league in strikeouts for a third straight season.
He will not win his third straight Cy Young award, but at home to start the playoffs, I'd be comfortable with that.
Who has the edge?
Both of these teams have offenses that could be hot or cold. Some pesky players who can really hurt you when it counts the most. Neither team, though, has an absolute superstar.
If I had to choose which offense I'd rather have in this series, I'd go with the Braves. It's not for any specific reason other than their players are a little better.
Speaking of pesky players, the Braves have two classic ones—infielders Martin Prado and Omar Infante.
People all around the league and media laughed when Infante was named to the NL All-Star team, but he proved them all wrong, finishing third in the league in batting. His teammate, Prado, finished seventh in the league in batting. Neither guys are home run threats or even threats at all frankly, but they are pesky and therefore really dangerous.
The real bat in the Braves lineup is Rookie of the Year candidate Jason Heyward. The 21-year-old fared well, hitting 18 home runs.
The Giants are almost the same type of offensive team, with a little more pop. Guys like Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and rookie Buster Posey are all capable of hitting the long ball.
The best thing about this series is the battle of rookies. Jason Heyward and Buster Posey are most likely going to get the most consideration for the award, so how ironic is it that they can duke it out for a right to advance in the playoffs.
Pitching will be the name of the game in this series, as both teams have great rotations. The Braves have a threesome of Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Tommy Hanson. The Giants have a threesome of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez.
For the Braves, Hudson had a great season but tired late. He still won 17 games and pitched to a 2.83 ERA, his best since 2003.
The starting rotation isn't the only strength of the Braves pitching staff. Their bullpen is unhittable and makes games six innings.
Billy Wagner, who'll retire at season's end, had the best season of his career. His 1.43 ERA was the lowest in any season of his 15 in the big leagues.
Before him, the Braves can bring in rookie left-hander Jonny Venters, who stunned everyone to have a terrific season as a set-up man. If Wagner retires as he has said, Venters is the leading candidate to replace him as the closer next season.
In the seventh inning, the Braves have yet another left-handed reliever, Eric O'Flaherty. He had a good season and really makes teams beat Braves starters to win.
With all of the pitching and relieving the Braves have, the Giants don't have a bad staff themselves, setting up a great pitchers' series. After Lincecum, Matt Cain will pitch.
After a couple of seasons of low ERA but awful record, Cain has put together two nice seasons. Jonathan Sanchez, who also pitched well, will presumably pitch in Game Three over Barry Zito.
With all of the talk about Billy Wagner closing games for the Braves, let's not look past the job Giants closer Brian Wilson did this season. It was outstanding, as he was also shut down, pitching to an ERA of 1.81 while leading the league in saves with 48. In other words, these two teams have to beat the opposing starter to have a chance.
Picks for each first round series
Rays over Rangers in four
Twins over Yankees in five
Phillies over Reds in three
Giants over Braves in five
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