Complete 2014 MLB Playoff Preview: Schedule, Team Rankings and Predictions

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2014

Complete 2014 MLB Playoff Preview: Schedule, Team Rankings and Predictions

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    While there were a number of possible scenarios that could have forced a Game 163 this season, none of them played out, and the regular season wrapped up Sunday with the 10 postseason teams and their respective matchups all decided.

    Things will kick off with the Kansas City Royals hosting Oakland A's in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, followed by the NL Wild Card Game between the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, with the American League Division Series then kicking off Thursday.

    So with the field now set, what follows is a complete 2014 MLB playoff preview.

    Included is a look at the playoff schedule, rankings of each postseason team's lineup, pitching staff and manager and, finally, predictions from the Wild Card Games all the way through to the World Series.

Complete Schedule

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    Division Series (DET vs. BAL; LAA vs. KC; LAD vs. STL; WSH vs. SF)

    Oct. 2: American League, Game 1

    Oct. 3: National League, Game 1; American League, Game 2

    Oct. 4: National League, Game 2

    Oct. 5: American League, Game 3

    Oct. 6: National League, Game 3; American League, Game 4*

    Oct. 7: National League, Game 4*

    Oct. 8: American League, Game 5*

    Oct. 9: National League, Game 5*

    Championship Series

    Oct. 10: American League, Game 1

    Oct. 11: National League, Game 1; American League, Game 2

    Oct. 12: National League, Game 2

    Oct. 13: American League, Game 3

    Oct. 14: National League, Game 3; American League, Game 4

    Oct. 15: National League, Game 4; American League, Game 5*

    Oct. 16: National League, Game 5*

    Oct. 17: American League, Game 6*

    Oct. 18: National League, Game 6*; American League, Game 7*

    Oct. 19: National League, Game 7*

    World Series

    Oct. 21: at American League, Game 1

    Oct. 22: at American League, Game 2

    Oct. 24: at National League, Game 3

    Oct. 25: at National League, Game 4

    Oct. 26: at National League, Game 5*

    Oct. 28: at American League, Game 6*

    Oct. 29: at American League, Game 7*

    * if necessary

No. 8 Offense: Kansas City Royals

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 4.02 (14th in MLB)
    Team BA: .263 (4th in MLB)
    Team OPS: .690 (17th in MLB)
    Team HR: 95 (30th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. SS Alcides Escobar
    2. RF Norichika Aoki
    3. CF Lorenzo Cain
    4. 1B Eric Hosmer
    5. DH Billy Butler
    6. LF Alex Gordon
    7. C Salvador Perez
    8. 2B Omar Infante
    9. 3B Mike Moustakas

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Erik Kratz
    IF Jayson Nix
    OF Jarrod Dyson
    OF Terrance Gore
    OF Josh Willingham

    Lineup Overview

    The only team to fail to reach 100 home runs on the season, the Kansas City Royals have lacked offensive punch all year, leaning on a solid starting rotation and a lights-out bullpen to propel them to their first postseason appearance since 1985.

    Arguably the team's top two hitters, Alex Gordon (.190 BA, .619 OPS) and Salvador Perez (.235 BA, .597 OPS), both struggled mightily in September, and they will need to flip the switch in October if this club hopes to keep pace offensively.

    Meanwhile, the unheralded duo of Alcides Escobar and Nori Aoki have done a great job setting the table of late, and Lorenzo Cain has continued to hit since being moved up to the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

    As for roster decisions, it could come down to choosing between veteran Raul Ibanez and speedy pinch runner Terrance Gore, who was 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts with five runs scored despite seeing just one at-bat.

No. 7 Offense: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 3.82 (23rd in MLB)
    Team BA: .253 (12th in MLB)
    Team OPS: .689 (18th in MLB)
    Team HR: 105 (29th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. 3B Matt Carpenter
    2. CF Jon Jay
    3. LF Matt Holliday
    4. 1B Matt Adams
    5. SS Jhonny Peralta
    6. C Yadier Molina
    7. RF Randal Grichuk
    8. 2B Kolten Wong
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Tony Cruz
    1B Xavier Scruggs
    IF Daniel Descalso
    OF Peter Bourjos
    OF Oscar Taveras

    Lineup Overview

    After ranking third in MLB and first in the National League in runs scored a year ago, the St. Louis Cardinals struggled to reach their stride at the plate for much of the season.

    The one thing keeping them out of last place in the offensive rankings is their experience, as veterans Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina have been to a number of postseasons, and even younger guys like Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter played key roles a year ago.

    A .320/.346/.520 line in September may be enough for Randal Grichuk to see the bulk of the playing time in right field over top prospect Oscar Taveras, who never really seized the opportunity he was given. At the very least, expect the right-handed-hitting Grichuk to start against lefties Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

    The Cardinals are the only NL team projected here to go with a five-man bench. This is in part because of a relatively shaky bullpen and in part because their bench options are thin. Carrying someone like Pete Kozma or Mark Ellis over another reliever is redundant.

No. 6 Offense: San Francisco Giants

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 4.10 (12th in MLB)
    Team BA: .255 (10th in MLB)
    Team OPS: .699 (14th in MLB)
    Team HR: 132 (17th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. CF Gregor Blanco
    2. 2B Joe Panik
    3. C Buster Posey
    4. 3B Pablo Sandoval
    5. RF Hunter Pence
    6. 1B Brandon Belt
    7. SS Brandon Crawford
    8. LF Juan Perez
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Andrew Susac
    IF Joaquin Arias
    IF Matt Duffy
    IF/OF Travis Ishikawa
    OF Chris Dominguez
    PH Michael Morse (Injured)

    Lineup Overview

    The Giants offense has been better than their team rankings indicate, as they have picked things up to average 4.39 runs per game in the second half, putting them in the top 10 over that span of time.

    Much of that can be attributed to a huge second half from Buster Posey, who hit .354/.403/.575 with 13 doubles, 12 home runs and 43 RBI in 62 games after the All-Star break.

    While they have been a better offensive team of late, the Giants will be without spark plug Angel Pagan atop the lineup for the entire postseason, and slugger Michael Morse figures to be limited to pinch-hit duties—at least early on.

    Gregor Blanco has done a nice job since stepping in for Pagan, but the team is 57-39 (.594) with him in the lineup this season compared to 31-35 (.470) without him, so his season-ending back injury is certainly significant.

No. 5 Offense: Detroit Tigers

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 4.67 (2nd in MLB)
    Team BA: .277 (1st in MLB)
    Team OPS: .757 (2nd in MLB)
    Team HR: 155 (7th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. 2B Ian Kinsler
    2. RF Torii Hunter
    3. 1B Miguel Cabrera
    4. DH Victor Martinez
    5. LF J.D. Martinez
    6. 3B Nick Castellanos
    7. C Alex Avila
    8. SS Andrew Romine
    9. CF Rajai Davis

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Bryan Holaday
    IF Hernan Perez
    IF Eugenio Suarez
    OF Ezequiel Carrera
    OF Don Kelly

    Lineup Overview

    The Detroit Tigers lineup took on a very different look following the trade of Prince Fielder in the offseason, and there was some question as to whether the team would have enough punch to protect Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the order. But a career year from Victor Martinez put those concerns to rest.

    Those two sluggers, alongside out-of-nowhere star J.D. Martinez, have formed as potent a trio as any in baseball this year, and the Tigers will lean heavily on them once again in October.

    The back of the order doesn't provide much offensively, but Alex Avila and Andrew Romine both rank as plus defenders at their position. Rajai Davis has some of the best wheels in all of baseball and is a second leadoff hitter of sorts out of the No. 9 spot.

    The middle of the order is as potent as any in baseball, but a lack of experience/production from the No. 6 through No. 9 spots in the lineup is enough to bump them down behind four teams with a more complete overall offensive attack.

No. 4 Offense: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 4.43 (6th in MLB)
    Team BA: .265 (3rd in MLB)
    Team OPS: .738 (3rd in MLB)
    Team HR: 134 (16th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. 2B Dee Gordon
    2. CF Yasiel Puig
    3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez
    4. RF Matt Kemp
    5. SS Hanley Ramirez
    6. LF Carl Crawford
    7. 3B Juan Uribe
    8. A.J. Ellis
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Drew Butera
    IF Darwin Barney
    IF Justin Turner
    OF Andre Ethier
    OF Joc Pederson
    OF Scott Van Slyke

    Lineup Overview

    The Los Angeles Dodgers offense has underperformed for much of the season, but it finally seemed to hit its stride down the stretch, averaging an MLB-best 6.24 runs per game over the final month of the season.

    Adrian Gonzalez won the NL RBI title with 116, Yasiel Puig finally snapped out of a lengthy slump over the final couple weeks and a resurgent Matt Kemp hit .309/.365/.606 in the second half while launching an NL-best 17 home runs.

    The only real weak link here is A.J. Ellis, who hit just .191 on the season, but even he posted a decent .323 on-base percentage on the year.

    The last spot on the bench figures to be between Darwin Barney and Miguel Rojas. Barney has done enough at the plate since coming over, along with providing Gold Glove-caliber defense, to be the choice.

No. 3 Offense: Washington Nationals

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 4.23 (9th in MLB)
    Team BA: .253 (12th in MLB)
    Team OPS: .714 (8th in MLB)
    Team HR: 152 (10th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. CF Denard Span
    2. 3B Anthony Rendon
    3. RF Jayson Werth
    4. 1B Adam LaRoche
    5. SS Ian Desmond
    6. LF Bryce Harper
    7. C Wilson Ramos
    8. 2B Asdrubal Cabrera
    9. Pitcher

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Jose Lobaton
    IF Danny Espinosa
    IF/OF Kevin Frandsen
    IF/OF Ryan Zimmerman
    OF Scott Hairston
    OF Nate Schierholtz

    Lineup Overview

    The Los Angeles Dodgers may enter the postseason with more momentum offensively, but the Washington Nationals still look like the most dangerous team on the NL side of things heading into October.

    Deadline pickup Asdrubal Cabrera has posted a .700 OPS with 16 extra-base hits and 21 RBI in 49 games since being acquired from the Cleveland Indians, shoring up the second base position and providing more than passable production out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup.

    Bryce Harper also started to finally show signs of life at the plate with a .289/.352/.422 line over the final month. And a healthy Ryan Zimmerman has been relegated to bench duties for the time being but could be a dangerous weapon in a pinch-hitting role.

    There is no 40-homer guy or .330 hitter on this roster, just a rock-solid lineup Nos. 1-8 with guys who understand their role and have gotten it done on a regular basis this season.

No. 2 Offense: Baltimore Orioles

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 4.35 (8th in MLB)
    Team BA: .256 (8th in MLB)
    Team OPS: .734 (5th in MLB)
    Team HR: 211 (1st in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. RF Nick Markakis
    2. LF Alejandro De Aza
    3. CF Adam Jones
    4. DH Nelson Cruz
    5. 1B Steve Pearce
    6. SS J.J. Hardy
    7. 3B Ryan Flaherty
    8. C Caleb Joseph
    9. 2B Jonathan Schoop

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Nick Hundley
    IF Kelly Johnson
    IF Jimmy Paredes
    OF David Lough
    OF Delmon Young

    Lineup Overview

    Despite losing Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries and Chris Davis to a PED suspension, the Baltimore Orioles have still had one of the most potent offensive attacks in all of baseball this season.

    They finished the year with an MLB-high 211 home runs, behind AL home run leader Nelson Cruz (40) and Adam Jones (29), but it's the unexpected contributors that have really made this lineup go.

    Alejandro De Aza was a fantastic pickup off waivers, Steve Pearce was good for 6.0 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, in a career year and rookie Caleb Joseph has more than held his own in replacing Wieters behind the dish.

    Third base has been a revolving door since Davis was suspended, and it could be a different guy out there on a daily basis in the playoffs, but the Orioles have a deep enough lineup that they can get away with it.

No. 1 Offense: Los Angeles Angels

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    Team Stats

    Team RPG: 4.77 (1st in MLB)
    Team BA: .259 (5th in MLB)
    Team OPS: .728 (7th in MLB)
    Team HR: 155 (7th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Starting Lineup

    1. RF Kole Calhoun
    2. CF Mike Trout
    3. 1B Albert Pujols
    4. 2B Howie Kendrick
    5. SS Erick Aybar
    6. 3B David Freese
    7. C Chris Iannetta
    8. DH C.J. Cron
    9. LF Collin Cowgill

    Projected Postseason Bench

    C Hank Conger
    IF Gordon Beckham
    OF Brennan Boesch
    OF Tony Campana
    OF Josh Hamilton (pinch hitter)

    Lineup Overview

    The highest-scoring team in the league this season, the Los Angeles Angels claim the No. 1 spot, even with slugger Josh Hamilton hobbled by side and shoulder injuries and likely limited to pinch-hitting duties early on this October.

    Mike Trout should finally take home AL MVP honors this season after finishing as the runner-up to Miguel Cabrera the past two years. His average was down and his strikeouts were up, but he took on a much bigger run-production role this season, leading the AL with 111 RBI and 115 runs scored.

    Kole Calhoun has enjoyed a breakout season out of the leadoff spot, while the veteran middle-infield duo of Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar continue to both rank among the most underrated players in the game.

    The Angels have some tough decisions to make on the bench, with speedy Tony Campana on the bubble and trying to edge out John McDonald and Efren Navarro, among others.

No. 8 Pitching Staff: Los Angeles Angels

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 3.58 (15th in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.62 (13th in MLB)
    RP ERA: 3.52 (14th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Jered Weaver
    2. LHP C.J. Wilson
    3. RHP Matt Shoemaker
    4. LHP Hector Santiago

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    RHP Cory Rasmus
    RHP Fernando Salas
    LHP Joe Thatcher
    RHP Jason Grilli
    RHP Kevin Jepsen
    RHP Joe Smith
    RHP Huston Street

    Pitching Staff Overview

    From the No. 1 offense to the No. 10 pitching staff, it will likely be the starting rotation that determines just how far the Angels will advance this postseason after posting the best record in baseball during the regular season.

    A clean bill of health from rookie Matt Shoemaker would give them a much better outlook, but for the time being, he remains sidelined with a mild oblique injury. He "felt great" following a bullpen session Sunday, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

    Veterans Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson look like safe bets to start the first two games of the ALDS, with Shoemaker lined up to start Game 3, but the Angels will have to decide between a struggling Hector Santiago and rookie Cory Rasmus for Game 4.

    The bullpen has been rock solid since Huston Street and Jason Grilli were acquired at the deadline, though the lack of a reliable left-hander does remain a concern.

No. 7 Pitching Staff: San Francisco Giants

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 3.50 (10th in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.74 (16th in MLB)
    RP ERA: 3.01 (5th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. LHP Madison Bumgarner
    2. RHP Jake Peavy
    3. RHP Ryan Vogelsong
    4. RHP Tim Hudson

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    RHP Yusmeiro Petit
    RHP Tim Lincecum
    LHP Javier Lopez
    RHP Jean Machi
    RHP Sergio Romo
    LHP Jeremy Affeldt
    RHP Santiago Casilla

    Pitching Staff Overview

    A strong pitching staff, and rotation in particular, was a staple of the San Francisco Giants' runs to World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, but that has not been the case this season.

    Madison Bumgarner has again been a stud atop the rotation, and he'll take the ball in the Wild Card Game. Jake Peavy has been lights out since being acquired at the trade deadline, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts.

    After those two, the rotation is a crapshoot, with an NLDS matchup against the stacked Washington Nationals on tap if the Giants can advance out of the Wild Card Game. Ryan Vogelsong (3-6, 4.20 ERA) and Tim Hudson (2-7, 4.73 ERA) have been anything but reliable in the second half.

    The bullpen has dealt with some adversity this season, with Santiago Casilla taking over the closer duties from a struggling Sergio Romo, but there is a ton of postseason experience there, and all told, the team finished with the fifth-best ERA of relievers in baseball.

No. 6 Pitching Staff: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 3.50 (11th in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.44 (6th in MLB)
    RP ERA: 3.62 (17th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Adam Wainwright
    2. RHP John Lackey
    3. RHP Lance Lynn
    4. RHP Shelby Miller

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    LHP Marco Gonzales
    RHP Michael Wacha
    LHP Sam Freeman
    RHP Seth Maness
    LHP Randy Choate
    RHP Carlos Martinez
    RHP Pat Neshek
    RHP Trevor Rosenthal

    Pitching Staff Overview

    Starting pitching depth was viewed as one of the biggest strengths of the St. Louis Cardinals entering the season, and that was certainly tested, as 12 different pitchers started at least one game this season.

    Adam Wainwright was again one of the best in the game, and he enters the postseason on a roll with a 4-0 record and 0.55 ERA in his last four starts. Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA) had the best season of his career and figures to be the Game 2 starter, but the rest of the rotation is iffy.

    John Lackey has as good a postseason resume as anyone in baseball, but he was hit-and-miss after being acquired from the Red Sox. Shelby Miller was passed over last postseason but will likely be the fourth starter over a struggling Michael Wacha, who is still trying to shake off the rust of missing more than two months with a shoulder injury.

    The bullpen has not been nearly as dominant as it was a year ago, but then again, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez didn't really hit their stride until October a year ago either. It will be interesting to see what role, if any, left-hander Marco Gonzales plays in the postseason, as he showed some flashes filling in for Wacha.

No. 5 Pitching Staff: Detroit Tigers

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 4.01 (24th in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.89 (21st in MLB)
    RP ERA: 4.29 (27th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Max Scherzer
    2. LHP David Price
    3. RHP Justin Verlander
    4. RHP Rick Porcello

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    RHP Anibal Sanchez
    LHP Blaine Hardy
    RHP Al Albuquerque
    LHP Phil Coke
    RHP Joba Chamberlain
    RHP Joakim Soria
    RHP Joe Nathan

    Pitching Staff Overview

    The No. 7 spot may seem a bit low for a team capable of running out the last three AL Cy Young winners and a young pitcher in Rick Porcello who has enjoyed a career year, but the bullpen has to be counted as a big strike against the Detroit Tigers.

    Flaws at the back end of the relief corps tend to be magnified in October, and the team's 27th-ranked bullpen ERA tells the story of a team that has struggled to close out games this season behind high-profile signing Joe Nathan.

    The rotation is going to keep the Tigers in games, but just think back to the ALCS a year ago, when the bullpen blew a pair of games against the Boston Red Sox and essentially cost them the series.

    Last year's AL ERA leader, Anibal Sanchez, made just 21 starts this season while dealing with a few different injuries, but he returned for the final week of the season and could be a difference-maker out of the bullpen.

No. 4 Pitching Staff: Baltimore Orioles

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 3.43 (7th in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.61 (12th in MLB)
    RP ERA: 3.10 (6th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Chris Tillman
    2. RHP Miguel Gonzalez
    3. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
    4. RHP Bud Norris

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    RHP Kevin Gausman
    RHP Brad Brach
    RHP Tommy Hunter
    LHP Brian Matusz
    RHP Darren O'Day
    LHP Andrew Miller
    LHP Zach Britton

    Pitching Staff Overview

    Saying the Baltimore Orioles lack a true ace to carry their rotation in the postseason is tired logic at this point, and the fact of the matter is that their pitching has been some of the best in all of baseball since the All-Star break.

    Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA) and Wei-Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54 ERA) both had terrific seasons, while Miguel Gonzalez has actually been the team's best starter in the second half with a 6-4 record and 2.19 ERA in 11 starts.

    Even rookie Kevin Gausman, who will be bumped to the bullpen in favor of veteran Bud Norris for the No. 4 starter spot, has been dominant at times, and he will be a serious weapon out of the bullpen.

    Add to that mix a relief corps that includes the unheralded but dominant trio of Darren O'Day (68 G, 1.70 ERA 9.6 K/9), Andrew Miller (73 G, 2.02 ERA, 14.9 K/9) and Zach Britton (71 G, 1.65 ERA, 7.3 K/9), and this staff looks formidable to say the least.

No. 3 Pitching Staff: Kansas City Royals

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 3.51 (12th in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.60 (11th in MLB)
    RP ERA: 3.30 (10th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP James Shields
    2. LHP Danny Duffy
    3. RHP Yordano Ventura
    4. LHP Jason Vargas

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    RHP Jeremy Guthrie
    LHP Scott Downs
    RHP Jason Frasor
    LHP Brandon Finnegan
    RHP Kelvin Herrera
    RHP Wade Davis
    RHP Greg Holland

    Pitching Staff Overview

    The Kansas City Royals starting rotation has been great this season, bolstered by a terrific rookie season from Yordano Ventura and an impressive return from injury by Danny Duffy.

    However, it's the team's bullpen that has been the real story, as the trio of Kelvin Herrera (70 G, 1.41 ERA), Wade Davis (71 G, 1.00 ERA) and Greg Holland (65 G, 46-of-48 SV, 1.44 ERA) has been historically good this season and could shorten a lot of games in the playoffs.

    Jason Frasor (23 G, 1.53 ERA) and first-round draft pick Brandon Finnegan (7 G, 1.29 ERA, 12.9 K/9) have also been lights out, giving the Royals the luxury of putting their starters on a short leash and relying on the bullpen arms to lead the way.

    James Shields will be pitching for a big payday in the offseason and asked to anchor the rotation, and he's more than capable of giving that aforementioned bullpen a day off.

No. 2 Pitching Staff: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 3.40 (6th in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.20 (2nd in MLB)
    RP ERA: 3.80 (22nd in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. LHP Clayton Kershaw
    2. RHP Zack Greinke
    3. LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
    4. RHP Dan Haren

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    RHP Roberto Hernandez
    LHP Paco Rodriguez
    RHP Brandon League
    RHP Pedro Baez
    LHP J.P. Howell
    RHP Brian Wilson
    RHP Kenley Jansen

    Pitching Staff Overview

    The bullpen has been somewhat questionable top to bottom, but it's hard to rank a team that features the duo of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke atop its rotation any lower, as Kershaw alone is capable of carrying this team in a seven-game series if he continues to pitch like he has.

    The health of Hyun-Jin Ryu is something of a question mark, as he has been sidelined for the past two weeks with shoulder inflammation, but the team remains optimistic he'll be ready for a Game 3 start.

    "Every time he crosses a hurdle you get more confident," manager Don Mattingly told reporters (via the Los Angeles Times) last Saturday. "He was able to throw yesterday with a little pop on the ball. Didn't have any problem today. So every time that happens, we cross a hurdle, you feel better."

    Rookie Pedro Baez has emerged as a reliable relief arm, and he could take on a significant role in October alongside J.P. Howell, Brandon League, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen as the primary group of relievers.

No. 1 Pitching Staff: Washington Nationals

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    Team Stats

    Team ERA: 3.03 (1st in MLB)
    SP ERA: 3.04 (1st in MLB)
    RP ERA: 3.00 (4th in MLB)

    Projected Postseason Rotation

    1. RHP Stephen Strasburg
    2. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
    3. RHP Doug Fister
    4. LHP Gio Gonzalez

    Projected Postseason Bullpen

    RHP Tanner Roark
    LHP Ross Detwiler
    RHP Rafael Soriano
    RHP Aaron Barrett
    LHP Matt Thornton
    RHP Tyler Clippard
    RHP Drew Storen

    Pitching Staff Overview

    How dominant was the Washington Nationals starting pitching down the stretch?

    The trio of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister combined to go 11-2 with a 1.44 ERA in their final five starts, with Zimmermann providing the cherry on top with a no-hitter in the final game of the season Sunday.

    The No. 4 starter spot is a choice between the team's only left-hander in Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57 ERA) and a guy in Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.85 ERA), who finished the season ranked 12th in the NL in ERA and tied for seventh in WHIP.

    Even with closer Rafael Soriano blowing up in the bullpen, things still look bright there as well. Former closer Drew Storen (65 G, 1.12 ERA) replaced him in the ninth and has continued to dominant. All-Star setup man Tyler Clippard (75 G, 2.18 ERA) has also been great, and waiver acquisition Matt Thornton (18 G, 0.00 ERA) has still not allowed an earned run in 11.1 innings of work.


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    Manager Rankings

    NameRecordWin%PlayoffsPennantsWS Titles
    1. Bruce Bochy, SF1,618-1,604.502732
    2. Mike Scioscia, LAA1,331-1,099.548711
    3. Buck Showalter, BAL1,259-1,161.520400
    4. Mike Matheny, STL275-211.566310
    5. Don Mattingly, LAD354-293.547200
    7. Ned Yost, KC830-904.479100
    7. Matt Williams, WAS96-66.593100
    8. Brad Ausmus, DET90-72.556100

    Manager Overview

    Experience means everything when it comes to managing in the postseason, and Giants skipper Bruce Bochy leads the way in that department, as he ranks 18th on the all-time wins list and is the only manager among this year's postseason crop with multiple World Series titles to his credit.

    Mike Scioscia is the only other manager to hoist the trophy, and the Angels have stuck by him through some tough times, giving him a vote of confidence time and again.

    Buck Showalter is also a postseason veteran, with four playoff appearances to his credit, while Don Mattingly and Mike Matheny are back again after forming half of last year's NLDS field.

    Ned Yost has found himself on the hot seat more than once during his time in Kansas City, but he finally broke through and won his first postseason game in the Wild Card Game.

    Matt Williams and Brad Ausmus both inherited very talented teams in their first season at the helm, and they will be thrown right into the fire when the division series rolls around.

ALDS/NLDS Predictions

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    ALDS: (1) Los Angeles Angels vs. (WC) Kansas City Royals

    A healthy Matt Shoemaker could make all the difference here. The Angels jump out to a quick 2-0 lead, and while Shields picks up a win for the Royals in Game 3, the Angels offense is just too much to handle. It's over in four games.

    Series Prediction: Angels 3, Athletics 1

    ALDS: (2) Baltimore Orioles vs. (3) Detroit Tigers

    This will be the ultimate test of whether the Orioles' unheralded rotation can stand up against the star power of the Tigers and their high-profile arms. This is also a matchup of two of the best offenses in baseball, with plenty of pop on both sides, so the pitching will be tested. Expect this to be a thrilling series, right down to Game 5, but the Tigers staff comes through and shows why it was built for October.

    Series Prediction: Tigers 3, Orioles 2

    NLDS: (1) Washington Nationals vs. (WC) San Francisco Giants

    The Giants are riding high after a dominant victory over the Pirates in the NL Wild Card game, but San Francisco is simply overmatched in this series.

    Jake Peavy struggles on the road in Game 1, and the Giants return to AT&T Park down 2-0 in the series. Doug Fister gets the ball for the Nationals in Game 3 and continues his impressive run of starts, shutting out the Giants in front of their home fans and sealing the sweep.

    Series Prediction: Nationals 3, Giants 0

    NLDS: (2) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (3) St. Louis Cardinals

    In a rematch of last year's NLCS, it's the Dodgers that look like the better team heading into the series this time around, but the postseason has a way of bringing out the best in the Cardinals.

    We should get the Clayton Kershaw vs. Adam Wainwright matchup that everyone wants to see, and it could happen twice if this goes five games. We'll give the first start to Wainwright, and a Game 4 victory to Shelby Miller in the biggest outing of his career, but Kershaw gets the last laugh with a terrific start in Game 5 to help the Dodgers advance.

    Series Prediction: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2

ALCS/NLCS Predictions

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    ALCS: (1) Los Angeles Angels vs. (3) Detroit Tigers

    The Angels would be able to reorder their rotation after closing out the ALDS in four games, but it really doesn't matter for the Tigers. Detroit's rotation is finally hitting its stride, and David Price gives them a second ace to open this series with.

    Bullpen struggles continue to be a thorn in the side of the Tigers, as they again blow a couple late leads in the ALCS. They overcome that this time around, though, and take the series in six games behind an MVP performance from Miguel Cabrera.

    Series Prediction: Tigers 4, Angels 2

    NLCS: (1) Washington Nationals vs. (2) Los Angeles Dodgers

    After Clayton Kershaw pitches the Dodgers to victory in Game 5 of the NLDS, he is unavailable until Game 3 of the NLCS, and the Nationals take full advantage to jump out to an early 2-0 lead in the series.

    The Dodgers then even things up behind dominant outings from Kershaw and Zack Greinke once the series moves back to Los Angeles. The Nationals take Game 5, though, and the Dodgers turn to Kershaw on three days rest to go in Game 6. He pitches well but only gives them five innings, and the Nationals get to the Dodgers bullpen to close out the series in six.

    MVP honors to Jordan Zimmermann, who picks up a pair of wins, including the clincher in Game 6.

    Series Prediction: Nationals 4, Dodgers 2

World Series Prediction

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Matchup: (3) Detroit Tigers vs. (1) Washington Nationals

    There would be no shortage of offensive stars in this matchup, but the starting pitching is the story everyone is talking about.

    Stephen Strasburg vs. Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann vs. David Price, Doug Fister vs. Justin Verlander and Gio Gonzalez vs. Rick Porcello makes for a terrific potential pitcher's duel in every game, and runs could be at a premium.

    The difference here winds up being the bullpens. The Tigers leave their starters in too long on more than one occasion for fear of turning things over to their shaky relief corps, and the Nationals take full advantage.

    Doug Fister gets the satisfaction of closing out the series with a fantastic Game 7 start against his former team, and the Nationals finally live up to the lofty expectations that have surrounded them the past few seasons by winning it all.

    Series Prediction: Nationals, 4, Tigers 3

    Unless otherwise noted, all individual and team stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, and accurate through the end of the 2014 regular season.

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