Saturday, October 6, 2012

2012 MLB Division Series preview

By Rick Morris
NOTE: Wild card picks were 0-2 (!).
Detroit vs. Oakland: This series, a rematch of the 1972 and 2006 ALCS, is remarkable not for the presence of the Tigers – favored by a great many pundits, including this corner, to win the American League Central – but for the presence of the As.  I’ll be honest, I had this exceedingly young team pegged for well over 100+ losses.  Nobody this young should be able to go on this kind of a tear.  They’re an even more extreme version of the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks, who likewise shocked me during their run.  Maybe that should be a cautionary note to Billy Beane & Company – Arizona hasn’t made a similar run since – but this run has been truly magical, even including a historic catch-from-behind on Texas.  And yet, for all of their legitimate underdog credentials, their lineup has about the same number of holes as Detroit’s – notwithstanding Detroit’s All-World combo of Prince Fielder and Mr. Triple Crown, Miguel Cabrera.  And their bullpen is a shade better than Detroit’s.  Now, the Tigers rotation is superior because of the presence of arguably the best pitcher in the world, Justin Verlander, but after that, the starters are again, fairly comparable.  Detroit’s inability to outpace this overachieving team by much shouldn’t be very surprising, as they’re in the postseason merely by dint of having won baseball’s weakest division.  But, with the first two games in their own ballpark (making a mockery of “home field” for the team with the better record for Division Series clubs) and the strong likelihood that Verlander gets it done in his own yard, that tiny edge should be enough.  Detroit in 4.
Baltimore vs. New York Yankees: Like his counterpart Davey Johnson in the Beltway area, Buck Showalter is proving how stupid the teams were that passed him over for managerial positions over the years.  It’s a joke to consider that either man has not been continuously regarded as one of the 30 men deserving of a managerial slot when each has proven to be among the top minds of the last generation.  Regardless of whatever else Showalter accomplishes, this season will go down as his Mona Lisa, as he elevated a squad largely made up of journeymen into a playoff squad that shocked the world by getting to October, then by taking out the far-superior-on-paper Texas Rangers.  It’s worth remembering also that this Yankee playoff era did not begin with Joe Torre at the helm when they won the World Series in 1996, but rather with Showalter on the bench in the 1995 Division Series against Seattle.  Revenge won’t play a part in this series, but familiarity between these divisional rivals will.  Baltimore played the Yankees incredibly fiercely all the way through the season, bringing back memories of their late 1990s rivalry (will Jeffrey Maier be throwing out the first pitch at a game in the Bronx?) and their battles for supremacy in the late 1970s.  Despite the presence of young megastar Adam Jones and career-year slugger Chris Davis, the Os are vastly outmatched at the plate by the Bombers and they don’t fare well in the starting pitching comparison either, although the gap between the teams narrows dramatically once you get past CC Sabathia.  The Orioles do have a superior bullpen, however, and when you combine that with the fact that this year’s screwy setup gives the Yankees home field “advantage” with the first two in Camden Yards … well, it’s actually more impossible to believe at this point that the Orioles will go quietly than it is to see them pulling another shocker.  Yankees fans will age 20 years in the course of this one, but with CC on the hill for a dramatics Game 5 at home, they should see their team prevail.  New York Yankees in 5.
San Francisco vs. Cincinnati: The Giants are back in the postseason for the first time since their whirlwind World Series run of 2010.  As was the case then, their starting pitching is superb (borderline absolutely great if Tim Lincecum continues to show signs of his old self) and their starting lineup, by playoff standards, is crummy.  Their bullpen has performed well collectively in the absence of their leader, Brian Wilson.  Across the diamond, they face a more well-rounded foe in the Reds, with their strong lineup, decent rotation topped by Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto and excellent bullpen.  My bias is always towards balance and that makes the choice fairly obvious.  Cincinnati in 4.
St. Louis vs. Washington: This series poses a real conundrum, in that Washington is deeper in most areas (even the starting rotation without Stephen Strasburg).  And yet, this is their first time to the dance since the team relocated years ago and the Cardinals proved again in the wild card game what they demonstrated last year en route to their surprising World Series run, that they are almost impossible to put away.  Despite the amazing young talent of the Nationals, they need a sage hand at the till to get the most out of their abilities.  Fortunately, the man who similarly molded the 1986 Mets en route to their championship is sitting on their bench.  Plus, Davey Johnson will be staring down a first-time playoff manager in Mike Matheny.  While Washington may yet rue shutting down Strasburg, it won’t be this soon.  Washington in 5.
Detroit over New York Yankees in 6
Washington over Cincinnati in 6
Washington over New York Yankees in 6

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