With the MLB regular season winding down, those of us here at the sportsheadquarters figure what better time to analyze the Pennant Races in each league than in the last 10-12 games of the regular season as we look to lock up the 4 postseason participants of each league and get ready for playoff baseball. Its relatively clear in both leagues what teams have a reasonable chance at the post-season and which ones dont. So with that, below you will get predictions, analysis, and hopefully your feedback on my guide to 2010 MLB Playoff Baseball. Look out for the breakdowns in 3 parts:
Part 1: The American League Preview
Part 2: The National League Preview
The American League essentially has its 4 teams locked up heading into the last two weeks. Even as a passionate Red Sox fan, its hard to sit here and give a compelling argument for why the Red Sox will be in the playoffs so for now, we look forward to the American league playoffs with the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, and Minnesota Twins. Hopefully by the end of this, I can sway enough of you to make some money with these picks.
Why They Could Win The Pennant- First off, the Twins lack the typical American league lineup built on power. Instead the Twins get by on a National League type of offense built on putting the ball in play and taking the extra base when it’s there. As a team they have struck out less than all but 2 teams in the league, neither of who will be in the postseason. In retrospect, their likely first round opponent, Tampa Bay has struck out the 3rd most in the majors of all the teams. Minnesota is near the top of the league in 2B’s and 3B’s, showing that though they may not jack home runs at a high rate such as the Yankees, and Rangers, they aren’t a bunch of single slapping players. Their OBP is 2nd in the majors (to the Yankees). But the backbone of the Twins is their pitching. They have the lowest ERA among all AL playoff teams, and have the 2nd lowest in the AL overall. Carl Pavano has emerged as a potential 1-2 duo with Francisco Liriano to give them as reliable a top of the rotation as any in the AL. They currently have the best Record in the American League and in their brand new park, built for pitching, they gain an advantage if they can keep from having to play in the bandbox’s of Yankee Stadium or Ballpark at Arlington that favor slugging teams like the Rangers and Yankees. They also don’t walk many players, ranking 6th in the majors in fewest walks allowed. In retrospect, the other 3 teams in the AL are all in the bottom half of the league.
Why they Ultimately Wont Win the AL- For one, they have a tough time matching up with a Cliff Lee, C.C Sabathia, or David Price multiple times in a 5 or 7 game series. They lack the true dominant #1 that all the other teams have. They also don’t strike out a lot of opponents. They are below .500% against the East as a division which doesn’t bode well for a playoffs where two of the 4 teams and their first round opponent will come from the American League East. They have had a miserable time against the Yankees in the postseason in recent years. They don’t have the quick strike ability of other teams to get back into games. Each of the other 3 American League teams rank in the Top 11 in the League in HR’s while the Twins come in 19th. They don’t steal a lot of bases ranking 26th in the majors in that department, well behind the other 3 teams who all rank in the Top 12. They don’t have a lot of playoff success on their roster to count, and a lot of their core players are young guys who haven’t even played in a World Series, let alone win one. Their bullpen is rather mediocre and they don’t have a Rivera or Soriano at the back end whose been consistent all year. They also have grounded into the most DP’s of any team in the majors. If they fall behind in games, with their limited power as a team, and the fact they hit into so many DP’s. They could hit themselves out of a lot of potential big innings.
Likelihood of Winning the WS (scale of 1-10): 4
Tampa Bay Rays
Why They Could Win The Pennant- For the Rays it all starts with the pitching. They have the most reliable postseason rotation of any team in the AL, with Price, Garza, Shields. They are only two years removed from playing in the Fall Classic. Offensively, they have the best mixture of power and speed of any team in the American League. They lead the majors in SB, and that only becomes more important with speed in the big outfields of Texas and Tampa Bay to both take base hits away and turn singles into doubles, and doubles into triples. All of their success comes back to their pitching though. They strikeout more batters than any other AL playoff team. Their bullpen has its faults but Soriano has been as good as any closer in the AL this year. They are 2nd in all of baseball in On Base Allowed. Nothing makes defense easier than not letting guys on base. They are a young group who is not afraid of the spotlight or the big stage. They have a winning record against all 3 of the potential playoff opponents. They also have one of the best road records in the league so regardless of whether they have home field or not, they have proven they can win without it something other teams have not.
Why They Ultimately Wont Win the AL- Given the way the Rays have played all year, there’s not a lot to say negative against their chances. They pitch well, have played well against each of the other playoff teams, hit for power, run well. So whats the problem? A couple of TEENIE things that I think come October will do them in. First off, their pitching gives up a ton of Home Runs. 3rd most in the entire league. They have an uncanny ability to let teams back into games. Secondly, the middle of their bullpen isn’t the strongest. They don’t have a ton of reliable relievers to get them to Soriano. Secondly they do not hit well for average. While the Rangers and Twins are the top 2 teams in the league in average, and the Yanks 7th, the Rays come in at 24th. That comes in large part to the fact they have struck out as a time more than all but two teams in the league. In low-scoring games the difference could be something as little as moving a guy over and with their inability to put the ball in play at times, that could be costly. They also struggle to get big crowds, often to the point where the opponent (most notably the Red Sox and Yankees) is cheered in some games from the opponent’s fan base. Home field advantage isn’t that big a deal if you can’t sell tickets. They’re the biggest threat to win the pennant of any of my projected 3 losers.
Likelihood of Winning World Series (scale 1-10): 7
Why They Could Win The AL Pennant- The biggest difference between Texas this year and in the past is Cliff Lee. They have always been able to slug. They just couldn’t pitch. Cliff Lee has emerged as a front of the rotation pitcher who has proven in the past he could put a team on his shoulders and lead them. There won’t be a series they go into where they have to worry about their #1 against another teams. To the obvious part now, they smack the ball like its nobodies business. Ranking first in MLB in average, and 11th in Home Runs, they wont find too many games where they can’t score runs. They run pretty well at 7th in the majors in SB. They are great at home, with the 3rd best record in the AL at home. Their bullpen has been pretty good most of the year as well, with 4 of their main middle relievers and closer all with ERA’s of 2.50 or lower.
Why They Ultimately Wont Win the AL- Alright well where to start. First off the Rangers are terrible on the road. They are the only AL playoff team with a losing record on the road. They have a losing record against TB, are only .500% against the Yankees but get swept in their one trip to the Bronx where there is a good chance they start, and are an atrocious 3-7 against the Twins. They are only two games over .500% against Boston. To sum it up, they dominate the bad teams and struggle against the good ones, 9-15 against the other 3 teams. They don’t walk a lot, while TB and NY are the two best in that category. Their rotation after Lee doesn’t stack up to almost any of the other teams in the AL and they probably need Lee to win Game 1, and 4 to have a shot. There pitching walks a lot of guys, in retrospect the other teams staffs are all in the Top 11 of fewest walks allowed. They’re 22nd in the league in fielding percentage, while the other 3 are all top 8. They also are barely a .500% team since July so they aren’t exactly hitting their stride going in. The Rangers have the most holes of any team entering the 2010 American League Playoffs.
Likelihood of Winning World Series (on scale 1-10)- 2
New York Yankees
Why They Will Win the AL Pennant- The Yankees will enter the 2010 postseason as the defending World Champions. Spear-headed by one of the league’s best offenses and a ace in C.C Sabathia who just last year pitched them to World Title #27, they have to be the overwhelming favorites to come out of the American League. The offense ranks 3rd in the league in Home Runs, 7th in Average, 1st in RBI, 2nd in Walks, 1st in Runs, and 3rd in Slugging. In short, they are loaded offensively. The Yankees lineup wears pitchers out like no other in baseball. They have the experience, the depth, the offense, the pitching, and despite age at some positions, are tied for the best fielding percentage in baseball. They have the Godfather of postseason closers at the back end of their bullpen. 4 players with 25 plus homers, and soon to be 5 with 20+. There are few easy outs in their lineup. They have perhaps the most intimidating place to win in all of baseball come October. Add in their playoff history against Minnesota and Texas, and its hard to pick against them to at least not make the ALCS. Add in Any Pettite coming back, Jeter, Posada, Sabathia, and perhaps even A-Rod, and they are filled with players who have played in the biggest game and more so than any other playoff team won’t have too many players with jitters on the field.
What Could Stop Them- There are a few small things that could ultimately derail another AL Pennant for the Yankees. First off Pettite is coming off an injury where he hasn’t pitched in months. Burnett has been a roller coaster all year and Phil Hughes can’t be relied upon to be a consistent productive starter. They’re rotation is by far their biggest concern entering the playoffs. If another team can get their #2 or #3 guy to pitch well or if one of the other aces (Lee, Price, Pavano/Liriano) can overcome Sabathia in a Game 1, the Yanks could be vulnerable. Their staff like the Rays gives up a bunch of HR’s, though in both instances the AL East and most specifically the Jays and Sox contribute to that. 117 out of 140 base stealers have been safe against the Yanks this year. Posada in his older age isn’t trusty behind the plate against a team like TB or Texas, each of whom can turn a walk or single into a man on 2nd repeatedly. They also have been very mediocre in one run games this year, only 18-17, so in the playoffs where blowouts are less frequent, they could find themselves in trouble.
Likelihood of Winning World Series: 9
Thanks for reading and hope to hear from all of you as well as hope for your continued reading in parts 2 and 3.