My better-late-than-never expert picks
You may notice that I am making my postseason picks after the start of the postseason.
Veteran move, eh?
Those who have followed my picks over the years know the extra information won’t help. Really, the only advantage of waiting this long is that it saved me from picking Texas over Atlanta in the World Series.
Would I have gone there?
Ah, um, er … no comment.
The truth is, no one knows what the heck is going to happen, not in the regular season — see, the potential Athletics-Orioles ALCS — and certainly not in the postseason.
So, why even bother writing this column?
Beats me. But my editor — the vicious and ruthless Kathy Lyford — demanded that I provide some quality prognosticating “content,” drooling over all the potential “hits” from the fans that I am certain to offend.
That would be the fans of all the teams that I am not picking — and the fans of the teams that I am picking, who now know that certain elimination lies ahead.
Throw in the sabermetricians who again will howl over my feeble attempts at “analysis,” and it’s just one big happy family.
Well, bring it on.
I’m the guy who took an errant throw in the back while doing a live report for MLB Network on Saturday — and did not even stop mid-sentence.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo might call me “fake tough,” repeating the words he once used to describe the Phillies’ Cole Hamels.
My wife, our three children and numerous others would agree with Rizzo, but the heck with all of ‘em. For the next 900 words, I’m Clint Eastwood at the keyboard.
Here are my picks, and you know where to find me on Twitter: @Ken_Rosenthal.
Nationals vs. Cardinals
So, what can we expect to see in this series, a 400-foot infield fly?
Actually, the matchup is fascinating: The Cardinals are an experienced postseason team with an inexperienced manager, Mike Matheny. The Nationals are just the opposite, an inexperienced postseason team with an experienced manager, Davey Johnson.
It’s possible the Nats will turn into the 2010 Reds and experience stage fright. But the more realistic question is whether the Cardinals are turning into some kind of indestructible playoff force. We saw it again in the wild-card game when they fell behind the Braves, 2-0 on the road. Nothing fazes St. Louis, and yes, such poise matters.
The rotations are more even than you might think. The Nationals led the NL with a 3.40 rotation ERA, but now they are without Stephen Strasburg. The Cardinals finished third at 3.62, and they again feature Chris Carpenter, who has made three starts since returning from nerve irritation in his right shoulder.
The bullpens are not as close statistically — the Nats rate a considerable edge — but the Cardinals’ Lance Berkman thinks the St. Louis bullpen has evolved into a strength, and much hinges on whether Nationals setup man Tyler Clippard returns to form. I prefer the Cardinals’ offense, simply because of the way their hitters grind at-bats. But the Nationals are explosive and score in a variety of ways.
I don’t see this being quick, whatever happens.
Cardinals in 5.
Reds vs. Giants
I’ll admit it, I had the Giants winning in four. Then the Reds rallied to beat the Giants’ Mr. October, Matt Cain, after Johnny Cueto lasted only eight pitches in Game 1. And now, it turns out that Cueto had only back spasms and could return for Game 3, with Mat Latos, who worked four innings of relief in the opener, available for a potential Game 5.
Get me rewrite!
It’s funny how neither team fits the common perception. The Reds, who nearly led the league in ERA, are a pitching-and-defense team despite playing in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. The Giants, who were sixth in the league in runs, are better offensively than when they won the World Series in 2010.
I’m curious what the Giants’ rotation will look like beyond right-hander Matt Cain and lefty Madison Bumgarner; the idea of using righty Tim Lincecum in relief is intriguing. I’m also curious about how the Reds will generate runs; they’re a below-average offensive club, and first baseman Joey Votto, since returning from surgery on his left knee, has not hit for much power.
The Reds insist that they’re more prepared for the postseason than they were in ’10, when the Phillies swept them three straight. They’ve got the superior bullpen, and winning the opener gave them a huge edge. Three of the next four games, if necessary, will be in Cincinnati – and the Reds were 50-31 at Great American Ballpark in the regular season, tying for the best home record in the NL.
Reds in 5.
Athletics vs. Tigers
I’m cheating again, but don’t worry — like everyone else in America, I assumed Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander would win Game 1.
So, the real question is, when — if ever — will the Athletics crumble?
Maybe in this series; the Tigers’ rotation, if Game 4 starter Max Scherzer is sufficiently recovered from shoulder and ankle problems, could overwhelm the powerful but strikeout-prone A’s.
Then again, the Athletics’ rotation had a lower ERA than the Tigers’ during the regular season, and the shoddy Detroit defense is forever a threat to sully the fine work of Verlander and Co. Meanwhile, the Athletics’ most experienced starter, lefty Brett Anderson, is expected to return from a strained oblique in Game 3.
No matter, I wonder how the Athletics will survive.
It seems inconceivable that they will hold down Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, who were a combined 0 for 7 with a walk in Game 1. And while the A’s are riding a wave of energy, how long can their players — particularly their pitchers — keep this up?
We’ve been waiting all season for the Tigers to play to their potential. I’m guessing it’s finally their time.
Tigers in 3.
Yankees vs. Orioles
I can see it now: Jeffrey Maier, who as a 12-year-old reached over the wall to steal a home run for the Yankees in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium for Game 3.
Maybe the Orioles should just kidnap Maier, now 28, and ask the former Wesleyan University center fielder to join their starting rotation — which, of course, the O’s are making up as they go along.
So, can the Orioles pull this off?
They’re certainly not intimidated by the Yankees, against whom they went 9-9 in the regular season. They will benefit from the series opening at Camden Yards. But remember, the Orioles chased the Yankees all September and never passed them.
We tend to focus on the Yankees’ flaws, but lefty CC Sabathia had a 1.50 ERA in his last three starts, and second baseman Robinson Cano ended the season as the hottest hitter on the planet. Meanwhile, lefty Andy Pettitte and righty Hiroki Kuroda are more trustworthy than anyone in the Orioles’ rotation.
It’s as foolish to doubt the Orioles as it is to doubt the Athletics, particularly when the O’s bullpen is superior to the Yankees’. But all of my friends in my former hometown of Baltimore can thank me for this pick.
Yankees in 5.
As for the rest of the playoffs, here goes:
Cardinals over Reds in 7.
Tigers over Yankees in 6.
Cardinals over Tigers in 6.
For the record, my preseason pick was Tigers over Diamondbacks. And the Diamondbacks finished third in the NL West with an 81-81 record.
Quality prognosticating, as always.
Enjoy the postseason, everyone.