The 2011 MLB Playoffs kick off tonight. We needed all 162 games to figure out which teams were worthy of being in the playoffs all while witnessing the two largest September collapses in the history of Baseball... If Wednesday night was evidence of the drama and the ridiculousness that we are going to see this year then we are in for an absolute treat. Just as long we don't get the Rangers and the Diamondbacks in the World Series. Click for the Division Series predictions after the jump...
The first round series are best of 5, played in a 2-2-1 format. Meaning the team with the better regular season record is home for the first two games, away for the next two games, and would host the fifth and deciding game. Here's how I see each series breaking down:
Tampa Bay Rays @ Texas Rangers -
The Rays have been playing pretty decent baseball for the last month. They obviously snuck in because of Boston's collapse, but they have a lot of good young arms on their staff that carried them all season. In fact, May 24, 2007 was the last time that the Rays started a pitcher over the age of 30. These guys rely on their young guys to go out, handle the pressure, and get the job done. That's what they do and probably why Rookie Matt Moore will be starting game 1 in Texas. He has all of 9 1/3 innings of big league experience but they trust him. Three weeks ago he was pitching in Durham, Illinois - now he'll be called on to go on the road in game 1 of the ALDS. Talk about pressure.
The Rangers have arguably the best offensive lineup in the postseason and one of the most underrated pitchers in Baseball with C.J. Wilson. They made some good moves at the trade deadline to shore up their bullpen and now they are back to full health with the return of 3B Adrian Beltre and OF Nelson Cruz.
When it comes down to it, the Rangers will be in much better shape at the beginning of this series. I see them getting out to an early lead against the Rays at home and taking this series in 4. Go with the Rangers in this one.
Detroit Tigers @ New York Yankees -
Justin Verlander is a monster. There's really no getting around it. That game 1 matchup against C.C. is going to be huge. The Tigers second best pitcher is guy with the last name Fister, just not that intimidating. Actually it makes me giggle a little bit. He does have impressive numbers since being traded from Seattle as he's posted an 8-1 record with an impressive 1.79 ERA... wait, what? They also have Miguel Cabrera who when sober is one of the best hitters in the American League. He led the AL in Batting this year and will be a tough out every At Bat.
The Yankees posted the best record in the AL this year with 98 wins. They have had a rotation of C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova with Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and A.J. Burnett all playing supporting roles. The Yankees and their $200 million payroll have actually been underdogs all year long as they were written off be nearly every 'expert' in the country. To me, the key to this lineup is 1B Mark Teixeira. If he can get going and perform better than his season average of .248 the Yankees will be in great shape.
Honestly, this matchup scares me as a Yankees fan but it will definitely be the most exciting series to watch for common fans. The Tigers went 30-9 to close the regular season and have the best pitcher in Baseball. I see this series coming back to NY for game 5, but I'll be rolling with the Yankees to set up a rematch against the Rangers from last year.
Arizona Diamondbacks @ Milwaukee Brewers -
So the Diamondbacks won the NL West. I really don't get to watch many of their games mostly because I'd rather not watch any teams in the NL West. Ian Kennedy put up Cy Young numbers this year going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA. I litchrally just looked at the Diamondbacks lineup and only know Justin Upton and Chris Young. Miguel Montero plays catcher and bats cleanup in their lineup. Who? I don't understand how they are a 94 win team. Maybe we'll see a Moneyball type book about this team of misfits in a couple years.
The Brewers are going to be a trendy pick this year to get to the World Series. At home they were a Major League best 57-24 for the season so they should have a huge advantage off the bat. They have a lot of power in their Offense with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and also have a very deep staff of pitchers with Yovani Gallardo, Zack Grienke, Shane Marcum, and Randy Wolf. This staff is no match for the Phillies but I think they give this offense enough help to do well in this postseason.
The Brewers look like the OBVIOUS pick here. Honestly I just don't understand how this Diamondbacks team is here, but as I mentioned before I haven't watched them play much at all this year. Can they ride Kennedy and Daniel Hudson? Will their offense be able to manufacture runs against a good Brewers team? Is Luis Gonzalez still on their team? They won the season series 4-3 against the Brewers and I will be taking the Diamonbacks (very cautiously) to beat the Brewers in 4.
St. Louis Cardinals @ Philadelphia Phillies -
The Cardinals have Albert Pujols at least for one more series. They actually took 6 out of the 9 games this year against the Phillies so the improbable can be done. I don't think that they Cardinals will be at full strength as OF Matt Holiday and SS Rafael Furcal have been hampered by injuries lately. Their pitching staff is nothing spectacular and with Ace Chris Carpenter having pitched on Wednesday night he won't get an opportunity to pitch until game 3. By then it could be too late.
The Phillies have been the best team in baseball all season. There's no denying that their rotation is officially stacked. Roy Halladay - Game 1. Good Night. Cliff Lee - Game 2. Thanks for showing up. Cole Hamels - Game 3. Its a wrap. Because of the depth of arms on this staff they can roll with a 4-man rotation all the way throughout the playoffs and still have Vance Worley in relief out of the bullpen. The only thing possibly holding this team back from a deep run into the playoffs is the lack of runs this team manufactures (lowest runs/game among remaining NL teams).
I don't think the Phillies will have any problems with the Cardinals in round 1. I'll take the Phillies to beat the Cardinals in 4 and will likely parlay them with each of the previous winners to help increase payouts. As my good friend Shalin noted, "The Phillies don't really choke". I hope so.
Enjoy round 1 of the 2011 MLB Playoffs!