MLB Playoff Bracket 2011: Round-by-Round Predictions
In what has been one of the craziest September's in recent baseball history, the postseason kicks off on Friday. The two best teams in baseball—the Phillies and Yankees—have been on cruise control this week, but will kick things into gear this weekend.
The wild card races in both leagues have turned into nail-biters. The Braves have been in a free fall this whole month, but it has gone largely unnoticed thanks to the collapse of the Boston Red Sox.
Neither team has done enough this month to show that they are capable of winning a series in the postseason if they were to get in. But, the beauty of baseball is that you play everyday, so you can turn things around in a hurry.
The Brewers, Diamondbacks, Tigers and Rangers—also known as the "others" in the playoffs—are just lying in the weeds letting everything unfold around them.
If the postseason is even half as interesting as the last four weeks of the season have been, we are in for a historic October.
Here is a round-by-round look at what we expect to happen when the postseason starts on Friday afternoon.
(Note: In this scenario, the Rays and Braves are the American and National League wild card teams, respectively.)
Philadelphia Phillies vs Arizona Diamondbacks
Regular Season Records
Philadelphia (101-60), 1st in National League East
Arizona (94-67), 1st in National League West
Phillies' Key Stats
1st in MLB in ERA (3.02), Shutouts (21) and Complete Games (18)
Diamondbacks' Key Stats
4th in NL in Runs Scored (719) and Home Runs (170)
The Phillies are clearly the best team in the National League. They have the deepest pitching staff, led by the three-headed monster at the top of the rotation, and the bullpen has performed better than expected because they have not had to pitch as much, thanks to the starting pitching.
The Diamondbacks came out of nowhere to win the National League West, and boast an MVP candidate in Justin Upton. Ian Kennedy has pitched well, but he not a No. 1 starter (and the first person to say that his 20 wins makes him an ace faces a lifetime of ridicule).
With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels starting the first three games, it is going to be difficult for the Diamondbacks to win a game.
Manager Kirk Gibson did a good job with the Diamondbacks this season, but they are not in the Phillies' league right now.
Phillies win series, 3-0.
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Atlanta Braves
Regular Season Records
Milwaukee (95-66), 1st in National League Central
Atlanta (89-72), 2nd in National League East
Braves won series, 4-3. Both teams swept home series.
Brewers' Key Stats
2nd in National League in Home Runs (182), Slugging Percentage (.424) and OPS (.749)
Braves' Key Stats
1st in MLB in Strikeouts (1324), 4th in MLB in Team ERA (3.49) and Shutouts (16).
The Brewers got off to a slow start this season, but, since May 1, they have the same record as the Phillies, 83-52. Of course, a lot of that success came against the terrible competition in the National League Central.
The Braves have gone in the opposite direction. They got off to a fast start and have been spiraling down ever since. September has been a brutal month for this team, and they still have to win on the final day of the season to have a chance to get in.
The Brewers have a deeper pitching staff and lineup. The Braves are hurting right now and won't last long in this series. I think they can steal a game in Atlanta, but they are not in Milwaukee's class right now.
If Jason Heyward and Tommy Hanson were healthy, it would be a different story. Watch out for them in 2012, but 2011 is not their year.
Brewers win series, 3-1
New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers
Regular Season Records
New York (97-64), 1st in American League East
Detroit Tigers (94-67), 1st in American League Central
Detroit won series, 4-3
Yankees' Key Stats
1st in MLB in Home Runs (219), 2nd in OBP (.344), 3rd in OPS (.788)
Tigers' Key Stats
T-2nd in AL in Shutouts (14), 4th in MLB in Runs Scored (782), 4th in OPS (772)
The only chance that the Tigers have to win this series is if Justin Verlander is able to win two games and one of their other starting pitchers—Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello or Doug Fister—luck into a victory.
Despite what most of the national media would have you believe, CC Sabathia has been almost as good as Justin Verlander has been this season. But, because he doesn't have those nice, shiny 24 wins next to his name, no one notices. (No, I am not a Yankees fan.)
The Yankees lineup is the deepest in baseball. Their rotation is deeper than the Tigers. Their bullpen has gotten better as the season has gone along.
The Tigers were floating around .500 until August, when they started beating up on the mediocre American League Central. They have one great hitter in Miguel Cabrera and two very good hitters in Victor Martinez and Alex Avila.
I think Verlander is good enough to get the Tigers one win, but no one else is good enough to get a victory in this series.
Yankees win series, 3-1
Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Regular Season Records
Texas (95-66), 1st in American League West
Tampa Bay (90-71), 2nd in American League East
Rangers' Key Stats
1st in AL in Shutouts (19), 2nd in AL in Slugging Percentage (.460), 3rd in On-Base Percentage (.340)
Rays' Key Stats
1st in MLB in Opponents' On-Base Percentage (.303), 1st in AL in Complete Games (15), 5th in Shutouts (13)
Those pesky Tampa Bay Rays have done it again. They benefited from the collapse of another American League East powerhouse (Boston) to sneak into the postseason for the third time in four seasons.
The Rays pitching staff is as deep as any staff in baseball. They run six deep in starters, and since they only need four in the postseason, they can upgrade their already strong bullpen by putting two starters in the 'pen.
The Rangers have a great starting pitcher in C.J. Wilson, who should be in the top-5 in American League Cy Young voting, but, after him there are question marks. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland have pitched well this month, albeit against mediocre competition.
Offense will be critical in this series. The Rangers boast one of the best offenses in baseball, but they will be going up against a great Tampa pitching staff.
The Rays have been inconsistent on offense all season long, but, since Desmond Jennings was called up and Evan Longoria got healthy, they have played much better.
They say pitching wins in October, so how do you bet against the Rays? Especially since the Rangers don't have Cliff Lee this time around.
Rays win series, 3-2
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Phillies won, 4-3
The Brewers best chance to win this series is to get great starts from Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum and hope the offense—namely Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder—are able to get to the Phillies starting pitchers.
That is not impossible considering how weak the Phillies lineup has looked this season. Shane Victorino has been terrific, but they need Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to produce the way they did back in 2008.
But, until I see someone beat this Phillies pitching staff four times in a seven-game series I am not going to believe it. There are no breaks for opponents because when you get done with Roy Halladay, you get Cliff Lee. When you get done with Lee, you get Cole Hamels. When you get done with Hamels, you get Oswalt.
The Phillies have been the best team in the National League all season long and they will prove that by winning the National League pennant for the third time in four seasons.
Phillies win series, 4-2.
New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Yankees lead series, 9-8. (The two teams play on Wednesday night in the regular season finale, so it could end up tied.)
This comes down to a matchup of Tampa's offense against New York's pitching. We know how good Tampa's pitching and New York's offense are. So, the key to the series will be whether or not Tampa can score enough on New York's pitching.
I believe that the Rays could be the 2011 version of last year's San Francisco Giants. They have the pitching to dominate anyone, but will their offense play enough in the postseason to win games.
The Yankees have a better pitching staff than they are given credit for, and the lineup is the best in baseball.
Ultimately, I think that the Yankees are too strong for the Rays to overcome. It will be tense and it will be close, which is what you would expect from these two American League East teams.
Yankees win series, 4-3
Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Yankees
When all the smoke is cleared, all the dust is settled, the two best teams in baseball all season long will meet to determine the 2011 World Series champions.
It may not be popular or "gutsy" to pick the Yankees and Phillies to play in a World Series, especially since they just played each other two years ago, but it's not about picking an upset just to pick an upset.
The Phillies have the four-headed monster in their rotation.
Roy Halladay is on the verge of becoming a Hall of Famer and should win his third Cy Young award this year. Cliff Lee hasn't been as consistent this year as he normally is, but when he is on, he is as good as any pitcher in the sport.
Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt have been lost in the shuffle of Halladay and Lee, Hamels especially, but they can shutdown any lineup on any given day.
If there is any team in baseball that can get to the Phillies pitching staff, it is the Yankees. They have patience, power and speed in the lineup.
Jesus Montero could be a difference maker, assuming Joe Girardi does the right thing and puts him on the playoff roster, his bat is that good.
But, I think the Phillies are too strong on the mound and the offense will do enough to support the pitching staff.
The Phillies will be celebrating their second championship in four seasons.
Phillies win series, 4-2