MLB Playoff Predictions 2013: Picks for Every ALDS and NLDS Series
After dismissing the Indians 4-0 in Wednesday night's AL Wild Card Game, Tampa Bay officially became the final piece of the 2013 LDS puzzle.
We'll be running an in-depth breakdown of each series on Thursday morning, but you need somewhere to voice your opinion on the playoffs until that's ready to go.
Along with four brief reasons why, here are my predictions for each ALDS and NLDS showdown (which TBS invites you to watch for free on your computer or mobile device).
I look forward to half of you telling me why I'm hopelessly wrong.
Braves over Dodgers in 5 Games
Give me the Braves over the Dodgers in a series that goes the distance.
Four reasons why:
1) Kris Medlen is on fire
Medlen's 1.00 ERA in the month of September was the best among NL starting pitchers. Sure, he faced five of the worst NL teams in the process, but he also dominated the Dodgers earlier this season, allowing just seven hits and no earned runs in 13.2 innings of work.
If the series goes the distance, we'll see Clayton Kershaw twice. But, perhaps just as importantly, we'll see Medlen twice as well.
2) Craig Kimbrel owns the Dodgers
Well, technically Kimbrel owns everyone he faces, but he has been particularly masterful against the Dodgers. Carl Crawford, Mark Ellis, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe have combined to go 0-for-21 with 15 strikeouts in their collective careers against Kimbrel. There will be no come-from-behind wins in the ninth inning for Los Angeles.
3) Adrian Gonzalez struggles against Atlanta
Gonzalez has a lifetime batting average of .293, but Los Angeles' premier left-handed slugger has not fared well against Atlanta's pitchers. He has seen the ball well in eight plate appearances against Mike Minor, but taking those numbers and those of the injured Tim Hudson out of the mix, Gonzalez is 11-for-64 without a home run in his career against the Braves pitching staff.
That also includes going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Luis Avilan, who he will likely see in the latter innings of each game in the series.
4) Atlanta has too much power
The Braves aren't afraid to strike out swinging for the fences. They have five players who have hit 20 or more homers this season (and would most likely have six if Jason Heyward had stayed healthy). As a team, they hit 43 more home runs than L.A. this season.
To really drive that point home, the gap between the Braves and Dodgers for home runs in 2013 is equal to the number of long balls that St. Louis has hit since the All-Star break. Low-scoring games, naturally, favor the team more likely to crank out the home run.
Tigers over Athletics in 4 Games
The Tigers sputtered to the finish line—losing five of their final seven regular-season games to the Marlins, Twins and White Sox—but they'll kick it back into gear for the games that matter.
Four reasons why:
1) Miguel Cabrera eats Oakland pitching for breakfast, lunch and dinner
His splits against Oakland this season are actually kind of pathetic, batting just .240 with one home run and four strikeouts. But in his career against the individual components of Oakland's staff, Cabrera is 27-for-71 with four home runs and a 1.096 OPS. Against Game 1 (and presumably Game 5) starter Bartolo Colon, Cabrera is 8-for-16 with a pair of doubles.
2) Oakland's starting pitchers are terrible against Detroit's batters
Joe Saunders had a horrible season for the Mariners. His .307 batting average against was the worst among all qualified starting pitchers.
Why the heck am I talking about Joe Saunders?
Because .307 would be an improvement compared to how Colon, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily have done against Detroit's batters. They have allowed a combined 87 hits in 265 at-bats for a .328 batting average. And just for good measure, 11 of those 87 hits were home runs—and none of them was hit by Cabrera.
3) Rumors of Justin Verlander's demise were greatly exaggerated
We've certainly seen more dominant versions of Verlander in years past, but he still finished the 2013 regular season as the fourth-most valuable pitcher in the American League. It just so happens that there are two Tigers who finished ahead of him and another that finished not far behind him.
In related news, Detroit's starting pitchers are good.
4) Same teams, same result
File this one away under useless trivia, but in each of the past five years, there has been exactly one instance of one team beating another for a second consecutive postseason.
Last year, the Tigers knocked the Yankees out for a second straight year. Before that, it was the Rangers dispatching the Rays, the Yankees eliminating the Twins, the Phillies erasing the Dodgers and the Red Sox besting the Angels in back-to-back Octobers.
Unless you count last year's NL Wild Card Game between St. Louis and Atlanta, Detroit and Oakland are the only possible repeat pairing from 2012.
Pirates over Cardinals in 4 Games
In what proves to be the most surprising result of the four series, Pittsburgh takes care of St. Louis with relative ease.
Four reasons why:
1) Pittsburgh owns Shelby Miller
Thirteen percent of Miller's starts this season came against Pittsburgh. Twenty-two percent of his earned runs and 30 percent of his home runs are courtesy of the Pirates. Miller went 0-4 with a 5.32 ERA and 1.73 WHIP against the Buccos. Regardless of how he's used in this series, he will likely be ineffective.
2) St. Louis does not own Francisco Liriano
St. Louis' stable of hitters is a combined 13-for-89 with no home runs against Liriano. Matt Holliday is the only one with an on-base percentage better than .333, regardless of sample size.
3) St. Louis is not the same team it was before the All-Star break
The Cardinals kept pace well enough to win the NL Central with a little room to spare, but it was a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Their offensive WAR in the second half was the lowest of any team that made the playoffs—and lower than quite a few teams who didn't. Their pitching WAR in the second half—which also ranks 18th out of 30 teams—is worst among playoff teams now that Cincinnati has been eliminated.
And lest we forget about defense: Their team UZR/150 for the season was second-worst in the majors.
4) The "nobody believes in us" factor
If you don't have a horse left in the 2013 playoff race, you're likely rooting for the Pirates, but that doesn't make them any less of an underdog.
Lines have since closed and are no longer able to be linked to (or bet on), but sports books are unanimously giving the Pirates the longest odds of winning the National League pennant. I guarantee they're using that and 21 years of teeth-kicking as motivation to win this series.
Rays over Red Sox in 4 Games
Thrice on the brink of elimination, Tampa Bay reminds us why it was one of the AL favorites less than two months ago by pulling an upset over Boston in four games.
Four reasons why:
1) More Moore is bad for Boston
David Ortiz has had some great at-bats against Moore, going 6-for-13 with a home run, one walk and no strikeouts.
The rest of the team hasn't been anywhere near as fortunate. Take Ortiz out of the mix and the Red Sox are 7-for-66 with three doubles, no home runs and 19 strikeouts against the man they could face twice in this series.
2) No relief from Tampa Bay's relievers
Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos, Alex Torres and Fernando Rodney have been four of Tampa Bay's six most used relief pitchers this season, and they have each had success in their careers against Boston.
Combining their stats into one four-headed monster would yield a line of 31-for-198 (.157 average) with 67 strikeouts. Not quite as dominant as Koji Uehara has been against the Rays, but the fact that Joe Maddon can turn to any of four relievers without fear is a huge bonus.
3) James Loney vs. the world
Loney had the highest road batting average during the regular season, checking in at .351. Good news for Tampa Bay in Games 1 and 2 as well as 5 if the series gets there.
Also good news for Tampa Bay is that Loney has done pretty well in his career against Game 4 starter Jake Peavy. In 31 at-bats, he's slashing .323/344/.677 with five doubles and two home runs.
(Where would it rank on the irony meter if the Red Sox were done in by one of the players they received in last season's salary dump trade with the Dodgers? Also, where can I purchase an irony meter?)
4) The oft-mentioned, but forever incalculable momentum factor
In the past four days, the Rays have won three consecutive do-or-die road games in three different cities.
The Red Sox might be the better team, but they lost six of their last 11 games and will enter Friday's game having not played in roughly 100 hours. Then again, Kansas City was 3-7 heading into the All-Star break and responded by winning 19 of its next 24 games, so who cares?
Nevertheless, I think Tampa Bay rides its hot streak into Boston, winning Game 1 after jumping out to an early lead against Jon Lester—whose one start in the past 13 days was a disappointing outing against the Orioles.
Stealing home-field advantage in the opener is enough to send Tampa Bay to the ALCS in four games.