By Richard Goldberger, October 2 2014 —
It’s finally time for some meaningful baseball again. October has come, bringing with it the return of the playoffs.
This year’s crop of postseason teams would have seemed alien five years ago. Nevertheless, they are diverse, erratic and exemplify the shifting balance of power in Major League Baseball.
Only after breaking down each team can we see what they’ve done to succeed and what makes them unique. Let’s begin.
The National League:
Washington Nationals (No.1) — NL East-Division Champions
Back in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, Washington secured home-field during the NL championship series. When it comes to the playoffs, there’s nothing more important than pitching, which the Nationals definitely have.
The Nats pitching rotations have the lowest earned run average (3.07) while giving up the fewest home-runs (110) of any team in the majors. Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman even managed a no-hitter in the final game of the regular season. However, their lack of playoff experience may prevent a deep post-season run.
Los Angeles Dodgers (No.2) — NL West-Division Champions
The Dodgers are coming off of their second consecutive National League West division championship and may have the most to prove this October.
Los Angeles has the league’s highest payroll and the best road record. The Dodgers also yield two of the league’s best pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Combined with strong hitting and playoff experience, the Dodgers are the most well-rounded and most favoured team in the NL. Barring an upset, they should make the World Series.
St. Louis Cardinals (No.3) — NL Central Division Champions
Many long-time baseball fans lovingly refer to the St. Louis Cardinals as the “playoff pests,” but St. Louis knows October baseball. The Cardinals have historically found a way to win, making three consecutive NLCS appearances and the World Series in 2011 and 2013.
St. Louis had balanced hitting and a stellar bullpen this year. The Cards have seven players in the lineup with 100-plus hits and the team leads the league in saved games. If they get past the Dodgers, the Cardinals will make it to the World Series.
Pittsburgh Pirates (No.4) — No. 1 Wildcard team
The Pirates are undoubtedly the league’s hottest team coming into the post-season.
Pittsburgh was a smoking 18–9 in September and they will host their second straight Wildcard game against the Giants, having won the season series 4–2.
Historically, teams that enter the playoffs with strong finishes in September have the best shot at a deep playoff run. Led by all-stars Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh’s explosive offence and momentum should get them through San Francisco. The next round may be a different story.
San Francisco Giants (No.5) — No.2 Wildcard team
The Giants are looking for their third World Series in five years. San Francisco is certainly a great hitting team, but only when they’re healthy, which they’re not. Nagging injuries will ultimately prevent the Giants from making noise in this year’s playoffs.
The American League:
Los Angeles Angels (No.1) — AL West Division Champions
The Angels are a favourites to win the World Series. They’re complete in every sense, rounded with power hitters, speed and incredible pitching since the all-star break. The Angels are strong offensively, leading the league in runs and owning the best home record of any team. Regardless of the outcome of the AL Wildcard game, expect the Angels to win the AL Championship.
Baltimore Orioles (No.2) – AL East Division Champions
Baltimore’s domination of the AL East was no fluke. They have everything a successful team needs to win their first-round series with the Tigers.
The Orioles lead the league in home runs by a mile, while their pitching team combined for a 2.83 ERA since the all-star break, second best overall. They’re the only team that can give the Angels a run for the AL pennant.
Detroit Tigers (No.3) — AL Central Division Champions
The Tigers enter the playoffs in a toss-up for their first-round series. Detroit’s pitching rotation appeared unusually off in the last month, while their hitting — thanks to superstar Miguel Cabrera — was strong.
They are no strangers to the playoffs, advancing to the ALCS the last three seasons. But this year’s pitching squad doesn’t show the promise of Octobers past.
Going up against the league leaders in home runs, expect a tight series, but an impending playoff exit in Baltimore.
Kansas City Royals (No.4) —No. 1 Wildcard team
Kansas City enters the playoffs for the first time since 1985 and it’s hard not to be excited.
Probably because they’re the first team to ever make the playoffs dead last in home runs and walks. From the outset, Kansas City has no idea what playoff baseball looks like, and they’re an offensive laughing stock. However, they beat the Oakland Athletics 9–8 in 12 innings. The Royals will face a tough test against the Angels. Though they don’t stand much of a chance, it’s great to see new faces in the playoffs.
Oakland Athletics (No.5) — No. 2 Wildcard team
It was difficult to imagine the Oakland A’s winning any significant post-season baseball after their embarrassing final third of the season. A World Series favourite at the beginning of 2014, the A’s owned a 72–44 record and lad the AL West division before losing 30 of their last 46 games to only barely squeak into the playoffs in the second wildcard spot.
The A’s were disappointingly bounced from the playoffs in the first round again.
World Series Prediction:
Angels vs. Dodgers – Angels win in six games.