Thoughts and Predictions for the DS #MLBplayoffs

1. Tigers vs. Orioles. These teams are mirrors of each other. Baltimore hits home runs, plays great defense, and has a stellar bullpen. Detroit has the THE STAR and the starters. This is going to be the ultimate test of postseason theories: do you need strong starting, defense, bullpen, or home runs to win?

  • Prediction: Tigers in 4. The Tigers will not win the world series with that bullpen (we’ve heard this story before), but they have more than enough to get past an Orioles team that lacks dominant starting pitchers.

2. Angels vs. Royals. The Angels have the best record and offense in baseball. The Royals bunt and steal all the time and have the best bullpen in the postseason. Will this be bedlam in KC or Mike Trout’s national coming-out-party?

  • Prediction: I want to pick the Royals so badly. I really, really do. Oh, I want to pick them. In fact, a couple of months ago when I was sketching things out, I thought they might have the best path to the World Series in the American League. That, though, was based on them winning the division, which they did not do. Furthermore, that game against the A’s revealed just how clueless Ned Yost can be. Sometimes, and it is rare, a manager can help win a series, usually they are fairly neutral, and there are some times where they are an all-out liability, and I fear that is where Yost is. Yikes. Angels in 4.

3. Dodgers vs. Cardinals. Of course they are playing each other, which means, if the Giants get through they will have to play their long-standing mortal enemies (the Dodgers, just in case you didn’t know), or the team Giants’ fans have learned to hate in recent years (the Cardinals, mostly for being the Cardinals). And even if the Giants don’t make it through it means one of these teams will play the Nationals (who we will then hate) in an absolutely awful NLCS. This is the most detestable of all possible matchups.

  • Prediction: Mattingly is horrible, the bullpen is shaky, and the non-Kershaw/Greinke starters are a major liability. Plus Puig will do something stupid at some point. Otherwise the Dodgers are basically unbeatable. The Cardinals had a surprisingly bad offensive season, some shakiness in the rotation (that seems to have been shored up), and are here mainly because the Brewers faded so badly. And yet, they are the Cardinals, the team, other than the Giants, most likely to play flawlessly in October. I won’t be the least bit surprised if the Cardinals win this series, but I’m going with the Dodgers in 5.

4. Giants vs. Nationals. The Nationals are the best team, in my opinion, top to bottom in this tournament. So, of course, the Giants get them in a short series. Awesome. That being said, the only result here that would be shocking to me is a sweep by either team. Mostly, though I just don’t see the Giants laying down. It’s going to go 5 either way. I’ll have a bigger preview tomorrow morning, but for now a couple of silver linings for the Giants: the Nationals have a lot of right-handed starting pitching. They are really good, so that part stinks, but the right-handedness plays into the hands of a lineup that is heavy lefty right now. Second silver lining: Matt Williams is a rookie manager, and only 4 times has a rookie manager won a World Series. The last one to do it, of course, was another ex-Giant, Bob Brenly, whose team won in spite of him, not because of him. Loved Matt Williams as a third baseball in the black and orange, but he might be a liability.

  • Prediction: The Nationals are too deep to go down to a Giants team lacking Angel Pagan, Michael Morse, and Matt Cain. Nationals in 5.

-SB

Game 3: Assorted Thoughts

1) Remember at the beginning of the post-season when it was absolutely obvious to everyone that Ryan Vogelsong would be left out of the rotation and go to the bullpen because he had some experience there. Every team that wins the World Series needs at least one starting pitcher who can dominate and eat innings. Cain was the obvious choice, and while he hasn’t pitched poorly, the man has been Vogelsong. Crazy.

2) Joe Sheehan points out that there just aren’t a lot of tactical decisions to be made by the managers in this World Series. The Giants simply get ahead and stay ahead. A couple of thoughts here…Bruce Bochy is the best manager I’ve seen at managing with the lead. This is not as easy as it might seem (see Baker, Dusty 2002). While there’s not a lot of second guessing to be done, I do think Leyland blew it by hitting Omar Infante 9th. Maybe that’s how they always do it against right-handers, but the dude has ownage on Vogelsong (9 for 13 after Game 3), and had been swinging well in the first two games. Quintin Berry looked overmatched all night. Thank you Jim!

3) One more thought on tactics. As I mentioned earlier this post-season the Giants have not faced a left-handed starting pitching once. The Cardinals only had one left-hander on their roster. The one big tactical question for the Giants this post-season was: what to do with a left-handed starter? Do you put Nady in left instead of Blanco? Do you use Arias at short instead of Crawford? Do you put Posey at first and catch Sanchez so that Belt sits? Do you at least try to break up the three lefties in a row at the bottom of the lineup? Bochy has never had to answer any of those questions. Think about all the big moments provided by Crawford and Blanco, with the bats, sure, but also defensively. Nady doesn’t catch those balls in left, and Arias doesn’t cover the same ground or make the turn the way Crawford does. So, thank you Reds, Cardinals, and Tigers for making this an easy decision.

4) One of the most remarkable things I’ve learned this post-season is that JT Snow had the record for most hits (22) before Pabo broke that record last night. I remember JT playing well in 2002 but I would have guessed Rich Aurilia had the record not JT.

5) I know that Tim Lincecum is going to be a starter next year (see the third section of this article). I also know that the biggest way the 2013 Giants can improve is by Tim regaining form and reclaiming the ace title. But, man, how cool is it watching him come out of the bullpen. There is a part of me that would love to see the Giants take a shot at someone to be the 5th starter, and then turn Lincecum into a good, old-fashioned bullpen ace. I think he could pitch 130-150 innings out of the ‘pen and get himself into the convo for the CY Young. Small sample size, but here’s what he’s done this post-season out of the ‘pen: 13 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 17 strikeouts. That’s a 0.69 ERA and a 0.46 WHIP. Nasty.

One more win please!

(-SB)

Game 2: 2 Rants

Rant #1

I understand that the national media hasn’t been following the Giants day in and day out all season. I know they need to sell magazines, or drive traffic to their sites, or get ratings. I get all that. But, please allow me this rant on the national media.

One of the things that bugs me most is the shock and awe at how good some of the Giants have performed. Fact: Barry Zito is not a great pitcher like Justin Verlander. But he had a good season, and it’s not completely unreasonable that he shut out a team like the Tigers (who have struggled against left-handed pitching) for five innings.

If you haven’t been paying much attention to the Giants Zito (despite the teams 11 straight wins in Zito starts heading into the post-season) sure seems like a “where did that come from story.”

I’ll give them a bit of a break on that one. But to act like Pablo Sandoval and Madison Bumgarner drank a magic elixir before the World Series started is just craziness. Pablo Sandoval is a really good hitter. It’s lazy to look at a stat sheet and go “OMG he only hit 12 home runs in the regular season.” And it’s true, he only hit 12 home runs, but he has the talent to hit 3 home runs in a game. The magic elixir story works for Brandon Crawford or Gregor Blanco. Not Pablo.

And then here’s the one that really fires me up: Madison Bumgarner is a really, really good pitcher. Driving around yesterday, listening to ESPN radio, you would have thought the Giants were starting me against the Tigers last night. It was ridiculousness to the nth degree.

It is borderline criminal that Bumgarner didn’t make the All-Star team this year. As of late July he was a legitimate CY Young contender. He did have a bad final month (he had a similarly bad start to 2010). But, the point here is he has the talent to pitch like he did last night (and better I might add).

Talented players will have great nights.

The Giants aren’t lucky because Pablo sold his soul to the devil to acquire a magic bat with home runs in it. The Giants are lucky because one of their very talented players had a great night in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Giants aren’t lucky because Madison Bumgarner was digging around in his backyard and found the holy grail of cut-fastball awesome. The Giants are lucky because their supremely talented young left-hander regained his form in Game 2 of the World Series.

So, let’s be clear: these are very talented guys, doing their best at just the right time.

Rant #2

While on the topic of luck…playoff baseball is weird. Weird stuff happens all the time. Giants fans have long suffered through earthquakes and flukey home runs and rally monkeys and Gold-Glove right fielders who drop balls at the wrong time and Cody Ransom and Benny Agbayani and Bobby Jones and Neifi Perez and on and on it goes.

If you want truth in baseball look at seasons and look at careers. If you want crazy and weird watch post-season baseball.

Sometimes Jose Cruz Jr drops a ball (bad luck) and sometimes an Ian Kinsler home run bounces off the top of the wall and lands back in play (good luck).

Giants’ fans have been on both sides.

Anyone who makes it through this far is the beneficiary of some good vibes.

But, as Michael Rosenburg points out, good teams help make their own luck.

2 examples from last night: if you watched Gregor Blanco closely last night it was obvious what he was trying to do…he was going to lay down a bunt to move the runners over but also try to turn it into a hit. His first attempt shot foul. Sometimes when you try to bunt the ball goes foul. And then sometimes it lands in the perfect spot.

So, did Blanco try to lay down the perfect bunt? No. But he was trying to get on, not just make an out and it happened to go in the exact perfect place. Tip your hat and get the next guy out.

Example 2: two Tiger at-bats demonstrate the point further. In the fourth inning Miguel Cabrera lined a ball right at Pablo Sandoval that the Panda will be feeling in his hamate-less hands well into his offseason workout regimen. Before that though, he swung through a 91 mph fastball on the outside corner. This is what Madbum does when he is right. He goes in and out and makes right-handed batters get so far out in front of pitches that they can only hit foul balls down the line. Cabrera happens to be a great hitter and was able to keep his fair but right at a fielder.

In the seventh, Omar Infante ripped two foul balls down the left-field line. Same principle: Bumgarner put them there on purpose…if the batter makes contact (especially non-Miguel Cabrera batters) the only place the ball will go is foul.

On the third pitch Bumgarner went up and away and the frustrated Infante went after it and missed. Joe Buck, on the first two pitches of the AB, seemed to suggest that the loud fouls were examples of Bumgarner running out of steam. I told Joe, as politely as I could, that this was exactly his intention. Then the strikeout.

My point is, there are some arguments today that Madbum’s success was the product of good fortune, but he made his good fortune happen through executing his pitches. Big difference.

Looking Ahead

Posey didn’t homer, but he was a huge factor in Game 2. Still expect him to have a big offensive game at some point in this series.

I also expect Games 3 and 4 to play out a lot more like Game 2. They will be close, tight games which favors the Giants and their bullpen.

(-SB)

Pre-World Series Thoughts

Here we go. It all begins tonight. Here are my thoughts on the series:

1) It’s going to be another long series. With the exception of the Tiger’s sweep of the Yanks, every post-season series (so, 5 of the 6) has gone to the max number of games. This series will end, one way or the other, in San Francisco.

2) Justin Verlander could be Cliff Lee. Verlander is by almost any measure a better pitcher than Cliff Lee. But remember back to 2010. Cliff Lee was absolutely untouchable. He was coming off an incredible 2009 run with the Phillies where he earned a reputation for post-season dominance and nearly helped the Phils repeat all by himself. He backed that up with great performances in the first two rounds of the 2010 post-season.

The Giants were at home. They were starting 2-time Cy Young Award winner, and staff ace, Tim Lincecum. And yet, the Rangers were overwhelming favorites to win game 1. But the Giants wnet out and put a hurting on Cliff Lee in the fifth inning. He left before the inning was over having allowed 7 runs (6 earned).

I’m not saying the same thing is going to happen, but again, if the Giants were going to be Cliff Lee it had to be 1-0 affair with a fluke run, not a drubbing. I think the Giants can get to Verlander in game 1. It’s on the road (for Justin). It’s seven days since he last pitched. He can be had.

3) I fully expect Madison Bumgarner to be a factor. He gets the game 2 nod and something tells me he pitches well.

4) Buster Posey needs to make an impact in this series.

5) The Tigers are doing the Giants a favor by holding Anibal Sanchez back to game 3. I’d have pitched him second if I were the Tigers.

6) These are both flawed teams. The Tigers are using the tried and true method of dominant starting pitching and power hitting. That always plays well in the post-season. But their bullpen and defense are huge weaknesses. The Giants have holes in the lineup. They have a patchwork rotation that can get the job done, but seems a far cry from two years ago. But, they have been opportunistic, relentless, and their bullpen has covered a multitude of sins. Something has to give.

7) On the topic of starting pitching: the Giants have had three strong starts in a row and had 5 strong starts in the Cardinals’ series. Going back to game 2 of the NLCS, it seems Vogelsong  started the one-upmanship that has come to define the Giants pitchers when they get on a roll. Overall the picture might not be that impressive, but they just might be in the middle of one of those runs where each guy is out to do just a little bit better than the last guy.

8) I am already worried about Andy Dirks and Omar Infante…those guys can be their Scutaro/Ross types in this series.

9) I wholeheartedly agree with Tim Lincecum being used out of the bullpen. He is a tremendous, series changing weapon in that role. If Zito and Madbum can hold their own, allowing Bochy to keep Timmy in the ‘pen then the Giants have everything they need to shut the Tiger offense down.

10) It will be a long series: Giants in 7.

(-SB)

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.
(-SB)

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.

(-SB)

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.

(-SB)