The playoffs begin today. The American League gets it kicked off with the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays at 5:07pm. The New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers get the nightcap tonight at 8:37pm. Justin Verlander takes on CC Sabathia tonight in the Yanks-Tigers series. The NLDS gets under way tomorrow with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at 2:07pm and then the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals follow them at 5:07pm. Should shape up for a great first round. Tristan Tschoepe got us started with his predictions earlier, here are mine.
Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) @ Texas Rangers (96-66) 5:07 pm Friday
It is no secret what happened to the Rays on Wednesday and how they got into the playoffs. After Evan Longoria’s walk off home run on Wednesday, the celebration ensued in Tampa. My question is… did the Rays already win? We saw that happen to the Phillies in 2007 when they made the playoffs and that was the main goal- not the World Series. I don’t know if this is the case for the Rays or not but it does raise some question. I think the Rays enter the playoffs with more momentum than any other team in baseball, except the Rangers. Unfortunately for them, they face the Rangers who won 14-16 down the stretch. The Rangers are one of the most balanced teams in baseball. They can hit for power (Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz), they can hit for average (Michael Young), they can steal bases (Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus), they can pitch (C.J. Wilson), and they can close out games (Neftali Feliz). The Rays have a tall task at hand and it certainly doesn’t help that they have rookie starter Matt Moore starting Game 1 opposite of Rangers ace C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94 ERA). I look for this to be a chest match but it is hard to pick against the Rangers overall balance.
Prediction: Rangers in 5
Detroit Tigers (95-67) @ New York Yankees (97-65) 8:37 pm Friday
The Yankees once again put up big numbers. Mark Teixiera and Curtis Granderson were ranked #2 and #3 in the Majors in home runs. Robinson Cano put on a display at the Home Run Derby and showed that he is as dangerous a hitter as anyone else in that lineup. Derek Jeter had another solid year hitting just a shade under .300 at .297. The Tigers also have some guys who can hit the ball too. Miguel Cabrera lead the Majors in hitting at .344 and switch hitting catch/designated hitter Victor Martinez hit a solid .330. Pitching is the big question mark for both teams this series. Game 1 features likely AL Cy Young winner and potential AL MVP candidate Justin Verlander going for the Tigers and Yankees ace CC Sabathia. If the Yankees take Game 1, I see them winning this series. If the Yankees take game one they practically force the Tigers to pitch Verlander on short rest. If the Tigers win Game 1, they take pressure off game two starter Doug Fister. The pitching matchups Verlander v. Sabathia, Fister v. Nova, and Scherzer v. Garcia. Fister has been outstanding since joining the Tigers in a midseason trade from the Mariners. They both have great closers in the bullpen. Jose Valverde was perfect in save opportunities this year and the Yankees have the ageless Mariano Rivera. Again, if the Yankees win Game 1, I think they win the series. But I don’t think the Yankees get the best of Verlander but this is going to be a great series to watch.
Prediction: Tigers in 5
Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68) @ Milwaukee Brewers (96-66) 2:07 pm Saturday
The Diamondbacks have surprised everyone this year by defeating the reigning World Series champion Giants and winning 94 games. The Diamondbacks are anchored by Cy Young candidate Ian Kennedy but also have solid starters behind him in Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders. Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton is as close to a five tool player as you get (along with Hunter Pence). The Diamondbacks can put up some runs and can pitch out of jams as well. Whatever the Diamondbacks can do, the Brewers can do better. The Brewers trot out stud pitchers in Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum. They also put up some big numbers offensively. Prince Fielder had the season of his life (ironic that it is his contract year?) and MVP candidate Ryan Braun had a 30-30 year and contended for the NL Batting Title until the last day of the season. The Brewers boasted the best home record in the Majors but were 3 games under .500 on the road. I think the Diamondbacks will put up a fight against the Brewers (especially at home) but I think, in the end, the Brewers will be too much for the Diamondbacks.
Prediction: Brewers in 4
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) @ Philadelphia Phillies (102-60) 5:07 pm Saturday
The best team in baseball faces off against a team that needed all 162 games and some help to get into the playoffs. The Cardinals owe the Phillies their season for sweeping the Braves and allowing the Cardinals the opportunity to make it. Now they face off. The Phillies are where they were expected to be. Fifth straight division champions and they have the best record in baseball for the second straight year. The Cardinals had an up and down year but made it to the postseason regardless. The status of Cards LF Matt Holliday is uncertain with his left hand injury. St. Louis feared he would be out for the season but he was able to play through some pain against the Astros but aggravated it the other day and remains day-to-day. Albert Pujols has shown that he is pretty much the same Albert Pujols who was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. The Cardinals are sending former Phillie Kyle Lohse to start Game 1 against Roy Halladay and then Chris Carpenter will go for the Cards in Game 2 on three days’ rest against Cliff Lee. The Cardinals pitching isn’t where the Phillies staff is. The Phillies hold the edge there and the Phillies can put up some offensive numbers with the new juggled lineup that has Chase Utley batting second and Hunter Pence batting third. The Phillies are clearly the better team in this series. Prediction: Phillies in 4-Steve Dolan