MLB First Round Playoff Preview: Complete Series Breakdowns
In a few minutes the MLB playoffs will commence, so I figured now might be a good time to get my picks and predictions in. Time’s a waisting so let’s get to it.
Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
This is probably the best series of the opening round, but since the Yankees aren’t in it we’re doomed to early start times for this one.
The Rays come in with a deep pitching staff led by Cy Young candidate David Price, while their offense has been somewhat of an enigma. They finished third in the league in runs scored, but they were 27th in batting average. The Rays manufacture runs better than anyone in baseball by drawing walks and stealing bases.
This is a team built on speed not power, and most anyone in the lineup is a threat to go. However, Tampa is prone to striking out and had a few stretches this year where they seemingly couldn’t score. Something to watch for is the production of young superstar Evan Longoria who missed the last 10 games of the year with an injured quad. He will play, but says he’s only 85-90 percent.
The Rangers were going to make the playoffs regardless this year, but they became World Series contenders when they traded for Cliff Lee. Lee got off to a rocky start in the Texas summer heat, but has rebounded nicely down the stretch. What Lee did in the regular season doesn’t matter as his acquisition was purely playoff based. A few wins in the postseason, where he has been dominant, and all regular season struggles will be but a memory.
The Rangers aren’t a one horse pony though. Converted reliever C.J. Wilson was one of the leagues best pitchers after the All-Star break and rookie closer Neftali Feliz and his 100 mph fast ball were untouchable down the stretch as he finished with 40 saves.
The Rangers offense is scary as usual finishing first in the league in batting average and scoring 787 runs. The Rangers have an injured star of their own with MVP candidate Josh Hamilton missing most of September with a rib injury. Hamilton played the last few games of the year and should be ready to go. The Rangers lineup is littered with other current and former All-Stars such Vlad Guerrero, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz.
This is a tough series to call. The Rangers have the better offense, but the Rays have the deeper rotation and play better defense. The bad part for the Rangers is that Cliff Lee can’t pitch all five games. I think the Rays are the best team in the American League and their speed and defense will be too much to overcome.
Prediction- Rays in five
New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
The defending champs bring the usual cast of characters into another postseason against the Twinkies. The Yankees are the Wild Card by default and have to open up on the road in the new open air Target Field.
Playoff baseball. In October. In Minnesota. Awesome!
New York has their usual juggernaut of an offense finishing first in the league in runs and on base percentage. Granderson, Posada, Teixeira, A-Rod, Cano, and of course Jeter are the heart of an intimidating order. These guys don’t have a problem scoring runs.
The pitching staff has been somewhat of a question mark all season that has been overshadowed because they score so much. Sabathia has been a bright spot, but he’s prone to meltdowns in the playoffs. Mariano Rivera is the rock at the back, but even he showed a few cracks down the stretch blowing quite a few saves in September.
The Twins surprisingly had the majors best record after the All-Star break even without the services of MVP Justin Morneau who will miss the rest of the season. The Twins offense is led by Phenom Joe Mauer and the never aging Jim Thome. It doesn’t seem to matter who these guys trot out they just get it done.
The problem is that they’re built more for the regular season than the post season. The pitching staff is solid with comeback player of the year Francisco Liriano at the top. Ever-reliable Joe Nathan has missed the whole season, but the Twins traded for Matt Capps to try and fill his void.
The Yankees swept the Twins last year and I don’t see a lot changing this year. The Twins are great for the long haul, but seem to struggle in short series. The Yankees have been there, done that, and they will again.
Prediction- New York in four
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds
The Phillies are the two-time defending NL champs, but they struggled at the start of the season and at one point were seven games behind Atlanta. However, these guys know how to get it done and turned it on down the stretch to run away with the division and cement their place as NL favorites.
The rotation is as good as any of recent memory featuring H2O—Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt. Halladay is the NL Cy Young favorite and Oswalt has regained his form and been a beast since coming over from Houston. The question mark is Brad Lidge who had his usual struggles. He didn’t pitch much in September with the division locked up so it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure.
The offense was hit or miss all season as it seemed every day someone new was missing. The opening day lineup wasn’t all together until the end of the year, so we will see if it takes some time to gel.
The Reds haven’t seen the post season since 1995 and they were this year's big surprise. After getting manhandled by the Cardinals in August they were left for dead, but the young club responded well and ran away from a much more veteran St. Louis squad.
The rotation is led by journeyman Bronson Arroyo and he is backed up by young guns Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey. The arrival of fire-balling sensation Aroldis Chapman late in the year bolstered a suspect bullpen.
The offense has a lot of depth with resurgent veterans Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips, and upcoming studs Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs, but it will only go as far as Joey Votto takes it. Votto caught fire this year and was a Triple Crown threat into August leading the Reds in most major categories.
The Reds are a nice story, but the Phillies pitching staff is too deep and their experience will be too much for a young Cincinnati team.
Prediction- Philly in three
Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants
This is the series for the baseball purists out there. The Braves finished third in the league in ERA while the Giants had the top mark. It might set a record for fewest runs in a five game series. Both of these teams are quite similar as they pitch lights out and can’t score to save their lives.
The Braves offense has struggled all year and it didn’t get any better with the news that do-it-all utility man Martin Prado would miss the playoffs with a hip injury. The Braves don’t have much of a power threat, but maybe rookie sensation Jason Heyward can fill that gap in the postseason.
The rotation isn’t the Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz glory days, but it’s darn close. Tim Hudson paced the club in wins, ERA and Ks and he’ll be the key to the series.
The Giants took down a tough NL West on the last day due to their torrid September. The rotation has been terrific all year and has four reliable starters in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito.
The bullpen has matched the starters brilliance and is held down by Brian Wilson and his 48 saves. There wasn’t a better pitching staff in all of baseball.
As for the offense, this shouldn’t take long. Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe led the way and the problem is that Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe led the way. Rookie Buster Posey is the lone bright spot on a nondescript lineup hitting .305 with 18 Hrs after his call-up. The good new is the offense only needs one or two runs to win games, but the bad news is they struggle to get them.
This series will be my second favorite, and it is set up to go the distance as each game should be a pitchers duel. Both teams will struggle to score, but I think the Giants pitching will give them a slight edge over the course of the series.
Prediction- San Fran in five
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