My Thoughts on the Major League Baseball Playoffs

Harper

Harper

Bryce Harper is a key cog in the Nationals' machine.

I remember a time when the Fall Classic actually meant that it would be played in October. Actually, it’s now played in November because hey, the baseball season isn’t long enough already is it?

In fact I think a week after Thanksgiving don’t pitchers and catchers report?

OK, I won’t go there right now because this is a time to be celebrating baseball rather than ripping on it so let’s get to my thoughts on who will do what in the 2014 MLB Playoffs.

American League

Detroit vs. Baltimore.

The Tigers won five of six from the East Division champs but they haven’t seen each other since May. A lot has changed since then for both teams while some things have stayed the same. Postseason baseball is about pitching and timely hitting.

Detroit can handle both of those things with one exception; their bullpen. Brad Ausmus has his hands full in trying to juggle the bullpen because closer Joe Nathan has been a train wreck all season. The good news is that Justin Verlander is heating up and the rest of the playoff rotation is good.

Have to give the managerial advantage to Baltimore’s Buck Showalter who will not make knee-jerk decisions while Ausmus is a bit new at this playoff stuff.

Prediction: Tigers in 4

Royals vs. LA Angels

What a second half for the Halos who seemed destined for a wild-card spot. Their run coupled with Oakland’s misery have them back atop the West Division. The offense begins and ends with Trout, Hamilton and Puljos while the starting pitching will need to hold up despite injuries.

The Royals made a spectacular comeback last night to defeat the A’s in 12 innings despite the best efforts of Manager Ned Yost to screw things up in the 6th inning. KC will not be an easy out for the Angels especially because of the home crowd but I think talent will eventually be too much for the Royals.

Prediction: Angels in 7

Kershaw

Can Clayton Kershaw carry his outstanding season into the playoffs?

National League

St. Louis vs. LA Dodgers

The Dodgers won the season series 4-3 but they haven’t seen each other since the month of July. Both teams have some playoff experience but in terms of an edge that would have to go to the Cardinals.

If ever there was a series about starting pitching this would be it. There’s no reason to expect Clayton Kershaw to be anything other than brilliant in game one but the Cards will make him work I guarantee that.

If St. Louis can put together some hitting they have a shot.

Prediction: Dodgers in four

Giants/Pirates vs. Washington

A lot of people just want to hand the Nationals the World Series trophy and I can understand why but there’s a reason they actually play the games. Washington is third in hitting and first in pitching and they will also have a fan base as fired up as any in recent memory.

It’s been 90 years since a Washington baseball team has a won a title.

The Pirates will host the Giants tonight and while either team can give the Nats problems, I think the Buccos would offer more of a challenge but that’s not by a long shot by any stretch.

Either way, I like Washington to get by either team with great depth in both pitching and hitting.

Prediction: Nats in Four

If you’re dying to know my League Championship Series predictions I’ll abide by your wishes but just in case I’m not right about the divisional round I’ll “re-predict” later.

ALCS – Angels over Tigers in 5

NCLS – Nationals over Dodgers in 6.

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The World Cup is Almost Over; MLB Races are Fantastic

shootout
shootout

I really hope the World Cup Final doesn't come down to a shootout. That's no way to settle the 'World's Greatest Championship."

The day I’ve been waiting for over the last month is finally here. The World Cup Final is today! I’m not celebrating the game itself, I’m celebrating the fact that this nonsense will be over. I’ve violated my own mantra on a couple of occasions by even writing about it but now I get to bask in the glory of it being over for another four years.

If you wonder why I despise ‘futbol’ so much a lot of it has to do with the over-saturation of it. ABC/ESPN will have a two-hour pregame today which seems a bit much. Heck, I even hate the six-hour Super Bowl pregame so two hours of soccer is about the equivalent of that in my mind.

I really don’t have anything against soccer players. They are tremendously talented and extremely conditioned athletes but that leads me to part of the problem I have with soccer. If the World Cup Final ends in a shootout today then I believe it to be a travesty. If these guys are so well-conditioned  then why are they not playing until someone scores?

Can you imagine the Stanley Cup Final being decided by a shootout? Ugh…

Oh… Is it too much to ask soccer players that when they score a goal they actually run to their teammates and celebrate rather than do everything they can to celebrate individually? Athletes in other sports are guilty of this as well but it’s abundantly obvious what soccer players are doing when they score and that’s to celebrate “me” rather than with “we.”

Of course as little scoring as there is in soccer I guess I can’t beat them up too much.

Cutch

Andrew McCutchen hit homers in the ninth and eleventh innings to carry the surging Pirates to a win last night.

MLB Races Are Heating Up

While you’ve been inundated with World Cup and LeBron James coverage, Major League Baseball has been cruising along. When you open up the standings tomorrow morning you’ll notice that in five of the six divisions are about as hotly contested as you can get.

Take the National League Central for instance where four of the five teams are within 2.5 games of each other. St. Louis and Milwaukee are tied, the Reds are a game and a half back while the surging Pittsburgh Pirates have closed to within that 2.5 I mentioned.

In the National League West, the San Francisco Giants and LA Dodgers are separated by a single game and in the NL East, Atlanta and Washington are tied at the top.

In the Junior Circuit, we find the only divisional race that is not close and that’s the Central where the Detroit Tigers have stretched their lead over Kansas City to 7.5 games by winning five straight games and seven of their last ten.

The AL East has seen the surging Baltimore Orioles take a three-game lead over Toronto. The Yankees are four games out but received some bad news this week. Their ace Masahiro Tanaka is out for some time with an elbow injury. The team is hoping rehab will do the trick rather than surgery.

Two of baseball’s biggest disappointments also reside in the AL East where Tampa Bay and the defending champion Red Sox are both 9.5 games out of first.

The AL West has turned into a very nice race after it looked like Oakland might run away with it early. Even though the A’s have won seven of ten, the LA Angels have won nine of ten and trail Oakland by just a game and a half.

At this point, the races in MLB deserve your attention. Once your done doing your ‘Ole’ cheers that is.

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The Latest Odds on American League Division Winners

Encarnacion
Encarnacion

Edwin Encarncion leads the league with 24 homers but can he lead the Blue Jays to an East Division Title?

The latest odds from our friends at Bovada are out on Major League Baseball’s division winners. Today I’ll be looking at the American League. I’ll give you a breakdown on whether the current leaders are safe bets and whether or not there are teams to consider that could be serious contenders down the stretch.

AL East

Toronto +140

NY Yankees +200

Baltimore +250

Boston +800

Tampa Bay +6600

The Blue Jays have played well in stretches but they’ve also benefited from disappointing seasons from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. What will be interesting is whether the Red Sox will feel they are close enough to a playoff a spot a month from now to warrant making some moves.

The Rays have already started discussions about moving pitching ace David Price according to ESPN’s Buster Olney but the Rays haven’t gone that far yet. There’s very little chance Tampa Bay is going to make the playoffs so getting rid of Price sooner rather than later makes sense. St. Louis is rumored to be a leading contender to gain his services.

While Baltimore has been fairly impressive this season the real team to watch is New York. The biggest reason is that they will go out and get talent regardless of price to make a return to the playoffs. At this point, I like New York to catch the Jays for the division.

Sanchez

Anibal Sanchez has been great for Detroit since his arrival.

AL Central

Detroit -400

Kansas City +350

Cleveland +800

Chicago +5000

Minnesota +5000

Just when I start to think the Tigers are going to let everyone back in the AL Central Division race then rip off more wins. This is exactly what the Tigers have done as they’ve won seven straight heading into last night’s action. It wasn’t that long ago they lost three of four to the Royals and found themselves in second place.

Detroit now has a 4.5 game lead and Kansas City has stumbled going just 4-6 in their last ten games. Cleveland is 6.5 back but I’m just not sure how serious to take the Indians. They lack consistent starting pitching and while the team is fourth in the AL in hitting, it just hasn’t been enough.

Minnesota is 8.5 back and has lost three straight. This isn’t surprising because the youth movement is on in the Twin Cities and everyone knows it. The White Sox are a little different. They might even be disappointing to put it mildly and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Manager Robin Ventura in some hot water as the season progresses.

I think the Tigers will have some issues especially in the bullpen in the second half of the season, but I like them as a lock for the division title.

AL West

Oakland -250

LA Angels +225

Seattle +750

Texas +5000

Houston +20,000

I’m going to tell you right now that I’m not taking the Astros to catch the Oakland A’s but I like the improvement that is happening in Houston.

Speaking of Oakland, they have a 3.5 game lead over the Angels right now in the West. Both teams have gone 7-3 over their last ten games but the Angels have won six straight games. The A’s lead the American League in both hitting and pitching so it’s no surprise they are leading the West. The Angels aren’t far behind in either category so I like this race to continue into the early fall.

Seattle has managed to stay close and is just 6.5 games back but will they have the horses to contend down the stretch? Texas has been hit too hard by injuries and has had really poor pitching. I don’t see them being a factor.

I believe Oakland will hang onto this division but I also like the Angels to get a Wild-Card.

 

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Updating Baseball’s World Series Favorites

Hudson
Hudson

Tim Hudson leads the Giants in quality starts and has a 7-2 record this year.

We are a little less than a month away from Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game and already we have division leaders separating themselves from the pack. We also have races heating up that should last throughout the summer and right into September. The latest odds on who will take home the World Series Trophy are out from our friends at Bovada.

I’m telling who you should strongly consider and who you should say ‘no thanks’ to so let’s get to it.

San Francisco 11/2 – The Giants lead the National League West by five games over the LA Dodgers. Many are expecting LA to heat up again as they did last year this time but these Giants seem to have staying power. They aren’t in the top five in batting or pitching but they are doing all of the little things correctly. They are limiting opponents’ batting while taking advantage of opponents’ pitching later in games.

Oakland 6/1 – It’s not a secret as to why the Athletics are leading the American League West and are currently the AL’s top favorite to win the title. Oakland leads the Majors in both hitting and pitching. Pretty simple right? The A’s also have MLB’s best road record (tied with MIL at 23-14) which gives them the confidence they need to get things done in the playoffs.

Verlander

Justin Verlander was rocked again this week and that has become the norm rather than the exception this season.

Detroit 16/2 – Lets get to the heart of this team right now; they are not winning the World Series. The last six weeks has proven that General Manager Dave Dombrowski has once again failed to address the bullpen problems and that will cost this team. Throw in the fact that Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have been terribly inconsistent as starters and you’ve got a real problem. The Tigers fell out of first place last night for the first time all season and don’t be surprised if the slide continues.

Toronto 8/1 – The Blue Jays have recently cooled off after an extremely hot run but they still lead the AL East by three and half games over second place New York and by four games over the Orioles. Toronto currently ranks third in batting which has been their overwhelming strength so far this season because their pitching isn’t exactly on par with the team’s overall performance. The Jays currently rank 22nd in the Majors in team pitching and if this team is to be taken seriously then that will have to improve.

LA Dodgers 9/1 – The Dodgers rank ninth in batting and 13th in pitching and have that five game deficit in the NL West. Colorado is in third, nine games out of first so I this division as a two-horse race. A lot was made of the Dodgers’ epic run last year (41-8 at one point) and that’s pertinent here because the Giants have lost four straight games while the Dodgers are in the midst of a 7-3 stretch in their last ten games. I think this will be one of the top two races down the stretch in Major League Baseball and if the pitching comes around more than look out.

St. Louis 9/1 – The Cardinals have won five straight games and have a streak of eight wins over their last ten games. After seeing the Milwaukee Brewers come flying out of the gate in the National League Central, the Cards have slowly made up ground behind their league-leading pitching staff. Pitching, as most of you know, can typically carry you further than top hitting. St.Louis still needs to improve upon their 25th position in the Majors in hitting if they are going to make another run to the World Series.

My top pick: Oakland

Team to run and hide from: Detroit

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Time to Focus on Baseball Once Again

Weaver
Weaver

Jared Weaver takes the mound in Cleveland looking to keep the Angels close to the A's in the West.

The world of sports is cyclical. Some of us want to start the calendar on January first when the NHL, NBA, NFL, College Football and College Basketball are in full swing. Others like to call the opening day of baseball the true start to the sports calendar. This is when the NHL and NBA are gearing up for their playoffs while College Basketball is awaiting its’ Final Four.

Regardless of when you mark the start, the period we are now in is all about Major League Baseball. Oh sure, the World Cup is going on but that happens once every four years so I don’t count it.

What we can count on is today’s lines in the world of baseball.

LA Angels (-120) at Cleveland (EVEN), O/U 8.5Jared Weaver 7-5 vs. Trevor Bauer 1-3 The Angels head to Cleveland following a loss in Atlanta last night. They’ve gone 6-4 over their last ten games and remain 4.5 games behind West Division leader Oakland. The Indians are 5-5 in their last ten games, but have won two straight and have a 21-11 record at home.

Both pitchers went just five and a third innings in their last starts and they’ve both struggled in their last three games. Weaver is 1-2 with an ERA of 5.71 while Bauer is 0-1 with an ERA of 4.58.

The Angels and Indians rank third and fourth respectively in batting in the American League so I expect runs to be scored with both pitchers struggling. Take the Indians at home and I like the OVER as well.

Verlander

Verlander has been quite average this season and that needs to change immediately for the Tigers.

Kansas City (+135) at Detroit (-155), O/U 8.5Jason Vargas 6-2 vs. Justin Verlander 6-6 This was a series that didn’t appear to be all that important a month or so ago as the Tigers had a five and half game lead and the Royals were struggling. That isn’t the case now as the Royals have won seven straight games and eight of their last ten. The Tigers have righted their ship a bit after some serious struggles. They’ve won two in a row and have gone 5-5 over their last ten.

Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander has been extremely disappointing this season going just 6-6. His ERA is a whopping 4.61 and over his last three starts is 6.64. While has been a bit better at home, it’s hard to ignore what’s happening here. His fastball is not what it was and his curve is not biting like it once did. Meanwhile, Vargas is 2-0 with an ERA under three in his last three outings.

Until Verlander proves he has his old stuff back, I have zero confidence in him. I like the Royals and take the OVER as well.

Texas (+150) at Oakland (-170), O/U 7.5Colby Lewis 4-4 vs. Drew Pomeranz 5-3 Can you call a series in June a BIG series? I certainly can. If the Tigers and Royals have a big one starting in Detroit today then this one in Oakland then this one certainly is. The Rangers are in fourth place in the AL West and they trail the Athletics by eight games.

While the Rangers cannot look to gain back everything in one series, they can fall pretty much out of it should they be swept. The pressure in game one falls on Colby Lewis is 4-4 with an ERA of 5.72. In his last three starts he is 0-1 with an ERA that sounds more like an airliner at 7.47. His opponent is Drew Pomeranz who is 5-3 with an exceptional ERA of 1.90. His last three starts have seen him go 1-1 with an ERA of 2.79 which is still very good.

I think Lewis will pitch well tonight but I like Oakland behind Pomeranz and their solid offense which is tops in the AL. Take the UNDER tonight.

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Monday Offers All Four Divisional Series in Action

Buchholz
Buchholz

Buchholz takes the hill looking to sweep Boston into the ALCS.

All four of Major League Baseball’s Divisional Series are on tap for today and in the National League, Pittsburgh and ________ have a chance to close out their respective series. To this point the action has been very good with pitching being dominant in some cases and offense rising to the forefront in others.

Regardless of the outcomes, the championship series’ in both leagues should bring some really good baseball among some of the game’s best franchises and fan bases.

Oakland at Detroit (series tied 1-1) – What a series this is turning out to be. After a sparkling performance by Max Scherzer in a 3-2 game one win, Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray matched zero for zero in game two before Oakland broke through in the bottom of the ninth for the 1-0 win.

Now the scene shifts to Detroit where Anabel Sanchez takes the hill for the Tigers. Since mid-July, he is 10-3 and has been arguably the team’s best pitcher. For the A’s, Jarrod Parker gets the call. He has lost three of his last five starts and in his most recent outing he gave up three home runs.

Everything points to Detroit in this one.

Boston at Tampa Bay (Sox lead 2-0) – The Red Sox have been nothing short of dominant as the scene shifts to Tampa where the crowd will be filled with as many Boston fans as Rays’ fans. Tampa Bay turns to Alex Cobb who was so good in knocking the Cleveland Indians out of the playoffs. He had a rough patch in late August and early September bu has things going in recent weeks.

The Red Sox will hand the ball to Clay Buchholz who enters with a 12-1 record and has been really good in his last few starts. Knowing he has a comfortable lead behind him as well as an offense that’s raking the ball I expect Buchholz to pitch well.

Cobb will pitch well too. He was in a similar spot less than a week ago but can the Rays score enough to keep in the game and series? I say no. Look for Buchholz to finsh the sweep.

Morton

Can Morton deliver and help the Pirates get to the NLCS?

St. Louis at Pittsburgh (Pirates lead 2-1) – Charlie Morton hasn’t factored in a decision since September eighth but has pitched fairly well and now gets the ball with a chacne to send to the Pirates to the National Championship Series. The problem for the Buccos who are somewhat offensively challenged is that they draw St. Louis starter Michael Wacha.

The 22-year old was last seen on the hill just one out away from a no-hitter in his final regualr season appearance. At 4-1 the youngster has shown he can pitch. The question of course now is can he do it with his team’s season in the balance and in front of a raucaos crowd in Pittsburgh?

I think Wacha will pitch well but this Pirates team just seems destined for something greater. Take the Bucs.

Atlanta at Los Angeles (LA leads 2-1) – The Dodgers scored 10 runs last night over the second, third and fourth innings to breeze to a 13-6 win. They now move to a game from advancing to the NLCS.

37-year old Freddy Garcia takes the mound for the Braves in Los Angeles while Ricky Nolasco takes the bump for the Dodgers. Both guys were brought in from other teams during the season for this exact purpose. Nolasco has been sharper during his time with his current team than has Garcia but the elder Garcia has more playoff seasoning. I like the Dodgers to close things out tonight.

 

 

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A Few Key Series’ Set to Begin Today in MLB

Cabrera
Cabrera

Cabrera's MVP season has helped the Tigers stretch their lead in the AL Central.

It’s time once again to re-visit where Major League Baseball is at the current time and it’s already vastly different than it was a month ago. It wasn’t that long ago that there were legitimate races in every division but that is in the past.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are on a run of epic and historical proportions over their last 50 games. They have won 41 of those games and their extra -inning loss yesterday ended a 10-game winning streak. LA has gone from being a cellar-dweller two months ago to leading the National League West by 7.5 games over Arizona.

In third place in the division is Colorado who is an amazing 15 games back. I say amazing because the Rockies were in the thick of this race six weeks ago.

The National League East has also seen a fairly competitive race become a laughing stock. The Atlanta Braves have taken their relatively small lead and stretched it to 15.5 games over Washington. The Nationals feel like they still have a shot at the playoffs despite being 9.5 out in the wild-card race.

The National League Central is still an amazingly tight race with the same three teams battling that have battled all season. Pittsburgh has led the division over the last few weeks but is struggling having lost seven of nine. They have a one game lead over St. Louis and a lead of 2.5 over Cincinnati.

In the American League Central, the Detroit Tigers have pulled away from Cleveland since the All-Star break when they lead by three games. They have stretched their lead over the Indians to seven games and 8.5 over Kansas City whose surge seems to have faded a bit.

Not much has changed in the AL West where Texas holds a half game lead over Oakland. The Rangers and Athletics have six games remaining with each other. Three in Oakland and three in Arlington.

And finally, the American League East remains a fairly tight race although the Yankees are struggling to maintain a shot for the postseason. Boston has a one game lead over Tampa and a 4.5 game lead over Baltimore. The Bronx Bombers are 7.5 back and are six back in the wild-card race.

Burnett

Burnett looks to bounce back from a less than solid performance in his last outing.

As the season winds down there are a couple of big series starting today. Here’s a look…

Pittsburgh at San Diego (-150/+120) – The Padres are out of the playoff race but should be credited with having hung in as long as they did. This series is about the Pirates though and whether they can get the bats going. The pitching has been outstanding all season but aces Jeff Locke and A.J. Burnett are coming off poor outings. The Bucs are approaching the 82-win total which they haven’t seen in over 20 years. That cannot be their focus however. I like the Pirates in this series.

Arizona at Cincinnati (+165/-205) – Both teams enter this series having won seven of their last ten games. The D-Backs are struggling to keep up with the Dodgers but are just five out in the wild-card with the Reds sitting directly above them. We know where the Reds are currently and what’s at stake for them. They currently have one of the two wild-card spots with the other belonging to fellow Central rival St. Louis. The Reds are 37-20 at home and I like them in this series against Arizona who is below .500 on the road.

Tampa Bay at Baltimore (-110/-120) – If the season ended today, the Rays would have one of the wild-card spots while the Orioles would be three games out. Tampa Bay has been pretty good on the road at 29-29 while Baltimore is nine games over .500 at 35-26. This is the last time these two will hook up until a huge four-game series in Tampa Bay in late September. 14-3 Chris Tillman takes the hill in the opener for Baltimore, but I like the Rays to get two of three.

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