So the MLB playoffs are finally upon us. After a regular season filled with the usual amount of excitement and a few surprises (Tampa Bay anyone?), it all comes down to this next month of baseball.
The divisional round of playoff baseball is starting today, and the following teams have qualified for postseason play:
For the American League, the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays (I have to admit, it still feels odd saying that), AL Central Champion Chicago White Sox, AL West Champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the AL Wild Card Champion Boston Red Sox.
For the National League, the NL East Champion Philadelphia Phillies, the NL Central Champion Chicago Cubs, the NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and the NL Wild Card Champion Milwaukee Brewers.
I'll start my analysis and predictions with the Phillies/Brewers series.
Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)
Before we proceed I have to admit I do follow the Phillies pretty closely. I have family in south Jersey who are avid Philadelphia sports fans. That being said, I intend to write with zero bias towards them, and later on the Red Sox as well.
This matchup is between two teams that for whatever reason really were never consistent during the regular season. This Phillies should have won more than 92 games, and the Brewers, after a great August that saw the team go 20-7, were just atrocious in September, seeing them make the playoffs on the final day of the season, mainly because for the second year in a row, the Mets proved they suck.
Regardless, I do find this matchup as the better of the two National League matchups mainly because the teams are more equally matched. I'll start with the Phillies:
The Phillies can hit, plain and simple. They lead the NL in home runs with 214, mainly due to Ryan Howard (48 HR's), Chase Utley (33 HR's), and Pat Burrell (33 HR's). They also were tied for 2nd in the league with the Mets in runs scored with 799. They were 10th in the league in batting average, with a .255 team average, 3rd in OBP (On Base Percentage) which was at .332, 2nd in Slugging at .438, and 3rd in OPS (On Base plus Slugging) at .770. They also steal plenty of bases, which they were 3rd in the league in with 136.
The keys for the Phillies offense in this series, is for Jimmy Rollins to do what he does and get on base, steal bases and score. Rollins is a very good baserunner and hardly ever gets thrown out attempting to steal (47 SB to 3 CS). Jayson Werth, Utley, Howard, and Burrell all can hit the ball and drive in runs, but Werth, Howard and Burrell all strike out a ton, Howard especially (199 K's on the season, which is good for 2nd in the league).
Look for the bottom of the order to try and cause some problems for Milwaukee as well. Shane Victorino lead the team in batting with a .293 average, and Pedro Feliz can still hit every now and then.
I do not see scoring runs as being a problem for Philadelphia in this series.
This Phillies pitching is actually a lot better than I thought it was. Cole Hamels has been their ace all year long, and after a couple of miserable years in Houston, Brad Lidge has solidified the closer role, converting 41 of 41 save opportunities. He also won the comeback player of the year for the National League.
Their starting rotation is somewhat suspect, but their bullpen has been hands down the best bullpen in the National League. Cole Hamels as previously mentioned is their ace, and even after being mediocre in the their 1st round loss to the Rockies last year, I still expect him to step up this year. After him their rotation for this series will consist of Brett Myers, who's had a pretty mediocre season (10-13, 4.55 ERA) and Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71 ERA) who even at age 45 is still pitching effectively in the majors. However, that brings me to my next point. Jamie Moyer is still pitching because he does not throw hard. He gets batters out as a junkballer and is still effective. But as history has shown, junkballing pitchers have never really had success in the postseason for whatever reason.
The Phillies staters need to pitching somewhat effectively and at least keep the team in the game, because once they are out of the game, especially with a lead, the bullpen can take over and keep doing the same thing that made them the best all season.
Milwaukee's offense doesn't jump out at me as being anything special. Prince Fielder (34 HR's) and Ryan Braun (37 HR's) can kill the ball, and JJ Hardy and Corey Hart have put together pretty solid seasons, but the rest of the team just seems so...mediocre. Mike Cameron did his usual .250/35/75 thing, but Rickie Weekes has been wildly inconsistent, and was eventually benched for Ray Durham who put together respectable numbers (.289/6/45). That beind said, I just don't see Milwaukee's offense matching up all that well against Philadelphia, especially their bullpen. Although I must say, the Brewers have had a knack for getting huge hits late in games to win lately (Braun, Fielder).
This is where Milwaukee actually stands a chance. C.C. Sabbathia has been absolutely incredible since being traded to the Brewers in mid July (11-2, 1.65 ERA) but the two stats that jump out at me are the following. 7 Complete games (17 starts), and a 5.12 K/BB ratio. CC has pretty much put the Brewers pitching staff on his back and carried them into the postseason. However, after Sabbathia their starting staff is less than stellar. Ben Sheets will not pitch in the playoffs because of arm problems, so the Brewers are relying on a guy who's made 4 starts this year (granted they were good) before being DL'ed with an injury. They are expecting this young man, Yovani Gallardo to pitch the opening game of the series and game 4 if there is one. That is a tough task to ask of a 22 year old (who by the way is a day younger than me). I expect Sabbathia to win game 2, and then it's up to Dave Bush (9-10, 4.18 ERA) to at least pitch decently. I just don't see that happening.
On top of their starting rotation, their bullpen has just been awful, and no one has been worse than Eric Gagne. How this man got a $10 million dollar contract after he was absolutely awful for the Red Sox last year is beyond me. Salomon Torres has been respectable in the closer role, but nothing special. If the Phillies get to the Milwaukee bullpen early in the game, I really cannot see how the Brewers can win.
Phillies in 4. I expect Gallardo to pitch decently in the opening game of the series, but not well enough. Sabbathia is out to prove last year's postseason meltdown is not a regular thing, and should win game 2. I don't expect the Phillies to lose to Dave Bush in game 3, and then close it out in Milwaukee for game 4.
However, if Gallardo somehow can pull a win out of his ass, especially in game 1, this series will be a whole lot more interesting