While the MLB season and playoffs are littered with ups and downs, it is really all about the World Series.
After all, that is where teams and players etch their names in the history books forever with legendary performances and championship victories. It is a source of lifelong joy for fans of the New York Yankees and a source of lifelong suffering for Chicago Cubs supporters.
The 2014 Fall Classic will likely reward baseball fans with another memorable series, but we have to get there first. With that in mind, here is a look at the playoff bracket, courtesy of Cork Gaines of Business Insider, before we dig into something of a road map for each team.
Road to the World Series
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers start their playoffs by hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cardinals just so happen to be the team that eliminated the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last year.
Facing the Cardinals could be an issue because they may be the one team in baseball that proves Clayton Kershaw is human every now and again. In fact, Kershaw is only 1-4 with a 3.89 ERA against the Cardinals in the past two years.
Plus, Adam Wainwright is a star of his own for St. Louis.
If the Dodgers get past the Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals, the Dodgers will have home-field advantage in a rivalry showdown that could shut down the whole West Coast.
If the Nationals and the Dodgers both win, Los Angeles will have to travel to Washington for Game 1 of the NLCS, as the Nationals are the No. 1 seed.
St. Louis Cardinals
As I mentioned, St. Louis starts its playoffs with an NLCS rematch against the Dodgers.
If you are a fan of pitching, make sure to tune in to this series. Kershaw and his 21-3 record, 1.77 ERA and .196 batting average against will be anchoring the Dodgers, while Wainwright and his 5-0 September record and Pitcher of the Month award will be leading the way for the Cardinals.
Zack Greinke (2.72 ERA), Lance Lynn (2.74 ERA) and a number of other hurlers will also have something to say about the outcome.
Matt Carpenter discussed facing Kershaw, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
He’s the kind of guy — and I hate saying this because we’re about to play him — but you’re not going to get a lot to hit. You can very easily have a game where you can go up three times and he’ll make all his pitches and there is nothing you can do about it. At the same time, I also believe that for 11 pitches he did that and I found a way to survive and he finally made a mistake. It took 11 pitches and for most guys, including me, every other at-bat felt over way sooner.
Much like the Dodgers, St. Louis would have to travel to Washington to face the Nationals in a potential NLCS but would enjoy home-field advantage against the wild-card Giants.
The Washington Nationals are the top seed in the National League and will have home-field advantage regardless of their opponent on the entire road to the World Series.
They start with the Giants, who have some momentum of their own after beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card Round on Wednesday. Still, Giants ace Madison Bumgarner can only go once in this best-of-five series because he pitched against Pittsburgh, which could give Washington the upper hand.
Either the Cardinals or the Dodgers will have to go to Washington to open the series in the NLCS if Washington eliminates San Francisco.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are the wild-card team, so they are going to do battle on the road for much of the path to the World Series. The three other National League teams remaining would all have home-field advantage in any series.
The Giants struggled down the stretch and went 13-12 in September and 51-54 since June 1 leading up to the playoffs. Leadoff hitter Angel Pagan is also out for the remainder of the year.
Whether the win over Pittsburgh is enough to get momentum back on San Francisco’s side remains to be seen, but if the Giants do get past the Nationals to set up a showdown with the Dodgers, baseball fans will be in for a real treat.
Kansas City Royals
The country caught Royals fever Tuesday night when Kansas City small-balled its way to a 12-inning victory in the Wild Card Round over the Oakland Athletics.
Now, the Royals have to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Angels and their litany of household names, including Mike Trout. Trout led the Major Leagues in RBI, runs and extra-base hits and is arguably the best player in the playoffs this side of Kershaw.
If Kansas City does manage to get past the Angles, both the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles would have home-field advantage in the American League Championship Series.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are the American League’s top seed, so they get home-field for the entire path to the World Series.
However, the guess here is that the Royals will upset Los Angeles in the division series because Jered Weaver is the Angels' only healthy and consistent starting pitcher at this point of the season. Weaver may win a game or two, but Kansas City’s dominant bullpen, which is led by Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, will control the late innings.
The Royals finished an astounding 65-4 when leading after six innings this year.
The Baltimore Orioles have home-field advantage in the first-round showdown with the Tigers, but if Detroit wins, it will have home-field advantage against the division rival Royals. A showdown with the Angels would mean Detroit would have to hit the road.
Location may not matter at all for Detroit if the path to the World Series comes down to starting pitching, though.
The Tigers boast the past three American League Cy Young winners in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price. That will make them incredibly difficult to beat in a short series. The Tigers could reach their fourth consecutive ALCS with a win over the Orioles.
The Orioles have to deal with all that pitching in the division series against Detroit, but they may have the cure, as Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun pointed out:
Baltimore will need Nelson Cruz to produce, as Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are both out with injuries and Chris Davis is suspended. Like the Royals, the Orioles’ biggest advantage is likely in the bullpen thanks to Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter.
The Orioles have home-field advantage against the Tigers or Royals, but they would have to hit the road if they played the Angels.
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