MLB Playoffs: 10 Bold Predictions
10 Bold Predictions For The 2013 MLB Playoffs
Why do we watch baseball, and more specifically, playoff baseball?
We love the unpredictability of the game and the potential to be surprised at every turn. We have 162 games to build a knowledge base, but in a five (or seven) game series, the potential is there for anything to happen. Stars have struggled and hurt their legacy forever, while relative unknown players have come from off the radar to jump start a very promising career. In short, anything can happen, and we love the drama that comes with that knowledge.
Which brings me to this article: I’m about to get bold. There’s been plenty of baseball played up to this point, allowing me to get comfortable with each roster and willing to stick my neck out with ten bold predictions. I feel very confident that we’ve cut the field of MLB teams down to the best of the best, meaning we will see some of the very best in the game square off against one another with regularity.
Does good pitching beat good hitting? Miguel Cabrera has been statistically the best hitter in baseball over the past two seasons, but will he even be the best hitter on Detroit’s roster this postseason? Will we have a sense of déjà vu in late October when the 2013 champion is crowned? Those answers are more are only a few clicks away as I make 10 bold predictions about how this postseason is going to play out.
Let me know what you think of my picks and what bold statements you’ve got for this October via tweet @unSOPable23
10. Miguel Cabrera
Prediction: Miguel Cabrera will record more walks than hits in the entire postseason.
Explanation: The Detroit Tigers have a deep lineup that is built around protecting its best hitter so that this doesn’t happen, but how can any opponent justify pitching to Cabrera in anything but a bases empty situation? The man has 88 homers (155 total extra base hits), 212 runs, 276 RBI and a .337 batting average over the last two seasons (307 games). Let me say that another way: he averages nine runs batted in every 10 games. This is not me having fun with small sample sizes (over 1,100 at-bats), it is just Cabrera being on a historic two season stretch and by far the best hitter in baseball.
Yes, I understand that Prince Fielder is a capable bat behind Cabrera, but there is simply no way any opponent can justify pitching to the third baseman in anything but a harmless situation. Fielder’s batting average dropped 32 points and his OBP 50 points from last season, so why even play with fire? Playoff teams are going to give Cabrera the Bonds treatment this postseason, leaving the door option for another Tiger to step up …
9. Victor Martinez
Prediction: Victor Martinez will be the most valuable Tiger this postseason and his bat will have more of a say as to how far Detroit advances than any other hitter in this loaded lineup.
Explanation: The last slide detailed why I think Miguel Cabrera won’t have a chance to swing the bat very often, but he will be getting on base, which gives those who follow him every opportunity to steal the show. While Prince Fielder is a great talent, Martinez simply puts the ball in play more often, thus giving a better opportunity to produce big-time numbers. Fielder has struck out or walked 74 more times than Martinez this season, indicating to me that pitchers are willing to nibble at the strike zone as opposed to challenging him in the middle of the zone. On the other hand, pitchers have not be afraid to attack V-Mart, and he has punished them by increasing his batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage all by at least 102 points since the all star break.
The switch hitting capabilities of the former catcher also play into his favor, as opponents can’t matchup with him. Last season, Fielder’s batting average dropped 39 points and his slugging percentage by 134 points against southpaws, a potential weakness I am looking to be exploited this postseason. The Tigers are going to get on base, and I expect Martinez to continue to swing a hot bat and lead the Tigers on a late postseason run.
8. Winning Without Closers
Explanation: This one is simple; I don’t expect many of the Tigers of Cardinals games to be decided in the ninth inning. Their offenses are among the most explosive in the league, and while they may not have a consistent option in the ninth inning, they have innings 1-8 pretty much figured out from a pitching perspective.
For Detroit, things haven’t always been pretty (heck, they tried to bring back Jose Valverde), but Joaquin Benoit has been good enough in the final frame. Is a pitcher with a career 4.10 ERA the ideal option for the ninth inning? Probably not, but that is less than one run every two innings pitched, and that should be enough to end most Tigers games. He has quietly converted 24 of 25 saves this season and is capable of striking out batters (73 in 66 innings pitched) as a way out of a jam.
For St. Louis, the ninth inning has been a mess since the season started. Jason Motte was supposed to be the long term answer after a stellar 2012 campaign, but his health prevented him from earning a single save this season. Cardinal Nation was told not to fear, as Mitchell Boggs was a more than capable option. Well, St. Louis shipped him out of town after he recorded two saves with an 11.05 ERA. Edward Mujica had his moments, but a low K/9 (6.47) made trusting him to get out of jams difficult. Lately, the Red Birds have turned to Trevor Rosenthal, a middle reliever who (for my money) is the best non-starter on this roster. Regardless of who is throwing the final pitch, the Cardinals have a nice playoff rotation and figure to use youngster Michael Wacha to fill the void left by Rosenthal in the middle innings. In short, I believe this relentless lineup will cover this minor flaw and clutch hitting (as was the case in 2011) will result in a second NL crown in three years for St. Louis.
7. Justin Masterson
Prediction: Justin Masterson will be the most valuable bullpen arm this postseason should the Cleveland Indians advance.
Explanation: The Indians have experimented with bring their former starter out of the bullpen of late, and man has it been impressive. As a starting pitcher, Masterson was forced to “save” pitches for future at-bats, but as a closer, he’s got one job, and that’s to get three outs by any means necessary. He’s looked awfully impressive in the latter stages of this season, and it is important to not that his current manager Terry Francona was also in charge when Masterson thrived out of the bullpen in Boston. Being a former starter, Masterson should also have the ability to pitch an extra inning or two, a bonus feature that most closers do not have. The Indians aren’t the most talented team in this postseason, and if they are going to advance, they need to secure every single lead, and I think Masterson is the right option in the ninth inning.
6. Atlanta Braves
Explanation: The Braves are capable of producing crooked numbers on the scoreboard, but their “swing from the heels” approach has often worked in the opposite direction as well. With 1,358 strikeouts Atlanta ranked fourth in all of baseball, with the three teams who struck out more often finishing a total of 97 games under .500. The Dodgers have the game’s best pitching duo in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke (365 total strikeouts) and a sneaky third option in Hyun-Jin Ryu (150 strikeouts in 188 innings). They also end most nights with the league’s premier strikeout closer in Kenley Jansen (105 K’s in 75.2 innings). Dan Uggla, the Upton brothers, and Evan Gattis could easily strikeout 6-8 times per game, and I’ll take my chances on the elite arms in LA to take it from there.
5. World Series MVP
Prediction: The winner of the World Series MVP will be a corner infielder
Explanation: Pitchers generally have a difficult time winning this award and I feel that there is plenty of options at first and third base that have MVP potential. Obviously a Detroit Tigers victory would give this prediction a great chance (Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder), but I believe the St. Louis Cardinals (Matt Adams or David Freese), Los Angeles Dodgers (Adrian Gonzalez), Atlanta Braves (Freddie Freeman), Tampa Bay Rays (Evan Longoria), Cincinnati Reds (Joey Votto) and Pittsburgh Pirates (Pedro Alvarez) all have reasonable contenders. There are plenty elite middle infielders and outfielders, as well as pitchers who can steal the show by winning three times, but the game breaking hitters primarily reside at the corner infield spots.
Bonus bold prediction: For the third straight season (and fourth time in seven years), a third basemen takes home the hardware.
4. Yasiel Puig
Prediction: Yasiel Puig will struggle in his first postseason and bat under .200.
Explanation: I’m not down on his talent or his ability to captivate an audience, as he is the closest thing to Johnny Manziel that the MLB has. But think about it logically: he will be facing elite pitching on a routine basis and there is plenty of film (376 at-bats) of him now. His aggressive approach isn’t going to surprise anyone, and I am unsure of how willing he will be to adapt his mindset for the pitching dominated playoffs.
Puig has put the ball in play before a third pitch is thrown on 32 percent of his at-bats this season, an absurdly high rate. Not only has he been making contact, he’s been finding holes, as he owns a .517 batting average on those occasions. But this is the playoffs, and elite pitchers are going to that aggressive approach that has served him so well this season and make it a flaw. Depending how the regular season pans out, he could open the postseason with the Atlanta Braves, the league leader in team ERA. If I, a sports writer on the east coast, know that Puig is going to swing early and often, I’m willing to bet that they best pitching staff in baseball has an idea too. Puig has walked a mere 34 times this season and has struggled in a big way once a pitcher gets a second strike on him (.182 batting average with two strikes). Look for Puig to willing expand his strike zone, and for the best pitchers in the game to take full advantage, making this a long postseason for one of the brighter talents in all of baseball.
3. Matt Moore
Prediction: Matt Moore will defeat the Boston Red Sox … twice
Explanation: Assuming David Price is given the ball in the Rays Wild Card game, Moore will be trusted with “ace” duties should the team advance to play the Red Sox. While I feel that the Red Sox boast as talented a roster as anyone, the playoffs are usually won by the hotter team at that moment, and nobody is throwing the ball better these days than Moore.
The Red Sox had the better regular season, thus earning home field advantage in this AL East series. But I couldn’t be less worried about this 24-year-old stud pitching in a difficult environment. In four September road starts, Moore has given up just one earned run while striking out 18 batters in 19.2 innings pitched. If you ignore a road start in hitter friendly New York, Moore’s road ERA drops to 0.03 in his last six road starts, including a complete game shutout against these very BoSox. Moore is a special talent, and with eight wins in his last nine decisions, he could be the jolt the Tampa Bay Rays need to pull off the upset.
2. World Series Length
Prediction: We will have a seven game World Series for the second time in three seasons.
Explanation: In my opinion, there are three or four “elite” teams in the league this season, and they are all so similar. All the teams can hit at a high level, meaning that pitching will likely decide things, but every team has at least one ace that they can count on. Regardless of what teams make it to the World Series, I like the National League team to take game one, as it will be a home game with their stud on the mound. From a talent perspective, I believe the American League teams hold the slight edge, allowing them to take game two on the road, and back and forth we go. It will be hard to win back to back games in the 2013 World Series, thus supporting my belief that we see an epic game seven. Imagine the NBA finals all over again; elite teams trading punches and absorbing blows until the decisive final game.
As mentioned, this would be the second seven-game Series in three years, a welcomed site to fans who only got two “winner take all” games from 1998-2010. But what two teams will be there? Who will win it all …
1. Adam Wainwright
Prediction: For the second time in his career, Adam Wainwright will throw the final pitch against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
Explanation: In 2006, Tony La Russa made the decision to call up a young Wainwright from the minors and stick him in the bullpen despite his experience as a starter. After Jason Isringhausen was forced to undergo season ending hip surgery in September, Wainwright was forced into the St. Louis Cardinals closer role for the final month of the regular season and the entire postseason. As luck would have it, St. Louis relied heavily on their youngster and handed him the ball, with a 3-1 series lead, in game five of the World Series. He mowed down the Tigers, ending the 2006 season with a nasty strikeout of Brandon Inge.
Things have changed a bit since then as Wainwright is now an annual contender for the NL Cy Young award and is widely regarded as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. I mentioned in the previous slide that I expect this series to go the distance, which, in theory, would mean we get to see Wainwright for a third time. While the Tigers have elite power up and down the lineup, Wainwright will have a good book on them after two starts, allowing him to mow them down for nine innings the way he did in the final innings seven years ago. The 2013 season is going to end with Wainwright on the bump, striking out the final batter, and embracing Yadier Molina.