Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Postseason preview

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tim Lincecum will try to lead the Giants to their first title since Willie Mays' catch in 1954.
Ah, feel that crispness in the air? See those leaves starting to change colors? Notice no sign of baseball around these parts?

Yes, October is in full swing and the postseason begins today. In New York and Minnesota and Tampa Bay and Texas and Philadelphia and Cincinnati and San Francisco and Atlanta, the tension really begins to mount now. For the rest of us, the real fun begins.

This month will be a little strange for me, because I've been used to covering the playoffs and World Series. I haven't missed one since 2004 when I was on the Redskins beat, but I have to say I'm actually looking forward to watching it all play out on TV. Instead of missing most games other than the one I was covering, I'll have the opportunity to watch them all ... well, aside from some of today's early proceedings because Stan Kasten is holding his farewell press conference at 3 p.m. (Interfering with our lives right down to the end, huh, Stan?)

Since I'll be watching most of it, and since I know you'll be watching most of it, I wanted to make sure I'm providing a forum for everyone to discuss it. So, just like the regular season, I'll be posting threads for each scheduled game this month, with lineups, TV/radio info and a little preview. I may share a few critical thoughts of my own along the way. So check back for those later today, with each game thread posted about an hour before first pitch.

In the meantime, let's run through each of the four Division Series and make some predictions...

Game 1: Today, 1:37 p.m. at St. Petersburg, Fla.
Game 2: Tomorrow, 2:37 p.m. at St. Petersburg, Fla.
Game 3: Saturday, 5:07 p.m. at Arlington, Texas
*Game 4: Sunday, 1:07 p.m. at Arlington, Texas
*Game 5: Tuesday, 5:07 p.m. at St. Petersburg, Fla.
*-if necessary

1. Can someone other than Cliff Lee come up big in the Rangers' rotation? We know the ace left-hander will be good; he proved last year with the Phillies he can shine under the bright lights. But what about Texas' other starters: the unheralded C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter? All posted ERAs under 4.00 this season, but none has any previous postseason experience. Lee can only win two games in this series (and he'll have to beat David Price to do it). Someone else has to win at least one, maybe more, for Texas to advance.

2. Can the Rays' bats avoid another slump? This is a really weird lineup in that it scored nearly five runs per game but posted a team batting average of .250. Tampa Bay also struck out an AL-leading 1,292 times this season. They also were no-hit twice (by Dallas Braden and Edwin Jackson) and were held to two or fewer hits eight times. They can't afford to go ice-cold at the plate this month.

3. What will the environment be like at Tropicana Field? After drawing only 12,446 for their potential playoff clincher last week, the Rays and their fans have been ridiculed by the national media. How will they draw now for the postseason. When they went to the World Series in 2008, the dome was sold out and really, really loud, creating a nice home-field advantage. If there are empty seats, though, the place is a lot less intimidating for opponents.

With a payroll decrease on the way and several key players unlikely to return in 2011, this may be the Rays' last shot to win it all. That will provide some added motivation for this well-rounded club that managed to hold off both the Yankees and Red Sox for the AL East title. Most of Tampa Bay's players have been here before. The Rangers, on the other hand, are mostly newcomers to the playoffs and might be a bit fazed by the pressure. PREDICTION: Rays in 4.

Game 1: Today, 8:37 p.m. at Minneapolis
Game 2: Tomorrow, 6:07 p.m. at Minneapolis
Game 3: Saturday, 8:37 p.m. at New York
*Game 4: Sunday, 8:07 p.m. at New York
*Game 5: Tuesday, 8:37 p.m. at Minneapolis
*-if necessary

1. What does Andy Pettitte have left in the tank, and which Phil Hughes will show up? It's no secret the Yankees' fortunes this month will come down to their very questionable rotation. You know CC Sabathia will dominate, but the rest is a mess. Neither A.J. Burnett nor Javier Vazquez made the playoff rotation, leaving Joe Girardi with the 38-year-old Pettitte (who allowed seven runs over 7 1/3 innings in two starts after returning from the DL) and the erratic Hughes (5.15 ERA since June 13) as his Nos. 2 and 3 starters. Those two have to come up big for New York to have a chance.

2. Can the Twins overcome the absence of Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan? They've managed to do it for a while now. Morneau hasn't played since early July when he suffered a concussion, but Jim Thome (25 homers in 274 at-bats) helped pick up the slack. And they never had Nathan (Tommy John surgery) at all this year but made do with a couple of former Nats: Jon Rauch (3.12 ERA, 21 saves) and Matt Capps (2.00 ERA, 16 saves). You wouldn't think this team could survive without its All-Star first baseman or All-Star closer, but somehow it has.

3. Can the Twins get over the Yankee stumbling block? This is the fourth time in eight years that Minnesota and New York have met in the Division Series. Each time, the Yankees dominated, never letting a series get past the fourth game. So what makes this one any different? Well, a change of venues, for one thing. No longer stuck inside the Metrodome, the Twins now play outdoors at Target Field, which isn't nearly as kind to hitters. And since they've got home-field advantage over New York for the first time, that figures to be a bigger factor than in the past.

These aren't your old Minnesota Twins. They've got a big payroll, play in a nice, new ballpark and are well-positioned to face their Yankee demons. And these aren't last year's Yankees. Yes, they hit the ball a ton. But their only hope seems to be winning any game not started by Sabathia 8-7. Tough to see them doing that on a daily basis in October. PREDICTION: Twins in 5.

Game 1: Today, 5:07 p.m. at Philadelphia
Game 2: Friday, 6:07 p.m. at Philadelphia
Game 3: Sunday, 4:37 p.m. at Cincinnati
*Game 4: Monday, 5:07 p.m. at Cincinnati
*Game 5: Wednesday, 6:07 p.m. at Philadelphia
*-if necessary

1. Can the Reds' lineup somehow solve Philadelphia's trio of aces? Has a team ever gone into October with a more potent trio of pitchers than Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels? Maybe Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were better, but not by much. All three of those Phillies hurlers are at the top of their game right now, and since this series features three off-days, Charlie Manuel can go with a three-man rotation and never have to pitch anyone on short rest. That's scary for Cincinnati.

2. Will Aroldis Chapman neutralize the Phillies' big left-handed hitters? There may not be a more anticipated matchup this month than the Reds' electric rookie reliever and his 103 mph fastball vs. Philadelphia sluggers Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Dusty Baker will have to pick his spots carefully with Chapman, making sure he doesn't use him too early or miss the boat altogether and never get the chance to use him. Either way, whenever the Cuban enters from the bullpen, everyone will stop what they're doing to watch.

3. Is Brad Lidge a concern any more? We haven't heard nearly as much about him this year as last year, probably because the Phillies closer has been very good. He saved 27 of 32 games this season, posted a 2.96 ERA and successfully converted his final 10 save opportunities in the middle of a pennant race. But Lidge, of course, has some demons to overcome from last year. If he falters even once, those demons might creep back up, and then Manuel has a real problem on his hands.

As good as the last two Phillies teams that won and went to the World Series, respectively, were, this one might be better. That rotation is ridiculously good, and the lineup remains as deep as any in baseball. They look like the sport's best club entering the postseason, and they shouldn't have much trouble with Cincinnati in the first round. PREDICTION: Phillies in 3.

Game 1: Tomorrow, 9:37 p.m. at San Francisco
Game 2: Friday, 9:37 p.m. at San Francisco
Game 3: Sunday, 7:07 p.m. at Atlanta
*Game 4: Monday, 8:37 p.m. at Atlanta
*Game 5: Wednesday, 9:37 p.m. at San Francisco
*-if necessary

1. Who's got anything left in the tank? Both of these teams went straight through Sunday's season finale before securing their playoff berths, and that took a lot out of them. The Giants are somewhat better positioned because ace Tim Lincecum can start Game 1 on normal rest. The Braves, though, had to use ace Tim Hudson on Sunday, so he won't be ready to return until Game 3. It took a lot of physical and emotional energy for both teams to get this far. Can they sustain it, or has either club run out?

2. How will the kids perform on the big stage for the first time? Giants catcher Buster Posey and Braves right fielder Jason Heyward will finish 1-2, one way or the other, in the NL Rookie of the Year race. They are simply fabulous young players who play huge roles on their respective clubs. Posey hits cleanup for San Francisco. Heyward often was asked to carry Atlanta's lineup. That's a lot to ask of either kid in the postseason, but their managers don't have a choice. Whichever one can handle this pressure better will go a long way toward helping their team's chances.

3. Can the Braves rally behind Bobby Cox? Atlanta's longtime manager is retiring after the season, but his players don't seem to want to let this season end. There were plenty of times down the stretch when it looked like Cox wouldn't make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2005, but every time the Braves looked finished, they found a way to come through. They've certainly got a motivating factor in trying to keep this run going for their beloved skipper, and sometimes motivation can overcome a lot in October.

Cox's pending retirement makes for a heartwarming story, but the cold truth is that the Braves are running on fumes at this point. They don't have a No. 4 starter and thus will have to ask Hudson, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson to all pitch on short rest. They lost All-Star Martin Prado to an injury in the season's final week. The Giants, meanwhile, have a potentially dominant rotation in Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. PREDICTION: Giants in 4.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you focus on the Yankee pitching staff, and not the Twins. After Liriano (who even Twins fans are nervous about, given his erratic reputation), Pavano has been effective this year but has his demons, and Brian Duensing is a rookie. Both Liriano and Duensing are lefties, traditionally tough on the Yankees (who loaded up on lefty power hitters to take advantage of Yankee Stadium). But the 2010 Yankees hit for more power and a higher OPS against lefties than righties.

Would I be surprised if the Twins won? No, not really. That's a good ballclub. Do I think the Yankees should be favored to win it all, or even make the WS? Not necessarily. But I think this matchup works in their favor. Yankees in five, four if they win tonight.

John C.

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't the proper place to post this but I read on MLB Rumors that Adam Dunn will be a type B free agent and that the Nats would only get one pick for him if he signs elsewhere. This could be a real blow to Mr. Rizzo's plans if they were to only get one draft pick for him.

Your thoughts Mark

natsfan1a said...

Thanks for the forum, Mark. Looking forward to the postseason threads.

Sec3MyCleanupMan said...

That would be

Adam Dunn: Type B Free Agent?
By Tim Dierkes [October 5, 2010 at 11:05am CST]

As I mentioned earlier, Eddie Bajek's reverse-engineered Elias rankings are subject to change if we find errors. However, the current end-of-season iteration presents an interesting possibility: Adam Dunn may be a Type B free agent.

We have Dunn at 74.166 points in the NL 1B/OF group, tied with Derrek Lee and just shy of Angel Pagan's 74.353 Type A status. If Dunn is a Type B, here are the implications:

SofaForThePlayoffs said...

I love the irony. If Dunn is a Type B, he'll cost the Nats more to re-sign than if he were a Type A, and they'll probably have to do it.

Post a Comment