Friday, October 5, 2012

The Book of Gorman Playoff Preview

Tomorrow is Friday, and the playoffs start on Friday. There are ten playoff teams (the Brewers are obviously not one of them), and I will grade their chances to win it all on a scale of 1-to-5 "Fiers 'staches". Of course this is all subjective, but I make no apologies.

AL Wild Card 2
Baltimore Orioles (93-69, second in AL East)
The Orioles are probably the most surprising playoff team, somewhat based on talent but primarily based on the level of competition in their division. The fact they won 93 games is remarkable, and considering how they won most of those games, pretty fluky. They won their last 16 extra-inning games, and had a 73-0 record when leading after seven innings. While those numbers are not sustainable nor predictive, there are some reasons why they were so good in late-and-close scenarios. They have a good bullpen full of relievers (Jim Johnson has been much better than his name suggests) that keep the ball on the ground coupled with good infield defense, and their offense is full of home-run hitters. Adam Jones and Matt Weiters are terrific all-around players, and Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, and JJ Hardy have enough power to make up for their contact issues. Youngster Manny Machado is also worth watching.

Their starting rotation is somewhat of a concern, as they will face the Rangers in a one-game playoff and will send bland lefty Joe Saunders to the mound in Arlington, which doesn't sound promising. Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen are all pretty good pitchers, but aren't available to pitch in this game. If the Orioles can get through the wild-card game, they have just as good a chance as anyone due to their ability to shorten the game and hit the baseball really far. The positive for them is that the Rangers' manager is Ron Washington, who doesn't have a sparkling record in do-or-die games. They also have the best road record in the AL, so there's that. I'll be rooting for this team, mostly because I find them fun to watch but also because they're considered a pretty big underdog. 
Chances to win it all:

AL Wild Card 1
Texas Rangers (93-69, second in AL West)
The Rangers were one of the more dominant teams in all of baseball for most of the season, and once held a 13-game over the Oakland A's in the AL West. But then the A's started winning and the Rangers started winning less, and the A's beat the Rangers in the last game of the regular season to win the West and demote the Rangers to Wild Card status. The Rangers will have home-field advantage in the Wild Card game, and also have the advantage of sending rookie phenom and Japanese import Yu Darvish to the mound, but it's hard to consider them a lock to win the game considering the tactical ineptitude of Rangers manager Ron Washington. Bad in-game managing isn't that big a deal over the course of the regular season, but can be magnified in the playoffs and Washington has been decidedly out-managed in each of the last two World Series'. 

Overall, the Rangers are a great team. They have a deep and dangerous offense, led by mashers/hackers Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, a good bullpen and defense, and are hard to beat at home (tied for the second-best record at home in the majors). Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Mike Napoli have all had down years by there standards but are still good hitters. Elvis Andrus is a terrific shortstop, and they have a good group of platoon players and a solid bench. Backup catcher Geovany Soto plays a lot, which is puzzling because he's really bad at playing baseball. I suppose this is where I should mention that Michael Young is a horrible player that still manages to play everyday because Ron Washington. 

On the pitching side, the Rangers are pretty top-heavy. Darvish and Matt Harrison are both pretty terrific, but Derek Holland has not been very good and glove-flipper Ryan Dempster has been average since coming over from the Cubs in a trade. Joe Nathan, Koji Uehara, and Mike Adams are great relief pitchers, but it gets ugly pretty fast once you look at the rest of their bullpen. 

Like the Orioles, I find this team fun to watch. And if they hadn't lost the AL West in the final day, the Rangers would probably be the favorites to take the AL crown. But the Wild Card game is a coin flip, and anything can happen in that ballpark. At this point, it's tough to predict their chances, but I'll try anyway. 
Chances to win it all:

AL Central "Champ" 
Detroit Tigers (88-74)
I hate watching this team. Mostly because they employ Delmon Young, Brennan Boesch, and Ryan Raburn (To play baseball. TO PLAY BASEBALL.). They have horrible defense everywhere except center field and their bullpen is incredibly annoying to watch (especially closer Jose Valverde, who has the most inexplicable pitching windup ever). They only won their division because the Chicago White Sox crapped their pants in the final two weeks of the season. The Miguel Cabrera MVP thing bothers me, even though it shouldn't. On the positive side, I still like Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander kicks every ass. They have someone named Doug Fister, and he's also good. Austin Jackson is great. Max Scherzer has crazy David Bowie eyes. But I can't bring myself to really root for this team unless they play the Yankees. They're also playing the A's in the ALDS, and the A's are the team I'm rooting for the hardest. 

So I don't like them. But they're in the playoffs, and due to their talent they can easily win it all. It's worth mentioning that Verlander has never pitched on three days' rest.
Chances to win it all:

AL West Champ
The Oakland A's (94-68)
I mentioned that I will be rooting for this these guys. I love how this team was assembled (MONEYBALL 2: THE RECKONING), and as a bonus they have George Kottaras. Offensively, they have tons of power and they platoon their players to hide weaknesses. Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, Johnny Gomes, and Seth Smith have all been good in platoon situations, and the Kottaras/Derek Norris catching duo is unheralded but solid. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes have been two of the best offseason additions in all of baseball, and the team made two low-cost pickups with infielders Stephen Drew and Brandon Inge. While none of those guys are big names, they managed to be 4th in the AL in runs scored despite playing in a crater of a ballpark. They play enough defense to get by, and Reddick might have the best right field arm in all of MLB. 

On the pitching side, they don't really have an ace but all of their starters are pretty good (despite Tom Milone sucking on the road). Jarrod Parker, AJ Griffin, Milone, Dan Straily, and/or possibly Brett Anderson (oblique injury) will probably be their playoff rotation, with Travis Blackley around as a fill-in. Parker and Anderson are the best of the bunch, and Griffin is probably the most interesting guy due to him succeeding with average stuff and also wearing glasses. Their bullpen is fantastic, with a flamethrower who was a first baseman as recently as 2009 (Sean Doolittle), a couple rookies (Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner), and a closer who's an Australian dude (Grant Balfour).
Chances to win it all:

AL East Champ
New York Yankees (95-67)
The Yankees are the Yankees. They're old with an iffy bullpen and a shallow rotation, but they're still really, really talented nonetheless. On the pitching side, C.C. Sabathia is still a workhorse, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettite were better than anyone could have imagined, and Phil Hughes, well, he gives up a ton of home runs but is a decent enough #4 playoff starter. Ivan Nova sucks but I doubt he'll be seen much, if at all. In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson are really good at the back end and Clay Rapada will hopefully fill the LOOGY role over Boone Logan, who isn't very good at being a lefty specialist. No one else is really worth mentioning, which is kind of a problem.

Offensively, Alex Rodriguez is a shadow of a shell of his former self and Mark Teixeira is hilarious to watch unless you're a Yankees fan. Robinson Cano is probably the best second baseman in baseball, Ichiro has filled the Brett Gardner role nicely, Derek Jeter keeps on keeping on and Curtis Granderson hits a lot of home runs but not a whole lot else. If the offense has a weakness, it's that they're vulnerable against good lefty pitchers due to having a lot of left-handed hitters with platoon problems and supposed "lefty-masher" Andruw Jones has become almost unplayable. Catcher Russell Martin blows but he's got power. The bench isn't much to get excited about aside from Raul Ibanez.
Chances to win it all:

NL Wild Card 2
St. Louis Cardinals (88-74, second in NL Central)
Chances to win it all:

NL Wild Card 1 
Atlanta Barves Braves (94-68, second in NL East)
The Braves have been on cruise control for pretty much the entire season, quietly winning games and generally doing Braves things. Ben Sheets had a successful cameo, Kris Medlen has pitched like Greg Maddux, and Craig Kimbrel has had one of the best seasons ever for a relief pitcher. Their offense is decent and their defense is elite, but I can't really take them seriously as a title contender. 94 wins is nothing to sneeze at, but this is a team with some pretty significant flaws. Like the Yankees, they have problems facing lefty pitchers, something that won't hurt them against the Cardinals but would become a thing if they advance and face the Nationals, who have two good lefties in Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler. Second baseman Dan Uggla has been terrible this season and there's something up with Brian McCann. Set-up man Johnny Venters hasn't been as dominant as he was in 2011 and starting pitchers Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson are pretty shaky. Furthermore, their manager happens to be Fredi Gonzalez, and frankly he's not very good at thinking smart thoughts. Gonzalez has already stated that he will start backup catcher David Ross over former McCann (a former All-Star, mind you) because of the Cardinals "tendency to run", which is hilarious because the Cardinals were 25th in the majors in stolen bases and McCann isn't exactly a bad defender. What sound tactics.

There are plenty of positives, however, and any discussion involving this team has to start with the outfield. Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, and Martin Prado might be the best all-around outfield in the major leagues, and Andrelton Simmons is stupidly good at playing shortstop. Chipper Jones has had a nice farewell season, and McCann and Ross are a pretty good catching tandem. Freddie Freeman exists I suppose. This team has the talent to make a little noise, but even with Medlen pitching the Cardinals are a tough draw in the Wild Card game and even if the Braves get past them I don't like their chances all that much.
Chances to win it all:

NL West Champ
San Francisco Giants (94-68)
The Giants have been flying under the radar a bit, having sewn up their division forever ago and generally playing in some pretty boring baseball games. Like the A's, they are built well for their ballpark. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are both fantastic pitchers and they possess a tremendous bullpen. The rotation after Cain and Bumgarner is a little iffy, as Tim Lincecum has not been the Lincecum we've been used to seeing, and the team has to hope that Ryan Vogelsong's late season struggles are over. Fifth starter Barry Zito is good at converting oxygen into carbon dioxide but not very good at throwing baseballs.

Offensively and defensively, the Giants are probably better than you think. While Hunter Pence is overrated and Melky Cabrera is suspended (the team will not allow him to return when his suspension is up), Pablo Sandoval and likely MVP Buster Posey are the breadwinners with hilariously named Angel Pagan and impossible-to-strike-out Marco Scutaro being the table-setters. Shortstop Brandon Crawford and center fielder Gregor Blanco supply great defense but not very much offense. Ryan Theriot supplies nothing. Manager Bruce Bochy has been a pretty laughable manager in his career (including the year they won the World Series), but has actually been a better tactician this year and his bullpen management has been great. If they can get enough from the back of the rotation, they'll be dangerous.
Chances to win it all:

NL Central Champ
Cincinnati Reds (97-65)
The Reds are perceived to be a good offensive club but that really isn't the case. They finished 21st in runs scored and have a pretty shallow and righty-heavy lineup that strikes out quite a bit. But they kick ass at preventing runs. They are second in all of baseball in run prevention despite playing in a closet of a ballpark and they do it by pitching well and catching the ball when it's put in play.

On offense, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Todd Frazier, and Jay Bruce are all good-to-great, but that's pretty much all there is to see here. Everyone else is pretty much the same, a bunch of white guys with some power but not much else. Everyone but Ryan Ludwick is at least an above-average defender, although Jay Bruce has mysteriously turned into a block of marble both in right field and on the bases. Manager Dusty Baker has a nonsensical allegiance to the dessicated corpse of Scott Rolen, which sadly moves Frazier to the bench more often than not. In other news, Dusty Baker is not a very good tactician.

The pitching is nothing short of fantastic. Johnny Cueto is a legitimate ace, Matt Latos is a solid #2, Homer Bailey has turned into a decent #3, and that leaves Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo to fight over who will get lit up in Game 4 of the NLDS. In the bullpen, closer Aroldis Chapman is a distributor of filthy cheese and pretty much every reliever this team is a different level of good. I'm not much of a believer in set-up man Jonathan Broxton, but he's pitched very well for Cincinnati.
Chances to win it all:

NL East Champ
Washington Nationals (98-64)
I can't abide the team's stupid "Natitude" slogan or their silly, derivative "Presidents race", but what I can abide is the fact that they might be the most complete team in this year's playoffs. The starting pitching is dominant (even without phenom Steven Strasburg), the bullpen is lights-out, the defense is solid, and the offense is deep and powerful. That's not to say the Nats don't have flaws (they do) or that they can't be beaten (they can), but I think this team has the best shot to win the last game of the season.

The starting rotation is headlined by outstanding lefty Gio Gonzalez and Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmerman, with Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler being capable #3 and #4 starters. Drew Storen will likely hold down the closer role with the bespeckled Tyler Clippard setting up. Clippard seemed to wear down towards the end of the season but the team has enough options elsewhere (Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, Ryan Mattheus) if he continues to struggle.

As far as the bats go there's a pretty even mix of great young players and reliable veterans. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper are both budding superstars, Danny Espinosa is a good young second baseman, and the trio of Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Zimmerman have all bounced back from disappointing performances in 2011. The glaring position of weakness is at catcher, where Kurt Suzuki and Jesus Flores do what they can to occupy space. Suzuki has played decently since coming over in a trade from Oakland, but his numbers for the entire season are awful. The Nats also swing and miss a lot as a team, but were 6th in the majors in ISO, 8th in home runs, and 9th in batting average, so pointing out that they strike out a lot seems like nitpicking at this point. If there is a complaint, it's that they're a horrible baserunning team, something that could come back to bite them in the postseason.
Chances to win it all:

Just for fun I'll toss out a World Series prediction. I say the Nationals defeat the A's in six games. Enjoy the playoffs, everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment