MLB Playoff Predictions: The 15 Biggest Questions Facing Playoff Teams

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIOctober 5, 2010

MLB Playoff Predictions: The 15 Biggest Questions Facing Playoff Teams

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    You can spend all season waiting for the playoffs. You can design a roster around winning a seven-game series. You can run simulations and statistical analysis until you're blue in the face.

    But you still won't be ready for October.

    Each year, problems and uncertainties arise, and even the best teams are forced to face the unpleasant reality that things don't always go the way you plan them.

    Here are 15 of the biggest questions facing playoff teams as they prepare to kick off the postseason tomorrow.

No. 15: The Phillies’ No. 4 Man

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    If all goes well for the Phillies, they’ll be able to sail through the postseason without having to worry about handing the ball to anyone but Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

    But if the Phillies need a fourth starter, it will be one of Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton, and Jaime Moyer—all of whom have ERAs over 4.72.

No. 14: The Braves’ Pitchers

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    The Braves have the deepest rotation in baseball, but no obvious way to order the rotation.

    The three primary starters will likely be Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Derek Lowe. Of the three, Hanson is the best pitcher and Hudson has had the best results this year, yet Lowe is starting Game One of the NLDS.

    That leaves the volatile Jair Jurrjens to battle it out for Game Four with rookies Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor. Unless Bobby Cox starts Lowe on short rest.

No. 13: The Phillies’ Name Brand

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    The Phillies have a reputation for being one of the best-hitting teams in the game. But this year, the sizzle has been bigger than the steak.

    Ryan Howard and Chase Utley suffered through the worst full seasons of their careers, and Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino also took steps back in 2010. The names still inspire awe, but there’s no real reason to fear their bats.

No. 12: The Twins’ Lack of Star Power

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    With Joe Mauer in the midst of a (relative) down year, the news that Justin Morneau would miss the entire playoffs means the Twins are left with only one intimidating bat in their lineup: 40-year-old Jim Thome.

    The rotation has a similar problem. Behind the woefully underappreciated Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, and Scott Baker have pitched well, but there’s not much excitement to be found there either.

No. 11: Josh Hamilton

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    It’s no coincidence that the Rangers took off when Josh Hamilton started hitting like an MVP. Nor is it chance that Texas sputtered over the last third of the season, when Hamilton cooled off and got injured.

    Hamilton returned to the team this weekend, but after complaining yesterday that he was “really, really, really sore,” one has to wonder how well he’ll hold up in October.

No. 10: Francisco Cordero

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    Francisco Cordero, is not a reliable pitcher the Reds can turn to when the going gets tough. His eight blown saves this season were second only to Tyler Clipppard’s 10, and his ugly 3.84 ERA masks an even worse 4.53 xFIP.

    The problem: he’s walking almost a batter every two innings. In high-leverage situations, pitchers simply can’t afford to have such poor control.

Nos. 7, 8, and 9: B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena

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    During the Rays’ miraculous 2008 playoff run, B.J. Upton went bananas, smacking seven homers and swiping six bases with a .652 SLG.

    Last season, Ben Zobrist came out of nowhere to have arguably the best season in Rays franchise history. And, of course, Carlos Pena smashed a league-leading 39 homers despite missing a month of the year with a broken wrist.

    This year, the trio has been underwhelming; their composite WAR in 2010 was worse than Zobrist’s in 2009. Each of the three has the potential to make a huge impact on the playoffs, but that’s far from a safe bet.

No. 6: CC Sabathia

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    New York fans seem to be quite confident about their ace for the postseason, but Sabathia is an extremely inconsistent postseason pitcher.

    He was flat out awful during the Indians’ 2007 playoff run, posting an 8.80 ERA in 15.1 innings. In 2008 he floundered with the Brewers, giving up five runs in three-plus innings against the Phillies in the NLDS.

No. 5: The Braves' Defense

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    According to UZR, the Braves poor defense has cost the team almost 35 runs this season, the second-worst mark in the league.

    That’s more than three wins that their gloves have thrown away. That might not seem like much, but consider that the Braves won the Wild Card by just one game.

No. 4: The Giants' Offense

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    The Giants’ bats aren't that bad, but they’re the worst of any team in the playoffs, and the only ones whose collective OPS falls below the median.

    Also, consider the sources of their production: Buster Posey has cooled off since his torrid July, and the combination of Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Andres Torres doesn't leave me shaking in my boots.

No. 3: The Philly Dynasty

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    Not since the Yankees of 1998-2001 has a team won its pennant three years in a row.

    As the Phillies, the two-time reigning NL pennant winners, prepare for their first series against the Reds, fans have to be thinking: can they make it a hat trick?

No. 2: The Yankees' Rotation

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    CC Sabathia isn't perfect, but at least he is the Yankees’ definite ace—making him the only clear choice Joe Girardi has when determining his postseason rotation.

    Does he give the ball to the injury-prone Andy Pettitte in Game Two? The inexperienced Phil Hughes? A.J. “What Happened to My Curveball” Burnett? Or to Javier “Hero to Zero” Vazquez?

No. 1: Luck

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    A seven-game series isn’t nearly enough of a sample size to determine which of two of the eight best teams in baseball is superior—let alone five games.

    In Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong, Nate Silver and Dayn Perry examined the correlations between successful playoff teams and how they fared at specific facets of the game. The conclusion: a whopping 89 percent of playoff success is pure, dumb luck.

    So the real question is: heads or tails?