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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Yankees vs Tigers – Game 5 Live blog

11:42pm

Bottom 9th – Granderson up to lead off the inning, and he fouls the first pitch off; takes a ball outside to even the count at 1-1 and another low to move ahead 2-1.  A called strike makes it 2-2 – I’m not sure I have been this nervous with a Tigers pitcher on

Deja vu - the Yankees 2010 season ended with an A-Rod strike out

the mound in the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium since Billy Chapel’s perfect game…meanwhile Granderson flies out and the Yankees have 2 outs left to save their season.  Cano swings at the first pitch, but the ball safely lands in Austin Jackson’s glove and we have 2 down.  Alex Rodriguez is the batter faced with keeping the season alive and he is quickly down 0-2 and it’s down to the final strike.  He swings and misses and that’s it, the Tigers win and will face the Rangers in the ALCS.  The Yankees season ends earlier than hoped for – and only 8 days later than Boston’s.

11:35pm

So the Yankees season comes down to this, the bottom of the 9th in Game 5 of the ALCS, down 1 run.  I am trying to invoke the spirit of 2001, when they came back from 2 runs down, 2 outs in the 9th, in back-to-back games of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

11:33pm

Top 9th – The greatest closer in baseball history is in for a non-close situation, Mariano Rivera, who needs 5 pitches to get through a perfect 9th. In the bottom of the inning the Yankees have Granderson, Cano and Rodriguez due up to face Detroit closer Valverde, who has been perfect this season, converting all of 49 of his save opportunities

11:26pm

Bottom 7th – This season, the Detroit Tigers were 79-0 in games they led after the 7th inning…bollocks.  The TBS commentator points out this could be Jorge Posada’s last at bat as a Yankee – hopefully he will have plenty more in the ALCS and World Series to come though.  In a rare show of speed, he nearly beats out an infield grounder, but he does not so there is one out.  Russell Martin is up next, who has looked very uncomfortable at the plate tonight, this series, and basically since April when he was crushing the ball.  He swings at pitch that is down low and way outside to fall behind 0-2, before finally showing some patience to get it all the way back to a full count – but then strikes out looking – backing up a text I just sent to a fellow Yankees fan that next season Jesus Montero should be the full time catcher.  Gardner then hits one in the gap to left field for a two out single – on the first pitch to Jeter, the runner takes off from first but the Yankees captain crushes the ball, it goes high, far and…is caught at the wall to end the inning.  We head to the 9th; Detroit 3 New York 2

11:15pm

David Robertson is in to pitch the 8th inning for the Yankees, their 6th pitcher of the night.  Robertson gets Cabrera to strike out and then retires Martinez on a pop-up to the catcher and Brandon Inge on a ground-out to shortstop – inning over.

11:05pm

Swisher is 3-11 lifetime against Benoit, but all 3 of those hits have been home runs, and all have come in his last 6 at bats against the Tigers’ pitcher.  Great eye from Nick Swisher to leave a pitch just outside, to even the count at 2-2 – but then chases one high and outside and he strikes out to end the inning.

11:02pm

Cano taps one back to the mound, but a kind bounce takes it away from Benoit and the bases are loaded with Alex Rodriguez coming up next.  The tension is getting to everyone, Detroit manager Jim Leyland is shown popping some sunflower seeds in to chew on – when did they stop him chain smoking in the dugout? After much delaying, Benoit gets around to throwing some pitches, and he gets ahead of Mr. April 1-2, who then strikes out swinging.  Teixeira watches five straight pitches out of the zone, the fourth was called a strike erroneously, but that’s enough to walk and force in a run.  Detroit 3 New York 2 – bases still loaded – Swisher up.

10:52pm

Bottom 7th – the start of the inning is delayed as Tigers’ left fielder Delmon Young is forced to leave with an injury, he is replaced by Ryan Rayburn.  Gardner leads off for the Yankees, who have 9 outs left to try and turn this around and force a rematch of last season’s ALCS versus Detroit.  Scherzer is all over the place and yet works back from a 3-0 count to strike out Gardner – the Yankees left fielder doing that frustrating thing of not swinging at the 3-0 pitch even when it is a fastball down the middle.  Jeter is up next, 0-3 tonight but he breaks out of that with an infield single – forcing Detroit manager to pull Scherzer for setup man Joaquin Benoit with Curtis Granderson on deck.  During the commerical break we are reminded how awesome guacamole, and by extension avocados, are.  We are then forced to watch new pitcher remove a BandAid from his cheek, apparently at the request of Yankees manager Joe Giradi.  The reasoning behind him asking for it to be taken off may be questionable, but the decision by TBS to show it being pulled off in close-up and high definition, is completely indefensible. When play resumes, Granderson singles to right and the Yankees have two on with just one out.

10:33pm

Soriano works a 1-2-3 inning in the 7th, meanwhile Suman asks if I agree with ESPN’s gamecast which suggests the Tigers have a 69% chance of winning from this point.  If 2001 taught me anything in post-season baseball, it is never count out the Yankees until the final out.

10:25pm

After a brief adjournment, in the shape of me putting my four-month old to bed, the sixth inning is uneventful with neither side adding to their run totals.  Soriano now pitching for the Yankees, Scherzer for the Tigers

10:02pm

Bottom 5th – The Tigers have brought in Brandon Inge at third base, Don Kelly moving to right field to replace Magglio Ordonez  – a defensively minded move.  Jeter grounds out for the first out of the inning, followed quickly by Granderson who flies out to left.  Up next is Robinson Cano who hits one high, it is far, it is…GONE! Home Run New York Yankees and they are on the board, Detroit 3 New York 1.  A-Rod grounds out to end the inning

9:55pm

Top 5th – As predicted (see 9:12pm) CC is in to pitch in the 5th inning, but does not start well and gives up a full count double to

CC pitches for the third time this series

leadoff hitter Austin Jackson.  Kelly then makes Sabbathia work before striking out and then Delmon Young follows suit, two away.  The Yankees then intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera, preferring to face Victor Martinez instead.  The strategy backfires though as Martinez hits a single which centre fielder Curtis Granderson bobbles, allowing Jackson to score easily from second base: Detroit 3 New York 0.  CC strikes out Ordonez to end the inning, but the Yankees really need to put some runs on the board in the bottom half of this inning.

9:39pm

Bottom 4th – Alex Rodriguez – just 2-13 in this series – works a leadoff walk to start the inning, followed by Tex flying out. Swisher then hits a single to give the Yankees 2 runners on with 1 out, with Jorge Posada coming to the plate.  The long serving Yankees catcher turned DH makes Fister work before smacking a single to centre to load the bases.  Still just one out and Russell Martin is up next – who pops up for the second out.  Brett Gardner now has the responsibility of making this rally count for something, the bases still loaded but two men down.  Gardner works the count to 3-2, fouls one back before popping out to third base – it remains Detroit 2 New York 0

9:18pm

Avila hits a single to right off Logan’s first pitch to give the Tigers two men on with just one out in the fourth inning.  Supposed left-handed specialist Boone Logan then gets right handed Peralta to fly out to Swisher in right field, before striking out the switch-hitting Santiago.

9:12pm

Top 4th – Jas asks if we are likely to see CC tonight (again you can post comments below, or e-mail politicalfootballs@gmail.com) – if it stays close I expect either the 5th of 6th inning would be made for the big man – with the 7th, 8th and 9th likely to be the tried and tested formula of Soriano, Robertson and Rivera.  For now, Phil Hughes is still on the mound and he gets Victor Martinez to pop up to catcher Russell Martin before Ordonez hits a single to right.  Giradi has seen enough and calls for lefty specialist Boone Logan to come in to face Avila, Phil Hughes trudges off – his night, and possibly season, finished

9:06pm

…Granderson walks on a 3-2 pitch, giving Robinson Cano an opportunity with two runners on and two outs.  Cano fouls back a couple of pitches on a 2-2 count, while TBS shows us Spike Lee screaming his encouragement from the stands, but the second baseman ends up flying out to centre.

8:59pm

Bottom 3rd – Russell Martin leads off the inning, but grounds out to third baseman Don Kelly, followed by Brett Gardner hitting an 0-2 pitch to centre field for a single.  Fister holds Gardner close at first and at the same time strikes out Derek Jeter for the second out.  Could really use a home run from Curtis Granderson right now who led the Yankees with 41 in the regular season…

8:50pm

Top 3rd – the shortest leash for Nova – Hughes is in to pitch the top of the 3rd inning for New York.  The man YES play-by-play guy, Michael Kay, insists on calling Phil Yooose – strikes out Jackson and Kelly before giving up a long single to Delmon Young which bounces off the right field wall, but the next batter, Miguel Cabrera, grounds out to shortstop Derek Jeter and the inning is over.

8:41pm

Bottom 2nd – Alex Rodriguez is called out on strikes on a pitch that looks outside, but TBS’s graphic shows it’s right on the corner.  Mark Teixeira is up next and smacks a ground rule double to deep right, giving the Yankees their first hit of the night, but that is followed by Swisher grounding out to short to leave the Yankees with two outs.  Jorge Posada, who coming into tonight’s game is hitting .400 in this series with 4 walks and was also hit by a pitch, strikes out looking to end the inning.

8:30pm

Top 2nd – The commentators tell us that Nova didn’t give up a home run in the first inning during the regular season…which I guess is meant to make us Yankees fans feel better that he gave up 2 tonight?  I’m not sure how many doubles he gave up in the second, but Ordonez, who’d fought off several pitches, hits one to left field.  The Yankees already have Phil Hughes getting ready in the bullpen – Nova understandably on a very short leash in this win-or-go-home game.  Avila grounds out to second base, advancing the runner to third with only one out.  Jhonny Peralta is up next, a man who does not even know how to spell his own first name, and he grounds out to Alex Rodriguez at third, who can hold Ordonez before throwing to Teixeira for the out at first, two away.  Ramon Santiago, Detroit’s second baseman works the count full to 3-2, fights off a fastball away before striking out on a fastball inside.  Good work from Nova to survive the leadoff double – still Tigers up 2-0

8:19pm

Bottom 1st – Jeter hits a sharp ball down the first base line but is robbed of a double by an athletic play by Miguel Cabrera who gets to the bag before the Yankees captain for the first out.  Granderson strikes out on three pitches, followed by Cano grounding out to short – three up, three down for New York.

8:14pm

Top 1st – Nova gets former Yankee Austin Jackson to strike out swinging, but then gives up back to back home runs to Don Kelly and Delmon Young…this does not look good.  Cabrera strikes out followed by Victor Martinez grounding out to Robinson Cano to end the inning, but the damage has been done. Detroit 2 New York 0

8pm

Game time! My accompanying beer of choice for the night: Brooklyn Lager

7:10pm

Two things – this page will not auto-refresh, so you’ll need to hit F5 or reload to get updates – and answer tonight’s poll question – who wins?

6:45pm

Lineups

Detroit

1. CF A. Jackson

2. 3B D. Kelly

3. LF D. Young

4. 1B M. Cabrera

5. DH V. Martinez

6. RF M. Ordonez

7. C A. Avila

8. SS J. Peralta

9. 2B R. Santiago

Pitcher – D. Fister

New York

1. SS D. Jeter

2. CF C. Granderson

3. 2B R. Cano

4. 3B A. Rodriguez

5. 1B M. Teixeira

6. RF N. Swisher

7. DH J. Posada

8. C R. Martin

9. LF B. Gardner

Pitcher – I. Nova

2:45pm

I’ll be covering the crucial winner-takes-all game 5 of the ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees – first pitch is scheduled for 8pm ET tonight.  If you have a comment or question relating to the game, send an e-mail to politicalfootballs@gmail.com

The pitching matchup tonight is a repeat of the non-starters of game 1: Ivan Nova and Doug Fister came in as relief pitchers in

Yankees Rookie Ivan Nova gets the ball for Game 5

the second inning for CC Sabbathia and Justin Verlander respectively, after the series opener had a rain delay of 23 hours.  Nova had a great second half to the year, despite having been briefly sent back down to the minor leagues in July, and has become their de facto ace, with CC having struggled since the end of August.  Meanwhile, Fister was with Seattle until a mid-season trade rescued him from there – his 3-12 record improved to 11-13 after his move to the Tigers.  An ERA (Earned Run Average) of under 3 shows that his problem was run support with the Mariners, rather than his own performance, nevertheless Fister did lose his only start against the Yankees during the regular season, and took the loss in Game 1.

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.