Thursday, October 2, 2014

2014 MLB ALDS/NLDS preview

By Rick Morris

NOTE: Picks were 1-1 in the wild card games.

AL, Detroit vs. Baltimore: On paper, the Tiger starting rotation has the massive advantage and the Baltimore bullpen has a similar edge.  But Baltimore has nothing to counter Detroit’s big advantage in hitting (with the Oriole injuries/suspensions), right?  Eh, not so fast.  Anytime the managerial clash is Buck Showalter vs. Brad Ausmus, taking into account their respective track records, you have to like Baltimore’s chances to find a way to win. And while the Tigers led the Os by 21 points in batting average, the deficit for Baltimore was only .3 runs per game.  Of all the star players in the game who don’t get the publicity that they should, Adam Jones may top the list.  He may not after this series.  With Oakland out of the way, strangely, the Tigers are the only team left in the AL playoffs with traditional October powerhouse pitching.  If they can survive the issues that plagued them in the last few months, they could be the favorites in the ALCS.  Pick: Baltimore in 4.

AL, Kansas City vs. Los Angeles Angels: In this matchup of the two teams who won all but two AL West titles from 1976-1986, the Royals dodge what has been the curse of the wild card game winners from 2012 forward: using up your best pitcher and thus becoming early cannon fodder in the ALDS.  The injury to Garrett Richards, who had decisively taken the turn to ace status this year, puts a big question mark on the Angels, notwithstanding their distinction as the team that could have home field all the way through the playoffs.  As such, the starting pitching is a tossup in this series with James Shields now only available once for the blue guys.  KC’s bullpen rates the slightest of edges just because they’re lethal from the 7th inning on, while the Angels become very tough in the 8th inning.  The lineups, however, are a complete mismatch, as the Mike Trout-anchored Angels comprise the game’s best offense, while the Royals have been forced to “go gritty” and “scratch them out” with their comparable pop gun.  In the 2010s, however, with the execution of complex arrangements made possible by spray charts, it’s worth noting that the Royals possess the game’s best defense and that they really force the other team to “hit ‘em where they ain’t.”  But that, and the bullpen, won’t be enough.  Pick: Los Angeles Angels in 4.

NL, St. Louis vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: These two teams, the most historically successful in National League history alongside the Giants, have had many great postseason matchups, including last year’s National League Championship Series, three other meetings in the previous decade and the legendary “Ozzie Smith Series” of 1985.  But they don’t really look the same as they did last fall.  The St. Louis offense has really fallen off, while LA’s firepower is potentially better than in 2013 with Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp’s recent resurgence.  Both bullpens look shaky.  And while the Dodgers have the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw (maybe the best player; it’s between him and fellow SoCal resident Mike Trout) and the game’s best #2 in Zack Greinke, the most likely area for the Cards to rise up is in their Adam Wainwright-led starting rotation.  Will it be enough?  Probably not without a healthy Michael Wacha.  The Dodgers looked like the better team on paper last year, but came up short against a Cardinal team that just keeps finding a way.  This year, the better team on paper will also be the better team on the field.  Pick: LA Dodgers in 4.

NL: San Francisco vs. Washington: Quite simply, the Nationals are the best-balanced team in the playoffs, with their lineup, starting pitching and bullpen each the envy of other teams, especially some of the AL squads who have holes in certain areas.  And of the four teams still standing in the Senior Circuit, the Giants most resemble those aforementioned American League teams in terms of having to overcome deficiencies.  Certainly, having burned their ace Madison Bumgarner just to get here, this series illustrates the big edge that MLB was hoping to deliver to division winners in this relatively new format.  Now, as Pittsburgh can attest, the San Francisco lineup, which has more pop than their 2010 and 2012 world championship squads, also has tremendous situational hitting – that Brandon Crawford grand slam seems fated to be the “Bucky Dent” moment in the Steel City’s consciousness.  And the Nats really stepped on their own collective Johnson two years ago in a playoff meltdown that foreshadowed their awful, underachieving 2013.  So they should be very, very wary about a series where they are the much better team on paper, because the Giants vanquished many such teams the last time that they made the playoffs in even-numbered years.  But bumping Bumgarner down to one game against this Washington rotation will be too much to ask for the team with “better intangibles” who “just knows how to win.”  Pick: Washington in 4.

ALCS: Los Angeles Angels over Baltimore in 5.
NLCS: Washington over Los Angeles Dodgers in 6.
World Series: Washington over Los Angeles Angels in 6.

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