Alright, so I cheated a little bit. I waited until after the wild card games to preview and give my predictions for the postseason. It was my birthday Monday, and I’m using that as my lame holdover excuse (definitely not the fact that one game is much harder to predict than a five or seven game series). So now the Division Series is set and we have Detroit-Oakland and Boston-Tampa in the AL, and L.A.-Atlanta and St. Louis-Pittsburgh representing the NL. Here is how it will all absolutely, without question, pan out.
- Detroit Tigers – Oakland Athletics
It seems the past couple of seasons Detroit has been the best team in the league on paper. In 2012 that didn’t manifest until well into the year, but the Tigers kicked it into high gear in time to make a run to the World Series. This year’s Detroit squad played better throughout the regular season. They were led by probable back-to-back MVP Miguel Cabrera and his demigod ability to hit, coupled with likely Cy-Young Max Scherzer’s breakout year. That talent on both sides of the ball means they are looking at another deep run, right? Well maybe not. Cabrera has been nursing injuries down the stretch, and I really like this Oakland team. Last year they shocked the baseball world with the best record after May, and ended up stealing the AL West title from the Rangers on the last day of the regular season. That did not translate to the playoffs and some were skeptical if the A’s could continue their good play this year. Well they answered that question emphatically. For most of the season they battled with the Rangers for first place out West before turning on the afterburners down the stretch and leaving Texas in the dust. Detroit has too much pitching and a good enough lineup even without a fully healthy Cabrera to go quietly, but Oakland has been lights out in September and I think that carries over. Bob Melvin’s boys in five games.
- Boston Red Sox – Tampa Bay Rays
The Sox have been the most consistent team in baseball all year. That would have been hard to imagine a year ago this time, but after a couple tough seasons, Beantown will experience October baseball again. Not much was expected from this team coming into the season. The blockbuster trade last August with the Dodgers looked like the beginning of a long rebuilding process, but John Farrell was hired away from Toronto in a trade, and some key free agent signings like Shane Victorino (who I thought they overpaid) have been huge for them. The pitching staff rebounded well, and Koji Uehara did a historic job as closer after some injuries at the position early in the season. This teams scores a ton too, in fact the most in baseball, All that doesn’t phase a Rays team that just won back-to-back road win-or-go-home games just to get to this point. I think that does hurt them with David Price not pitching opening game against the Sox, and at some point all that travel is going to be a negative. In these five game series it’s so important to set the tone in that first game.The Rays staff is very good, but Fenway is going to be a madhouse, and the Sox have had their number for most of the year, winning the season series 12-7. That doesn’t change now, Sox in four.
- Los Angeles Dodgers-Atlanta Braves
The two best staff ERAs in baseball meet head-to-head. By now most people know about the Dodgers’ story this year. They got off to an absolutely terrible start, and many were calling for Don Mattingly’s job by early June. Enter some guy named Yasiel Puig and suddenly the Dodgers go from arctic cold to volcano hot. That’s an oversimplification, but you get the picture. The Braves had a couple streaks of their own, but weren’t as flashy. They were expected to be in a dogfight with the Nationals all season, but the Nats lackluster form for much of the year essentially handed the division to the Braves. Baseball is a long season, and these two teams had their peaks and valleys, quite drastic ones in LA’s case. I do think the Dodgers may have peaked a bit too soon, but I also think the Braves got no benefit from playing with house money most of the second half. A one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke is built for October baseball, and the Braves are a team that can rely a bit too much on the long ball at times. If Atlanta can get some leads and hand it off to their killer bullpen led by Craig Kimbrel, I give them a chance, but I really like Kershaw to get this started right, and the Braves have made a habit of underperforming in October. Puig Mania continues for at least a little while longer, Dodgers in four.
- Pittsburgh Pirates – St. Louis Cardinals
Pittsburgh has been the darling of the baseball world this season. The past two years they got off to good starts only to see second half fades derail their goals. There was no such letdown this year. The Buccos posted their first winning season since 1992 (I had just celebrated my first birthday for perspective), and went to the playoffs for the first time since that year as well. The magic of their season continued into the Wild Card game against division rivals the Reds. PNC Park was rocking for its first ever taste of playoff baseball. One of the prettiest spots in the game, the park opened in 2001, smack dab in the middle of Pittsburgh’s stretch of futility. The Pirates handled the Reds thanks to a great start for Francisco Liriano, and some big early home runs. So what is their reward? Well a date with their other division rivals, the Cards. While the Pirates have long been the poster child for organizational dysfunction, the Cardinals have arguably been MLB’s model franchise. With a couple of World Series titles in the last decade, St. Louis is a player every year. They seem to have “it.” Both teams are top five in team ERA, with the slight edge to Pittsburgh, but St. Louis dominates in the offensive categories. The Pirates are a good team, and have a great defense, but they are new to this postseason stuff. The Cardinals know what they’re doing. Allen Craig’s absence will hurt the Cards, and I see the Pirates making it competitive, but St. Louis in five.
- Boston Redsox – Oakland A’s
Oakland didn’t get a whole lot of love this season. They play in a dump of a stadium, and have a small payroll, but they are legit. However, I think the East Coast/West Coast travel thing plays a part here, and Boston getting to open at home gives them an advantage. I’m going with the team from the much tougher division. Big Papi has a big series, and Koji closes out some close games. John Farrell continues to make his hire look genius. Oakland will give them a headache, but Boston wins in 6.
- Los Angeles Dodgers – St. Louis Cardinals
Two storied franchises whose styles mimic their cities. St. Louis is unglamorous, but there is an attraction to their consistency and rhythm, while the boys in blue bring the A-List star power that rivals their neighbors over in Hollywood. The Dodgers had a truly jaw dropping run, but I think in the playoffs, experience matters. The Dodgers are going to be the team to beat in the NL in 2014 as Magic Johnson’s ownership group will likely throw more cash around, but I’m sticking with the “it” factor for the present. Adam Wainright will pull out two huge wins much like Chris Carpenter did a couple of years ago, and the offense led my Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina will do enough. Cardinals in seven great games.
- Boston Red Sox – St. Louis Cardinals
The two teams tied for the best record in baseball. How boring and predictable can I get, right? While I admit my picks haven’t been risky, I truly think the consistency over the year sets these teams apart. Both squads came out of the best division in their respective leagues, and that competition throughout the year matters. Home field advantage is a biggie here, but the Sox also have a good story on their side. No one outside of Mass. gave the Sox much of a chance to be playing this late in fall. Boston will have to be more offensively consistent in this series. They were streaky against the Tigers, and certainly can’t count on two late Grand Slams again. In a rematch of that lopsided 2004 World Series, I think Pedroia leads by example and nets MVP, leading the Sox in a closer than it appears six game series.
Added Notes on the World Series matchup:
- Yadier Molina is the only player left from that 2004 World Series Cardinals team. Molina was current Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s backup.
- David Ortiz remains for the Sox
- The Red Sox have won eight straight World Series games, longest streak in history by any team other than the New York Yankees.
- This marks the first time since 1995 that the two teams with the best records will be facing off in the Fall Classic.
- Allen Craig will be available for the Cardinals for the first time during the postseason
There you have it. I can’t wait to revisit these picks in a month and smugly gloat about my terrific insight (definitely won’t weep openly at my woefully inaccurate selections). You can weigh in on who you think will be king of October below.