Friday, October 5, 2012

MLB Postseason Preview

Sorry, Casey. Bud Selig cannot hear your angry cries.
Written by: Casey Richey

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!

Now, on to the postseason – I am going to keep this simple.  I’m previewing each team in the postseason and providing my best guess at their odds of winning the World Series.  Please keep in mind, folks: this is not basketball or football.  There are only 10 teams, and you can’t definitively say any team has NO chance of winning it all.  Baseball is just weird like that.  However, I didn’t just pull these percentages out of thin air – these really are my best guesses, and I’ve done some scenario mapping to back up the numbers if anyone is interested.  Enjoy!

Rays Orioles

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.

Odds of winning it all: About the same as the odds of the Rays winning it all… just kidding.  



HOW DID THIS TEAM MANAGE TO LOSE 74 GAMES?!?  It’s not like they went and dropped off a cliff, or started out particularly slow.  I mean, throughout the entire season, their actual win total has been so far off their expected Pythagorean Wins that one might be led to believe they had some wins stripped Joe Paterno-style!  They finished 5th in MLB in runs scored, 2nd in quality starts, and 8th in ERA.  I don’t know what happened to this team during the regular season – especially considering they get to play the Astros and Cubs as often as they do!  If it weren’t for this stupid new playoff format whereby they have to essentially flip a coin just to get into the ‘real’ playoffs (don’t even get me started!), I’d have them as a major contender.  But they’ve dug themselves a big hole, landing a winner-take-all away game against the Braves’ Kris Medlen, who has been practically unhittable since converting to a starter two months ago.

Odds of winning it all: Given the fact that the NL has home-field advantage this World Series, and that this team is stacked with talent, I’d be inclined to give them very favorable odds if it weren’t for the wild-card game thing.  But as they stand, I can’t even give them decent odds at making in into the first real series… where they ‘d be facing the best team in baseball… away.  



I have one, and only one, reason to fear the Braves – and his name is Chipper Jones.  No, I’m not just talking about the part where he’s really good at baseball.  Don’t get me wrong, he is, and he’ll be as valuable to his team this October as he’s ever been.  But I’m talking about what might happen around him.  Do you remember Bobby Cox’s final year in Atlanta?  You know, when they weren’t supposed to be very good, but in June and July they decided to go on a crazy surge for the old skipper and kept it going all the way down the stretch, gliding into the postseason?  Granted, they ended up losing in the first round to the eventual-champion Giants (you had to know I’d get that in there, right?), but that’s beside the point.  To me, the Braves definitely have that ‘feel’ again this year.  I don’t think they should actually be that good.  They have a below-average offense and are basically led by a piping-hot closer (you know how sustainable that is… Eric Gagne, anyone?) and Mr. “I’m so old I actually remember when Barry Zito was good” (AKA Tim Hudson).  But back to the Chipper Jones point – baseball teams LOVE to rally around a persona.  So much of the success in this sport is emotion- and energy-driven.  I can’t explain it.  But if you’ve seen any of the recent games in which even away teams have been holding good-bye ceremonies for Chipper, and if you’ve seen how deeply his teammates seem to be impacted by his impending departure from the game, then you understand why I’m afraid to bury them altogether.

Odds of winning it all: As noted above, they should have the upper hand in the one-gamer.  But after that, the NL is stocked full of contenders, and I don’t like how they match up against any of them.  



I have one, and only one, reason NOT to fear the Rangers – and his name is Ron Washington.  Washington is easily the dumbest manager in baseball when it comes to in-game decisions.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s not the worst manager around.  He’s definitely what they call a ‘players’ manager’ – guys love him, and he promotes a positive clubhouse (you don’t have a whole lot of Bronx drama in Arlington), which goes a long way in this sport.  In fact, had they not inexplicably choked away their division and wound up in the wild card round, they would have been my easy pick to make the World Series out of the AL – after all, they have the best top-to-bottom roster in the AL.  Instead, they now play ‘coin toss’ with the logic-defying Orioles.  Even if they do make it out of the AL, you can picture what happens next – it’s an image we’ve seen plenty these last couple falls.  Ron Washington is out there in an NL ballpark, asking the umpire in the seventh inning about “how you do that ol’ double-switcheroo thingy all the kids are talking about these days.”  I don’t know how the World Series will keep my attention without those Ron Washington blunders!

Odds of winning it all: As I said, I’d be inclined to give them as good a chance as anyone out of the AL if they had won the division.  So you have to pretty much cut those chances in half on account of the extra wild-card game.  



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.

Odds of winning it all: Again, you have to suspect results, and the recent results for this group have been lots and lots of wins.  But I refuse to feel any obligation to expect that trend to continue when the stats tell me they probably won’t.  



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)

Odds of winning it all: Okay, so I should probably give them some respect for the great pitching staff.  But even with Joey Votto back, this lineup has some serious concerns.  Besides, even adjusting for the time Votto missed with the injury, his power was significantly down this year.  And don’t forget – old Dusty has had his fair share of Ron Washington-esque moments.  



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.

Odds of winning it all: Even though they have a good shot at making the Fall Classic, they would still enter it as the away team, likely facing a superior opponent.  



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.

Odds of winning it all: All that stuff I just said was pretty brutal.  But you have to circle back to the part where they’re scoring runs as well as anyone since the loss of Melky Cabrera (again, we all saw this coming, right?), and they do still have Cain and Bumgarner.  It’s not hard to picture one of those other three starters stepping up, and after all these guys have been here before.  



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.

Odds of winning it all: You gotta love when you go from potential wild-card matchup to home-field throughout the playoffs in one night!  You would see me writing these odds for the Texas Rangers if things had played out on October 3rd, but as much as it will disappoint 95% of the nation to hear this, the Yanks are the favorites out of the AL.  Still, I’m putting a high value on home-field advantage for the NL this year.  



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.

Odds of winning it all: I like the lineup top-to-bottom, though it’s not overwhelming.  We’ve already covered their dominant pitching.  Finishing atop your league means more this year than it has in a long time, given the new wild-card format.  And then they’ll get home-field for the World Series if they get there.  



  1. You wrote this just to make me comment, eh? I think you have missed it on the Cin-SF matchup...When you pare down to the 4-man playoff rotations (Cueto, Latos, Arroyo, Bailey vs. Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong) the Reds' starters posted a combined 3.41 ERA in a combined 836.1 IP. The Giants' four came in at 3.64 in 801.1 IP. Also, when you remove the Reds and Giants from their respective divisions, the NL Central outscored the NL West by 608 runs. Boil it down, and the Cincy starters have pitched almost 4 more complete games worth of innings against better offenses. Also, Cincy actually posted a better run differential than the Giants. I'm not going to guarantee a Cincy win, especially with this stupid year giving the Giants home field advantage in the NLDS, but I do believe the Reds have a better chance at winning it all than the Giants.

  2. Hey Bloomy,

    Thanks for the comments. Let me start with a long aside on your comment about the Giants having 'home field advantage'. This is yet one more topic regarding the new format that I feel very strongly about, but didn't have time to unfold in my post.

    Let me just say that I don't get why the media is going crazy over this and acting like the home teams got screwed this year. I mean sure, I get it, the 'home' team starts the series away... it's kinda weird, maybe unconventional. But I've actually been a proponent of this for YEARS!! Not just for 5-gamers, but especially for 7-gamers, even the World Series!!! If I'm playing for a 'home' team in the Divisional round this year, I'm thrilled about this!

    Think of it this way: the ONLY way this hurts a 'home' team is if they lose BOTH the away games and wind up in a 0-2 hole, needing to sweep at home. The media seems to have become obsessed with this scenario, as though this is inevitably going to be the case in all 4 series! On the contrary, what they fail to mention is the far more likely scenario - that is, the 'home' team comes home with a 1-1 tied series, and ALL the remaining games at home!!! That is SWEET for the home team!! Not to mention there's also a scenario in which they return home up 2-0, in which the series is basically over. So, though everyone loves to talk about the down 0-2 scenario, in my mind it's the least likely scenario - remember, this is a wild-card team that's coming off a brutal week in which they had to shift their rotation trying to get one of their top starters ready for the do-or-die game! Odds are great for them to drop one of the first two games of the Divisional round.

    Besides, let's remember that even in the worst-case scenraio of being down 0-2, the beautiful thing is that a team will never really 'out of it' when all they have to do is win home games. Sure, they're up against a wall, but they win that 3rd game and they'll feel like they're right back in it.

    For the life of me I cannot understand why the sportsyak are acting like this is home-team armageddon. Like I said, I would love to be a 'home' team in this situation. The Reds, for example, fly to SF right now telling themselves, "Guys, all we gotta do is take one of these two, and we've got a strong egde on the Giants heading back home."

    Back to my 7-game comment, personally, I've always felt like home teams have MORE pressure in a lot of ways in the current 7-game format. Think about it, there is a TON of pressure for the home team to take care of business in those first two games. You almost feel as if you HAVE to win the first two games of the series, otherwise you head away for THREE games tied 1-1 (potentially to lose the series away before even getting another home game), or even worse, down 0-2 and (very bad). When the Giants made the WS 2 years ago, I was terrified that we got home-field advantage, because the thought of going to Texas for three games without a lead in the series seemed very bleak. Well, fortunately my boys slaughtered the Rangers in the first two, so it really wasn't an issue. But as the away team, you've gotta be thinking "Just win one of these two away games, and it's all in our control."

    Anyway, I've already typed way too much. This probably needed to be its own blog post! Jon, why don't you just copy and paste and call this "Casey Rants about Postseason Format" hahaha. I'll get to responding about the Giants-Reds series in a little bit. I need to take a breather. :-)

  3. Now, on to your Reds-Giants comments:

    First off, this ‘mighty middle’ was by far the hardest for me to nail down – that is, the Reds, Giants, and Tigers (the Cards were also a part of this mighty middle, but of course I cut their odds in half for playing in the wild-card round). They all won divisions that are on the less-competitive side, but still possess some great weapons. The independent probability of any given divisional round team winning it all is 12.5% (1 of 8 teams), and I had all 3 of these guys around 12%. I kept shuffling them around, but had trouble settling. I ended up ticking the Reds down 1%, based partially on the concerns I cited in the post (hitting and Dusty… oh, and of course the ‘Jon’s sports teams’ curse, haha). Then in the end I needed an extra 1% to make the field total 100%, and I was going to give it to either the Tigers or Giants. The NL team won the tie-break by virtue of having home-field advantage in the World Series. So the NL ended up with a 54-46% advantage in odds of winning the WS –this is a pretty fair representation of historical independent home-field advantage.

    As for breaking down the Reds-Giants series, you should know in my scenario mapping I actually gave this series a straight 50/50. I have no idea how to pick this series. It’s actually the later rounds where I have the Giants holding an edge on the Reds, experience being part of the equation. As I noted, there are some big concerns in the rotation – but most of these guys were there in 2010 and proved very capable under pressure. Besides, if you force me to pick between the two teams’ weaknesses (offense for the Reds, and uh, I guess we’ll call it pitching for the Giants… even though they’re ranked 7th in MLB in team ERA), I’ll put my money on the Giants’ pitchers coming through over the Reds’ offense (ranked 21st in MLB). And don’t give me the Joey Votto excuse for that – it was only 48 games he missed, and their win pct. was .667 in that span!! But perhaps that’s oversimplifying it, so let’s dig deeper into some of the points you made:

    First, you mention starting pitching. I find it interesting that you include Tim Lincecum, who Bochy has yet to give ANY indication will be starting a single game this postseason, in your comparison… one might be led to believe you’re padding your stats in order to give the edge to the Reds. We all know Lincecum’s ERA was gargantuan, so if you include his stats of course the Reds have the edge (though not an enormous one). But many consider Zito more likely to get a start in this series. Suddenly, their numbers become 801.2 IP and a 3.39 – and there goes the Reds’ edge in starting pitching. We’ll see what Bochy decides to do – this is not an easy one for him.

    (continued... it cut me off, haha)

  4. (Part 2 of 2)

    I also like how you threw in there, “… the Cincy starters have pitched almost 4 more complete games worth of innings against better offenses.” First of all, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that your starters got more work during the regular season. Sure, if it meant that the Giants’ guys were getting chased early in games then that’s one thing, but that’s not the case here. These four guys had 127 starts this season. The Reds’ four guys had 131 starts. That’s right, the Cincy starters haven’t just “pitched almost 4 more complete games worth on innings”… they have LITERALLY started 4 more games! So effectively all you’re saying is the Reds’ starters have had more work to this point. I’m not sure how that’s a good thing in October.

    But the far more important thing about your comment above is the “against better offenses” part. Did you forget that the Reds played TWENTY PERCENT of their games this year against the Astros and Cubs (30th and 28th in runs scored)?!?! The Reds’ strength of schedule was second-to-last in MLB at .486, only one point ahead of the Brewers (BTW the next two teams are the Cardinals and Pirates… guess which division was the worst in baseball this year?). The Giants’ was ranked 23rd at .495 – still not very good, but markedly better. So I find it interesting you’d bring this up.

    Finally, you mention the Reds’ better run differential. Yes, the Reds did win their games by 0.07 runs per game more than the Giants this year… against the 2nd-worst SOS in MLB. But hey, I can be selective with stats, too. The Giants made a bunch of moves around the trade deadline – and in the last two months of the season, they were plus-72 in run differential; the Reds were plus-9. In that same span, the Giants scored the 3rd most runs in MLB, 304; the Reds scored 210. The Reds haven’t scored more than 6 runs in a game since August. The Giants have done that 9 times in that span. Oh, and keep in mind, the Giants play in what many regard as the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in all baseball.

    You know what, I hadn’t done enough research when I made that 50/50 call! I think I’ve just convinced myself to go ahead and say the Giants get this done in 4 games.

  5. ESPN just came out with they 'expert' picks... granted, ESPN is dumb, but of their 29 guys, 15 picked the Giants and 14 picked the Reds, so they seem to agree it will be close. 5 of them picked the Giants winning it all, 4 picked the Reds. So it seems that would back up my giving a slight edge to the Giants, as well... for whatever that's worth, lol.

  6. The Reds NL Central opponents score more runs than the Giants NL West opponents did. They played the Cardinals and Brewers as many times as they did the Astros and Cubs, without the benefit of pitching regularly in four NL West pitching-friendly ballparks. Also, head-to-head, the Reds held a 4-3 edge against the Giants with a +7 Run differential. As for home field advantage, only around a third of 5-game series reach the fifth game, so the most likely scenario is that 2 games are played in each stadium, so yes-I'd rather start at home.

  7. and Lincecum is slotted to start 3rd in the Giants' postseason rotation.

  8. Where did you hear that about Lincecum? I've been checking all the Giants' newsfeeds this morning and still everyone's saying Bochy won't commit to Game 3 starter. I don't even know if I hope it's Lincecum or not. At this point, who knows what we're getting!

  9. Wait, did you seriously just say that the Reds' NL Central opponents scored more runs than the Giants' NL West opponents? No they didn't!! The only way that's 'true' is if you're actually totaling your 5 NL Central teams and the 4 NL West teams! There are MORE TEAMS in the NL Central! The Cards, Brewers, Pirates, Cubs, and Astros averaged 677.6 runs - the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Rockies averaged 695. For real Bloomy, using totals of more things as opposed to using percentages? That's low.

    Yes, the Reds played the Cards and Brewers as many times as they played the Astros and Cubs. Look, I don't know what you want me to do with that. The Astros and Cubs are SO MUCH worse than the Cards and Brewers are good! No one would disagree with this. The Astros and Cubs are hands-down the worst teams in all of baseball - the Cards played really well but ultimately didn't finish with a great record because their 'pen couldn't hold leads. And the Brewers - for real? - finished 4 games over .500. That's not exactly something that cancels out playing the 2 worst teams in baseball an equal amount of the time. And you want further proof? Oh, that's right, I already gave you it - the part where the Reds have the second-worst strength of schedule in the majors.

    I also don't know where you get 4 pitcher-friendly ballparks in the NL West - but hey, I'll take it as a complement to the Giants since they led the league in runs scored away this year! Cool!

    As for head-to-head, yes, that's a fair point. But honestly, I don't tend to give a whole lot of weight to that when it's something like a one-game advantage. Also, remember that these were all games that happened in the first half. As I've noted, a lot has happened since then and both teams' trajectories have gone in opposite directions in the 2nd half - the Reds for the worse, the Giants for the better.

  10. Hey guess what, I just looked up division vs. division stats - the NL West was 20 games over .500 vs. the NL Central!

  11. Look at your Giants last two months that were so amazing...who'd they play? Rockies, Padres, and wait, who? CUBS AND ASTROS! how about that? Truth is, this is funny since we're actually both saying this will be a close series.

  12. It's true, it worked out so the Giants' last couple months were relatively easier than the first half (same was true for the Reds). Still played the Cards, Nats, Braves, and Dodgers x 3 down that stretch and their stats during it are impressive nonetheless. Remember, my whole point when I first shared those stats was that anyone can be selective and make things look good! All the other stats we've discussed were season-long numbers, and overall the Giants' SOS was better.