Getty Images

If you love prospects, then it doesn’t get any better than the Arizona Fall League.

With six teams comprised of players from all 30 organizations, the AFL offers top prospects an opportunity to refine their skills long after the end of the minor league season.

For some players, the competition in the AFL is superior to anything they’ve previously experienced as a professional. For others, it’s a chance to prove to their organization that they’re ready to be challenged at the highest level.

The 2013 AFL produced a diverse group of promising big leaguers this season, a group that includes Marcus Stroman, Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella, Aaron Sanchez, Andrew Heaney, Ken Giles, C.J. Cron, Mookie Betts and Jonathan Schoop, just to name a few.

Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals have their core of veteran players. The Adam Wainwrights, the Matt Hollidays, the Yadier Molinas.

Yet it seems that with every trip to the postseason, the Cardinals churn out an entirely new cast of heroes, many of them becoming key players for the organization in subsequent years.

The 2011 postseason was David Freese’s coming-out party, as the Cardinal third baseman came from seemingly out of nowhere to bat .397/.465/.794 with five home runs, eight doubles and 21 RBI in 18 games.

After being named MVP of the NLCS, Freese one-upped himself in the World Series against the Rangers, taking home MVP honors thanks to a historically good Game 6 performance that included a game-tying triple in the ninth inning and walk-off home run in extras.

Getty Images

You can’t predict baseball, they say. Yet, when it comes to the postseason, that’s exactly what we attempt to do, using any relevant statistic, trend or storyline to contextualize individual performances and head-to-head matchups.

After all, with 162 regular-season games and two playoff series in the books, it’s not as though there’s a shortage of information.

With the American and National League Championship Series set to begin Friday and Saturday, respectively, it’s time to take an in-depth look at some of the stats that define (either for better or for worse) the four remaining teams seeking a World Series berth.

Here are 10 crucial stats that could project the 2014 ALCS and NLCS winners.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For the second time in the last three years, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are set to square off in the NLCS.

The series begins at Busch Stadium, with Game 1 scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

The Cardinals didn’t have as strong of a season as they did in 2013, when they lost the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, but they played well enough down the stretch to edge out the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL Central crown. In the NLDS, St. Louis knocked off the Dodgers in four games, beating Clayton Kershaw twice in the process.

The Giants, meanwhile, captured the second Wild Card spot and promptly ended both the Pirates’ and Nationals’ seasons within a five-game span. The team has won 11 of its last 12 playoff games dating back to the 2012 NLCS.

Getty Images

Surprise, surprise: The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants are back in the National League Championship Series.

But there’s been one decorated pitcher noticeably absent from each team’s winning formula this postseason.

The Giants used basically every pitcher on their postseason roster in the National League Division Series other than Tim Lincecum. The two-time Cy Young Award winner was a key component in the team’s World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, but his ongoing struggles as a starter resulted in a bullpen assignment for the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have been reluctant to use 2013 NLCS MVP Michael Wacha this October, opting to omit him from their starting rotation in favor of 24-year-old Shelby Miller. Like Lincecum, Wacha was moved to the bullpen for the playoffs but didn’t take the mound in the NLDS.


The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals pulled off the unexpected with their respective sweeps of the Tigers and Angels in the American League Division Series.

Now, the two teams will square off in an ALCS that’s sure to keep fans on the edge of their seats.

The series begins at Camden Yards, with Game 1 scheduled for Friday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.

Few pegged the Orioles as favorites in the AL East entering the season. But they wound up running away with the division, finishing with a 12-game lead over the second-placed New York Yankees, and made quick work of the Tigers in the ALDS.

Getty Images

The field of four for the National and American League Championship Series has been set, with the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, the underdogs from each League Division Series, moving on to the next round.

The aforementioned teams feature plenty of stars, whether it’s Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Alex Gordon or Adam Jones.

However, the eliminations of the Angels, Dodgers, Tigers and Nationals—arguably the favorites to win the World Series heading into October—means we’ll be forced to move forward without Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera and Bryce Harper.

For some of those players, the fact that their team failed to reach the LCS falls on their shoulders.

Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers’ once-promising season is over.

The Tigers’ roster seemingly was built for October baseball, with a starting rotation comprised of the Cy Young Award winners Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price as well as perennial All-Star hitters Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler.

However, the AL Central champions ultimately came up short in their bid to return to the World Series, suffering a three-game sweep by the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS.

To make matters worse, the Tigers’ early departure from the postseason means they’ll now have to face the reality that Scherzer’s impressive run with the organization might be over.

Getty Images

FINAL SCORE: Nationals def. Giants, 4-1 (Giants lead series, 2-1)

The Washington Nationals will play at least one more game this season.

Facing Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in a must-win Game 3 of the NLDS, the Nationals were able to push across four late runs en route to a 4-1 victory, forcing a Game 4.

Bumgarner was stellar through six innings, as he kept the Nationals off the board while piling up six strikeouts. The six scoreless frames pushed the 25-year-old left-hander's postseason scoreless innings streak to 22.

Getty Images

The first week of the MLB postseason has had it all.

We’ve seen teams mount unimaginable comebacks late in games, whether it be the Kansas City Royals rallying to defeat the Oakland A’s in the AL Wild Card Game or the Baltimore Orioles getting to the Detroit Tigers bullpen for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in American League Division Series Game 2.

We’ve also seen some historical collapses, most notably Clayton Kershaw yielding seven earned runs to the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning of National League Division Series Game 2. It certainly wasn’t what anyone was expecting for the soon-to-be three-time NL Cy Young Award winner.

In general, the first week of the postseason has been full of surprises. And based on how some of these series are playing out, it’s a safe bet there’s going to be even more in the coming weeks.