MLB Playoffs Set to Entertain

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Photo Courtesy of http://www.mlbplayoffsbracket.com

Matt Grabianski, Contributing Writer

Six months, 2,430 games, and the Major League Baseball postseason is finally here. It has been an up and down ride for all teams, but in about a month, a sole champion will finally be crowned. For one team, everything will pay off.

The playoffs begin with the American League Wild Card Game on Sep. 30 at 7 p.m. when the Oakland A’s visit the Kansas City Royals. The A’s were thriving, and had the best record in the league until Aug. 16. Their ace Sonny Gray was doing great, their slugger Yoenis Cespedes was going strong. But then they traded Cespedes for another ace Jon Lester, and traded two of their top prospects for two more aces Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Then Hammel and Samardzija fell apart, and the A’s began sinking. They managed to hang on, though, and grab the final playoff spot in the AL. Expect the A’s to win—they have a clean slate now and have the ability to go a long way despite their recent struggles, and certainly have more ability than the Royals. At the end of July, Oakland was 12 games better. With talent like this, they can easily pass through Kansas City.

The National League Wild Card game is Oct. 1 and will feature the San Francisco Giants at the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates were a favorite heading into the season, yet had an extremely disappointing start. They were fourth in their division (out of five) with a record of 41-40. They finished hot though, almost winning their division. Even though they ultimately fell short by two games they will still host the Wild Card game as the favorites to win and advance to the division series. I am predicting the Pirates win relatively easily, and head in hot to the NLDS. They are 4-2 against the Giants this year, and Giants starter Madison Bumgarner got hit hard the last time Pittsburgh faced him, giving up five runs and only lasting four innings.

Here is a closer look at the first round, or the division series.

Washington Nationals vs. Winner of NL Wild Card

The Nationals are the NL regular season champs, and look to continue through the postseason though they are a very inexperienced team. The Nationals’ average age is 27.7, the fourth youngest in the MLB, and besides a great year in 2012, they have not been a good team recently. The Nats will have the clear advantage, however, as whoever wins the Wild Card game will have already had to win a sudden death game, so they will be tired. Washington also has home field advantage. But if the Pirates do win, they enter with a hot streak going, and could overtake the top seed, as we see often.

Prediction: The Pirates will take this because they have a ton of momentum, but they will have to win the Wild Card game first. In the MLB, momentum is everything. And that’s not to mention the Pirates have three great pitchers. Their third best, Edison Volquez, will be starting the playoff game. This means the top two will be in a good spot to start against the Nationals should they get there.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

This is the battle of those who have been there, done that. The Dodgers, with the best pitching rotation in the league, and the Cardinals, who always seem to contend, no matter how bad they look in the preseason. These two teams have dominated the National League in the past two years, in the regular season and in the playoffs. These two are almost always contenders, and they are at it again. Both teams are evenly matched. The Dodgers have let up an average of 3.81 runs per game, and the Cardinals have let up an average of 3.72. The Dodgers scored 4.46 runs per game, and the Cardinals scored 3.82 per game. Expect a lot of pitching duels, which make for a great series.

Prediction: Dodgers, just because of their dominant pitching. They need three wins to advance to the NLCS, and they have Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77 ERA), Zack Greinke (17-8, 2.71 ERA), and Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-7, 3.38 ERA) to win them. If they need help, they can turn to veteran Josh Beckett, who threw a no-hitter earlier in the year.

And now the American League…

Los Angeles Angels vs. Winner of AL Wild Card

The Angels had basically the opposite season of the A’s — starting out average, and then skyrocketing up to the top of the AL. They ended up with not only the best record in their half, but the best in the whole MLB at 98-64. Obviously they are the favorites heading into the postseason. However, they are also inexperienced. Star outfielder Mike Trout is only 23. But despite this, they will play a team less rested than themselves, and whoever they play, no matter which team, will not come in with any momentum.

Prediction: Angels, because the best team in the majors with extra rest is unstoppable. The Angels led the majors in runs scored per game with 4.77, and were in the top half of the league in runs allowed with 3.89 per game. They will not be beat by a less-rested team.

Baltimore Orioles vs. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are a team that is very experienced, yet did not have that great of a year. They made some big trades to amp their pitching by acquiring David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays, but the team still struggled to live up to their potential. In 2011, Justin Verlander won the Cy Young and the MVP of the American League, a feat not accomplished since 1992, yet finished with a subpar 15-12 record, with a 4.54 ERA. Detroit still won the American League Central though, and look to make a push in the postseason. The Orioles were not expected by many to contend for a championship this year, especially in their American League East. They ended up on top, and with an extremely superb record of  96-66. They are ready for Detroit.

Prediction: Tigers, because they have three aces. Justin Verlander, David Price, and Max Scherzer have all won the Cy Young Award in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. I doubt that all three will do poorly.

My prediction for the World Series? A Los Angeles matchup. Angels vs. Dodgers. The Dodgers could breeze through the NL with their pitchers, and the Angels could breeze through a very faulty AL. When all is said and done, I’m taking the Angels. I just cannot see them losing if they make it all the way to the end with their combination of hitting and pitching. This postseason, regardless of the outcome, will be interesting. There is no real expected winner, and even the favorites are only favored by a slim margin. We are in for a treat.