Divisional Series Preview

The playoffs get under way today in Tampa at the precise time of 12:37 pm CST.

So, let’s take a brief look at the match ups and I’ll talk a little bit about each team in the process.

Here’s a link to the playoff schedule.

Texas Rangers (90-72, AL West) @ Tampa Bay Rays (95-66, AL East)

Game 1: David Price (TAM) vs. Cliff Lee (w/ Texas: 4-6, 3.98 ERA, 1.06 WHIP)
Game 2: James Shields (TAM) vs. C.J. Wilson (TEX)
Game 3: Colby Lewis (TEX) vs. Matt Garza (TAM)
Game 4: Tommy Hunter (TEX) vs. Wade Davis (TAM)
Game 5: David Price (TAM) vs. Cliff Lee (TEX)

Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers visit the Tampa Bay Rays  to officially start the 2010 MLB Postseason. Both clubs bring offensive firepower and pitching to the plate. The Rangers lead the league in average at .276 and despite hitting for a near league worst average of .247, the Rays are 3rd in the majors in runs scored (802).

Rangers bats vs. Rays arms: Can the Rays pitching keep the Rangers offense at bay? The Rangers average nearly a run per game higher at home (5.3)  than they do on the road (4.4) and while that’s not awful by any means, I think it speaks to why the Rangers are 39-42 on the road. It’s going to be a tough task to keep the Rangers off the board, but the Rays are more than equipped to handle that task. The Rangers are a better “hitting” team than the Rays and the Rays advantage in runs scored is slight.  Advantage goes to Texas here.

Tampa Bay is loaded with young pitching. James Shields hasn’t exactly been sharp this year (or recently), but he possesses the talent to completely erase that in the playoffs. He’s going to have to pitch better for the Rays to get deep into the playoffs. The problem for Shields is that he’s been very hittable. Opponents have hit .310 against him since the All Star Break. The Rangers pitching is underrated and I’m giving them the edge here.

Rays bats vs. Rangers arms: The Rays make up in runs scored for what they don’t do in batting average. They kill you with speed and ABC baseball. The Rays are tied for the most sac flies in the majors (57)  and they lead the majors in stolen bases (172).The Rangers will have a difficult time keeping the Rays from running. Texas has thrown out a mere 19% of attempted basestealers this season. If the Rays can run, they will score. Simple as that.

This is easily one of the best pitching staffs for the Rangers and you can certainly credit that for their first playoff appearance since 1999. The addition of Cliff Lee will certainly boost their chances, as well as a much improved bullpen led by rookie, Neftali Feliz. This pitching staff is quite underrated and Lee will, at the very least, give this club a veteran presence at the top of their rotation which is something they have lacked for a very long time. Advantage goes to the Rangers.

E is for Error: Tampa Bay brings a .986 fielding percentage into the playoffs (good for 8th in MLB) and the Rangers bring the second worst fielding unit into the playoffs. Only the Braves are worse than the Rangers. Come playoff time, errors will kill you. The Rangers will need to change their slippery ways if they want to win consistently in the playoffs. There’s no doubt Tampa Bay is better in the field.

Outcome: These teams are evenly matched, but the Rangers don’t play well on the road and Tampa Bay does. Both teams are good at home, so something has to give in this series. This is going to be a tight series with several close contests, but I’m going with the Rangers in five games. The Rangers are an underrated and very dangerous team. Even though Cliff Lee has not pitched as well with Texas as he did with Seattle (and you can definitely attribute that to a new home ballpark) the guy is still a stud. He has World Series experience. Watch out for the Rangers.

New York Yankees (95-67, AL Wildcard) @ Minnesota Twins (94-68, AL Central)

Game 1: C.C. Sabathia (NYY) vs. Francisco Liriano (MIN)
Game 2: Andy Pettite (NYY) vs. Carl Pavano (MIN)
Game 3: Brian Duensing (MIN) vs. Phil Hughes (NYY)
Game 4: Nick Blackburn (MIN) vs. C.C. Sabathia (NYY)
Game 5: Andy Pettite (NYY) vs. Francisco Liriano (MIN)

The Yankees and Twins meet again. The Yankees are responsible for eliminating the Twins three times this decade (2003, 2004, 2009). All of that is good for background info, but it basically means nothing for the present day.

While the Twins do not have Justin Morneau, they have been effective on offense without the slugging Canadian. The Yankees are going with a three-man rotation and A.J. Burnett will only start if he is needed.

Yankees bats vs. Twins arms: The Yankees bring one of the strongest lineups into the postseason. They are second only to the Rays in walks (662) and they lead the majors in runs scored with 857. The Yankees are 3rd in homers (201) and 8th in batting average (.267). This is a very patient lineup full of experienced hitters. They will constantly put pressure on you. The Yankees bats do thrive at home more than they do on the road, so that’s another problem teams will have to deal with.

Minnesota brings a solid staff to the table along with a solid bullpen. The acquisition of Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes helped boost the bullpen and give them a solid end game option. The Twins are going with Francisco Liriano in Game 1 and Liriano was recently named AL Comeback Player of the Year. Liriano has not been good lately, though. He’s 0-3 in his last three starts with a 8.24 ERA. The troubling sign is the amount of  homeruns he’s allowed. In those 13.1 innings pitched, he’s allowed five homers including three in one game against the Blue Jays. It’s possible that he’s fatigued, but he’s going to have to pitch better than that if the Twins want to get off to a good start in this series. Some positives for Liriano are his K-BB ratio (12 to 3) and the command is always a good sign. The Twins have enjoyed the success of Brian Duensing late in the year as well as Carl Pavano’s first 200 inning season since 2004. Pavano may be experiencing a bit of fatigue as well and he is susceptible to the long ball. Pavano posted an ERA of 4.69 in August and a 6.12 ERA for September and October. The Twins rotation is not trending upward.

Twins bats vs. Yankees arms: The Twins aren’t the most powerful team, but they make up for that with pure hitting. The Twins are 3rd in the majors with a .273 average and 6th in the league in runs scored with 781. The Twins aren’t exceptional in any one area, but they are a well balanced club. The offense is led by Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and Delmon Young. The Twins can hit and score, but I’m giving the edge to the Yankees here.

The Yankees have decided to go with a three-man rotation and this certainly suits them best. Take Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett out of their rotation, and you can drop that team ERA down considerably. Given that fact, the World Series experience from the rotation and the Yankees solid bullpen, I give the Yankees the edge in pitching.

In the field: Both teams play exceptional defense, but it is the Yankees who are 1st in fielding percentage. The Twins are 5th.

Outcome: In the end, the Yankees will be too much for the Twins. I think the Twins downfall will be their starting pitching, but a good performance from Liriano could put the Yankees in a hole quickly. The Twins rotation has faltered as of late and they really need to correct that if they expect to win. The Twins must win both games in Minnesota before heading to New York. If they split, I don’t see the Twins advancing past the Yankees. I’m going with the Yankees in four.

Cincinnati Reds (91-71, NL Central) @ Philadelphia Phillies (97-65, NL East)

Game 1: Edinson Volquez (CIN) vs. Roy Halladay (PHI)
Game 2: Bronson Arroyo (CIN) vs. Roy Oswalt (PHI)
Game 3: Cole Hamels (PHI) vs. Johnny Cueto (CIN)
Game 4: Roy Halladay (PHI) vs. Edinson Volquez (CIN)
Game 5: TBA vs. TBA

Reds bats vs. Phillies arms: The Reds are very potent on offense. They are led by MVP candidate, Joey Votto, who leads the Reds in all major offensive categories. The Reds, as a team, are 3rd in OPS (.754), 4th in runs scored (790), 4th in average (.272) and 4th in homers (188). Brandon Phillips needs to rebound for the playoffs if this team wants to knock off the defending NL Champions. Phillips has not hit well since he was hit on the hand in September. He did show signs of life in the the final three games of the season, though, going 4-9.

I don’t think there’s a more dominant three-man staff in the playoffs, or baseball for that matter. The Phillies pitching staff is led by Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels and all three have been on fire lately. Well, Halladay has been all season. The three pitchers have combined to go 23-6 over the past two months with a 2.24 ERA. Unreal. The bullpen is the big weakness for this team. They bring the highest ERA among playoff teams (4.02). The less this bullpen is in games, the better for the Phillies. Luckily, they have three aces who can go the distance on any given night. Lidge has been at his best in the final two months, but you never know when he will implode.

Phillies bats vs. Reds arms: Philadelphia has an AL-like lineup. They work the count very well and every at bat is a challenge. You can’t lose focus for a moment or they will make you pay. The Phillies finally bring a healthy lineup into the playoffs. They have been without Jimmy Rollins for most of the year and they also lost Chase Utley for two months. The Phillies can hit for power, beat you on the basepaths and play ABC baseball. The Phillies and Yankees bring the two best lineups into the playoffs.

Cincinnati has the worst team ERA of the NL teams in the playoffs (4.01) and they have a middle of the road bullpen as well. Interestingly enough, neither of these teams bullpens are a sure thing, but Cincy lacks the firepower on their staff to do anything in this series.

In the field: Both teams play great defense in the field, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to errors or sloppy play. Cincy is 3rd in errors (72) and fielding percentage (.988) in 6,039 total chances. Philly has 83 errors on the year and a .986 fielding percentage in 6,139 total chances.

Outcome: The Phillies will be too much for the Reds. They can match the Reds offensive output and the Phillies overall pitching will dominate this series. The Phillies win in a sweep.

Atlanta Braves (91-71, NL Wildcard) @ San Francisco Giants (92-70, NL West)

Game 1: Derek Lowe (ATL) vs. Tim Lincecum (SF)
Game 2: Tommy Hanson (ATL) vs. Matt Cain (SF)
Game 3: Jonathan Sanchez (SF) vs. Tim Hudson (ATL)
Game 4: Madison Bumgarner (SF) vs. Brandon Beachy (ATL)
Game 5: TBA vs. TBA

The Braves squeaked into the playoffs with a win over the Phillies on the last day of the regular season. They received a little help from the Giants, who beat the Padres on the same day. Now, the Braves will match up against the same team that helped them enter the playoffs.

Braves bats vs. Giants arms: It has been an up and down year for the Atlanta offense. They can struggle to score runs at times only to have a hit parade the next day. It was more of a struggle this past month, though, after a hot hitting month in August. The Braves also lost their top hitter, Martin Prado, for the year in September — another blow to a beleaguered offense. The Braves need to have a few players get hot in the playoffs to spark this offense. Out of the playoff teams, only San Francisco scores less runs.

The Giants hold the best team ERA in the majors at 3.36 and they have the best K/9. The Giants have three young studs at the top of their rotation, led by last year’s NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. There’s no drop off after Lincecum with Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. However, Sanchez does not fare well against Atlanta. He’s 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA against the Braves. Both of these teams bring the two best overall pitching staffs into the playoffs and I’m not sure any other teams can match their bullpens from top to bottom.

Giants bats vs. Braves arms: The Giants have hit more homeruns than the Braves (160-139), but the Braves have scored more runs overall. They are also neck and neck in average for the year (.258-.257) and they both have two young rookies from Georgia sparking their offense (Buster Posey and Jason Heyward). The Giants offense is led in all major categories by Aubrey Huff. I don’t even know if I can award an edge here. I’ll say it’s a split between the bats.

The Braves pitching staff has been the most consistent part about this team. Tim Hudson was recently awarded NL Comeback Player of the Year and he has 17 wins. Derek Lowe went 5-0 in September to finish the season with 16 wins. Tommy Hanson has the worst luck of the staff (you could make a case for Kenshin Kawakami, though) with a 3.33 ERA and 10-11 record. Derek Lowe needs to continue his hot pitching into the playoffs for the Braves to make a deep run. He does have the most postseason experience of the Braves rotation, though. The Braves could be without reliever Takashi Saito, but Jair Jurrjens would possibly be able to return if the Braves make it to the NLCS. I’m giving the Giants the edge here because they have Lincecum and they finished with an ERA that was 20 points lower.

E is for Error: Yeesh. The Braves defense ranks 26th in fielding percentage .980 and they are second to last in errors (126). The Braves made several costly errors in their last series against the Phillies and if they want to survive, they are going to have to really turn things around in the field. The injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado also hurt the Braves in the field. The Giants are tied for first in fielding percentage at .988 and 3rd in errors (73).

Outcome: These two teams are dead even. This series could go either way. Flip a coin and see who wins. Neither team played well in their last series until the final game. I’m going with intangibles for this series. The Braves have one of the most seasoned managers and they have a veteran savvy team with postseason experience. The Wildcard is always a team to look out for as well, so I’ve got the Braves advancing in five.

One of the best things about baseball is that you can’t predict things. A team is never out of a game until the last out in the 9th is recorded. Enjoy the playoffs!

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at jtmcadams@aol.com. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.


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