TIM: John, the readers of NPI are in luck. San Francisco’s dramatic comeback — although Jayson Stark, let’s cool it on the overzealous use of the adjective “impossible” — means the Cardinals aren’t in the World Series, which means my personal boycott of previewing Cardinals postseason series doesn’t affect this Fall Classic.
I guess we should start by talking about the team that’s played in the last several weeks in the Giants. What do you think about this team, especially with the 2010 Giants in the back of your mind? I mean, Barry Zito in Game 1? LOL, right?
JOHN: Totes LOL. When Zito was shutting down the Cardinals lineup in Game 5, my brother and I got into a discussion about his absurd contract. We both seemed to entertain the idea that San Francisco has salvaged some value out of him. After all, he won 15 games this year and came up huge in the NLCS. But, really, when you look at his stats, he’s still a pretty lousy starting pitcher and has been throughout his time with the Giants.
I suppose, though, that pitching him in Game 1 at least works with the logic you brought a few years ago in a postseason preview: If you’re going up against someone like Justin Verlander, you might as well use someone like Zito. If he’s terrible, then you just shrug it off and say you probably weren’t going to beat Verlander no matter what. But if Zito has another performance like he did in St. Louis, then maybe SF can steal Game 1 and still have Baumgarner, Vogelsong, and Cain lined up for the rest of the series.
I know that’s not the Giants’ actual reasoning (and I also realize it doesn’t answer your question– what is this a Presidential debate? Am I right?), but should a San Francisco fan take comfort in that anyway?
Detroit Tigers (88-74) at New York Yankees (95-67)
How the-opposite-of-fitting that in a year dominated by Cinderella stories—Chicago leading the AL Central for most the year; Oakland’s improbable comeback in the West; Baltimore’s first playoff appearance since before Monica Lewinsky was famous—it’s the Yankees and Tigers left in the ALCS. Both teams were expected to repeat as division winners, and both actually had somewhat disappointing regular seasons: Detroit trailed the White Sox for most of the year, and New York didn’t clinch until the last day of the season. The ALCS is also nothing new to either team, with both teams having taken turns losing to Texas the last two years. And if it weren’t for last night’s game in Washington, we’d be talking about the Tigers and Yankees as the biggest dream-killers of all: Justin Verlander stopped what looked like yet another improbable Oakland comeback in its tracks, and New York topped Baltimore with repeated late-inning heroics. In the regular season matchups between these two teams, the Yankees took six of ten from Detroit.
Detroit didn’t hit much in its series against Oakland: The Tigers scored only 17 runs in five games, and six of those runs came on non-RBI plays. Nobody on the team had an especially good series offensively—Omar Infante was the only regular to hit over .300, and he had only one extra-base hit. A lot of the problem can likely be attributed to great pitching by the A’s, but Detroit needs to get more production out of its big hitters, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Though Fielder did homer in Game 4, neither of those guys did enough to carry the offense, which is the only way the Tigers offense can get carried. Perhaps most troubling: Cabrera and Fielder only walked once apiece in five games. Again, this is likely the result of facing a staff with great control—Oakland pitching walked only seven batters in the series—but Cabrera and Fielder need to at least get on base if they’re not driving in runs.
Baltimore Orioles (93-69) at New York Yankees (95-67)
The two teams that battled for the AL East over 162 games now face each other for five to see who advances to the ALCS. Because that’s fair. The teams split the season series 9-9, with Baltimore outscoring New York by two in those games (the Orioles did end the season with a positive run differential, for those of you keeping track). The Orioles are this year’s Cinderella team, making the postseason for the first time since 1997, which was also the last time they had a winning record. The Yankees, meanwhile, are in their 28th postseason series since that year.
Baltimore’s offense this year was all about the home run. The Orioles don’t walk much—11th in the league in OBP—or hit for a very high average—10th. They are last in stolen bases and 10th in hits. On top of that, their best contact hitter, Nick Markakis, broke his thumb in a totally innocent and not at all suspicious accident and is still out for a few more weeks. But the Orioles were second in the league in home runs, and there are power threats littered throughout the lineup. From Mark Reynolds to Matt Wieters to J.J. Hardy to Chris Davis to Adam Jones—who had a breakout season this year—nearly everyone is a threat to hit it out. Facing the Yankees, who play in a home run haven and trot out pitchers with a tendency to give up the long ball, that will obviously come up. Continue reading
San Francisco Giants (94-68) at Cincinnati Reds (97-65)
Contrary to the muddled playoff picture in the American League, the National League’s top three has been settled for some time. The Reds and Giants each clinched their divisions rather early, winning them by nine and eight, respectively — the two largest margins in baseball. Two years removed from a surprising run to the World Series, the Giants are back looking for more postseason magic. The Reds can improve on their 2010 postseason by 1. Getting a hit in each game they play; and 2. Winning one of those games.
Contrary to what you might think (and what I thought when I started writing this sentence), the Giants actually outscored the Reds this season by an average of 0.3 runs per game. San Francisco has been led by otherworldly performances from Melky Cabrera (in the first half) and probable NL MVP Buster Posey (in the second half). Posey posted a .336/.408/.549 line for the season; since the All-Star Game, his OPS is something like 3.600 (fine, it’s only 1.102). Posey, combined with the addition of Marco Scutaro, have allowed the Giants to overcome Cabrera’s suspension—which, mind you, ends if San Francisco gets to the NLCS (although the team has indicated it would not bring him back).
Cincinnati’s offense revolves around Joey Votto, who would also be in the MVP race if he hadn’t missed 51 games. Votto’s .474 on-base percentage is the highest (min. 475 plate appearances, the number Votto had on the dot) by a non-steroid user (sorry Bonds and Giambi) since Edgar Martinez in 1995. Even counting steroid users, it’s the 11th-best of the divisional era. At the same time, Votto was more a doubles than a home run hitter this season. The rest of the lineup makes up for that drop in power. Jay Bruce hit 34 homers, Ryan Ludwick had a comeback year with 26 long balls, and Jersey’s own Todd Frazier hit 19 as a rookie fill-in for Scott Rolen at third.
Detroit Tigers (88-74) at Oakland Athletics (94-68)
Two division winners that actually trailed their divisions for most of the year face off in this series, though each team took a different path to its comeback. The Tigers were expected to win the AL Central, but underperformed all year and then snuck in when the White Sox lost 11 of their last 15 games. The A’s, on the other hand, surprised people be staying competitive all year, and ultimately finished ahead of both the Angels and the Rangers in what was probably the league’s toughest division.
Obviously, Detroit has Miguel Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years and one of two serious MVP candidates in the AL this year.* Behind him, the Tigers have now added Prince Fielder, who justified his $214 million contract (as much as such a thing can be justified): Fielder’s numbers were great this season, if slightly less extraordinary than Cabrera’s. After those two, though, there is a considerable drop-off. It is what Jonah Keri likes to call a “Stars and Scrubs” lineup—the team was only sixth in runs scored despite having two of the best three hitters in the league (by OPS+). Jhonny Peralta returned to his subpar form, Delmon Young couldn’t maintain his production for a full year, Alex Avila took a big step back, etc. Austin Jackson had a breakout year and Andy Dirks shouldn’t be overlooked, but stopping this lineup is really about stopping Cabrera/Fielder. Continue reading
The $254 Million Man
The Yankees have finally won a game, so all is right with the baseball world. But John S still hasn’t broken down the American League, so has the season really begun?
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels*
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Seattle Mariners
On a scale of 1 to 10, how scared are you of Albert Pujols joining the American League? Well, he’s not in the AL East, so I’m not that scared. I’m more concerned about his ability to drain the next few MVP races of any real intrigue…
Pick a number! OK, OK… 8. It is interesting how changing leagues can totally change how I view a player. When someone is in the NL, I can be somewhat objective about him, evaluating him on talent or personality. But when a player is in the AL, I judge him almost entirely on how he affects the Yankees. I bear grudges against any player who beats the Yankees dramatically (Damn you, Marco Scutaro, for your walk-off home run against Mariano Rivera in 2007!), or who robs a Yankee of a personal achievement (Damn you, Josh Hamilton for stealing Robinson Cano’s MVP in 2010! Damn you, Justin Morneau, for stealing Derek Jeter’s in 2006! And damn you, Pat Hentgen, for stealing Andy Pettitte’s Cy Young in 1996!), or insults a Yankee (Damn you, Dallas Braden, for your insolent mound bullshit in 2010!). Continue reading
Baseball season is already underway, but John S didn’t let the first weekend alter his preseason predictions. You’ll just have to trust him on that…
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants*
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
You really nailed this division last year, huh? It’s true that last year I had the Diamondbacks, who ultimately won the division, finishing last in my season preview. So in order to make up for it, I’ve picked them to repeat in 2012.
And it’s not like it’s a trendy pick, either, since nobody’s really expecting Arizona to make the playoffs again. Continue reading