MLB Playoffs 2011: Handicapping the Remaining Contenders
Major League Baseball has narrowed its list of surviving teams down to just four, with the Milwaukee Brewers going head-to-head with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League and the Detroit Tigers opposing the Texas Rangers in the American League.
That sends the disappointing Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees home, along with the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Moving on to the World Series won’t be easy for the remaining four teams, as each series should be fairly evenly matched. Here’s looking at each team’s potential handicap that could keep them from winning the pennant in their respective league.
Offense: Sure, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are terrific, forming probably the best hitter duo in the game, but outside of those guys, the Brewers struggled at the plate in the NLDS.
Braun and Fielder combined to hit .389 in the five-game series; everyone else hit just .215.
Rickie Weeks was particularly inept at just .056, and the left side of the infield was a weak spot during the regular season. Yuniesky Betancourt hit .252 with little pop and Casey McGehee checked in at .223.
The Brewers certainly are capable of hitting, but they will need better all-around production as a team, especially against a Cardinals team that can hit with the best of them.
St. Louis Cardinals
Relief Pitching: This unit ranked just 14th in the National League in WAR (1.2) during the regular season and the Cardinals are only one of the remaining four teams without a bonafide stud at closer (the Brewers have John Axford, the Rangers have Neftali Feliz and the Tigers have Jose Valverde).
Jason Motte isn’t a bad option as a closer—he did appear in 78 games with a 2.25 ERA in 2011—but he had just nine saves and lacks postseason experience.
After the first game, the Cardinals bullpen combined to pitch 11 innings in just a three-game span while allowing just one run. That’s just a ridiculously unmaintainable rate and the second game of the series, in which the Cardinals’ pen combined to allow one hit and no runs in six innings, won’t happen again.
Starting Pitching: The Rangers only got one quality start in four games during the ALDS, and if that happens again, they very likely won’t be advancing again.
C.J. Wilson was hammered for eight runs (six earned) in five innings in his Game 1 start. Derek Holland gave up one run in five innings in Game 2, Colby Lewis gave up one run in six innings in Game 3 and Matt Harrison finished it off allowing two earned runs in five innings.
The quartet combined for a 4.29 ERA in the series, averaging just 5.25 innings per start.
The Rangers don’t have a clear-cut ace, but they do have a solid-enough group of starters. They will just need better production and starts going into the seventh or eighth inning.
Relief Pitching: Jose Valverde has been untouchable this season, going 51-for-51 in save opportunities including the postseason (although that makes him due to blow one). However, after Valverde, there aren’t a ton of options late in the game.
The Tigers bullpen combined to post an 8.25 ERA in the ALDS against the Yankees. Phil Coke got hit around, giving up three runs in one inning of work. Al Alburquerque gave up three runs in a third of an inning. Daniel Schlereth gave up two runs in 1.2 innings. Ryan Perry did throw 2.1 shutout innings, but he had a 5.35 ERA and 5.94 FIP during the regular season, so that won’t last.
Even Valverde gave up two runs in three innings, walking an incredible four batters in his work.