Friday, October 5, 2012

AL Playoff Preview

While the National League had no drama whatsoever over the past couple of weeks, the American League had plenty, what with the White Sox and Rangers collapsing down the stretch, allowing the Tigers and A's to win their respective divisions and sending the Sox home and the Rangers, ostensibly the most talented team in the league, to the one-game playoff against that team of destiny, Baltimore.

LF   Nate McLouth
SS   J.J. Hardy
CF   Adam Jones
C     Matt Wieters
RF   Chris Davis
1B   Mark Reynolds
DH  Jim Thome
3B   Manny Machado
2B   Robert Andino
P     Joe Saunders (followed by Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman)

2B   Ian Kinsler
SS   Elvis Andrus
CF   Josh Hamilton
DH  Adrian Beltre
RF   Nelson Cruz
3B   Michael Young
LF   David Murphy
1B   Mike Napoli
C     Geovany Soto
P     Yu Darvish (followed by Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Ryan Dempster)

Although it obviously sucks that the Rangers have to play in this game, they are helped out a little by the fact that the Orioles are pitching the left-handed Saunders against their righty-heavy lineup (only Hamilton and Murphy hit from the left).  And that lineup is deep and dangerous, with only the continued inclusion of Young as a weak spot.  The Rangers' other prevalent weak spot is their manager, Ron Washington, at least in a winner-takes-all situation like this.  Besides the fact that Young will likely be playing third base due to Beltre's hurt shoulder (and he is no better with a glove than he is with a bat these days), Washington has demonstrated in the past that in-game tactics are not exactly his strong suit.  Which is something that you definitely can't say about his counterpart, Buck Showalter.  I would be less than surprised to see Showalter load up on bullpen arms and use an "all hands on deck" strategy early on, since the rosters reset after this game.  Even though Texas clearly has the superior team, they have been flailing of late, and this Orioles outfit is playing with house money.  In a close game, I like Showalter to manage rings around Washington and get the most out of his limited roster.  That means that they will then draw the...

SS   Derek Jeter
RF   Ichiro Suzuki
3B   Alex Rodriguez
1B   Mark Teixeira
2B   Robinson Cano
DH  Nick Swisher
CF   Curtis Granderson
C     Russell Martin
LF   Brett Gardner
P     C.C. Sabathia (followed by Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda)

The Yankees eked out a division title over Baltimore in no small part because they got to face a minor league Boston roster for their final series of the year.  Regardless, there is still plenty of talent on this roster, even if most of it is old.  Jeter is enjoying a third renaissance this season, and in any year that didn't have a Triple Crown winner and a historic season from Mike Trout, Cano would be a serious MVP candidate.  Ichiro has also found the fountain of youth since coming from Seattle in a trade, and there is power from (a depleted) A-Rod through Martin.  Sabathia, of course, is not exactly the worse option to take the ball first and get the Yankees off to a good start.  But there are question marks: the homer-happy offense has not distinguished itself at any other skill, and their defense apart from Cano and Gardner is uninspiring.  Additionally, none of the pitchers, including Sabathia, have been in any way dominant, and of course they are missing the greatest postseason reliever of all time this year.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Orioles' magic keeps on rolling through a four-game win against their division rivals.

CF   Austin Jackson
RF   Brennan Boesch
3B   Miguel Cabrera
1B   Prince Fielder
DH  Delmon Young
LF   Andy Dirks
SS   Jhonny Peralta
C     Alex Avila
2B   Omar Infante
P     Justin Verlander (followed by Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer)

CF   Coco Crisp
SS   Stephen Drew
LF   Yoenis Cespedes
1B   Chris Carter
RF   Josh Reddick
3B   Josh Donaldson
DH  Seth Smith
C     Derek Norris
2B   Cliff Pennington
P     Tommy Milone (followed by Dan Straily, Jarrod Parker, and A.J. Griffin)

Will Oakland's all-rookie rotation wilt on the big stage?  Whoever leads off the series will have to go against Verlander, the best pitcher in baseball, whilst also facing Cabrera, perhaps the best hitter in baseball.  Oakland's biggest misfortune is that they struck out more often than any team in the American League, led by Reddick with 152, because the Tigers reward teams that put the ball in play.  Only Jackson and Infante can be credibly called good defenders (Jackson is excellent), and if Young puts on a glove it gets even worse.  So the Tigers catch a break there.  But their rotation has lots of questions after Verlander, particularly with the health of Scherzer, who is their second-best pitcher but is dealing with two separate injuries at the moment.  Oakland can slug it out with the Tigers for a couple of games, but however things break, they're probably going to have to face Verlander twice, and in that case the advantage shifts decidedly to Detroit.  Enjoy your playoff baseball!