American League Division Series Previews
With last night’s Baltimore victory over the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card play-in, the stage is set for the first round of the American League Division Series. This year’s field includes teams that weren’t supposed to be in the postseason (Orioles, A’s), the all-time great postseason franchise (Yankees) and a team who has been knocking on the door for a while but has been unable to pull through (Tigers). Below is my prediction for who will be playing in the next round for a shot at the World Series.
Yankees vs. Orioles:
These two teams battled all the way to the last day of the regular season for the AL East Crown, so it’s only fitting they matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
In the past few postseasons, the Yankees have been unable to get the big hit with RISP, something that also plagued them in the 2012 regular season. They are a team that relies heavily on the HR, but in the playoffs, that recipe often fails. During their stretch run, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson caught fire, and the Yankees will need the two of them to drive in Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, who have done a wonderful job setting the table. The Yankees pitching will be lead by C.C. Sabathia, who had an up and down year but is still a bona-fide ace. The Yankees biggest question mark might be one that has never been an issue before, as Mariano Rivera is replaced by Rafael Soriano this time around. Though Soriano had a wonderful year recording 42 saves, nobody can truly fill in for the great Mariano. The Yankees are hoping that Soriano does a serviceable and the supporting cast takes care of the rest.
The Orioles were supposed to fade a long time ago. The AL East was supposed to be a three-horse race, which it turned out to be, though the Orioles took the place held by the Boston Red Sox for the past decade. Though they don’t do anything particularly spectacular in either their lineup or starting rotation, this team has found ways to win all season long. The Orioles are an inexperienced playoff team, which didn’t seem to faze them at all as they ousted to Texas Rangers in the play-in game last night. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters will need to carry their offense through this series, and the presence of rookie Manny Machado provides the Orioles with a young 5 tool player in the making. While the Orioles don’t have a pitcher of the Justin Verlander caliber, they have a rotation that has given Manager Buck Showalter a chance in every game this season. Wei Yin-Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman have all put up solid seasons in a tough division. Oriole closer Jim Johnson converted a stellar 51 saves this year, blowing only 3 which was a main reason for their extra inning dominance.
Predicition: The Yankees and Orioles know each other well. The Yankees have the players who have been here before, know what to expect and have the rings to prove it. While I believe the Orioles have been gritty and shocked us all to get to this point, their run will end in the Bronx. The Orioles pitches haven’t faced a monster like October baseball in Yankee Stadium and they will prove to be in over their heads: Yankees in 4.
Tigers vs. Athletics
The AL Central Champion Tigers and AL West Champion Athletics both fought up-hill most of the season to reach this point. While the Tigers were disappointing most of the season as they chased down the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland A’s were the biggest surprise in baseball as they posted the best record since the All-Star break and catapulted over both the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels.
The Athletics are led by Cuban Rookie Yoenis Cespedes, who jumped into the #3 hole and blasted 23 HRs while hitting .292 and stealing 16 bags. Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, who was traded from the Boston Red Sox for Andrew Bailey last offseason, protected Cespedes in a lineup featuring players that casual baseball fans don’t know about. Like the Baltimore Orioles, the Oakland A’s don’t necessarily feature an Ace, but have been winning all season long with a solid cast of pitchers who were relatively unknown. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin will all be getting the ball in the first playoff series, as most of their rotation will be making their postseason debut. Grant Balfour was reinserted in the closer role in August and killed it for Oakland, nailing down 17 straight saves as the A’s caught the Rangers. He will need to continue his success, as Oakland isn’t the type of team who will blow anybody out.
As mentioned before, the Detroit Tigers had a fairly disappointing season. After losing in the ALCS last year, they signed free agent Prince Fielder and were expected the blow the AL Central away. They got off to a slow start and finally caught Chicago in the last two weeks, clinching the division with just a few games left. Lead by the Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers are a top-heavy team that relies on their stars to carry them. Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson helped Miggy provide the offensive punch for a team that has perhaps the best pitcher in the game. Having Justin Verlander in a short series is a huge advantage. The reigning AL MVP put up another unbelievable season, notching 17 wins and posting a 2.84 ERA. When Detroit can start him twice in a short series, and fill in the other spots with reliable Doug Fister and somewhat unpredictable Max Scherzer, they feature a rotation unmatched by any in the AL. Their closer Jose Valverde always make Tigers fan sweat, but does a good job closing the deal more often than not.
Prediction: Both these teams had to play good ball down the stretch to find themselves in the playoffs. The Oakland A’s have been on a magical ride all season long, as Bob Melvin is easily the Manager of the Year in the AL. However, the Tigers have more experience and more fire power in both their lineup and pitching staff. Like the Orioles, the A’s magical ride comes to an end, but not before they put up a good fight: Tigers in 5.