Evaluating the Division Series matchups
They are back.
What’s a baseball postseason without the New York Yankees? The Bombers are making their major league-record 51st postseason appearance, 21 more than any other team (the Dodgers), and 23 more than St. Louis (28), the second-most experienced postseason team among the eight qualifiers this year.
Crunch these numbers.
The Yankees and Cardinals, combined, now have 79 postseason berths. The six other entrants this year have a combined 42.
The Yankees have won 40 pennants, only two fewer than the seven other teams combined, and St. Louis has accounted for 21 of those 42 other pennants.
And the Yankees have won 27 World Series championships, 10 more than the seven other teams combined, which include Milwaukee, Texas and Tampa Bay, all still in search of their first.
Not that history necessarily can predict the future. A year ago, San Francisco won the World Series, its first since the Giants moved from New York in 1958 — and the Giants did it against a Texas Rangers team that was appearing in the World Series for the first time.
Surprises in 2011?
Only time will tell.
The postseason journey begins Friday, with the two AL Division Series. The NL Division Series open on Saturday.
AL Central Tigers vs. AL East Yankees
Schedule: Games 1-2 at Yankee Stadium on Friday and Saturday. Games 3 and (if necessary) 4 at Comerica Park in Detroit on Monday and Tuesday. Game 5 (if necessary) at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
Arms race: Edge goes to the Tigers. Game 1 is critical for the Yankees. CC Sabathia, the veteran horse, will start for them and needs to provide the effort that will allow the Yankees to avoid being overpowered by likely AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Rookie Ivan Nova is only other consistent performer in Yankees rotation. The Tigers follow up Verlander with in-season addition Doug Fister, their most consistent pitcher down the stretch, when he worked at least seven innings and did not allow more than one earned run in his final seven starts. Then comes Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello for the Tigers.
At the plate: Edge to the Yankees. When you have the run production of a Curtis Granderson in the No. 2 slot, it says all that needs to be said about New York’s ability to put up runs in a hurry. The Tigers won’t go quietly. They have put together a lineup that no longer has to whine about the difficulties of Comerica Park, finishing fourth in the AL with 787 runs and having better balance since adding Delmon Young and Alex Avila. The Tigers hit .305 and averaged six runs per game with Young.
Aches and pains: Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli is out of ALDS because of concussion-like symptons, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez was scratched from the lineup Wednesday with a sore right knee. Tigers outfielder Carlos Guillen has gone to Florida to rehab a right calf strain. Brennan Boesch, who hit .474 against the Yankees, is out, following Sept. 6 right thumb surgery.
Earlier this year: The Tigers won four of seven from the Yankees, but Verlander gave up six runs in 12 innings of two starts and did not register a decision. Miguel Cabrera hit .417 with two homes and eight RBIs, but three regulars hit below .200 — Magglio Ordonez (.190), Austin Jackson (.167, 12 strikeouts, 24 at-bats) and Ryan Raburn (.158). The Yankees offense is keyed by Mark Teixeira, who hit .280 against the Tigers — but four of his seven hits were home runs. Yankees MVP candidates Granderson and Robinson Cano combined to hit .180 with two home runs and three RBIs. The Tigers did not face Nova; Sabathia, like Verlander, didn’t have much success in this series. He was 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA.
FYI: The Tigers have scored one run off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the last 12 years — and that was on a home run by Curtis Granderson, who now is a Yankee teammate of Rivera. Rivera’s .133 batting average allowed and 0.89 ERA against Tigers are the lowest career numbers he has against any AL team. … The Tigers have lost only one game in which they led after the eighth inning or later, and that came back on May 1. … The Yankees' 52-29 home record matched Texas' for best in the majors. … The Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox were 45-36 on the road, best in the AL. … Tigers closer Jose Valverde converted 49 of 49 save opportunities. … The Yankees stole 148 bases, 99 more than the Tigers.
Prediction: Tigers strong-arm Yankees in 3.
AL wild card Rays vs. AL West Rangers
Schedule: Games 1-2 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Friday and Saturday. Games 3 and (if necessary) 4 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Monday and Tuesday. Game 5 (if necessary) at Rangers Ballpark on Wednesday.
Arms race: Edge to the Rays. Tampa Bay ranked second in the AL with a 3.58 ERA. The Rays feature the deepest rotation of any playoff team. Their starters had a 3.54 ERA, lowest in the AL, and led the AL with 15 complete games. Texas ranked fifth in ERA at 3.79 despite the offensive nature of their home park. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz failed in six of 38 save opportunities, but his last blown save was Aug. 6. He earned saves in each of last six regular-season appearances, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out nine in six scoreless innings.
At the plate: Edge to the Rangers. Texas finished third in the AL with 855 runs and second with an .800 OPS. Tampa was eighth with 707 runs. The Rangers and Rays both had eight players in double figures in home runs. The Rangers, however, had six players with 75 or more RBIs. The Rangers also tied with Baltimore and the Yankees for the AL lead by being successful on 76 percent of the team’s stolen-base attempts.
Aches and pains: Tampa Bay left fielder Sam Fuld (wrist injury) still hasn’t been able to take batting practice. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz still slowed by a hamstring strain but returned for the final 10 regular-season games, hitting only .220 with one home run and three RBIs in 41 at-bats.
Earlier this year: The Rangers won five of nine against the Rays. Catcher Mike Napoli led the Rangers with a .407 average against Tampa Bay, with three home runs and seven RBIs. Ian Kinsler only hit .200, but five of his six hits were home runs. Colby Lewis worked eight shutout innings for a win in his only start, and C.J. Wilson was 2-0 with 2.08 ERA vs. the Rays. Matt Joyce (.300) and Evan Longoria (.233, two home runs) were the only Rays regulars who hit better than .200 against the Rangers. Right-hander James Shields was 2-0 against the Rangers, allowing one run in 17 innings.
FYI: Texas' 52-29 home record matched the Yankees for best in the American League. The Rangers and Tampa Bay both were 44-37 on the road, tied for third in the AL behind the Yankees and Tigers, who were 45-36. … The Rangers ended the season with a six-game winning streak, the longest active streak among playoff teams. … The Rays led the AL in fielding, committing only 73 errors. … The Rangers were 12th out of 14 AL teams with 114 errors. … A fitting sign? Longoria’s walk-off home run that clinched the AL wild card for the Rays went over the fence in an area that is lower than the rest of the outfield fence, and was known as Crawford’s Cutout because it was designed to benefit Carl Crawford, who left the Rays last offseason and signed with Boston.
Prediction: Rays in 4.
NL West Diamondbacks vs. NL Central Brewers
Schedule: Games 1-2 at Miller Park in Milwaukee on Saturday and Sunday. Games 3 and (if necessary) 4 at Chase Field in Phoenix on Tuesday and Wednesday. Game 5 (if necessary) at Miller Park on Thursday.
Arms race: Edge to the Brewers. They ranked seventh in the NL with a 3.63 ERA, while the Diamondbacks were ninth at 3.80. But Arizona compiled a 3.28 ERA in September. The Brewers have a Big Three in the rotation with Yovanni Gallardo being joined this season by Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. All five Milwaukee starters finished in double figures in wins, and the bullpen was solidified with the addition of Francisco Rodriguez, who compiled a 1.86 ERA handling eighth-inning chores. Closer John Axford was 46 for 49 in saves and had a 1.95 ERA. Ian Kennedy gave Arizona a 20-game winner, and Daniel Hudson provided a quality No. 2 starter.
At the plate: Edge to the Brewers. Milwaukee ranked fifth in the NL with 721 runs, 10 fewer than Arizona, but was second with a .750 OPS. Arizona ranked fourth at .736. The Brewers have good balance, with a lineup built around Ryan Braun (.332, 33 home runs, 111 RBIs) and Prince Fielder (.299, 38, 120). Corey Hart (26) and Rickie Weeks (20) gave the Brewers four players with 20 home runs. Right fielder Justin Upton is the one feared bat in the Diamondbacks lineup, and Miguel Montero, moved to cleanup when Stephen Drew went down, hit 19 home runs with 86 RBIs.
Aches and pains: Arizona shortstop Drew has been out with a broken leg since July 20. Montero took over cleanup duties, and Willie Bloomquist saw the bulk of time at short. … Upton was in the lineup Wednesday after being hit in the head with a Tim Lincecum pitch on Sunday and two days later being hit in the head by a ball that caromed off the right-field fence. … Mitch Stetter, who was the Brewers' only left-handed reliever, underwent Aug. 2 hip surgery.
Earlier this year: Arizona won four of seven from Milwaukee. Josh Collmenter won’t start until Game 4, but he was 2-0 against the Brewers and did not allow an earned run in 14 innings. Ian Kennedy worked seven scoreless innings in his start. Montero hit .421 with two home runs and six RBIs. Braun made his presence felt against Arizona, hitting .417, one of five Milwaukee regulars to hit .300 or better. Fielder wasn’t one of those; he hit only .222 against Arizona. Gallardo is the logical choice to start Game 1 for Milwaukee. He was 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA against Arizona.
FYI: It's hard to bypass Zack Greinke at Miller Park. He’s 12-0 at home, and the Brewers are 15-0 when he starts there. … The Brewers won a franchise record 96 games, and claimed a division title for second time in franchise history. They are making their fourth postseason appearance. Milwaukee came into being in 1968 as the Seattle Pilots. By comparison, Arizona, which began play 30 years later, is making its fifth postseason appearance. … Arizona had three players with 20 stolen bases: Chris Young (22), Upton (21) and Willie Bloomquist (20). … The Brewers' 15 wins in April were the fewest of any of the eight postseason teams.
Prediction: Brewers in 5.
NL wild card Cardinals vs. NL East Phillies
Schedule: Games 1-2 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday. Games 3 and (if necessary) 4 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Tuesday and Wednesday. Game 5 (if necessary) at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday.
Arms race: Edge to the Phillies. The Phillies have what it takes to get started. They led the majors with a 3.02 overall ERA, and their rotation was No. 1 at 2.86 ERA. The Cardinals battled injuries on the pitching staff, which ranked eighth in the NL with a 3.74 ERA; the rotation also ranked eighth with a 3.81 ERA.
At the plate: Edge to the Phillies. Their offense was inconsistent early, but stability arrived with acquisition of outfielder Hunter Pence from Houston at the July31 trade deadline. That allowed Shane Victorino to return to hitting second after getting the bulk of his early work in the fifth hole vacated by the offseason loss of Jayson Werth. The Cardinals led the NL with 762 runs, and a .788 OPS. They also topped the NL with 128 runs and a .294 average in April. Matt Holliday, however, is critical to provide a one-two-three punch along with Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman.
Aches and pains: Cards shortstop Rafael Furcal suffered a pulled hamstring on Monday and missed next two games. Holliday, the St. Louis left fielder, strained a tendon in his right middle finger, prompting him to exit early on Tuesday and miss Wednesday’s game. Club officials said both would have been disabled in June. Cards right-hander Eduardo Sanchez, who had been out with a sore right shoulder, was impressive in retiring four batters Wednesday. The Phillies are as healthy as they have been all season.
Earlier this year: The Cardinals won six of nine from the Phillies, but don’t read too much into that. The last two Cardinals wins came in first two games after the Phillies clinched the division title. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz led the offense with a .333 average against the Cards, and Chase Utley hit .321 with five home runs in seven games. Raul Ibanez, however, hit only .043. Lance Berkman hit .467 for the Cardinals against the Phillies, and Yadier Molina hit .400. Holliday only hit .118.
FYI: St. Louis won an NL-best 18 games in making its September push. … The Cardinals became the fourth team to overcome a double-digit deficit and earn wild-card spot. The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games back of the Braves on Aug. 25. The others were Houston, which was 11 1/2 back in 2005; Florida, 11 1/2 back in 2003; and Oakland, 10 games back in 2001. … The Phillies won a franchise record 102 games … The Phillies took advantage of Thursday’s day off and will work out on Friday. With their win in Atlanta on Wednesday, the Phillies ended a stretch of 33 games in 31 days. … Cardinals lefty Jamie Garcia is rested for a Game 1 start, but he is 4-3 with 10 no-decisions and a 4.61 ERA on the road compared with 9-4 with two no-decisions and a 2.55 ERA at Busch Stadium.
Prediction: Phillies in 3.