Well now that the Derek Jeter Saga has lifted itself off the canvass of the sports world during this final week, we now have real baseball to attend to. We know that Derek Jeter was apart of so many wonderful Octobers over the past 20 years, but unfortunately he won't be apart of this one. There are, though, some beautiful stories resonating coming into this 2014 MLB Postseason.
The Kansas City Royals will paint this October field of teams for the first time since 1985. Much like the Pirates of 2013 (who are back in the postseason once again in 2014), the soft spot will be their for them for it has been quite the journey to return back to this spotlight that the postseason has been missing in the heartland of America.
Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals have provided the spark that the Midwest has been provided, but when it comes to their beloved Royals, they dawn a Fall appearance that has had the patience of almost 29 years in the making.
The last time the Royals were in the postseason they were apart of the AL West. From 1986 till 1994 (when they joined the AL Central & MLB had it's infamous strike) the Royals were very respectable franchise and had 5 (6 if you count 1994's shortened season) winning seasons and in 1989 went 92-70 only finishing 7 games back of the Oakland A's in the division. This was before the Wildcard came into effect.
From 1995 on though... the Royals (who were apart of the Newly formed AL Central in 1994) only witnessed 2 winning seasons (2003: 83-79, 2013: 86-76), Seven 70 win seasons, Four 100+ loss seasons (3 straight from 2004 to 2006), and countless 90 plus loss seasons. That is the definition of despair in the world of sports. The Royals have earned this date in the postseason for quite a long time.
I do also understand the rivalry between the Royals and Cardinals. So, understand that those who have stayed Royal fans over these past 29 years where the Cardinals have won 2 World Series (2006 & 2011), 6 National League Pennants (1985, 1987, 2004, 2006, 2011 & 2013), 9 division titles, and been to the playoffs in 13 separate appearances altogether? Call yourself the greatest fan ever for you have seriously earned it.
For the rest of the playoff contenders we have the wheezing Oakland Athletics who limped into the playoffs needing the final day to seal their fate in a wild card birth to face those exciting Kansas City Royals and they will both play on the final day of September to kick off the madness of who will be in the collective final four of the American League. The Pittsburgh Pirates nearly nabbed the St. Louis Cardinals on the final day of the regular season, but instead of winning the central, they host the 2 time World Series Champions of this decade in the San Francisco Giants. It's an even year, and you know what that means, the Giants are destined to win it all. Not so fast, I think the 2013 reigning National League MVP will have something to say to that this year.
The Washington Nationals had a ho-hum season leading the National League in wins and taking the number one seed from the Los Angeles Dodgers over this past month of September. The way they have been playing, especially finishing off the regular season with a no-hitter, indicates they are ready for some revenge from what happened to them in 2012 when the Giants stormed back against them down 2 games to none in the NLDS. If their offense can get it going, anything is possible with that pitching staff night in and night out.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been the best team in baseball the entire season and they have earned the number one seed easily and they come into the postseason rather fresh with everybody resting the final series of the season. They have, soon to should be American League MVP, Mike Trout leading them and a pitching staff ready to duel at anytime. Don't sleep on those Baltimore Orioles though, for they are a little short due to some injuries they have had late in the year, but they have the Home Run Champion of 2014 in Nelson Cruz, a guy who has some touted playoff experience of his own (former outfielder of the American League Champion Texas Rangers in 2010 & 2011). The Orioles also have a pitching staff that sneaks up on you and can lay the hurt early and often enough to have you saying," Who the heck are these guys, and how come I haven't heard of them?!" The Tigers are also very scary, for they have the greatest rotation any playoff roster has ever had and they have an offense fond of World Series experience.
My predictions back in March were way off on the whole. Except, I did pick the Nationals to finish 1st in the National League, and Detroit to finish 3rd in the American League. The only problem, I had Tampa Bay and Cincinnati in the World Series... Yikes. I also had the Angels and Oakland making the postseason out of the American League West, just that Oakland would win the division. As you can see, overall, I did a terrible job but if there is a silver lining, I had both Nationals and Angels heading to the League Championship Series eventually losing. Pretty good for a prediction during the ides of March Madness.
So I will let you get excited as October will script itself but these are my picks for who is going to win it all this October of 2014. Enjoy my analysis and let the magic do the story telling this postseason for it should be one of the best yet.
American League Wild Card Game
Oakland Athletics (88-74) @ Kansas City Royals (89-73)
Johnny Lester (a Tacoma native from close to where I live) will be on the hill and in big games he has proven to be so clutch for the likes of Boston, especially last season. The Royals have been the best story of 2014 when it comes to sports successes, and they got a guy in James Shields pitching. The Wild Card games are crazy because they are do or die and this is the first game on the docket for the postseason and I don't want my entire postseason blog to be ruined because of one game but it may have to be. It's been 29 years since the confines of Kansas City have see the likes of a playoff game, and I think they will pull it out, why? Momentum, hitting, swagger, and a stadium that will be buzzing like it's 1985. Kansas City fans have been waiting for a day like Tuesday and I think with the way Oakland has been playing offensively since trading away their Home Run Derby champion, they truly haven't been playing like an 88 win team all season, recently they have been playing like a 77 win team ready to go home. Kansas City looks for real and I think James Shields puts together a solid start to match John Lester and get KC's first playoff win in a long time. Prediction: KC wins game 6-4.
National League Wild Card Game
San Francisco Giants (88-74) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74)
This may be one of the best games when it comes to storylines in a long time and it's perfect because it's set up for a one game showdown in Pittsburgh. The Giants could start their run at a third World Series in 5 years, and the Pirates could get back into the fold with the other three teams in the National League for the first time in back-to-back years for the first time in a long time. The Giants again have a pitching staff on the cusp of great things and their hitting is once again questionable but they have proven that lack of fire power means nothing when they enter the postseason. The Pirates do have fire power and they can mash with the best of them. The last time Bumgarner faced Pittsburgh back on July 28th, he gave up 5 runs on 6 hits in 4 innings pitched. Clearly, both these teams have changed since that last start but they both have ended up with the same record and are now at this point where it's winner take all. Edison Volquez on the other hand has been pitching great baseball the last month and has only allowed 4 earned runs in September and had a dazzling earned run average (ERA) of 1.08. Considering the way the Giants offense is assembled and how well Edison Volquez has been pitching, Madison Bumgarner will have to pitch gritty. And if their is one thing Bumgarner can do, it is just that and then some. The last time Bumgarner pitched in the Postseason (Game 2 against Detroit in the 2012 World Series), Bumgarner was the definition of "stupid good" against one of the best lineups in all of baseball. His pitching line: 7 Innings pitched, 2 hits allowed, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts, 0 runs allowed. That's borderline moonshine stupid. Oh and in his rookie year (2010) he had an ERA of 2.18 in 4 starts in the postseason along with an (oh nothing) 8 Innings pitched, 3 hits allowed, 2 walks, 6 strikeout SHUTOUT PERFORMANCE against the Rangers (Who had one of the greatest lineups ever) in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series, lifting the Giants to a 3-1 lead in the series ultimately slamming the door in the Rangers face. Let me remind you, incase you forgot, that was his ROOKIE SEASON. Nail in the coffin, Madison Bumgarner will be at an "on mars" level of intensity ready for this game. Some guys just know how to step it up when it counts, and Madison Bumgarner will do just that on Wednesday night. Prediction: SF wins game 2-0.
MLB Division Series
#3 Detroit Tigers (90-72) @ #2 Baltimore Orioles (96-66)
Look, I am a huge fan of this Baltimore Orioles team for they bring joy back to the sport of baseball that is refreshing and rejuvenating through the eye of the media. Adam Jones is a freak and this season proved that the Orioles are a serious threat to contend in the World Series. They have a top tier bullpen and if they can find a way to get a lead late, might as well write it down as a W. The Tigers have a potent and experienced team who's looking to finish off some unfinished business from 2012. Not that the Orioles aren't looking to do the same because they too were around in 2012, but the Tigers have won four straight American League Central Titles and they came their closest in 2012 to pulling off a World Series title. Granted, they got swept, but the opportunity was there. It was also their last season, but this magical run by the Red Sox stepped in their path. The Tigers come into this postseason with probably the greatest rotation in the history of Major League Baseball, the issue is that their bullpen has seem to run it's expiration date past sour. The Tigers have multiple closers playing different roles in the bullpen and consistently are inconsistent on where they will throw in the 9th inning. When it comes to postseason baseball, that's not something you want to have as a worry for the final innings are so precious. This series is simple. If the Orioles can find a way to get a lead getting into the 7th, they will win this series. If the Tigers get a large lead early in each game, they should win this series. The problem is, large leads are hard to come by and if you have to bank on a large lead to win ball games, your chances are rather slim. I do believe that the Tigers bullpen can hold and will hold even in close games, but what the Orioles have shown this past season is that when it's closing time, the doors are slammed shut. I think this will be a classic series, but I'm banking on that Orioles bullpen late to seal the deal for the Orioles, but man it will be close. Prediction: BAL wins series 3-2
#4 Kansas City Royals (89-73) @ #1 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (98-64)
Who ever isn't at least rooting for the Kansas City Royals may as well call themselves the devils children (outside of Cardinals fans) because they are the most loveable team outside of the Pittsburgh Pirates from last season. The problem is, magic only goes so far and I don't think the magic will carry the Royals very far when it comes to the postseason this year. They say experience doesn't mean much, but when it comes to postseason baseball, the Angels have the most experience of them all. The Angels have two guys who are foaming at the mouth for getting back to the World Series for the first time since being eliminated two years in a row while in Texas. Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson. These guys will have a huge chip on their shoulders to get back to the pinnacle of the sport and there are two guys in that dugout with them who took them down in that classic 2011 World Series in Albert Pujols and David Freese. It's been a while since they all were in the World Series, but with the fresh face in Mike Trout (who should win the MVP this November), they shouldn't have to worry about carrying the load. The Royals can mash, but they just can't monster mash like this Angels team has the capability of doing. The only issue for the Angels is that if their starters flounder, then the Angels could be in some trouble. The Royals have a decent pitching staff and the Angels aren't necessarily shut down worthy coming out of the bullpen, and if the Royals can hang around till late and work the starters of the Angels, then the Royals more than likely have a chance. The only question I have is can they hold down that offensive explosion in the Angels lineup? If the Angels come in firing on all cylinders, the Royals get destroyed, but if the Angels struggle just a little bit, the Royals could come a swipe a quick 5 game series in the blink of an eye. I just don't see that happening and I see the Angels (who are all rested up) ready to fire back with some serious ammo. Prediction: LAA wins series 3-0
#3 St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) @ #2 Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68)
The defending National League Champions in the St. Louis only have one thing on this Dodgers team that is wildly talented and has the best pitcher the game has seen in nearly 15 years; experience. They have ways the grind out wins in the postseason and keep returning year in and year out and somehow keep finding people to replace them to fill in the gaps. You could say that the Cardinals are a lot like the Major League Baseball version of the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA; Consistent and quiet. When I mean quiet, I mean they keep winning in ways that make you scratch your head because you wonder where the offense comes from. They have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball year in and year out because they have the best catcher in the game head and shoulders in Yadier Molina. Molina can hit, manage an entire pitching staff by himself, and back pick runners with the best of them. As long as Yadier Molina is behind the plate, the Cardinals always have a chance. This year is another question though. Can the Cardinals compete with the likes of Clayton Kershaw? Or, is the question can Clayton Kershaw prove that he can pitch in the spotlight of the postseason against a team as gritty as the Cardinals? That question will be asked and answered in this series rather quickly. I don't think the magic of Mike Matheny (Cardinals Manager) will work this season, although it wouldn't shock me if they found a way to overcome the Dodgers once again. The only real problem I see is if the Cardinals get into a shootout scenario with the Dodgers, the Cardinals stand no shot. If it gets late in the ballgame and the Cardinals are within a run, the Dodgers could be looking at another exit via the Cardinals for they will find a way to win it late. I think this will be a classic series and it will go down to the wire from the standpoint the Cardinals pitching staff is much better just because of Yadier Molina and their experience is second to none. But the Dodgers... THE DODGERS! They have the greatest pitcher since Pedro Martinez, and he will dominate every time he takes the mound. I think the offense will kick in too, and they will give enough of an edge to finally get the Dodgers over that hump that the Cardinals seemed to dispel last October. That should be a thing of the past especially if the Dodgers can push it to a Game 5, for Kershaw will pitch... and Kershaw will dominate. Prediction: LAD wins series 3-2
#4 San Francisco Giants (88-74) @ #1 Washington Nationals (96-66)
Everyone is jumping on this Nationals team like they are the greatest thing since sliced bread... because yes they are that good, but this is the postseason now, it's a brand new season. The team that wins the Wild Card Game will dictate how I pick this series, and if the Giants get here, believe me I'll be picking them hard. Here's the issue, and I think all Giants fans know this, I think that this will be the first time that the offense truly impacts the outcome of the pitching staff. I will refuse to write the Giants off ever in the postseason these days for they have Bruce Bochy, a manager who presses all the right buttons. I just don't think he has enough to compete with the likes of Washington especially when it comes to their lineup. The scary thing about the Nationals is the moment they get hot offensively, they become impossible to stop. They have a starting rotation that has a chance to shine but unfortunately the Giants may just overshadow them in that realm too. I just worry that the Giant offense won't find that magical spark they have had the previous 2 World Series runs and if they can't get it rolling, no way the Giants win this series. I find it difficult to pick against the Giants though, but here is the ultimate factor in why the Nationals win this series. 2012. That's all you need to say to them and there's no way they don't win this series. I still think it will be close but after what happened in 2012 to the Nationals from this Giants team and how the Giants ultimately won the World Series in a sweep, they have been waiting 2 years for this redemption moment and they will get it. Just look out for the Giant magic, because if it happens, this will go 5, and in a Game 5, I'll have no idea what to expect. But for now, I'll go with what the experts are deeming as the better team. Prediction: WAS wins series 3-2
League Championship Series
#2 Baltimore Orioles (96-66) @ #1 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (98-64)
Yes, I picked the chalk, how original of me. The only team I see automatically making it in my view is the Angels because of their offense and how consistent their pitching staff has been. I still really like the idea of the Orioles and their bullpen especially late in games. I feel that when the Orioles have the lead late they will win mostly every time. The Angels though have the offense to really challenge the Orioles when it comes to run production, but Chris Davis will be back by this series and he will provide the spark that the Orioles need, not that they already had enough firepower to begin with. I think this series could go 7, but I think the only way the Orioles win it is to own home field, and steal one on the road which I believe they can do in Los Angeles. I think that bullpen will absolutely destroy the Angels and their opportunity to get to the World Series, even though they have enough experience to come away with some clutch victories in this series. They just can't hang late like Baltimore will be able to prove. Prediction: BAL wins pennant 4-2
#2 Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) @ #1 Washington Nationals (96-66)
This is the juicy matchup everybody wants to see, and I ultimately think that the team who wins this series wins the whole thing. Why? Both teams have legitimate offenses and both have rotation's that are terrifying. I don't think Kershaw helps the Dodgers all that much in this series for the Nationals offense will counteract him and they can mash with anybody. Although, the Dodgers do have the exciting Puig and I think this will be the series where he could ultimately spark that lineup to get out in a front and hold their chance to sit in the World Series for the first time since the 1980's. As much as I say Kershaw won't be a factor, if the Dodger push this series to 7 games, I'd take the Dodgers all day for I know Clayton could carry the entire game. Although, I don't know if it will go seven, for the rotation of the Nationals is pretty nasty and knowing that, the Dodgers will have quite the offensive struggles ahead of them. If they can't find the spark, then the Nationals will take this series in 5, but if the Dodgers can find a way to be gritty and gut out runs here and there throughout the game, they have more than a chance. I just can't see it happening. I have the Nationals getting to the World Series and making it a Beltway series in 2014. Prediction: WAS wins pennant 4-1
2014 World Series
Washington Nationals @ Baltimore Orioles
With the price of gas these days, I figured I'd help out the people in D.C. and show them that I predict a very limited use of our spending on cross country flights. I also thought about the congressmen so they can go watch America's real pastime. This is the World Series, at this point both teams know what they got, how to succeed, know what will work at what times and who's been hot. Pitching has always been a thing that dictates who wins championships and the team with the best bullpen left gets my nod of approval. They also have home field advantage because of the All Star game which allowed for the American league to take the cake in the 2-3-2 format that set's up nicely for Baltimore. I think Camden Yards has done it's time as a ballpark and the World Series Banner needs to hang true from the warehouse across the street. This will make for an interesting series and I think it will 7 because of how difficult it will be for Baltimore to figure out that vaunted pitching staff in Washington. But, since Chris Davis & Nelson Cruz will be the mash bros in the middle heading into this world series, I just see them hitting bombs into the dark, cold, Autumn night.
Prediction: Baltimore Orioles win the World Series in 7 games; 4-3.
World Series MVP: Nelson Cruz
Enjoy October! I'll be writing all month long after every night of baseball this postseason! Enjoy the nightly blogs from yours truly!