Grand Slams: The Post-Season Cometh
Usually I like to start this article with clarifying statements and prefaces such as, “At this point in the season there are a handful of things baseball fans look at. The trade deadline is past, tons of teams are out of the playoff race, and we have a pretty good idea of where each team stands. There is still a way teams can trade, via a waiver system that sometimes makes it possible to get a deal done after the deadline. But barring any bizarre occurrences on that front, your team has the players it’ll have for the next couple months.”
But let’s skip past that and get to the guts of it, shall we? Either you’re the Cubs (or a team like them) and you’re looking to next year and prospects that might get called up in August, or you’re in contention and all you care about is “are we getting into the postseason?” and “what shape are we in for the playoffs?” and “Who will we have to face in the first round or wild card game?”
So with that in mind, I’m going to give you my bold predictions about how I think this might shake out and then you can all tell me I’m stupid and your team is going to win it all even though they’re 12 games behind in their division.
Call me crazy (I’m sure you will), but I think the Mariners get the second Wild Card spot. Further, I think they win the Wild Card game, because King Felix is flat out dominant. They can win that game in a low-scoring affair, like 2-1, no matter who LA throws at them. This is my boldest prediction, and I’m not saying it’s a lock, but I think it’s much more likely than many people will admit. Should Seattle win that second Wild Card spot, I’d not only choose them to win the Wild Card game, but I’d pick them to win the first round if they play any team other than Oakland. Five games against King Felix, Iwakuma, Paxton and then the hottest pitcher between Young, Elias, Taijuan = formidable. Combine that with the MLB’s best bullpen (2.36 ERA is MLB’s lowest, as of this writing) and you have a winning formula. Think it’s crazy? The Giants did it just like that. Twice.
You gotta understand, this is a team that has a new manager, a new superstar and is just finding its stride. I’m honestly tempted to predict them winning the AL Pennant, but likely matching up with Oakland in the first round is really unfortunate, so I won’t go quite that far. But I’m serious: the Mariners are a team to watch out for, this year and next.
As stated above, I see the Angels winning the first Wild Card, as do most people. They’re finally living up to their superstar salary and I guess late is better than never, right? But if these things happen, that means the AL West has three playoff teams! That’s pretty incredible. I’m impressed with this division quite a lot. I like Oakland a lot, which is no surprise. With those trades, the good got better. So officially, I’m taking Oakland as the AL Pennant winner.
So what about the East and Central? With Baltimore up by 5 and Detroit up 2.5 [Editor’s Note: Kansas City has surpassed Detroit since this article was written.], I think they’re good to go for winning their divisions. My condolences to the Yankees, Blue Jays and Royals, but I just don’t see it happening, guys. The Yankees are old and injured (just last week McCann and Tex were added to the injured Yankees list). The Blue Jays are dealing with similar issues with E3 and Lawrie on the shelf. And I just don’t have faith in the Royals for a strong finish. Call it a gut feeling, I just don’t feel like any of those three teams will put it together for these last seven weeks.
The only major question remaining for the AL, then, is how the Orioles and Tigers match up. As a likely pair in the first round, the matchup is intriguing, mainly because Detroit should be way better; they just haven’t been great this year. Verlander hasn’t been up to snuff. Anibal just got hurt again. Scherzer hasn’t been consistent. Price was just added, but his ERA is over 3.00 (good but not dominant). And Joe Nathan has been a mess for most of this year, although he’s more or less getting the job done lately. But a 4.44 bullpen ERA (5th worst in MLB) isn’t reassuring. Combine that with losing A-Jax and a down year from Miggy, and you just aren’t menacing.
The Orioles, on the other hand, don’t intimidate you either. Yes, they’re good, but they’re not dominant. Their rotation has traded guys in and out and there’s not an ace in the pack. The offense got a boost from Cruz’s power surge, but that’s starting to taper off (.125 batting avg. over the last 30 days) and Chris Davis has been a major disappointment this year. Right now they’re getting guys playing above their level, but it won’t last. They can win the division, but if I had to face anyone in the playoffs, I’d choose Baltimore. So I’m calling Detroit over Baltimore if they do indeed match up in the first round.
So, to review the AL, I’m predicting Mariners over Angels in the Wild Card game, A’s over Mariners and Tigers over Orioles in the first round, and A’s over Tigers in the ALCS.
I wish I could say the Braves are gonna turn it around. I really do. But it ain’t gonna happen. Something is wrong with the sports culture in Atlanta. I don’t know what it is, but Atlanta teams always underachieve and they have been doing it for decades. After a while you just get used to it, I guess. With the Braves, I don’t know if it’s ownership, front office, manager, clubhouse environment, or what, but something isn’t right and they aren’t going to turn it around. I can’t possibly explain why both Dan Uggla and BJ Upton were All Stars on other teams but when they joined Atlanta they were suddenly the worst hitters in all of baseball. You’d think it’s the hitting coach, but guys like Freeman and Justin Upton seem to be doing OK. So enough of that.
For the NL Wild Card, you’re looking at the Pirates, Giants, or Cardinals. This is the toughest call for me out of all of these predictions. None of them are compelling. I would’ve chosen the Pirates, but then McCutchen goes down indefinitely. The Cardinals made moves, but Masterson has been downright awful and no one can really replace Yadier effectively. Last year’s magic is just gone for them, it seems. Incidentally, the same goes for Boston. How weird would it be if both World Series contestants last year didn’t even make the playoffs at all this year? I don’t see three playoff teams coming from the NL Central, and I think Milwaukee has what it takes to finish strongly enough to win the division. So I’m choosing San Francisco and St. Louis as this year’s NL Wild Card teams. The Cardinals aren’t really better than the Pirates, but their remaining games are against easier teams and I think that puts them over Pittsburgh. As for the game itself, I’m going Waino over the Giants in a one-game “series.”
The Cardinals would then have to face the Dodgers. Look, I hate the Dodgers. I just flat-out don’t like them and I’m willing to admit my bias against them. I want anyone to beat them, but the Cardinals don’t have enough. Sadly, the Dodgers have the first round all to themselves, as they should end up being the number one seed.
Regarding the Nationals and Brewers, we have an interesting face-off there, much like we do in the AL with the Orioles and Tigers. The Nationals returned to form after a down year last season, but so did the Brewers (after two down years). The Brew Crew certainly has a better offense. When they’re firing on all cylinders they’re arguably the best offense in the majors. But their pitching leaves a lot to be desired compared to the Nationals. Now that Fister is back, he joins Zimmerman, Strasburg and Gio. It’s tempting to say that makes a serious 1-4 playoff rotation, because those guys have been good for years. But Gio hasn’t been pitching well most of the year and Strasburg is inconsistent. With Ryan Zimmerman down (again) and Harper not hitting like he’s supposed to, it’s hard to choose the Nationals here. In the end, I think Milwaukee pulls it out in five games (if they meet in the first series).
So NLCS is Dodgers vs. Brewers in this scenario and just because I’m a super-jerk, I’m picking Milwaukee over LA just because I don’t like LA. I feel like there has to be some kind of baseball justice that works against the Dodgers in magical ways and I’m banking on it to justify putting my proverbial money on Milwaukee.
So there you have it: the outline for what certainly won’t happen in the playoffs this year!