The last night of the baseball season was absolutely incredible. I have never seen a more improbable comeback than what the Rays did against the Yankees. The homerun by Dan Johnson (who had a miserable year) with 2 outs AND two strikes after having hit only one all year deserves a tear-jerking movie of its own (as long as it leaves out the part where Johnson was then left off of the post season roster). I do think the beauty of the comeback is a bit tainted since the Yankees took out all of their starters. If they cared about the game, they would have thrown David Robertson and Mariano Rivera at the end of the game. Nobody scores 7 runs in two innings off of those two. Other already clinched teams may have done the same but I also like to think that the Yankees just wanted to stick it to the Red Sox.
I also think it was hilarious how badly the Orioles wanted to beat the Red Sox in the last game. They stormed the field like they had just won the World Series. There was a definite difference in the mindset between the Orioles and Yankees during those last three games. The Ray’s schedule worked out quite nicely for them. Still, Boston should have taken care of business.
The roles were reversed in the NL as the Braves played the already clinched Phillies and the Cardinals played the last place Astros. The difference is the Phillies threw their best pitchers (even Cole Hamels pitched) and their position players stayed in the entire game. They wanted to win that game, the Yankees didn’t care about their’s. The Cardinals played an Astros team that just stinks. The ‘Stros at least tried to win their game though. It may be unfair that the Cardinals get to play the horrible Astros and Cubs more than the Braves did during the year, but it feels like the better team advanced…in both leagues. It was a wild last day (and I was dead tire the next day…stinkin’ East Coast timezone).
Anyway, I wasn’t planning on writing that much but it is too late. Here are a few quick thoughts and predictions on the first round of the playoffs.
Tigers vs. Yankees
The Yankees have an offense that would scare anyone. They have a 40 homer-guy (Curtis Granderson), a guy who has averaged 35 homers a year during his career (Mark Texeira), a guy with 629 career bombs (A-Rod), this year’s home-run derby winner (Robinson Cano), 3 others who have hit at least 30 round trippers in a year (Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Andruw Jones), a guy with 3,000 hits (Jeter), and an All-Star catcher (Russel Martin). Yet few people feel like these Bronx Bombers are going to be the champs because of their pitching.
CC Sabathia has been hit or miss for much of this year (especially the latter part). If he doesn’t bring his best, the Yanks could be in trouble. Ivan Nova (Game 2 starter) has an impressive record, but his other stats aren’t that great and he is only a rookie. Freddie Garcia (Game 3 starter) doesn’t scare anyone. The bullpen is solid but the Yankees don’t have anything that resembles a World Series pitching staff. Especially since their ace is going against the probable AL Cy Young winner (Justin Verlander)
The Tigers have one superstar (Miguel Cabrera), one solid All-Star (Victor Martinez), an up and coming star (Alex Avila), and a bunch of solid contributers who complement each other well. The offense isn’t spectacular, but they have their moments. The Tigers also seem like a team that is full of those unspectacular players who shine during the post season (like Cody Ross last year). They will need to play very well to be successful in October. They definitely have the weaker offense in this series.
The Tigers can throw Verlander twice and Max Scherzer has the potential to shut down any lineup despite his eradic season. The bullpen is also very good (especially lately). I would not want to face the Tigers in a 5 game series.
Verdict: If this were a 7 game series, I would probably pick the Yankees, but I am going with the Tigers in 5.
Rays vs. Rangers
The Rangers have been very consistent this year despite suffering through a lot of injuries on the offense. Like the Yankees, this offense is scary good. Unlike the Yankees, most of the guys who are scary good are in their prime. They don’t have a single easy out in their lineup and they are full of guys who would scare the heck out of you with runners on base. I personally wouldn’t want to see Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, or Mike Napoli (owner of what has to be the quietest .320/30 homer season in history). They are all healthy right now too.
The pitching reminds me a little too much of the Yankees. C.J Wilson is turning into an ace (but still a below a Sabathia level) while the rest of the starters (Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Colby Lewis) are solid (better than the rest of the Yankee starters) but not great. The success of the Rangers will definitely rest on their shoulders. The bullpen is much improved after their trade deadline moves but can this staff shut down an elite lineup? Cliff Lee will be sorely missed, but these guys can still be successful.
The Rays meanwhile have probably all had one of the best weeks of their lives. They have that “never say never” aura and they have been playing playoff-like games for a month. The pressure shouldn’t rattle this young group. However, they still don’t have the talent on offense to be successful. They are similar to the Tigers in that they have one superstar in Evan Longoria and a couple of talented players in BJ Upton and Ben Zobrist among others. However, they have too many easy outs at the bottom of the lineup and they only have two regulars who batted over .270 this season. They can string together a couple of solid games, but it will be difficult against October pitching. This won’t be those 8th inning Yankees.
The pitching may be able to save the Rays but the starters and bullpen have had to work so hard just to get into the playoffs. The Game 1 starter is Matt Moore (he of the 9 career major league innings) followed by James Shields (stud), Jeremy Hellickson (upcoming stud), and David Price (who I think is a little overrated at this point in his career). The fact that they were unable to set their rotation may work out to be an advantage. Moore is actually intriguing because he has electric stuff and the Rangers don’t have much of a scouting report to work with. He could be sneaky good. The other three will have dodged CJ Wilson and will be the better starters in each matchup. I may have just changed my mind after writing this paragraph… Anyway, the bullpen is the least reliable unit but they may be good enough. It’s obvious Joe Maddon trusts those guys.
Verdict: I still have to go with the Rangers. Their offense is too strong to be shut down by the Rays. Rangers in 4.