The MLB postseason is upon us, and though we didn’t get the drama of two one-game playoffs to get to the one-game Wild Card playoffs like last season, we’re still going to experience a lot of great baseball.
First, the wild card games have to be played to determine who will face the top seed in each league. Here’s a quick breakdown of the two match-ups and my prediction of who will be advancing to their respective division series.
The Oakland Athletics (88-74) will be going to Kansas City to face the Royals (89-73) on Sept. 30 to find out who will advance to the ALDS to play the Los Angeles Angels. They faced each other seven times this season, with the Royals winning five of those games.
However, both Kansas City losses came when Jon Lester (LHP, 16-11, 2.46 ERA) was on the mound for the Athletics- as will be the case on Tuesday night. James Shields (RHP, 14-8, 3.21 ERA) will be hurling the ball for the Royals and hoping to continue an impressive month of September.
Shields won two of five starts and boasted a 2.31 ERA in the last month of the season and has an extremely solid bullpen to back him up late in the game. Lester was fantastic in the postseason last year, helping the Boston Red Sox win the World Series by going 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. He has some good relievers behind him, too.
Offensively, the Royals come into the postseason with the fourth best team batting average (.263) in the majors. But the Athletics have a slight edge in on-base percentage and scored 78 more runs than Kansas City during the season.
Scoring early will be crucial considering both teams have incredible closers. The Royals have the slight advantage in the closer situation with Greg Holland winning 46 of 48 save opportunities during the season and coming into the playoffs with a 1.44 ERA. Sean Doolittle of the A’s isn’t too bad either, going 22-for-26 with a 2.73 ERA.
Overall, I feel that whoever gets the bats going first will take this one. Both teams struggled during the final stretch of the season and had little run production, and with two great pitchers on the mound I don’t expect this to be a high-scoring game.
Kansas City waited an awful long time to get back to the playoffs, and unfortunately I don’t see them lasting very long. I’m taking the Oakland Athletics in this game.
The San Francisco Giants (88-74) will be traveling to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates (88-74) on Oct. 1 to fight for the chance to play the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. They played six games against each other in the regular season and the Pirates won four.
San Francisco will be sending their ace Madison Bumgarner (LHP, 18-10, 2.98 ERA) to the mound and the Pirates will put the ball in the hands of their surprise of the season, RHP Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04 ERA).
Volquez was fantastic in the month of September, earning a 1.08 ERA and going 5-0 in his last 10 starts. If he can continue his dominance, the Pirates might end up winning this game. But Bumgarner was pretty good in the final stretch as well, going 6-2 with a 2.12 ERA in his last 10 starts.
A big difference between the two leagues is that NL pitchers have to hit. In that aspect, the Giants have a substantial advantage because Bumgarner (.258) has a much better batting average than Volquez (.038). Collectively, the Pirates have a slightly better team batting average and got on base and scored more than the Giants during the regular season.
The Pirates will have some momentum going into Wednesday’s game after winning 18 of 27 games in September, but they are on a two-game losing streak. The Giants are riding a two-game winning streak and went 13-25, not including the completion game they won over the Colorado Rockies, in the last month of the season.
I had a tough time choosing a winner in this match-up, but in the end the experience of the San Francisco Giants was too much for me to overlook. I think they’ll rally behind a solid performance from Bumgarner and their veteran core of Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence to beat Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates.
All in all, I think we’ll see two tight games to kick off what should be a great postseason.
Let’s take a quick preview of the American League’s upper echelon this season (as of Sept. 18):
1. East- NY Yankees (83-63)
Baltimore Orioles (84-64)
Tampa Bay Rays (78-70)
2. Central- Chicago
White Sox (81-66)
Detroit Tigers (78-69)
Although it’s no match to the historically close finish to the AL Wild Card race last season, this year’s race is proving to be a nail-biter of its own kind. The Rangers taking the West and the White Sox claiming the Central seem to be the most obvious take-home conclusions. However, with approximately 16 games to go (nearly 10 percent of the season), the East is still up for grabs between the Yankees and the Orioles. Of those two teams, the one that doesn’t take the East will vie for the fourth seed (first wild card spot) with the Oakland Athletics. The one that doesn’t take the fourth seed will likely end up as the fifth seed (second wild card spot). In a nutshell, the epicenter of this competition lies between the Yankees, Orioles and the Athletics.
Three other teams that are currently stretching for the wild card but definitely within striking range are: Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers. As they creep upon the finish line, these three teams could definitely have a say in who plays in that wild card game. The Angels selected an unpropitious time to completely lose their momentum against the Athletics and lost three straight games. The Rays and Tigers need to start doing something different, considering they are quickly exiting the wild card picture. A few miracles definitely wouldn’t hurt them.