Baseball – ALCS/NLCS Preview

If you are going to predict sporting events, you either need to get them spot on, or completely wrong – there is no fun in being as accurate as a coin toss and getting 50% right- as I have been thus far in my NFL picks (32 and 32 against the spread going into Week 5).  Luckily, I was nowhere near being average with my picks for the divisional series of the MLB playoffs.  As you can see here, I made the following prognostications:

Phillies over Cardinals in 3 – Actual Result – Cardinals in 5

Diamondbacks over Brewers in 5 – Actual Result – Brewers in 5

Rays over Rangers in 5 – Actual Result – Rangers in 4

Yankees over Tigers in 4 – Actual Result – Tigers in 5

A big OH for four, making me about as useful as A-Rod in October, and 39% less accurate than Punxsutawney Phil .  One small caveat, I did state in the preview for the Yankees/Tigers series that my head was saying Detroit but my heart was picking

Phil predicts it will be an early winter for the Yankees

New York.  I could also try and fall back on the pre-season predictions of virtually all of the major baseball writers who projected a World Series between the Phillies and the Red Sox – the former falling at the first hurdle in October, the latter suffering the biggest collapse in baseball history. (Note that every single pundit picked at least one of Philadelphia or Boston to make the World Series, if not both) But I digress, I could not have been more wrong, so now it is time to let you know who will miss out on making the World Series when they are cursed by my predictions.

ALCS

Detroit Tigers vs Texas Rangers (Rangers have home-field advantage)

This really is a hard one to call, the two teams regular season records were separated by a single game – the Rangers winning 96 to the Tigers 95 – but Detroit did win 6 out of the 9 times they played against each other this year.  Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander is without doubt the best player in this series and, as manager Jim Leyland held off bringing him in to game 5 against the Yankees, he will be available to potentially pitch three times against Texas.  Unlike last year, when they had Cliff Lee to take them all the way to the World Series, the Rangers do not have an ace pitcher this year.  What they do have is a balanced lineup and have been playing consistently well all year – plus they took care of the rampant Tampa Bay Rays in their ALDS matchup.  In the Tigers favour, their closer, Jose Valverde, has not blown a save all season and the team has not lost a game in which they have led after the 7th inning all season – with Joaquin Benoit as the setup man in the 8th before Valverde takes over to finish the job.  Because of this ability to shorten the game by 6 outs , I’m picking Detroit to make their first World Series since 2006 – when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 5.

Prediction – Detroit in 6

NLCS

St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers (Brewers have home-field advantange)

On August 26th, the Cardinals were 10.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the battle for the National League Wild Card – now they are four wins away from returning to the World Series, 5 years after they last won it all.  In Pujols, Berkman and Holliday, St. Louis has a formidable middle of the order that will be difficult for the Milwaukee pitchers to navigate.  Their hero in the deciding game against the Phillies, Chris Carpenter – who pitched a complete game shutout for the win – will not be available until Game 3 this time around, meaning Jamie Garcia (13-7, 3.56 ERA during the regular season) will probably get the ball for the series opener.  The Brewers also used their number 1 starter, Yovani Gallardo, in the series clincher against the Diamondbacks on Friday night, so it will fall to Zack Greinke to try to get Milwaukee off to a winning start at home.  In Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers also have formidable 3-4 hitters and this matchup may come down to who takes care of business in front of their own fans.  After knocking out the Phillies – who had a starting pitching staff including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, not to mention the best regular season record in all of baseball this year – I cannot pick against the Cardinals.

Prediction – Cardinals in 5

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Baseball’s Wild Night and Playoff Predictions

If there has been a more exciting night in baseball history, I would love to have witnessed it.  Last night had it all: comebacks, rain delays, blown saves, clutch hits, celebrations, devastation.  The night started with 4 teams vying for 2 wild card spots and the possibility of everyone having to come back to play game 163 today.  It ended with the playoff schedule set and the culmination of the two biggest September collapses in baseball history.

Before a pitch was thrown on Wednesday, the Cardinals and the Braves were tied in the race for the National League Wild Card, the Red Sox and the Rays also had matching records and were competing for the last playoff spot in the American League.  St. Louis took care of business against the Houston Astros and were 5 runs up in the first inning, their victory meaning their worst case scenario was a one game playoff against Atlanta if the Braves also won.  However, the other three games involving the contenders had much more drama than that one in Texas.  This is how things changed throughout the evening:

Through 7 innings:

The Braves were 3-2 up against the Phillies – 6 outs from getting to the playoff game with St. Louis

Boston and Atlanta playoff-bound...oh

The Rays were trailing the Yankees 7-0 and needing some help from Baltimore

The Orioles and the Red Sox were in a rain delay – one that did not look like it would subside – prior to the bottom of the 7th inning with Boston up 3-2.  If they were unable to retake the field – the game would be awarded to the Red Sox

As it stood: Braves/Cardinals to play game 163; Red Sox in playoffs, Rays out

Through 8 innings:

The Tampa Bay Rays rallied against the Yankees and brought the score back to 7-6, the highlight being Evan Longoria’s 3 run home-run.

The Red Sox and the Orioles managed to get back on the field when the rain finally stopped.  Boston pitcher Alfredo Aceves got out of trouble in the 7th after hitting two Baltimore players with pitches, before Daniel Bard worked a perfect 8th.

The Phillies loaded the bases against Atlanta but failed to tie the game when Raul Ibanez struck out.

As it stood: Braves/Cardinals to play game 163; Red Sox in playoffs, Rays out

Two outs in the 9th inning:

The Phillies tied the game with the Braves with a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley which recorded the second out and scored the runner from 3rd, sending the game to extra innings.

The Rays were down to their last out, trailing the Yankees 7-6, with nobody on base

The Red Sox were one out away from guaranteeing at least a playoff game – the Orioles had nobody on base.

As it stood: Braves had to win in extra innings to force game 163; Red Sox in playoffs Rays out

Despite their precarious position, the Rays were not done.  Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson hit a two-out solo home run over the right field wall to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th and sent the game to extra innings.  In the bottom of the 12th, the crowd (if you can call it that – attendance for a do-or-die game was shockingly low at Tropicana Field) started to get boisterous. Word had filtered through from Baltimore  (the game there was still in the bottom of the 9th due to the rain delay) that the Orioles were rallying.  One out away from closing out the game, Boston’s Jonathan Papelborn gave up back-to-back doubles that tied the game; followed by a single that landed just in front of Carl Crawford and scored Reimold from second to end the game and leave the Red Sox fans for once praying for a Yankees victory.  When the final score was flashed on the board in Tampa, the cheers grew and Evan Longoria had to step out as he waited to bat.  Two pitches later, he hit a line drive shot that cleared the left field wall to give the Rays a walk off win and remove all need for a playoff.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Philadelphia took the lead in the top of the 13th, leaving the Braves on the brink of elimination – a fact that was confirmed when a double play in the bottom of the inning ended the game.  An incredible night of baseball, ending a dramatic September which resulted in:

  • Boston and Atlanta being eliminated, Tampa and St. Louis making the playoffs
  • The Red Sox giving up a 9 game lead over the Rays in September to be eliminated on the final day, the biggest ever collapse in baseball history. (Can we stop talking about the ALCS in 2004 now? Please?)
  • The Braves giving up an 8.5 game lead over the Cardinals in September, the join second biggest ever collapse in baseball history (with the 1964 Phillies)
  • This article getting even funnier than it had been already.  New England Sports Network wondered before the season if this year’s Red Sox team would overtake the 1927 Yankees as the greatest in history, instead they have more in common with the 2007 New York Mets – who lost 12 of their last 17 games to throw away a 7 game lead over the Phillies and miss the playoffs.
Playoff Predictions
For a change, it will be hard for October to match the drama of September as the playoffs started early for a lot of clubs.  Here’s a breakdown of how I see the divisional matchups
Phillies vs Cardinals:  Look out for the team that is on a roll going into October – the 2007 Rockies got hot in September and it carried over to the playoffs and saw them make the World Series – so the Cardinals will not be an easy out for the Phillies. However, with ace pitchers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels set to start for Philadelphia in the first three games, I think St. Louis will be lucky to win even one game.  Prediction: Phillies in 3
Brewers vs Diamondbacks: This should be a very even matchup – Arizona won the regular season series between them by 4 games to 3 and probably have the best starting pitcher in Iain Kennedy.  However, the Brewers have a strong line-up and great 3/4 hitters in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.  I can see this one going the distance. Prediction: Diamondbacks in 5
Yankees vs Tigers: While New York was throwing away a 7 run lead against Tampa, everyone was focusing on Boston – but the Yankees lost their last 4 regular season games and now face this year’s probable AL Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander for game 1.  If pitching wins in October, then the Yankees are in trouble as they start rookie Ivan Nova in game 2, their ace CC has had a poor month of September, and beyond that nobody knows who will start game 3 – none of the candidates, Garcia, Colon or Burnett, instill much confidence in their own fans.  I hate to say it, but I think the Yankees will come unstuck and will make an early October exit.  However, I still cannot pick against them so I will predict against my head and with my heart.  Prediction: Yankees in 4
Rangers vs Rays: Unlike the Phillies, I do not see Texas having the rotation to stop a team that is on a fantastic run and I think Tampa will make it to the ALCS.  The Rays have stronger pitching, at least as good a lineup, and not having home-field advantage will not mean too much to a team that does not attract many fans anyway.  Prediction: Rays in 5

This week in: Baseball – Wild Card Mania

As was covered here, September had looked like it was going to be a quiet baseball month, with almost all of the playoff places already decided – only the AL West seemed like it was still a race between the Angels and the Rangers.  The Atlanta Braves have gone 9-16 in September and seen the Cardinals pull within 1 game of them for the Wild Card, having started the month 8 back.  The Boston Red Sox have been even more generous, returning all of the 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays they enjoyed as recently as September 3rd.

All four teams have two games left to play against divisional rivals – the Braves face the juggernaut Phillies, who won their

Swing and a miss

100th game of the season on Monday night; while the Cardinals face the Houston Astros, who are just playing to spoil now. In the American League East, the Orioles look to continue to frustrate the Red Sox, having beaten them in 4 of the 5 games they have played in the last week.  There is bad blood between the two teams this season also, with one of their games in July descending into a brawl, after Boston’s David Ortiz felt that the Orioles’ Kevin Gregg had been throwing at him on two straight pitches.  Meanwhile, the Rays host the Yankees, who have already guaranteed themselves home-field advantage for the ALDS and ALCS (should they make it that far).  With New York now likely to face Detroit in the divisional series, which starts on Friday, their focus will be on getting their line up and pitching rotation set.  The Tigers will be able to start ace pitcher Justin Verlander in 2 of the 5 games and so the Yankees will be holding CC Sabbathia back to face him, rather than him going for his 20th win of the year in either of the remaining regular season games against the Tampa Bay Rays.

There is also a question about whether or not the Yankees would want to go all out to win and thus help their rivals, Boston, in the process.  The last time the two teams faced off in a playoff series was the 2004 ALCS when New York collapsed – having being up 3-0, only to lose the last four games.  Though the Red Sox have been struggling throughout September, once the playoffs start then anything is possible and they will still be a dangerous team to face.  In 2000, the Yankees themselves ended the season by winning only 3 of their final 18 games, but that did not stop them once October came around and they went on to win the World Series.  At the same time, the Rays are on a roll and if they complete their comeback and make the playoffs, then they will be a have a lot of belief and will be a tough team to knockout.  New York will not worry about who joins them in the playoffs and, while they will be resting their veterans and holding back their best pitchers, the players who do go out their will just be playing to win.

With the playoffs starting this weekend and four teams already playing “win-or-go-home” type games, it should be an exciting week in baseball.  With any luck, at least one of the two races will be tied after Wednesday’s games and there will be a Game 163 – a one-off, winner takes all matchup for the Wild Card.