Division Series predictions
Well, I’m 0-for-2 so far, but that’s part of the point I tried to make yesterday. You can get the fundamentals right, or get some parts of your analysis right, and get the game or the series wrong. We’re dealing in probabilities, not certainties.
In short, point 1 from yesterday still stands: anyone who claims to know what will happen with any certainty in a short stretch of baseball games is a liar, a fool, or both. With that said, it’s still a fun exercise to take a shot at this stuff, so let’s give it a whirl.
This is the series I’ll be covering. I’m fully aware that these two teams played 18 times, split those games, and were separated by all of two runs, total, in their head-to-head matchups. I still think this is a bad draw for the O’s.
The Yankees will have the starting pitching advantage in at least three out of five games and almost certainly more than that. Their offense has even more power than the O’s offense, and they’re much better at getting on base. I do think Baltimore has the edge in the dugout, though for my money Joe Girardi is more adept tactically than he gets credit for.
I think this series will come down to this: Baltimore’s starters will be out of games early, and their relievers will only be able to hold off that deep Yankee lineup for so long. At some point, they’ll start to show some cracks. I think the Yankees win this series in the sixth and seventh innings.
Yankees in 4.
The A’s are really good, you guys. I sort of feel like this may have been lost in the presentation of them as a heartwarming story. They do a lot of things well, and unlike the Orioles, there’s really no disconnect between their record and their runs scored and allowed.
Oakland had the fifth-best run differential in the Majors this year, and third-best in the AL. I suspect you could win a few bets with that one, assuming you hang around with the kind of people who care enough about run differential to base a bar bet on it (I do, by the way).
And yet… I understand why the Tigers are such a popular pick not only to win this series but the next round and even the round after that. When you have at least arguably the best pitcher in the game, and a three-man lineup core that matches up with anybody anywhere, there’s a temptation to think that will win out in a short series. And it might.
The Tigers’ relative deficiencies in the bullpen and on defense are big worries, though. I think the A’s are less likely to beat themselves, and more likely to win at least one game in the late innings. I won’t be the slightest bit surprised if the A’s win this series, and in fact my second-likeliest scenario is A’s in 4. But the Verlander factor, two starts in five games, is more than I can get past. I can’t in good conscience pick the A’s in four if I don’t think they’d also win if it went five, and I don’t.
Tigers in 5. Or A’s in 4. Or A’s in 5. But officially, for real, Tigers in 5.
I’m on record, repeatedly, as thinking that Washington is the most complete team in the NL, and the best-equipped for October success. Power at the front of the rotation, power at the back of the bullpen, a deep lineup that can hit the ball out, an exceptional tactical manager. If you were drawing up a team to win playoff games, it’d look a lot like this one (well, except that you’d give them Stephen Strasburg).
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have some very real worries: questions in the middle infield, uncertainty surrounding their nominal co-aces, issues with left-handed relief, plenty of health problems, and a manager who is still learning in-game management.
But much like the Tigers, there’s a powerful gut-level draw to the Cardinals. They’re hard to kill. We’ve seen that again and again. They can put up a five-spot quicker than any team in the National League. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter could fizzle, but they could also put up a month of pitching to rival any top-two in either league.
And then there’s this: If the series goes five games, Washington will start a left-hander in at least three of those games, and maybe four. Those lefties are very good, but relying on lefties to beat a lineup core of Holliday-Craig-Molina-Freese is awfully risky (h/t to Joe Sheehan for making that point to me recently).
The Nationals have more ways to win this series, and fewer weakneses, so I’m picking them by a hair. But the Cardinals have a couple of very good ways to win it too — hitting a lot of home runs, or getting three elite-level starts from two pitchers who have very recently been aces. This is probably the most intriguing series of the four to me.
Nationals in 5.
I don’t think there’s any team that needs a good start to its series as urgently as the Giants do. They’ll trot out Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner at home in the first two games, at their decidedly hostile-to-visitors home ballpark. They need those wins badly, because even a split heading back to Cincinnati puts them in a deep hole.
They appear likely to go with Tim Lincecum, he of the 6.43 road ERA, in Game 3 at Great American Ball Park. After that, it would either be Ryan Vogelsong and his significant home-road split, or Barry Zito against a team that hits left-handers very hard. The Reds will have a significant starting pitching advantage in Games 3 and 4, with surging Mat Latos and Homer Bailey pitching those games.
Cincinnati has the better bullpen, the Giants the better tactical manager. The Giants’ lineup is better than it appears, and the Reds’ lineup may not be as good as it appears, in both cases due to park factors. But the respective rotations, and the structure of the series, tilt it toward the Reds for me.
The Giants can win this series, if Cain and Bumgarner come up big, give them a 2-0 lead heading back to Cincinnati, and they can steal one of the final three. But I don’t like their chances.
Reds in 4.
Now, the only thing sillier than picking playoff series you know will happen is picking ones you DON’T know will happen, but just for the heck of it, let’s get this on record too. I’ve thought for a while that the Nationals and Yankees were the teams best set up for October in their respective leagues, so I’ll stick to that for now — with the right to change my mind when I take the time to actually analyze the matchups that actually come to fruition — and say New York over Washington in an Amtrak World Series.
-M, listening to Japandroids on the way to Baltimore.