|Sorry, Casey. Bud Selig cannot hear your angry cries.|
After a long paid vacation away from Boris Diaw Time, I am happy to make my triumphant return and bring baseball back to the blog! Okay, so you know that’s not the truth. It wasn’t a paid vacation. No, I was in a coma for a year after hearing the news about the atrocious format changes that Bud Selig has brought to the postseason. I’m not gonna lie, if it wasn’t for the Pirates coming through for me at the last minute, staging an unthinkable ‘comeback’ to finish out the year, I may not have found the strength to come out of my hibernation and write again. But when it feels like the whole world is changing around you, you can always count on an old friend to come through for you and bring some stability into your life. Here’s to another 20 years, Pittsburgh!
Wait, what’s that? The Rays didn’t make the postseason? Then who beat them to that final spot? Surely not that division rival who trails them by triple digits in run differential?! Okay, I’ll quit the ‘cute’ stuff. I don’t want to validate this team by spending time breaking them down. Do you think the “Plus-Sevens” (that’s my run-differential-based nickname for them) are gonna win a do-or-die game AT Texas… then beat the well-rested Bronx Bombers… then take down either the “Verlander & Cabreras” or the red-hot A’s… then win a World Series as an away team facing the superior league’s entrant… also as the away team? Didn’t think so. With the new curse-the-wild-card playoff format, giving a wild-card team even a 40% chance of winning each round (generous for the O’s, in my opinion), their odds of winning it all are just 2.56%. The luck runs out in October.
This would be just as much a “what the…?” entry as the Orioles, except for the part where I remember the early 2000’s. I think the A’s are just destined every few years to turn in an unimpressive roster that explodes in the second half and takes the world by surprise. Being from the Bay Area myself, the thing that shocks me the most about each of these shocker seasons is the part where they keep finding the motivation to get out of bed and play their hearts out every day, despite playing in… Oakland. My only explanation: I guess most of the players live in S.F. or the North Bay and commute to Oakland. Nevertheless, at some point it must catch up with them, right? Going back to my early 2000’s point, I guess that explains why they can never carry any of that second-half magic into the postseason. Aside from the pleasantly-surprising Yoenis Cespedes, this lineup is atrocious. Don’t ask me how they actually caught the Rangers and won the division. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite an accomplishment – it’s one of the fascinating sports stories in recent memory. I just don’t see how they roll through the playoffs with this roster.
Well, well, if it isn’t the Cincinnati Reds, again making a rather underwhelming march into the postseason. The weird thing is, they have a really good record, but I’m still not impressed. Perhaps the joke is on me, but I still feel just as inclined to ignore them this year as I was two years ago when they, well, you know, laid a giant egg in the postseason. What’s further odd is that they’re actually now the exact opposite of that team. That year, the argument was that while they had some big bats, they had no pitching, and you can’t win in the playoffs without good pitching. On the contrary, this year, they have a solid starting rotation, and a ‘pen anchored by the absolutely terrifying Aroldis Chapman… but the offensive production has been spotty for a lineup with some gaping holes (hello, Drew Stubbs!). I can’t really explain it, but my gut just tells me that Cincinnati has ‘letdown’ written all over them. Maybe it’s just because Jon is a Reds fan. Do I really need to give any more reasons? (See: Cowboys, Dallas)
So I guess the Tigers finally figured this thing out. What I mean is they figured out that, though it seems practically automatic, you DO actually have to try at least a little bit in order to win the AL Central. Like the Cardinals, though they barely crashed the postseason party, I am going to take them seriously now that they’re here (and unlike the Cards, they don’t have a wild-card matchup in the way). You can’t ignore a team that arguably brings the best offensive player and the best pitcher in baseball into the playoffs! Yes, there are some questions (does Miguel Cabrera know about Oktoberfest? uh-oh…), but they bring three solid starting pitchers and a scary middle of the order into the playoffs, and that’s always a good start. Besides, most of the AL’s playoff teams have some gaping holes somewhere in their roster. I can easily see this team in the World Series.
What a bizarre season. Fictitious websites, a Beard injury, Buster’s revenge season, a perfect game, more Three Stooges impressions by Jeremy Affeldt… and most shocking of all, here lie the Giants, headed into the postseason with an explosive lineup but questionable pitching in all phases. We all saw this coming, right? Regardless of what perceptions have told in recent seasons, we have to face the fact: the Giants can score runs now, but their bullpen has been very problematic. Oh, and then there are the starters – after Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, trying to pick the other starting spots for the playoffs is like playing Russian roulette. We all know what’s happened with Lincecum this year, but he recently seemed to be getting back on track – until he finished the regular season with another two ugly starts. Ryan Vogelsong was in the Cy Young race just two months ago – um, let’s not talk about what’s happened since then, okay? And then there’s the guy who, among these three, has been the most reliable this year: Barry Zito! But he… um… well, HE’S BARRY ZITO! Good luck figuring this one out, Bochy. Unless Gregor Blanco can prove to be the next Cody Ross, they will need one of those three guys to step up. But with experience on their side, don’t count them out.
This is a tough one, folks. On the one hand, the lineup is as homer-iffic as ever. I mean, it shouldn’t be legal for a team to launch that many bombs in a season. (Why don’t I phrase it a different way: MLB should actually have some rules about how you build fences in your ballpark – and I’m not actually joking about that one. They also allow the 4th most homers to opponents.) But it’s always a story about pitching for the Yanks in the playoffs, isn’t it? There’s always CC, you can count on him, and Kuroda is having a terrific year. But after that, I don’t know what is going to happen. At least the transition from Mo Rivera has been virtually seamless – Rafael Soriano is looking very impressive. I don’t know what this team is going to do, but even with sloppy starting pitching every other game, I could easily see them winning it all. So. Many. Runs.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Nationals are the best team in baseball. That is, the regular-season Nationals were, anyway. You know, that team that had a guy named Stephen Strasburg on the mound every 5 games. So obviously, the biggest question is, are the Strasburg-less Nats still the best team in baseball? The answer is… quite possibly. You see, when you’re a team that has a seemingly endless string of quality starters as its disposal, dropping one and heading into the postseason with just four stellar starters is… well, that’s what every team does in the postseason! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stupid – most teams drop their worst starter, and he’s not their worst. But I’m not exactly convinced he was their best, and they’re all just so good! So I’m not ready to throw them under the bus. The NL is stacked with scary teams, so they’re not an overwhelming favorite, but all the pieces appear to be there for them to make a run.