The 2014 MLB postseason got kicked off with a bang in two very different Wild Card games.
On Tuesday night in the American League Wild Card game, it took 12 innings and a late rally in the eighth for the Kansas City Royals to win their first playoff game since 1985. A Salvador Perez walk-off carried them to an intense, hard-fought 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Wednesday’s National League Wild Card game was less action-packed, but impressive nonetheless. San Francisco’s ace Madison Bumgarner threw a dominant, complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts and allowed just four hits. Brandon Crawford made history with his fourth inning grand slam- the first ever hit by a shortstop in the postseason. For the Texas baseball loyal out there, former Longhorn Brandon Belt went 2-for-3 with two walks, a run and three RBIs to help the Giants send the Pittsburgh Pirates home.
Though I had the A’s advancing to their division series, I find it difficult to be too upset with the Royals because they played with so much heart. It helps my ego a bit knowing that the experts weren’t expecting that high-scoring of a game, either. At least the Giants made me look good.
Next up, we have four, best-of-five division series match-ups. Here’s my breakdown of each and my predictions on who will get one round closer to the World Series.
Detroit Tigers (90-72) vs. Baltimore Orioles (96-66)
The Tigers will send RHP Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA) to the mound and the O’s Chris Tillman (RHP, 13-6, 3.34 ERA) for game one of this division series.
The O’s haven’t announced their other starters, but expect to see Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, 16-6, 3.54 ERA) and Bud Norris (RHP, 15-8, 3.65 ERA) get a start at some point. The Tigers have penciled in Justin Verlander (RHP, 15-12, 4.54 ERA), David Price (LHP, 15-12, 3.26 ERA) and Rick Porcello (RHP, 15-13, 3.43 ERA) in that order for games two, three and four.
When it comes to pitching staffs, I have to think Detroit has a slight advantage. The numbers may not be terribly different, but the Tigers have a lot of veterans that know how to step up in big game situations. Detroit’s pitchers don’t give up the long ball too often either, which will be crucial to continue since homeruns are a big part of Baltimore’s game.
Offensively, I feel the Tigers have the advantage due to consistency throughout the line up. The Orioles hit an MLB-best 211 homeruns this season, led by Nelson Cruz’s MLB-high 40. Adam Jones (.281 batting average, 29 HR, 96 RBI) and Nick Markakis (.276, 14 HR, 50 RBI) provide some explosive offense, too. But the solid bats of Detroit’s Victor Martinez (.335, 32 HR, 103 RBI), Miguel Cabrera (.313, 25 HR, 109 RBI) and J.D. Martinez (.315, 23 HR, 76 RBI) are more consistent, I feel. The Tigers also have lots of guys who get on base and aren’t afraid to run.
Not to mention, the Tigers have the best team batting average (.277) in the majors and a better on-base percentage than the Orioles. Add to that the fact that the O’s stole just 44 bases all season while the Tigers stole 106, and it seems that Detroit’s offense is better-rounded and will find a way to get to Baltimore’s pitchers.
Since the Orioles have home field advantage through the ALDS, it’s possible they could jump out to an early series lead. But I think the Tigers are just a better, more experienced team and will advance to the championship series.
Kansas City Royals (89-73) vs. Los Angeles Angels (98-64)
The Royals will be using the momentum they created Tuesday night when they face the MLB-best Angels. The set pitching duels for the first three games of the series are as follows:
Game 1- KC Jason Vargas (LHP, 11-10, 3.71 ERA) v. LAA Jered Weaver (RHP, 18-9, 3.59 ERA)
Game 2- KC Yordano Ventura (RHP, 14-10, 3.20 ERA) v. LAA Matt Shoemaker (RHP, 16-4, 3.04 ERA)
Game 3- LAA C.J. Wilson (LHP, 13-10, 4.51 ERA) v. KC James Shields (RHP, 14-8, 3.21 ERA)
I have to give the pitching advantage to the Angels. Their staff has really come along throughout the season and seems to be heating up at just the right time. Kansas City also has a good staff, and their bullpen is as good as anyone’s. I’m especially looking forward to game two of this series because Ventura and Shoemaker have been lights-out in their last 10 starts.
Small ball plays a big part in Kansas City’s offense and I expect it to be a factor throughout this series. They have some power as well when you look at guys like Alex Gordon (.266 average, 19 HR) and Salvador Perez (.260, 17 HR). But the aggressive base running backed by speedy guys like Jarrod Dyson (.269, 36 SB) and Alcides Escobar (.285, 31 SB) sparks them most.
The Angels rely on power and consistency. Mike Trout (.287, 36 HR, 111 RBI), Albert Pujols (.272, 28 HR, 105 RBI) and Howie Kendrick (.293, 14 SB) are just a few of the big offensive names this team has to offer. The Angels score often and early, and I don’t foresee them having too much trouble doing so against the Royals.
Though I’m taking the Angels by a pretty large margin in this series, I’m not anticipating a sweep. I expect Kansas City to take game three at home with Big Game James on the mound, but I’m not sure if they’ll get any others.
San Francisco Giants (88-74) vs. Washington Nationals (96-66)
After cruising to a victory over the Pirates, the Giants will have more of a challenge when they face the Nationals in this division series. The starting pitchers for the first three games are as follows:
Game 1- SF Jake Peavy (RHP, 7-13, 3.73 ERA) v. WSH Stephen Strasburg (RHP, 14-11, 3.14 ERA)
Game 2- SF Tim Hudson (RHP, 9-13, 3.57 ERA) v. WSH Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, 14-5, 2.66 ERA)
Game 3- WSH Doug Fister (RHP, 16-6, 2.41 ERA)
The Nationals pitching staff has been one of the best this season, boasting the lowest ERA (.303) in the MLB. They’ve also given up the least homeruns, which is an important aspect of San Francisco’s offense. They’ve watched their ace Strasburg’s pitch count and innings pitched carefully over the past couple of seasons for the moment they have now- a postseason berth and a team that could be playing for a while. All of Washington’s starters are heating up at the right time, collectively having the second-lowest ERA in the majors through the month of September.
Aside from Bumgarner, the Giants’ pitchers have been a little shaky lately. They’ve done a lot of moving the bullpen around and it has cost them. And with Washington’s offense heating up as well, I’m giving the pitching advantage to the Nationals.
Offensively, I have to go with the Nationals again. Their line up is stacked with guys that get on base, drive in runs and have a good amount of power- examples being Anthony Rendon (.287, 21 HR, 83 RBI), Jason Werth (.292, 16 HR, 82 RBI), Adam LaRoche (.259, 26 HR, 92 RBI) and Bryce Harper (.273, .344 OBP).
The Giants have a solid offense as well, with veterans Buster Posey (.311, 22 HR, 89 RBI), Hunter Pence (.277, 20 HR, 74 RBI) and Pablo Sandoval (.279, 16 HR, 73 RBI) leading the way. They showed they can score quickly on Wednesday, with Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt performing well. I just feel like Washington’s pitching and defense will be too much for San Francisco’s offense to overcome.
If you haven’t guessed so already, I’m expecting the Nationals to move on to the NL championship series.
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68)
The only set pitching duel we have for this match-up is possibly the best of all four series. The Cardinals will send RHP Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA) to face the winningest pitcher in the majors this season, Clayton Kershaw (LHP, 21-3, 1.77 ERA).
The Dodgers haven’t announced the rest of the rotation, but expect to see Zack Greinke (RHP, 17-8, 2.71 ERA) and Dan Haren (RHP, 13-11, 4.02 ERA) start at some point. St. Louis has penciled in Lance Lynn (RHP, 15-10, 2.74 ERA) for game two, John Lackey (RHP, 14-10, 3.82 ERA) for game three and Shelby Miller (RHP, 10-9, 3.74 ERA) for game four. It’s a close call, but I have to give the pitching advantage to the Dodgers.
Los Angeles has the upper hand in all major offensive categories, but both teams have deep line ups. The Dodgers are led by Adrian Gonzalez (.276, 27 HR, 89 RBI), Yasiel Puig (.296, 16 HR, 69 RBI) and Matt Kemp (.287, 25 HR, 89 RBI) and have a great supporting staff. The Cardinals’ offense is led by Matt Adams (.288, 15 HR, 68 RBI), Matt Holliday (.272, 20 HR, 90 RBI) and Jhonny Peralta (.263, 21 HR, 75 RBI) and is sparked by a number of guys that get on base consistently and know how to extend at-bats.
This series was the hardest for me to pick. When I sit back and look at the stats objectively, I have to pick the Dodgers. But there’s just something about the way the Cardinals play ball in October. They’re seasoned, deep, well-rounded and just find ways to win. These teams faced each other in last year’s championship series which the Cardinals won 4-2.
I wouldn’t mind being wrong in this series, but I have to go with the Dodgers pulling it off and advancing to the NLCS. I’m expecting this one to be really fun to watch.