Monday, October 4, 2010

Playoff Predictions: The ALDS

Well, the 2010 MLB regular season is over. It was a wild year where a number of teams in playoff positions at the halfway point of the season (the Red Sox, Padres, Mets, Tigers) fell out of contention and failed to make the playoffs. Where a team blew a sizeable lead in their division and then in the wild card, only to resecure the wild card on the last day of the season (the Braves). Where two teams regarded as the two best teams in the AL seemed to not want to win their division (The Yankees with an 8-12 record in the last three weeks and Rays with a 10-11 record in those same 3 weeks) and a team that was in third place at the halfway point of the season (The Phillies) and suffered injuries to three of its biggest players at points during the season (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard) finished with the best record in baseball.

So despite the fact we were VERY close to having a three way tie that would have resulted in a double-playoff elimination set of games (Giants vs. Padres for the NL West crown on Monday, with the loser playing the Braves for the NL Wild Card on tuesday) the team and matchups are set. Let’s take a look at the first round of each playoff series and I’ll give you my thoughts on each. We’ll start with the American League and do the National League tomorrow.

This is most likely going to be the best of the first round matchups. You have two powerful teams here that actually have different strengths to a point. The Rays have excellent pitching and defense, yet struggle to hit the ball. The Rangers have a killer ace in Cliff Lee but the drop off from there is kind of significant but they score runs by the busload. This is going to be a heck of a series. The Rays finished towards the bottom of the AL in batting average, yet finished third overall in runs scored in the Majors. This is basically attributed to their ability to get on base via the walk (1st in the AL) and then steal bases once they are on (again, 1st in the AL). This, plus their strong showing against left handed pitchers (they were 3-0 against Cliff Lee this season) gives them an advantage, if a slight one. Evan Longoria is really the most dangerous bat in the Rays’ lineup but there isn’t a lot of power other than him and 1st baseman Carlos Pena, who is almost as likely to strike out as he is to hit one out. The Rays will need someone else to step up and swing a hot bat. The Rangers have a lot of power, from likely AL MVP Josh Hamilton (recently back from broken ribs which may play a factor here), Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler. While Vald Guerrero’s resurgence has suffered in the last six weeks of the season, he’s still a bat to reckon with.
With David Price and Lee, both teams have a Cy Young caliber starter but the Rays starters are more solid overall. The Rangers will rely on C.J. Wilson to continue a promising year, but overall the Texas starters have some issues.
Both teams have excellent bullpens. The Rays have a near devistating one-two punch in Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit as their closer and set up man. The two have been near unbeatable and have been complimented by solid work from Grant Balfour and Randy Choate, but the Rangers’ bullpen won a whopping 32 games (best in the AL). Neftali Feliz has had an amazing rookie season and could very well be the 2010 Rookie of the Year. Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver have had incredible seasons.
This is likely to be an epic series and it’s doubtful either team will come out and dominate the other. Either one of these teams could find themselves in the World Series. The winner of this one will be the team that keeps its mistakes to a minimum. Out of all the first rounds series, this is the hardest to pick.

Well this looks familar doesn’t it? Another first round matchup and another where the Twins will not have their slugging firstbaseman in Justin Morneau. They don’t have a prayer, do they?
Well, let’s not be that fast. The Twins are a stronger team this year than last year. Francisco Liriano was one of the best pitchers in the AL this year, Jim Thome found the fountian of youth and murdered the ball this season over the second half and Joe Mauer is still one of the best hitters on the planet. Does that mean they have a chance against the mighty Yankees? Well, seeing on how the Yankees have some serious questions themselves, there is a chance here, even if it’s not a huge one.
The Yankees had a rough finish to the year, losing 18 of their last 26 games. Andy Pettite looked very shakey in his last few starts and AJ Burnett pretty much pitched his way out of a start in the first round (and maybe the 2nd round as well). The health of Mark Teixeria is still in doubt and Derek Jeter has certainly taken a decent sized step backwards in production this year. The bullpen is still in unrest, despite Kerry Wood becoming a very viable 8th inning guy.
Despite all of this, it’s pretty hard to pick against the Bombers. They finished first in the AL in runs scored and still have a lineup to be wary of. Despite some struggles in the last month of the season, Mariano Rivera is still near impossible to defeat. C. C. Sabathia has proved he can pitch with the best of them on short rest and the Yanks will go with a three-man rotation for this first round series.
For the Yanks, the starting pitching is likely the biggest thing that could unhinge them, but in the end, missing Morneau and having a closer with no playoff experiance (Matt Capps) will hurt.

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