MLB Playoff Predictions: The 15 Biggest Questions Facing Playoff Teams

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIOctober 5, 2010

MLB Playoff Predictions: The 15 Biggest Questions Facing Playoff Teams

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 26:  David Robertson #30 of the New York Yankees pumps his fist after striking out Lars Anderson (not shown) of the Boston Red Sox in the seventh-inning on September 26, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    You can spend all season waiting for the playoffs. You can design a roster around winning a seven-game series. You can run simulations and statistical analysis until you're blue in the face.

    But you still won't be ready for October.

    Each year, problems and uncertainties arise, and even the best teams are forced to face the unpleasant reality that things don't always go the way you plan them.

    Here are 15 of the biggest questions facing playoff teams as they prepare to kick off the postseason tomorrow.

No. 15: The Phillies’ No. 4 Man

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    WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Joe Blanton #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 29, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    If all goes well for the Phillies, they’ll be able to sail through the postseason without having to worry about handing the ball to anyone but Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

    But if the Phillies need a fourth starter, it will be one of Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton, and Jaime Moyer—all of whom have ERAs over 4.72.

No. 14: The Braves’ Pitchers

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 01:  Pitcher Tommy Hanson #48 of the Atlanta Braves against the New York Mets at Turner Field on September 1, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Braves have the deepest rotation in baseball, but no obvious way to order the rotation.

    The three primary starters will likely be Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Derek Lowe. Of the three, Hanson is the best pitcher and Hudson has had the best results this year, yet Lowe is starting Game One of the NLDS.

    That leaves the volatile Jair Jurrjens to battle it out for Game Four with rookies Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor. Unless Bobby Cox starts Lowe on short rest.

No. 13: The Phillies’ Name Brand

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    PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 25: First baseman Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a first inning two-run home run during a game against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on September 25, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    The Phillies have a reputation for being one of the best-hitting teams in the game. But this year, the sizzle has been bigger than the steak.

    Ryan Howard and Chase Utley suffered through the worst full seasons of their careers, and Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino also took steps back in 2010. The names still inspire awe, but there’s no real reason to fear their bats.

No. 12: The Twins’ Lack of Star Power

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    OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 06:  Justin Morneau #33 of the Minnesota Twins prepares to bat against the Oakland Athletics during an MLB game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 6, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    With Joe Mauer in the midst of a (relative) down year, the news that Justin Morneau would miss the entire playoffs means the Twins are left with only one intimidating bat in their lineup: 40-year-old Jim Thome.

    The rotation has a similar problem. Behind the woefully underappreciated Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, and Scott Baker have pitched well, but there’s not much excitement to be found there either.

No. 11: Josh Hamilton

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    OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers jokes around in the dugout before their game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 25, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    It’s no coincidence that the Rangers took off when Josh Hamilton started hitting like an MVP. Nor is it chance that Texas sputtered over the last third of the season, when Hamilton cooled off and got injured.

    Hamilton returned to the team this weekend, but after complaining yesterday that he was “really, really, really sore,” one has to wonder how well he’ll hold up in October.

No. 10: Francisco Cordero

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    CINCINNATI - AUGUST 29:  Francisco Cordero #48  of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the 7-5 win over the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park on August 29, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Francisco Cordero, is not a reliable pitcher the Reds can turn to when the going gets tough. His eight blown saves this season were second only to Tyler Clipppard’s 10, and his ugly 3.84 ERA masks an even worse 4.53 xFIP.

    The problem: he’s walking almost a batter every two innings. In high-leverage situations, pitchers simply can’t afford to have such poor control.

Nos. 7, 8, and 9: B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena

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    BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 07:  Jason Bartlett #8 and B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays are congratulated by Ben Zobrist #18 after Bartlett  hit a two run homer in the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox on September 7, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massac
    Elsa/Getty Images

    During the Rays’ miraculous 2008 playoff run, B.J. Upton went bananas, smacking seven homers and swiping six bases with a .652 SLG.

    Last season, Ben Zobrist came out of nowhere to have arguably the best season in Rays franchise history. And, of course, Carlos Pena smashed a league-leading 39 homers despite missing a month of the year with a broken wrist.

    This year, the trio has been underwhelming; their composite WAR in 2010 was worse than Zobrist’s in 2009. Each of the three has the potential to make a huge impact on the playoffs, but that’s far from a safe bet.

No. 6: CC Sabathia

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23:  CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees looks on against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 23, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    New York fans seem to be quite confident about their ace for the postseason, but Sabathia is an extremely inconsistent postseason pitcher.

    He was flat out awful during the Indians’ 2007 playoff run, posting an 8.80 ERA in 15.1 innings. In 2008 he floundered with the Brewers, giving up five runs in three-plus innings against the Phillies in the NLDS.

No. 5: The Braves' Defense

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    NEW YORK - APRIL 23: Chipper Jones #10 and Omar Infante #4 of the Atlanta Braves collide and drop a fly ball against the New York Mets on April 23, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Sto
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    According to UZR, the Braves poor defense has cost the team almost 35 runs this season, the second-worst mark in the league.

    That’s more than three wins that their gloves have thrown away. That might not seem like much, but consider that the Braves won the Wild Card by just one game.

No. 4: The Giants' Offense

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    SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 30:  Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates with Aubrey Huff #17 after hitting a two run home run in sixth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during a Major League Baseball game at AT&T Park on September 30,
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The Giants’ bats aren't that bad, but they’re the worst of any team in the playoffs, and the only ones whose collective OPS falls below the median.

    Also, consider the sources of their production: Buster Posey has cooled off since his torrid July, and the combination of Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Andres Torres doesn't leave me shaking in my boots.

No. 3: The Philly Dynasty

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    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 19:  The Philly Phanatic, mascot for the Philadelphia Phillies performs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Four of the NLCS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Citizens Bank Park on October 19, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Not since the Yankees of 1998-2001 has a team won its pennant three years in a row.

    As the Phillies, the two-time reigning NL pennant winners, prepare for their first series against the Reds, fans have to be thinking: can they make it a hat trick?

No. 2: The Yankees' Rotation

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    BOSTON - OCTOBER 2:  A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees reacts against the Boston Red Sox in the second game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park, October 2, 2010, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    CC Sabathia isn't perfect, but at least he is the Yankees’ definite ace—making him the only clear choice Joe Girardi has when determining his postseason rotation.

    Does he give the ball to the injury-prone Andy Pettitte in Game Two? The inexperienced Phil Hughes? A.J. “What Happened to My Curveball” Burnett? Or to Javier “Hero to Zero” Vazquez?

No. 1: Luck

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    LONG POND, PA - JULY 31:  A pair of fuzzy dice hang on the rear-view mirror of the #14 Old Spice Swagger Chevrolet, driven by Tony Stewart, prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at the Pocono Raceway on July
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    A seven-game series isn’t nearly enough of a sample size to determine which of two of the eight best teams in baseball is superior—let alone five games.

    In Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong, Nate Silver and Dayn Perry examined the correlations between successful playoff teams and how they fared at specific facets of the game. The conclusion: a whopping 89 percent of playoff success is pure, dumb luck.

    So the real question is: heads or tails?