The MLB playoffs are close. They’re not quite “Christmas Eve” close, but they’re definitely “are we there yet?” close. As the saying goes, once the playoffs start, it is a clean slate for every team. Regular season records no longer count or matter, and a journey of 162 games will end after anywhere from one playoff game for a couple of teams, or after four or six for others, and the very luckiest of those teams may play 18 games in the postseason.
In the regular season, 18 games is nothing. Well, they’re something, but 18 games doesn’t usually make or break a season. Unless, that season is the 2012 Los Angeles Angels, whose season was essentially broken by their first 18 games in the B.T. (before Trout) era, where they went 6-12. After that, the Angels are tied for the best record in the American League, but I digress. This piece is about playoff teams, and the Angels are not a playoff team.
With such a small number of games that essentially define an entire season of baseball, the MLB playoffs are just incredibly unpredictable, even more so than baseball normally is. There have been many years where it is not the “best” team in baseball that wins the World Series that year, but instead just the team that peaked at the right time. This poses the question: which teams are going to peak at the right time this year?
I should note that I am making some assumptions in this piece about the final standings. I’m assuming that the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles are the AL Wild Card winners, making the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees division winners.
Texas Rangers – The Rangers have held the mantle of “best team in the American League” for the majority of the 2012 season. However, it appears they will enter the playoffs with question marks in every slot of their starting rotation – Yu Darvish (neck injury?), Matt Harrison (tired?), Ryan Dempster (too hittable?), and Derek Holland (too enigmatic?). The injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz from earlier in the season may finally be paying their toll. The Texas offense is streaky, and can go ice cold for periods at a time – periods long enough to last a playoff series. In the bullpen, the Rangers are down to what amounts to three reliable arms – Joe Nathan, Koji Uehara, and Alexi Ogando, as 8th-inning extraordinaire Mike Adams may not pitch again this season due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The Rangers are still a very good team, but unless they find a different gear in Game Number 163, they won’t be the team that is peaking at the right time.
Detroit Tigers – The Tigers underperformed compared to expectations all year, but have come on strong in the last couple of weeks of the season to steal the AL Central from the Chicago White Sox. Except for an injury to Max Scherzer, the Tigers may be that team that is primed to charge into the playoffs with momentum on their side. It certainly never hurts to have Justin Verlander leading the way in a short series.
New York Yankees – Like the Rangers, the Yankees have had some late-season injury issues. Unlike the Rangers, they’re getting healthier. C.C. Sabathia has returned from a short stint on the disabled list, and has now strung together three straight starts of eight innings pitched with two runs or less against. Andy Pettite has returned as well, and in his three starts back from the DL has given up a total of three runs. On the offensive side, Robinson Cano has been on a hot streak and Mark Teixeira is back from injury. While the Yankees are more prone to injury due to their age, that age also puts them among the most experienced rosters in the league. If they keep playing at full strength, at their current level, they could be the team that rises out of the ashes of the AL.
Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles – I’m just going to go ahead and lump these two in the same spot. Neither one of them should have made the playoffs, but they did, somehow. Neither team seems to have a starting rotation that is built for the playoffs. They rely mostly on timely hitting and solid performances from the bullpen. At some point, the wave that these two teams have been riding will come crashing down. However, I’ve been saying that since July, and look where we are.
In the end, baseball is a sport that can change in a moment’s notice. The Rangers look like the coldest team in the AL going into the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean their fate is sealed. Anything can happen with October baseball, and that’s why it is so captivating.
Join in the conversation with Peter on Twitter by following him @FutureGM