MLB Postseason Predictions – NLCS

Here we are. One round from the World Series, and we’re now down to two teams left standing in the National League.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ St. Louis Cardinals

  • Joe Kelly (0-0, 3.38 ERA) vs Zach Greinke (15-8, 3.75 ERA)

I had the Dodgers beating the Braves in four, and that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t even that close. LA scored 23 runs in their 3 wins. They gambled bringing their Ace Clayton Kershaw back on three-days rest for the first time in his career, but it paid off. Kershaw gave the 6 innings strong of, 3-hit, 2-run ball. But now they don’t have their Cy Young starter until game 2.

It’s the first time the Dodgers have reached the NLCS since 2009, when they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in 5 games. They also fell in 5 games to Philly in 2008. And if they should win, it will be the first time the reach the Fall Classic since 1988, when they beat the Oakland A’s.

As for the Cardinals, it took 5 games for them to get here. Again, that’s how long I figured their NLDS match-up against Pirates would go, It was a fun, close series, with the clincher the biggest margin of victory. Not counting the 6-1 clincher, St. Louis outscored Pittsburgh 15-14 in the first 4 games.

The question is always is it better to play everyday and get in on a high, or clinch early? Well, it’s another case of that in this years NLCS.

Without Ace Adam Wainwright because he went the distance last night, possible game 1 candidates included Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly. Kelly ended up getting the nod, after just 1 start during the regular season.

Clinching Monday meant LA could set up their Dodgers send their Ace 1A to the hill in Zach Greinke. Greinke took the game 2 loss to Atlanta, but pitched well enough for the win, going 6 innings of 2-run ball.

The LA Dodgers took the West, the St Louis Cardinals the central. Now one will take the NL.

And it all gets started with Game 1 Friday night at Busch Stadium- first pitch set for 8:30.

It’s going to be a hard fought series. But I think the fact that the Dodgers were able to set up their pitching much better than St. Louis will ultimately mean a win. Getting 2 from Greinke and 2 from Kershaw is huge. Wainwright won’t pitch until game 3, and it might be too late by then.

DODGERS IN 6

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ALCS UPDATE

  • The Red Sox have already clinched their spot in the next round.
  • The Detroit Tigers are in Oakland tonight for a winner-take-all Game 5.
  • No matter what happens tonight, the ALCS kicks off in Boston on Saturday.
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A Long Off-Season Ahead in the Bronx

The champion has been crowned.  The awards handed out.  Now it’s all about the off-season and making all 30 teams better.

As for the Yankees, after a season of injuries, poor pitching performances, key player retirements and a weak farm system exposed, changes need to be made in a lot of areas.

The Yankees biggest questions?

  1. Can they afford to keep Robinson Cano?  Reports have surfaced that the second baseman is looking for a record-breaking 10-year, $305 million deal.  Whether it’s true or not remains to be seen, but you have to think the Yankees, and every other team in baseball will stay away from a deal like that.  It’s not even about the money necessarily, but the length.  Cano will turn 31 next season, and long-term deals like that can turn bad quick.  Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are all prime examples of big contracts given to players already in their prime, and not really working out long-term, or at all.  So while the bombers are probably the only team that can afford Cano, will the gold-glover stay.  With no viable options in the minors to play second, fans are hoping they haven’t seen the last of number 24. [UPDATE – Reports say Cano is leaning towards re-signing with the only team he’s every known, but isn’t rushing.  He will take the money first. Seattle looks to be a major player now that New York and Cano seem to be far apart and no longer talking.]
  2. Who will be the manager come spring training?  Joe Girardi is a free-agent, and while GM Brian Cashman insists the team wants him back, there are things that could pull Girardi away from New York, and even coaching all together.  The new head coaching vacancy in Chicago might be the biggest pull.  A Chicago native, it could be a good place for the man who’s led the Yankees since 2008 to make a fresh start.  He loves working with young teams, and it would allow him to go back home.  Or Girardi could go back to working as a broadcast analyst, something he did for the YesNetwork the year between managing the Marlins and starting with New York.  [UPDATE – Girardi Signed a 4-year contract to keep him in pinstripes  until 2017.  The deal is worth $16-million plus bonuses.]
  3. Will Hiroki Kuroda retire, go back to Japan, or consider a third year in the Bronx?  Their savior the first 4 months of the season, Kuroda heads into 2014 the same way he did 2013.  With a choice to make.  After 6 years in the Majors, does he go back to Japan to finish his career, or go back home a retired player.  He’s done nothing but win and stay healthy for the bombers in his two years here, and would have many more wins if not for a lack of run support here and during his time in LA.  With only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova (and hopefully our first Michael Pineda sighting) there aren’t many guarantees in the Yankees rotation next year. [UPDATE – Didn’t accept the Yankees qualifying off worth $14.1 million for a year.  But the Yankees have reportedly offered him a new deal, and say they didn’t except a decision from Kuroda until December.]
  4. Will Derek Jeter be good to go in 2014?  That remains to be seen. I think we can all agree the captain was rushed back too often this past year.  He played in just 17 games this season.  Jeter turns 40 midway through next season, so there were already questions of how long he’ll last at short let alone in his career.  He’s the lone member of the Yankees 1996-2000 dynasty, with two of the Core Four members hanging it up this year.  [UPDATE – The Yankees have given their captain, a new one-year, $12 million contract.  It’s a deal worth $2.5 million more than the player option Jeter could have picked  up.]
  5. What to do about the catching situation?  There hasn’t been a real solution since Jorge Posada retired after the 2011 season.  For years all you heard was the name Jesus Montero as the answer behind home-plate.  But he went to Seattle in the Pineda deal, and spent a majority of the season in the minors for the Mariners.  Then Francisco Cervelli was supposed to be the answer, but he’s been very injury prone.  So that meant backup Chris Stewart was made the starter this year, with Austin Romine tabbed to be his backup.  Romine finally showed signs of coming around offensively towards the end of the year, before he suffered a concussion.  The question is do the Yankees hope Romine can develop more for them, or do they make a move for the Braves Brian McCann, or maybe wait til the Orioles Matt Weiters becomes available.  Maybe a run at the Rangers veteran AJ Pierzynski? [UPDATE – Brian McCann it is.  The 29-year-old is leaving Atlanta and after passing his physical, is ready to don the pinstripes. A 5-year, $85 million deal that could reach 6 and $100 million if he hits certain numbers in those 5 seasons.] 

These are just some of the questions/problems that can be solved in the off-season.  Others include whether to bring back Curtis Granderson, what to do about Phil Hughes (give him another shot in the pen now that David Robertson most likely moves from the set-up role to the closer role) and what happens at 3rd base with Alex Rodriguez appealing his 211 Biogensis suspension.

The biggest problem the Yankees have can’t really be solved in one off-season.  Injuries exposed their weak farm system.  Guys they’ve drafted during this 19-year run of success haven’t panned out.  Or trades gone wrong.  There needs to be a foundation for this organization to build on.  The Yankees felt too safe with lifers like Mariano Rivera, Posada and Jeter, whose longevity meant they could “wait” to build at the position.  Well, the time to have guys like Mike Trout, Weiters and Clayton Kershaw waiting in the wings is now, and the Yankees don’t have game changers like that.  It all starts this coming draft, where the Yankees have the 18th pick, their best position in a long time.

So while these questions may not all be answered for months, don’t completely despair Yankees fans.  This team managed with 85 games and stay in the playoff conversation until the final week of the season despite a bevy of problems.  Mark Teixeira will be back, Eduardo Nunez finished the season hitting the way the Yankees always thought he could, and began playing 3rd base like a pro.  Ivan Nova was a revelation in the 2nd half, pitching like the guy who took the team by storm winning 16 games in 2011.  You have to think CC Sabathia will figure out what was off mechanically and fix it this off-season.

So that’s it for me for.  Now I want to hear from you.  Answer the poll question and tell me what you think the 1st thing the Yankees need to take care of is.

MLB Postseason Predictions – ALDS

Two easy wins got the playoffs started last night.

NLDS Update:

  • The Cardinals lead the Pirates 1-0
  • The Dodgers lead the Braves 1-0

Now its time for the American League to open up play, as well as game 2 for each NLDS in today’s full slate of games.

 

In the first ALDS, familiar AL East foes face-off.

Tampa Bay Rays @ Boston Red Sox 

  • Matt Moore (17-9, 3.29 ERA) vs Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA)

There are no secrets between these two division rivals, having played 19 games against each other in the regular season.  It’s a battle of southpaws who had very good seasons.   The Rays have two guys in Evan Longoria and Delmon Young who like hitting home runs in the postseason, while Boston had the best record in the league and know how to win in October.  Both teams have been to the World Series in the past 6 years, so this should be a fun series.  The Sox just hit .208 as a team against Tampa this year.

I like both starting rotations here, so I think it comes down to a battle of the bullpens.  In terms of closers, Koji Uehara was lights out to end the season for the Sox, and hasn’t allowed a run to Tampa in his last 16 innings.  While Rays closer Fernando Rodney is known to make you sweat.  Give me the AL East champs in a long, hard-fought series.

RED SOX IN 5 

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In tonight’s second ALDS, it’s a battle of division winners.

Detroit Tigers @ Oakland Athletics

  • Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA) vs Bartolo Colon (18-6, 2.65 ERA)

This is an intriguing game 1 match-up in today’s playoff night-cap.  You’ve got Scherzer, who’ll probably win the AL Cy Young, going against Colon, a 40-year-old former Cy Young winner.  Scherzer was huge for Detroit this year, especially early when their former Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander got off to a rare slow start.  Colon has revitalized his career in Oakland, and was great all year.

The Tigers were the AL representatives in the World Series last year, while the A’s are making their second straight postseason appearance after sneaking in last year.  Detroit has more pop in its lineup, with a combo of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.  But don’t be surprised when Oakland’s bullpen carries them to the next round. I have much more faith late in games in the A’s than I do Detroit.

ATHLETICS IN 5

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Today’s postseason action gets started in the NL at 1PM.

Pittsburgh Pirates @ St. Louis Cardinals

  • Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22 ERA) vs Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97 ERA)

The Pirates look to bounce back from a 9-1 pummeling last night, while the Cards look to take a 2-0 lead before heading on the road to Pittsburgh.

As a I posted yesterday, I have CARDINALS IN 4

 

And finally, game 2 in Atlanta tonight.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Atlanta Braves

  • Zach Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA) vs Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERA)

The Dodgers made easy work of the NL East champs last night, and now send their other Ace to the hill looking to take a 2-0 lead back home.

Again, as posted yesterday, I have the DODGERS IN 4

Enjoy the full slate of Postseason action today.

MLB Postseason Predictions – NLDS

With the Wild Card games out of the way, let the Division Series begin.

The National League gets things started tonight, with the American League playing tomorrow.

NL Central opponents do battle in the first best-of-five match-up.

Pittsburgh Pirates @ St Louis Cardinals

  • AJ Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA) vs Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA)

The pirates won their first playoff game in 21 years when they took down Cincinnati on Monday in their Wild Card match-up.  Now they look to keep the the good feeling going against a playoff perennial that knows what it takes to win in October.  That being said, it’s the first postseason series between the two clubs, so anything can happen.

It’s a good pitching match-up between 2 guys who have helped teams win in the postseason in the past.

The Pirates have used the long ball and a strong bullpen of late to get them into the playoffs.  While against Pittsburgh this year, Wainwright went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts, going seven innings each time out.

I see this being a close game, and a close series, but I think the Cardinals experience and home-field advantage wins out.

CARDINALS IN 4

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In NLDS number 2, it’s East meets West for two division winners.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Atlanta Braves

  • Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA) vs Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11ERA)

It wasn’t easy but the Dodgers took the west crown, while the Braves easily topped the East.  LA made an amazing 2nd half push to take their division.  They’re hot, young and don’t care what anyone thinks about them.  The Braves got off to a fast start, and cruised into October in a down NL East.

Kershaw is probably going to win the Cy Young again, and his teammate Zach Grienke was just as dominant in the second half push. The Braves weren’t challenged all year for their spot in the postseason, and i think that will hurt them, while LA fought from a big deficit early to overtake Arizona.

I think the Dodgers starting pitching top to bottom is better, and their a much more versatile lineup.

DODGERS IN 4

Enjoy the game 1’s tonight, and stay tuned for my ALDS preview coming tomorrow.

Season Ends on a Sweep Note

It came too soon, and it’s not the win they wanted to end their season on, but the Yankees wrapped up the 2013 campaign with a 5-1 win over Houston.

The baseball god’s didn’t want the season to end, sending this one into extras.  David Huff got the call to start the finale, and went a solid 5 innings of 1-run ball.

The bombers tied the score in the 8th on the strength of a Curtis Granderson RBI single.  And to extras the Astros and Yankees went.  Fast-forward to the 14th, when the Yanks struck.  Mark Reynolds led off with a solo homer to put New York ahead.  A few batters later Eduardo Nunez finished off a nice stretch to end the season with a 2-run double.  JR Murphy capped off the scoring with an RBI single.

David Robertson finished it off in the bottom of the 14th, giving the Yankees the season ending sweep.  Matt Daley picked up his first career win, throwing 2-shutout innings in extra innings.  A good week for Daley, as he came in after Mariano Rivera was lifted one final time on Thursday.

The Yankees end their season at 85-77, and tied for 3rd place with Baltimore in the American League East.  It’s a 10-win drop-off from last season’s AL East crown for the bombers.

Stay tuned for my full 2013 recap, as well as my post season preview and predictions.

Saying Goodbye to Number 42

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

At 24, I haven’t seen too many down years for the New York Yankees.  I know how lucky I am for that.  And if you want to know why I’ve been blessed to see so many World Series wins, look no further than the last man to wear the number 42, Mariano Rivera.

The greatest closer in baseball is hanging them up after the season if over, which will be Sunday unless the bombers get a lot of help the final week of the regular season.  After 19 years in the majors, 23 as a member of the Yankees organization, Rivera is ready to leave the game he loves so much behind.  And it’s a game that loves him maybe even more right back.

After announcing his retirement prior to the start of the 2013 season, Major League Baseball vowed to send him out the right way.  And they held up that promise.  Every road team the Yankees visited this year, in his final game of the year there, those teams presented Rivera with gifts.  Gifts to say thank you for being such a class act and a legend among men.

Some of the more memorable gifts include a sandcastle from the Rays, playing off Rivera’s nickname the “Sandman.”   Or how about the chair presented by the Minnesota Twins made entirely of broken bats, something Mo’s cutter did to hundreds of hitters over the years?  In his last trip to Fenway, the arch rival Red Sox paid tribute by presenting Rivera the visitors bullpen rubber, and the 42 used on the Green Monster when he entered games.  Of all the gifts, I bet Rivera appreciated the check presented by each team to his foundation, because if there is one thing Mo loves more than baseball, it’s giving back to those around him.

Then there’s what the Yankees did for their beloved closer Sunday in the Bronx.  For years Rivera came out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” so why not have the band set up on the field and have number 42 walk out to it live? Add to that retiring his number in monument park, a check for $100k to his foundation, a crystal replica of his glove, another chair made of bats and a retired number for his wall at home, the Yankees made sure they told Mo thanks in the best way they knew how.  It all happened in front of a packed stadium crowd, as well as many of Rivera’s former teammates including the man who caught more than half his saves, Jorge Posada.

Why so much fan fare?  How could you not honor a man who has done nothing but produce consistent excellent play for nearly 2 decades, while being an upstanding ambassador of the game.  The 43-year-old is the Major League leader in saves, a 5-time World Series winner and is the only man to throw the final pitch of more than 2 World Series, doing so in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Jorge Posada by far has caught more of Rivera’s 652** career saves, being apart of 379 of them, with 22 catchers total on the receiving end of a final pitch from Mo.  Other numbers that scream first ballot Hall-of-Famer: Rivera’s 2.21 ERA, way less than a hit per inning, and a WHIP of 1.  71 homers in almost 1,283 innings, or 1 every 18.  44 saves in 2013 mark the most in the final season of a closer’s career, this despite blowing a career high 7 games this year.  With 5 games left, Rivera carries an 82-60 record into retirement.

But as good as Rivera was in the regular season, no man shined brighter in the postseason.  In the Yankees most recent World Series run in 09, of the 8 teams to make it to the playoffs, 7 blew saves, 1 did not.  That’s right, Rivera was perfect en route to winning their 27th championship.  According to Sports Illustrated,  Rivera’s postseason records include most games pitched (96), most saves (42) and lowest ERA (0.70, minimum 30 innings pitched).  Not too shabby for a guy who used an orange carton as a mitt as a kid in Panama.

What are some of personal favorite memories?  I will never forget him collapsing on the mound as Aaron Boone rounded the bases during his walk-off homer in the 2003 ALCS against Boston.  Or his 500th save against the Mets.  How about the one two break the record, passing Trevor Hoffman with 602 saves.  I think my favorite though was his first and only career RBI, a bases loaded walk of all things against the Mets.  The smile on his face when he went to first was priceless.

So as the season winds down (5 regular season games to go), the story of Mariano Rivera the baseball player comes to an end.  But while stars fade, legends never die.  Rivera will forever be in the annuls of Major League Baseball history.   As the last man to wear the number 42 (which was retired across baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson), Rivera’s number will reside in Monument Park for ever.  No man will ever fill his shoes.  The Yankees must move on, and it will be difficult.  You have to be encouraged by a guy like David Robertson, who can strikeout any one at any time, and more importantly has the mental makeup to be a closer.  Like Rivera, he doesn’t bad outings affect him, and rarely does he put back-to-back bad outings up.  He has the nickname “Houdini” for being known to create jams for himself, but he usually gets out of them.  Gone are the days of having a security blanket like Rivera, but that doesn’t mean whoever comes in next for New York, whether it’s Robertson or someone else, that they can’t be effective.  It just won’t be the Sandman.

I will always be grateful for being able to see Rivera pitch.  And I can’t even say in his prime, because he is still a  top flight pitcher.  I will tell my children and my grandchildren that I saw number 42 pitch.  He will forever be Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in Yankees and Major League history.

Thanks for the memories Mo.  Enjoy life after baseball.