Playoff Thoughts…

So, that squirrel thing was kind of funny. Other than that, despite the three game 5’s, I am not finding these playoffs to be super enjoyable thus far. Last October was so awesome, such an experience, and this year just can’t match that.

Some thoughts:

  • While there is a lot of evidence that pitching was better overall in 2011 than 2010 the post-season is not supporting that. Verducci writes about it here, but that would have been my top observation anyway. Again, it highlights the tragedy of Posey: I really think the Giants could have run this table if they had made it back.
  • Not surprised to see the Yankees go down to Detroit in a short series. I don’t think Detroit has enough to get past the Rangers, but in 5 games with Verlander and Cabrera and company, Detroit had plenty of weapons to deal with a Yankees team that had a nice regular season, but was always way too thin to inspire tons of confidence.
  • For a second there I believed that Tampa might be on the verge of something magical, but that was quickly erased by three nice, efficient games from the Rangers. There’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind seeing them win it all. Feels vindicating in some way for Giants’ fans. My ALCS prediction: Rangers over the Tigers in 6.
  • Tonight’s games: Still think the Phillies pull this out. They’ve been exposed by the Cardinals a lot more than I expected, but they should get out of this and on to the next round (and the World Series for that matter). Phillies over Cards 4-2. The other series continues to be a total coin flip in my opinion. I guess I’ll go with the Brewers since they are at home and that seems to really matter in this matchup. Brewers over D-Backs 5-4.
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Playoffs and Pitching

We’ve established the importance of pitching to winning championships on this site this year. So, with that in mind let’s look at the pitching performances of the 8 playoff teams and see if that lends any insight into what might happen in October.

American League:

1) New York Yankees: 2010 7.2, 4.06, 1.31, 106 2011: 7.5, 3.71, 1.32, 120 Somehow the Yankees have the best pitching staff in the AL (based on ERA+). I still don’t really buy it. I do not think they have the depth of starting pitching to make it all the way through (which may just mean they lose to the Phillies in the World Series), but the numbers wouldn’t make it a surprise. Sorry Detroit, the Yankees make it out of round 1.

2) Texas Rangers: 2010 7.3, 3.93, 1.31, 114 2011: 7.4, 3.81, 1.24, 118 The Rangers improved nicely this year even without Cliff Lee and I had them going head to head with the Yankees in an all out 7 game brawl in the ALCS until the Rays pulled off their miracle last night. Now, I’m not so sure.

3) Detroit Tigers: 2010 6.6, 4.30, 1.37, 97 2011: 7.0, 4.04, 1.32, 102 Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now (my apologies to my boy Timmy). But, in this day and age a team needs more than one stud to make it through the three rounds of the playoffs. I think they could pull off an upset in the short first round, but I still think the Yankees prevail.

4) Tampa Bay Rays: 2010 7.4, 3.78, 1.26, 103 2011: 7.1, 3.58, 1.22, 105 The Rays have created a love/hate situation for me. Love that they proved me right in making the playoffs, hate that they knocked the Sox out and that they have now really messed up the playoff picture. They have the kind of staff that can make a deep playoff run. My main argument against them though is that they have not had the ability to line up their rotation for the short opening series. I’m going to reluctantly pick the Rangers, but I’m rooting for the Rays and will not be surprised at all if they move on.

National League

1) Philadelphia Phillies: 2010 7.3, 3.67, 1.25, 111 2011 7.9, 3.03, 1.17, 128 No team in recent memory has so perfectly followed the model I’ve been touting this year as the 2011 Phillies. The addition (Lee) and emergence (Worley and Madson) of excellent arms has the Phillies poised for a deep run. As long as Halladay doesn’t pull a groin throwing a first round no-hitter this team is going to the World Series and anything less would be one of the great baseball upsets of all time.

2) Milwaukee Brewers: 2010 7.9, 4.58, 1.44, 88 2011 7.9, 3.65, 1.24, 107 The Brewers also masterfully followed the pattern by adding pitching and have seized the moment presented to them this year (likely the last with Prince Fielder). Timing, however, is everything and I am not sure they will even make it out of the first round, let alone take down the mighty Phillies. Before St. Louis overtook the collapsing Braves, it was a no brainer the Brewers would take out Atlanta. Now, they are in the most intriguing first round match up with…

3) Arizona Diamondbacks: 2010 6.7, 4.81, 1.43, 89 2011 6.6, 3.78, 1.29, 105 Arizona’s improved bullpen has gotten a lot of press, but the emergence of Ian Kennedy and Josh Collmenter, and a full season of Daniel Hudson have been just as, if not more, important. In fact, they are so improved I can actually see them beating Milwaukee and giving Philadelphia a huge test. So, for now I am saying D-Backs in 5.

4) St. Louis Cardinals: 2010 6.8, 3.57, 1.30, 109 2011 6.7, 3.81, 1.31, 96 So, the Cardinals have defied the pattern before (see 2006), but that team didn’t have to face the 2011 Phillies in the first round. Sorry, Cards, fun story, but time to get on with re-signing Pujols.

By the numbers I see the Phillies taking the title by beating the Yankees in 6. However, the romantic side of me will say this: don’t be shocked if the Rays and Phils meet in a replay of 2008, only this time the little team from Tampa takes it all.

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Contenders vs Pretenders, Pt. II

Let’s continue what we started yesterday by looking at the rest of the contending teams.

AL EAST

  • 2010 Red Sox: 7.5 K/9, 4.20 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2011 Red Sox: 7.1, 3.98, 103, 1.27
  • 2010 Rays: 7.4, 3.78, 103, 1.26
  • 2011 Rays: 6.6, 3.61, 100, 1.21

Here’s where ERA+ is such a useful stat. It might appear that both of these teams are pitching better in 2011 than in 2010, but in reality they are just benefiting from a depressed run scoring environment. Runs are down throughout baseball and both of these teams, especially the 2011 Rays, are the definition of league average, despite a lower ERA and WHIP. Relative to the rest of baseball they have seen no improvement. As much as I like both of these teams, this analysis does not bode well for their Championship hopes.

AL CENTRAL

  • 2010 Indians: 6.1 K/9, 4.30 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.43 WHIP
  • 2011 Indians: 6.3, 3.97, 97, 1.30
  • 2010 Tigers: 6.6, 4.30, 96, 1.37
  • 2011 Tigers: 6.9, 4.30, 89, 1.38
  • 2010 White Sox: 7.1, 4.09, 105, 1.36
  • 2011 White Sox: 7.0, 3.83, 105, 1.28
  • 2010 Twins: 6.5, 3.95, 107, 1.29
  • 2011 Twins: 6.0, 4.24, 95, 1.36

Only the Indians have seen improvement in this division. Everyone else is down or standing pat. Again, ERA+ is helpful in showing how, relative to the rest of baseball, none of these teams is particularly impressive. The White Sox are the only above average staff in the division. Most surprising, to me at least, is how bad the Tigers are. Verlander is having a season for the ages and they still are one of the worst six pitching staffs in all of baseball. It would behoove them to go get a top of the line starter as rumored here. This division could be decided by one big trade.

AL WEST

  • 2009 Rangers: 6.4 K/9, 4.38 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP
  • 2010 Rangers: 7.3, 3.93, 112, 1.31
  • 2011 Rangers: 7.0, 3.84, 109, 1.28

First of all, what is incredible about this division is that two of the ten best teams, in terms of pitching, are here (the A’s and the Mariners) and yet, for the most part, they are not in any kind of contention. That’s amazing since the Angels and Rangers are not exactly the Red Sox and Yankees. Second, I included 2009 because the Rangers made it to the World Series last year and I wanted to check out their trajectory. For a team that has a reputation for being great offensively and suspect in terms of pitching they’ve been throwing quite for three years now. They were obviously helped by the addition of Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson, and Cliff Lee in 2010 but they have not suffered as badly as I, or others, would have thought this year. Nonetheless, not the kind of jump that befits a Championship profile.

Bottom line for the AL: The Yankees and Angels are the two teams that have shown the most improvement with their pitching. This is interesting to me because my gut doesn’t agree with this analysis, still thinking the Red Sox (and even the Rays or Rangers) are better suited to come out of the AL. Again, some of this will change with trades, slumps, and hot streaks, but right now I would have to say the Yankees are the AL favorite to go to the World Series with the Angels not far behind them.

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Forecasting the Future (or something like that)

The All-Star game helped to highlight the one truth that we know from 2011. The National League has some good pitchers. Sure, the AL had 4-5 great arms unavailable for various reasons, but so did the NL. Pitching has been the story of the season all around, but I am still amazed at how deep the NL is with pitchers. Soon I’ll have a post up regarding how my pitching ideas factor in the pennant races, but for now here is my gut level feel about the rest of the season:

AL EAST

I’ve been touting the Rays all year and by all appearances they are done but shouldn’t have what it takes to finish in the top 2 in a strong division. Disagree. Still think the Rays have a better shot than the Yankees over the full schedule. Red Sox and Rays as division winner and wild carder, respectively.

AL CENTRAL

So, I picked the Twins at the beginning of the season, then the White Sox, and it makes a ton of sense to choose the Tigers at this point (all the while the Indians remain very much in the hunt and they are the team I’d love to see win it, but I still don’t believe). I might be back in on the Twins, though. 6.5 out. The next two weeks are super important for them. If they tank, they’ll trade some guys and regroup for next year. If they get close to .500 look out, it may be another Minnesota Miracle. I’m going to go out on a very precarious limb and say I’m on the Twins bandwagon. They just might get healthy and hot and take this thing after all.

AL WEST

A minor subplot here is a bet I’ve had since opening day with my friend Kevin. If the Angels win more games than the A’s he gets to write a guest post telling the world what an idiot I am. Right now he’s got to be feeling pretty comfortable. He might even be on his third or fourth draft. The Angels aren’t terrible and I need to look at the pitching numbers to confirm some suspicions I have that they may end up winning this division. Today, though, I’m predicting a slide by Weaver and Haren and the Rangers hold on to win the west again.

NL EAST

Told you the Braves were pretty good right! A lot has gone wrong with the offense and a ton has gone right with the pitching. (This might be blasphemy on a Giants blog, but pitcher for pitcher is there a better staff top to bottom than the Braves? The Phillies have a slight advantage in a couple of statistical areas but that’s a top-heavy staff…I think it’s a good debate: Giants vs. Braves for deepest/strongest staff in all of baseball). Nice work by the Mets and Nationals to be at .500 and the Marlins are coming back a bit after being punished for the sins of Scott Cousins. Best division in baseball? Yes. Phillies win, Braves take the Wild Card easily and have the second best record in the NL.

NL CENTRAL

Here’s a good one. The fourth place Reds are only 4 games out. Anything can happen here and this is the division that might be the most affected by a trade. (Nice job by the Brewers getting K-Rod. He’s a nut job but I think he’ll behave himself, prove he can be a good citizen, and pitch great as a set up man in order to get a big contract this offseason). I don’t think the Brew Crew can pull off much more in the trade market, so we’ll have to see what the other teams do in response. None of these teams have three starters like Grienke, Marcum, and Gallardo and so I still believe Milwaukee is the team to beat in this four horse race. 

NL WEST

Giants win the west, simple as that. More importantly, despite all the rumoring and posturing over the last few days, I don’t think the Giants get Beltran and if they do make a move it will be a minor move (or moves). Even if I’m wrong and they do get Beltran, the fact remains: the Giants need improved production up and down the lineup, especially out of the leadoff spot and at SS, 2B, and C. Carlos Beltran solves none of those problems, so ultimately, big trade or not, the G-men must look internally to get some kind of sustainable offense going.

More to come in the near future as I examine which teams fit the pitching model for a run at the World Series.

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Third Time Is {Probably} The Charm

June updates to predictions? DONE! Nick Waltz style…

AL East:

I thought all along that the tales of the Red Sox demise was foolish at best, and now I look like a freaking genius. Sox are still my pick for the AL East but I’m changing my Wild Card pick to the Rays. A few reasons: They’ve played out of their minds since Manny left town, and the reworked bullpen ACTUALLY IS WORKING! Their biggest strength last year became their biggest weakness and now it’s a strength all over again. By the way, look at this lineup: Sam Fuld? Johnny Damon? Kyle Farnsworth as your closer? You’ve got to be kidding me, but it’s WORKING. Amazing. Plus I hate the Yankees.

AL Central:

So the Twins are done and the White Sox are looking like it? Amazing. Nothing in the American League Central makes sense this season. I want to stick with the Indians winning the Central (Which was my new pick after picking the White Sox at the beginning of the season), but I have to agree with the great and wise Josh Stover: Tigers look good, and I honestly think they are underperforming right now. Plus there is no way a team could look like one of the 3 worst teams going into the season and ending up being one of the top 3 teams right? Right?

AL West:

So a funny thing happened while no one was looking: The Mariners are 1.5 games back of Texas, and this is happening with Ichiro apparently forgetting he’s one of the greatest hitters ever to play baseball. Amazing. However I’m picking the Rangers to win the division this year. Oakland is looking like they are about to fall down hill fast, and the Los Anaheim Angels of Anaheim have no offense. especially with Morales gone for the whole season yet again. The M’s have no one hitting for them either, which means the Rangers, who were in good shape offensively already before Beltre started  killing it for them this season, will only be better has Hamilton comes back to form, plus you’re looking at a very good rotation still.

NL East:

So the Phillies are still the team to beat, or rather their rotation is, and so they stay my pick for the NL East champs, but what the heck is going on with Florida? They’re making me doubt picking the Braves to win the Wild Card, until I noticed that Josh Johnson is now on the DL and that’ll affect them a LOT. Braves still win the WC but they have some middle relief issues that needs solving, and Dan Uggla needs to stop doing his best impression of Carlos Pena and start getting on base.

NL Central:

The Brewers continue to impress me each time I watch them play. Rickie Weeks is crazy good and Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have put together incredible offensive season almost completely under the radar, which makes no sense to me at all. Jonathan Lucroy is the hottest young catcher in baseball and Shaun Marcum is showing how good he really is, all this while Zach Greinke isn’t pitching at his peak yet. Brewers still for the win.

NL West:

What in the world? Arizona is in first? This league is crazy. Losing Posey is a huge blow, but the Rockies took a bigger one with De La Rosa out for the year, so instead of a Giants/Rockies chase, it’s not a Giants/Diamondbacks chase. Will Arizona continue to perform this well? Who the heck knows, but I do know that I’d take the Giants pitching over theirs, (and that includes the bullpen) 100 times out of 100, and there is NO WAY the Giants continue to hit so poorly. Hopefully Huff’s 3 HR night breaks him out and when Pablo comes back, watch out. Giants still win this one.

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Prediction Reboot: June Edition

June 1st means that we are effectively one-third of the way through the season. The old adage is that a team spends the first third of the season figuring out its identity and needs, the second third getting what it needs to fill the holes, and the final third making a run at the playoffs. If that is true then the next two months will be defined by the moves teams make to help with the final push. Each division remains close with multiple teams in contention…this is shaping up to be a fascinating season. Here’s another prediction reboot as I evaluate my pre-season picks and give my take on each division:

AL East

Order has been restored in the East and as improved as the Orioles are and as fun as the Blue Jays have been, this is and will continue to be a three-horse race between the Sox, the Yanks, and the Rays. The interesting thing about this division is that the Red Sox and Yankees are virtually identical: good offenses, star-studded line ups, veterans who are underproducing, and big questions marks in the back half of the rotations. The Rays are the opposite…they are the AL version of the Giants: pitching, pitching, pitching, and hope for some runs. Still going with my original predictions: Red Sox take the division and the Rays win the Wild Card.

AL Central 

I continue to admit that picking the Twins was one of the worst predictions I have ever made! That said, this division presents a conundrum to many around baseball. Are the Indians for real? They seem to be playing above their heads, especially in the pitching department, and the gap has closed between them and the rest of the division recently. Detroit continues to be the primary adversary to date, and the Twins and Royals are essentially done. That leaves Chicago. They appear to have righted the bullpen issues that plagued them early and I have to believe that their offense will heat up as the weather continues to warm. My money is still on Chicago to get hot and take this division, but I have little confidence in any prediction I can make about the AL Central.

AL West 

The AL West is extremely close and incredibly mediocre. Each team has 27, 28, or 29 wins. First and last are separated by 2 wins (2.5 games). The big surprise has been the Mariners who could be in first place by tonight if things go right. As impossible as it might seem, given their atrocious offense, they might be able to stay in this slowest of  races. The Western divisions are probably the two that will be most affected by mid-season trades. Whoever makes the best moves here will probably prevail. Last year it took 90 wins to take this division, right now the winner is on pace for 87. That’s not great. My thoughts: I have the most confidence in the Rangers to pull off a difference making move, but I am not ready to change my original pick. The A’s will make a move too, and they will also see their starters go on a crazy run and win 15 of 17 at some point this summer to separate themselves from the pack. Oakland prevails.

NL East

One of the best stories of the year has to be the Marlins. They were my NL Sleeper pick back in January and they are making me proud! That said, I still can’t help but think the Braves will overtake them. And now with the news about Hanley Ramirez and his bad back, I feel even more strongly that the Marlins will fade. It will be close though. The Braves squeak by for the Wild Card and the Phillies ride their four horsemen to the division title.

NL Central 

I have to admit that I am starting to believe in the Cardinals. However, not much has changed here as far as my opinion about this division. Still think the Brewers are the team to beat, still think the Reds are/were overrated, still think the Cubs and Pirates are actually close to contending and could be annoying down the stretch. The Cardinals though are really going to make this interesting. Their offense is great as much because of the Allen Craigs and David Freeses and Ryan Theriots even though much credit  goes to the big three of Berkman and Holliday and Pujols (who WILL break out soon). If they make a significant pitching move, it could be enough to make the playoffs. I don’t think Milwaukee can make a big move (ala Jose Reyes) because they lack the prospects (after their two big offseason trades). They will have to do this with what they have. That could be the difference. Nonetheless, I still stay the Brewers take the Central.

NL West

So, the Rockies lose their best pitcher for the season and everyone concedes the division to the Giants. The next day the Giants lose their best player for the season and meanwhile no one really notices that, hey, the Diamondbacks are winning the division! The loss of De la Rosa and Posey means the West is wild and wide open. However, it is pretty safe to say that the Padres and Dodgers aren’t going to join the party. The Rockies are in danger in burying themselves, but even down an important arm I think they are too talented to go away and die. The Diamondbacks are good, young, and talented, but their pitching is a far cry from what the Giants have. I expect the Giants to make significant move and I hope it involves Eric Surkamp and Thomas Neal, not Zack Wheeler or Brandon Belt, and I think that move will be helpful. But at the end of the day, no one in the West pitches like the Giants. It might only take 88-91 wins to take this division and I think the Giants can manage that even sans Buster. Sticking with my boys: Giants win the West.

As you can tell, not much has changed in my opinion here in the last month. Still a long way to go and as we head into trade season much will be illuminated. As it was last year there are a lot of good teams, but no GREAT team and so anything seems possible. It’s going to be a crazy summer!

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Nick’s Prediction Reboot

(note: nick’s article was submitted on may 6th, before the completion of the Giants-Rockies series).

AL EAST

Well the Red Sox certainly blew up my prediction for a dominant run at the AL title. That being said I still see them recovering nicely and being in the playoff hunt for the rest of the season. I still think I’m sticking with them for the title since the Yankees seem to be falling apart. As for the Rays, they’ve sold me after a really rough start. That, in addition to the terrible Central and West mean I’m picking them as my new AL Wild Card winners.

AL CENTRAL

I still think the Royals are a few years away, but good lord do the White Sox suck right now. No hitting, no pitching, no nothing. I have no clue what the Tigers really are and I don’t know if I can trust the Twins with Morneau and Mauer out so much. Looking at the Indians I think they’re the real deal, or at least real enough to win the Central.

AL WEST

Not sold on the A’s anymore and I’m changing my pick to the Rangers. Losing Feliz and Hamilton didn’t help, but Neftali is coming back and when Josh returns the offense will continue to swing large. The A’s could make a run and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but it’ll be down to those two teams as the Angels don’t seem to have the pieces necessary to win and the M’s are the M’s.

NL EAST

I don’t buy the Marlins at all. I know everyone says that and then they go win a World Series, but I don’t see that pitching and offense outlasting the Phillies or the Braves. That being said I still have the Phillies winning the division but after watching Atlanta this past few weeks, It’s going to be a LOT closer than I thought, close enough that I think the Braves will take the Wild Card in the NL.

NL CENTRAL 

I know St. Louis is playing really well, but honestly I still see this as the Brewers’ division to lose. I’m not picking them to win the NL anymore, but this division should still be there with good pitching and REALLY good hitting.

NL WEST

I just don’t know what to make of the Giants. They look SO bad some times, but they have had no Torres, Pablo, Zito, Wilson, Ross or Casilla and a bad hitting Belt for some or most of the season, and they’re still within a stones throw from the Rockies. The Rockies, on the other hand, are REALLY good. I’m sticking with the Giants out of plain homerism but I wouldn’t be betting against Colorado to win the division at this point.

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