First Round MLB Playoff Preview and Predictions

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MLB Playoff Matchups and Predictions

Giants
Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

The final week of the regular season was chalk full of excitement, readying the average joe for what’s sure to be some drama-filled postseason baseball. And here at Rantsports, we couldn’t be happier about it.

While some teams wrapped up their playoff bid weeks before the regular season finale, others took their sweet time and notched their division crown on the final day of the schedule. On Wednesday, the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees did just that. In Oakland, the Athletics completed an unlikely three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers exploding for a 12-5 come-from-behind victory to surpass their AL-West foe in the standings to earn their first division crown since 2006.

On the other side of the country, the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles were hoping to one-up each other in the standings to grab the last division crown yet to be owned. Fortunately for New York, its fate rested in its own hands. The pin-stripped Yankees compiled a 12 run outing against the Boston Red Sox to take the AL-East title and the best record in the majors.

Finally, after the dust has settled, the playoff picture is clear. So, here come the predictions.

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AL Wild Card - Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers

Giants
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The Texas Rangers will host the Baltimore Orioles in a one-game playoff to determine who will face the New York Yankees in the ALDS. The Rangers will send out their rookie ace Yu Darvish (16-9), while Joe Saunders will start for the Orioles.

The Rangers boast a dynamic offensive punch in the heart of their lineup. The onslaught of Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton will be too much for the Orioles pitching staff to handle. Though Hamilton has been fighting a slump in recent weeks that’s, unfortunately, coincided with the team’s unglamorous fall from grace. But, they do have the extra advantage, having three straight years of playoff experience and a one-game playoff in Arlington (where they are a giddy 50-31 on the year) will be sure to pay off.

The Orioles are a dangerous bunch of nobodies who like playing in tight, one-run ball games. Chris Davis has become a rising star for the team, while pitcher Chris Tillman has had one of the better second halves in all of baseball. But their Cinderella story will end with a crippling defeat against the been-there-done-that Rangers.

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NL Wild Card - St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves

Giants
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

The St. Louis Cardinals will travel to the Atlanta Braves for a fickle, one-game playoff sure to entice. The Cardinals will send out their steady right-hander Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA), while the Braves give the unbeatable Kris Medlen (9-0 0.97 ERA) the starting nod. This is sure to be as even of a first-round Wild Card playoff as can be.

Since the departure of Albert Pujols, the Cardinals have unfathomably become an offensive powerhouse. Carlos Beltran and Matt Holiday are having career years at the plate, while Allen Craig has been a revelation throughout the whole season. As such, they rank second in the NL with runs scored and team batting average (.271), even though they had to grind out a spectacular September to make it into the playoffs. Hmm...sound familiar?

Meanwhile, it will be Chipper Jones last dance in the majors, capping a brilliant 20-year career. He’ll be buoyed by an arsenal of offensive weapons (especially with All-Star Dan Uggla back in the lineup) and a pitching staff ripe to manhandle a one-game playoff. Which brings us to the biggest surprise in the majors -- Medlen. The righty has yet to lose for the Braves in the last two years. He’s helped Atlanta accumulate an ungodly 20-10 record down the stretch to win the first wild-card spot and the largely helpful home field advantage in this matchup.

The Braves had the edge against the Cardinals during the regular season, and no amount of 2011 World Series luck will help them escape this one.

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ALDS - Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

Giants
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The Oakland Athletics secured one of the most improbable division crowns in recent history, coming from 13 games back in their division to overtake the Texas Rangers in the AL-West. They are, by far, the hottest team in the second half of the season, which will undoubtedly carry over into the first round of the playoffs.

Their lack of star power doesn’t faze them. In fact, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t look up their pitching rotation, which consists of four rookie starters. And even after that, they still managed to rank in the top five of all important pitching categories. Their Achillies’ heal remains with their offense, who’ve proven inconsistent over the course of the year. The A’s clinched the division batting a measly .238 team average (the worst for a playoff team in league history). They did, however, come on strong with a league-leading 194 homers in the second half of the season, with Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes pacing the team with a .292 average.

While Oakland has surprised just about every MLB pundit, the Tigers were sure to repeat last year’s AL-Central winning campaign. Manager Jim Leyland has an abundance of power in his lineup, which includes Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs) and offensive juggernaut Prince Fielder (.313, 30 homers and 108 RBIs). Wow, this already sounds like a pretty lopsided matchup.

However, Detroit’s downfall will come with its pitching. The only reliable slinger staffed on the team is Justin Verlander (2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP). Doug Fisher and Max Scherzer have been battling injuries throughout the season and have been tabbed as less reliable than most other postseason pitching staffs. They’re biggest concern still remains with their bullpen, which has also been more than suspect this year (12th in league).

While the Tigers maintain a slight edge over the Athletics in the regular season (4-3), it wouldn’t be the playoffs without some fun-filled drama. The hot-hitting A’s squeak out a five-game series upset at the Oakland Coliseum in what’s sure to be one of the better 2012 first-round playoff matchups.

A's outlast Tigers 3-2

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ALDS - Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees

Giants
Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

The Texas Rangers, who managed to out-duel the scrappy Baltimore Orioles in the one-game Wild Card playoff in my prediction pool, will face off against the New York Yankees in what’s sure to be a battle of offensive powerhouses.

In one corner, you have the Yankees, who earned the best record in the AL, a feat that no one saw surprising. As a result, they will have the luxury of owning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Yankees boast one of the best offenses in the game. Robinson Cano recorded his eighth consecutive multi-hit game, taking an impressive 20-for-35 (.571) average into the first round of the playoffs. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will help pace the rest of the Yankees lineup while Mark Teixiera looks to get back into the swing of things (literally) after a lengthy DL layoff.

While the Yankees starting pitching remains suspect behind C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda has faired well against the Rangers this past season, recording a 1-1 record with a 1.15 ERA in 15.2 innings of work against their AL playoff rivals.

In the other corner, the Rangers will be at a slight disadvantage, having sent out their ace to play in the one-game Wild Card playoff. And slumping Josh Hamilton won’t be able to make the right adjustments in time to put his team back on a lengthy winning path.

Yankees own the Rangers in four games.

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NLDS - San Francisco vs. Cincinnati Reds

Giants
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds will face off in one of the more intriguing divisional battles in the playoffs.

The Giants managed to wrap up the NL-West title a week before season’s end, the second time in three years. They are playing hot baseball right now, ending September with a 19-8 record, second best behind the Oakland A’s.

Matt Cain has been the leading force behind the Giants in their 2012 campaign. He has recorded a perfect game, a career-low 2.79 ERA and 193 strikeouts to notch another Cy Young-caliber season. Following him in game 2 is youngster-turned-ace Madison Bumgarner. The 23-year-old right-hander has notched an impressive 16-5 record in 32 starts this season. However, the next few starters (which includes two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum) have put up uneven performances in the last few weeks of the season. Their ability to right the ship will be the difference maker in this five-game set.

On the offensive side, the Giants boast the NL batting crown winner and likely MVP Buster Posey. The slugger has put together a phenomenal year after a 2011 campaign marred by a single play at the plate. He will be backed by the best mid-season acquisition in baseball in second baseman Marco Scutaro, who leads the team in hits and runs since his arrival.

However, the Reds won’t go down easily. While they tapered off in the month of September (16-13), they still remain the second-best team in the NL. A lot of it has to do with their middle-of-the-order slugger Jay Bruce, who tallied a team-best 34 homers, 89 runs and 99 RBIs on the season. He will be helped by a supporting cast of Brandon Philips (.281), Ryan Ludwick (.275) and newly healthy Joey Votto (who has recovered from left knee surgery).

Cincinnati’s starting rotation consists of Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA), who had his best season in the majors, and Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.29 ERA), who's been a solid No. 2 contributor. But it’s their bullpen that makes them extra scary. The Reds notched an MLB-best 56 saves on the season with the team earning a sizzling 2.65 ERA.

While the Reds have a significant advantage in the bullpen, the Giants have stockpiled a better version of their former 2010 World Series selves.

San Francisco wins 3-1.

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Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals

Giants
Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

The Washington Nationals went from laughing stocks to heavy-hitting bullies in one year’s time. They currently hold the best record in the majors (98-67), earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Furthermore, they get the benefit of facing Atlanta’s No. 2 starter in game 1 of the five game series. Unfortunately, the Nationals themselves are without their No. 1 ace Stephen Strasburg, who was shutdown for the season as a precautionary to stave off any further injury from his Tommy John surgery last year.

That pits the divisional foes in a dead-even heat.

The Nationals are still led by a supremely good pitching staff (even without Strasburg). Gio Gonzalez has put together a league-leading 21-win season, tabbing him as an excellent Cy Young candidate and a franchise pitcher of the future. The rest of the pitching staff is buoyed by Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, though, they don’t have a playoff appearance between them.

On the offensive side, Ryan Zimmerman (.282, 25 HRs and 95 RBIs) will give the Nationals a boost in the middle of the order. And 19-year-old phenom and Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Bryce Harper (.270, 22 HRs, 59 RBIs) adds another dynamic punch in the lineup.

Meanwhile, the Braves starting pitching without Kris Medlin (who will start the one-game Wild Card playoff) drops off significantly. Tim Hudson has been inconsistent for the Braves this year and Mike Minor’s early season struggles give you a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Nationals fend off Braves in four.

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