The National League playoffs got underway last night and the junior circuit gets going tonight. Here are my picks to advance to the respective league championship series.
Tampa Bay vs Boston – What more can you say about the Rays? They win a must-win game in Toronto, then travel to Texas to win a tie-breaker only to fly north again to play Cleveland where the Indians were on a 10-game winning streak. Now they had back to familiar territory where the Red Sox and their top-hitting ball club await.
Boston defeated Tampa Bay 12 of the 19 times they played this season and while I think the Rays have tremendous momentum going forward I think the Red Sox have a major advantage when it comes to both hitting and the bullpen where closer Koji Uehara has been rock solid. Tampa will need to get early runs and the starting pitching needs to go deep each game in order for the Rays to have a shot. I like Boston in four games.
Detroit vs Oakland – The Tigers and Athletics finished second and their respectively in batting in the American League this season so we can somewhat call hitting a ‘push’ in this series. In pitching, Oakland and Detroit finished second and third respectively so we can call that a push as well.
I think basically what we can flat-out say is that this has the potential to be the best of the four series. Tigers’ manager made the right call in starting Max Scherzer in game one over Justin Verlander. Scherzer has had an extremely special year while Verlander has been very average and will start in game two.
Veteran Bartolo Colon takes the hill for Oakland in game one so I expect a very tight game to open this series. The difference will be two things; Miguel Cabrera is not 100% and the Oakland bullpen is tremendous. Take the A’s in five games.
Pittsburgh vs St. Louis – Despite winning the series 10-9, most people thing the Pirates just don’t have the horses to get past the Cardinals in this series. What we know is that both teams have very good pitching both in the rotation and in the bullpen but St. Louis has a sizeable advantage when it comes to hitting.
The Cards rank first in hitting in the NL while the Bucs are ninth. Andrew McCutchen can be a dominant force for Pittsburgh but he needs help. Former Twin Justin Morneau has yet to get hot offensively and he is more than due. St. Louis will just keep doing what they do and that means catcher Yadier Molina will need to continue his fantastic season.
The story in Pittsburgh this year has been nothing short of amazing and the fans deserve it but I just think the Cards will have a little more offense and that will be the difference. Take St. Louis in 5.
Atlanta vs Los Angeles – If the other series offers good pitching in the National League then this one offers top-notch pitching. Atlanta and LA rank 1-2 in the NL in this department. The Braves have done it despite injuries to Tim Hudson and lingering issues with Paul Maholm. Atlanta won the season series 5-2 but the last time they played was early June and a lot has happened since then.
Despite that advantage, Atlanta stumbled to the finish line and has several guys struggling at the plate. The Dodgers were extremely close earlier this season to firing Don Mattingly but they stuck with him and he produced a tremendous surge that captured the division. The Braves have home-field advantage but I like the Dodgers to win in four games.