Like any healthy relationship, the Pop Fly Boys don’t always agree on things. Luckily for our readers, this can sometimes result in better material. Take our 2011 Major League Baseball Playoff Preview for example. We both have different takes on who’s going to win the World Series, and neither of us is budging, so instead of trying to come to a compromise, we decided to both take our shots at justifying our picks. Since they come from different leagues, Jeremy is giving a preview of the American League while I am again representing the Senior Circuit. Enjoy!
American League Playoff Prediction:
After witnessing the greatest night in the storied history of Major League Baseball, it will be very difficult for the playoffs to top what the game gave us over the past 48 hours. Fortunately for us, the team that provided the most drama, the Tampa Bay Rays, is right back at it today, attempting to return the World Series for the first time since their unexpected 2008 run. There is a strong possibility that the AL playoffs will feature the League MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year recipients, adding to the luster of what is the beginning of the end to one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory.
I don’t want to get bogged down with match ups here, because quite frankly they really do not matter. After seeing the insanity of the last night of the season, it really is pointless to analyze who is pitching, who is hitting or who is on base. Craig Kimbrel finally looked human; Dan Johnson, having hit only one home run on the season, ripped off his Clark Kent glasses off and did a quick change into the blue one piece and red cape and saved the Rays; And the speedy Michael Bourne was “thrown out” stealing third base right before Dan Uggla hit a home run that would have prevented the game from going into extra innings, giving the Braves an extra life for a Thursday gangbuster-style play-in game with the Cardinals.
The game of baseball, itself, is somehow swindling the statistical gatekeepers into playing “hide and go seek” with the law of averages, allowing the fans to just sit back, relax and have a little fun. This is the exact reason that the analytical mumbo jumbo needs to be locked up in the garage for the next month or so. Sure there is a favorite to win it all, maybe the Yankees or Phillies, and there is the inevitable crowning of a paper champion, but they play the games for a reason right?
Without further adieu I will present you with my American League Champion…the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays were the AL East whipping boy for years before finally breaking through in 2008. They would eventually lose to the Phillies that year in the World Series, but I think the mojo is back on their side for a huge run again this year. Plus a few key players from that ’08 run are still in place, alleviating some of the first-time jitters that many young playoff teams encounter this time of year.
Offense usually gets you invited to the dance, but pitching and defense get you that magical kiss at the end and the Rays are loaded in this department. So much so, that they are going with a rookie hurler, Matt Moore, with just one start under his belt to take the bump in game one. I told you I wasn’t going to get caught up in stats, but I will just this once – 5 IP, 11 Ks, 0 ER against the Yankees a few days ago…enough said.
To have the stones to start a wet-behind-the-ears, 22 year-old rookie pitcher in game one of the AL Division Series, Joe Maddon is exhibiting a tremendous amount of faith in his young stud. The message that it sends, however, is that maybe he is the one manager remaining that has absolute trust in his team, allowing his players to simply be themselves and play carefree baseball. He is the manager that, earlier in the year, told his guys to come to the ballpark later for home games to mimic the routine for road games because they had a better road record at the time. This puts a team at complete ease and could be an issue for the rest of the American League. And besides, the Rays are essentially gambling with house money, and that type of team is always dangerous to face.
After cleaning house following the 2010 season, no one had an ounce of faith that the Rays would get back to being competitive in the AL East so quickly. Luckily for them, we witnessed the greatest collapse in sports history by the Boston Red Sox, the very same team who bought the Rays’ most accomplished player in the short history of their franchise, Carl Crawford. Even more ironic, Crawford was involved in the final play that allowed the Rays the opportunity to steal the scepter from the grip of the Sox.
All of this adds up to destiny finally siding with the Rays and propelling them to not only the AL Championship, but the World Series title as well. Each series might even go to the brink and the Rays may even face an elimination game or two, but rest assured, they are the team most equipped to handle such pressure. As we watch, we wont see flash or flair…we will see something reminiscent of that movie Angels in the Outfield. It will be something that experts will have a hard to explaining and die-hard fans won’t care to.
National Leauge Playoff Preview
While I agree with Jeremy that over analysis of numbers is somewhat futile when making postseason playoff predictions – besides I’m the same guy that bet heavy on the Mavericks to win the 2011 NBA title right before their championship match up with the Miami Heat – I disagree on him with him on one very important point: match ups matter! This is exactly why I am NOT picking the Phillies as the 2011 Word Series champs, and let me lay out my path to their demise.
Looking at the NL Division Series match ups, it’s very hard for me to pick my hometown St. Louis Cardinals to upset the vaunted Phillies in the first round, despite the fact that they actually went 6-3 against Philly in the regular season. First of all, Tony LaRussa deserves kudos for managing this team through a number of injuries to key players, including losing Adam
Wainwright to Tommy John surgery before the year even began. Had the Cards not had to use perhaps their last silver bullet with Chris Carpenter pitching a gem on Wednesday night to lead them into the postseason, I might still give them a chance, but in a short series like this, not having a certified staff ace like Wainwright to match up against Philadelphia’s Four Horsemen (of which only three are likely to be used in this series), along with only being able to throw Carp once, will hurt badly. Philly in four.
In the other match up, the Milwaukee Brewers, perhaps the NL’s most balanced squad this year will face the NL’s version of the Tampa Bays Rays in the Arizona Diamondbacks. While the D’Backs had a terrific season, I simply don’t see them having enough offense to legitimately challenge the Brew Crew, especially against a pitching staff that has very much lived up to preseason expectations (as we alluded to in this NL Awards piece earlier in the week) in the second half. Brewers in four.
Ah yes, that pitching! When looking at the Brewers and their terrific season, it’s very easy to lock in on the combo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder as the keys to their success, and while they are unquestionably two of the games brightest young stars, this team has balance throughout. Cory Hart had a solid season for them, and Rickie Weeks was continuing to live up to his considerable hype for a second straight season, prior to a nasty ankle injury that cost him a few weeks. He’s had enough time back that the rust should be shaken and he will be a legit threat in the middle of that lineup. But really we have to go back to what I see as the real strength of this team, which is an exceptional staff from beginning to end.
Milwaukee’s front two of Greinke and Gallardo can match up with anybody, especially Greinke who, after a rough first half, really settled into a nice groove after the all-star break. Shawn Marcum and Randy Wolf are no slouches at the back end of that rotation. Then you have K-Rod – let’s not forget this kid’s been there before with the Angels – and John Axford pretty much locking down games in the 8th and 9th, making the Brewers tough to face if you can’t get after them early.
While it might be foolish to write off Philly and their veteran lineup, I’m going to go on a hunch that the down season experienced by some of their veteran hitters were actually the beginning of a continuing decline, and not rust that they will be able to recover from during an extended post-season run. I’m not declaring their run ceased for the foreseeable future, especially since they’ll have a good young player like Hunter Pence in their lineup for a full season next year, but in 2011, I like the Brewers’ pitching and balanced offensive attack to lead them past Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, another team with serious offensive issues, to become the World Series Champions.