MLB Predictions – The Hunt for Red October (World Series Edition)

We’ve come to that time of year.  The Fall Classic.  Our final 4 guaranteed baseball games until Spring Training.

It’s an all red World Series, a rematch of the 2004 series and the fourth time these two have met in the World Series.  The Boston Red Sox will represent the American League after taking out the Detroit Tigers in 6 games in the ALCS.  They will face off against the National League representatives, the St. Louis Cardinals, who also needed 6 games to advance past the Los Angeles Dodgers in their NLCS match-up.

The New York Yankees have the most World Series wins in MLB history with 27, but this is the decade of teams in red.  Why do I say this? Well, the winner of this year’s series will pick up their 3rd World Series Championship of the 21st Century, which would be the most of any franchise.  The Yankees and Giants are the other teams that have each two rings this millennium.  Of the two teams in this years Fall Classic, I think even if St. Louis loses, they’ve established themselves as the franchise of the 21st century.  They’ve appeared in 3 previous World Series since 2000, winning in 2006 and 2011, and of course losing in 4 to Boston in 2004.   This fourth appearance also ties them with the Yankees for most in this time span.  The Cards have been to by far the most League Championship Series’ with 6, and they’ve been to the playoffs more than they haven’t in the first 13 years of this century.  Not to mention their ability to draft and cultivate talent within has been remarkable and unmatched (with the exception of maybe the Tampa Bay Rays) the past 10 years.

Saying this takes absolutely nothing away from what the Boston Red Sox have done both in this decade.  Three World Series appearances and two wins after going 86 years between raising a championship banner.  But the turnaround from 2012 to 2013 is even more impressive than their playoff success.  They hadn’t played in October since 2010, and won just 69 games a year ago.  This was a franchise in turmoil, who instead of regressing, made a historic turnaround in just an off-season.  A lot of thanks for this has to be given to GM Ben Cherrington, who pulled of a miracle trade which dumped big money and big contracts of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  Add the development of youngsters like Xander Boegarts, Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias, and improved years of John Lester and Clay Buchholz, you can see why this team won the AL East.  Iglesias was of course traded, but his production allowed for Boston to acquire a quality arm in Jake Peavy.

Both teams have added pieces, and brought up guys from the minors that gelled quickly, allowing for them to be in the position they are.

This is the first World Series hosted by an American League team since 2009 when the Yankees held home-field advantage.  This because the AL snapped a 3-year All-Star Game losing streak, giving their representative, in this case Boston, home-field.  Both teams won 97 regular season games.

My Key Players in the Series:

St Louis

  • Starting Pitcher Michael Wacha: This isn’t your normal 22-year-old.  The youngster won the NLCS MVP after two huge wins, outdueling last years Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw twice.  If he can do anything close to what he did in the first two rounds, the Cardinals will be thrilled, and the Red Sox should be scared.
  • Carlos Beltran:  He’s in his first World Series after years of just missing.  He has many big hits in his postseason career, but now it’s time to see if he can continue it on the games biggest stage.

Boston

  • Closer Koji Uehara:  Talk about a breakout season.  Uehara was unhittable the last two months of the season, and has carried it into the postseason.
  • Starter John Lackey: If there’s one key starter for Boston, it’s Lackey.  He had a good bounce back year from 2012, but if the Sox want to win this series, they can’t have a performance like he had against Tampa earlier in the postseason.  He gave up 4 runs in less than 6 innings in that start.  Boston needs the guy that shut down the Tigers in the ALCS.

Here is the schedule and pitching matchups

Game 1 (Wednesday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 7:30PM EST)

  • Adam Wainwright vs John Lester

It’s just what you want in Game 1 of the World Series; a match-up of aces who have been on this postseason.  The Cardinals send Adam Wainwright and his 1.57 postseason ERA to the hill.  Wainwright has 2 rings and knows what it takes close out a series, and get a series started  The Red Sox counter with John Lester, who hasn’t been too shabby this year, allowing just 5 runs in 19.1 innings this October.

Game 2 (Thursday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 8:07PM EST

  • Michael Wacha vs John Lackey

Based simply on what has happened this postseason, this matchup favors the Cardinals, which is good down 0-1.  Clay Buchholz was the likely game 2 starter for Boston, but he’s suffering from fatigue.  Both are players I tabbed as key to the series, and know here’s their chance to prove me right.  Wacha looks to send his team home tied 1-1, Lackey hopes to make a statement and put the Sox up 2-0.

Game 3 (Saturday @ Busch Stadium- First Pitch 8:07PM EST)

  • Jake Peavy vs Joe Kelly

This is a toss up.  Neither has made a World Series start, though Peavy is a veteran to Kelly’s relative inexperience.  It’s a big game, as it’s the first swing game, with the winner being just 2 games away from a championship.

Game 4 (Sunday @ Busch Stadium- First Pitch 8:00PM EST)

  • Clay Buchholz vs Lance Lynn

I think the match-up favors the Sox, as Buccholz is really a number 2 in this rotation, though he was pushed back because of arm fatigue. Lance Lynn hasn’t been great this postseason, but with a 2-1 series lead, the Cardinals are saving Adam Wainwright for a possible clincher in game 5.

Game 5 (Monday @ Busch Stadium- First Pitch 7:30PM EST)

  • Jon Lester vs Adam Wainwright

With the series tied 2-2, it’s a re-match of game 1.  Lester was brilliant, while Wainwright was tattooed.  I don’t think either will be as good, or as bad as they were in game 1.  This will not be a blowout, but a close game, the way games 2-4 have gone.  The winner will have a chance at closing out the series Wednesday in Boston.

Game 6 (Wednesday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 7:30PM EST)

  • Michael Wacha vs John Lackey

If Necessary***

Game 7 (Wednesday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 7:30PM EST) 

So it all starts with game 1, which is important in any series.  It gives one team a quick advantage, and puts them 3 wins from a championship.  Winners of Game 1 have won 20 of the last 24 Fall Classics.  I hope you all enjoy what should be a long, hard-fought series. Both teams have had great runs to get themselves to this point.  From the Red Sox crazy turnaround, to the Cardinals getting big performances from different guys every night.  But I think the Cardinals core gets this done.  I like the Red Sox depth, but I think St. Louis’ depth is better.

CARDINALS IN 6

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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.

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 – 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.