After two thrilling Wild Card games on Friday, baseball’s Elite Eight is finally set. After some controversy, the Cardinals defeated the Braves 6-3 behind three Atlanta errors. In the late game, Baltimore used timely hitting and productive outs to defeat the Rangers 5-1. Now we are down to the post-season as we know it, with a best-of-five game Division series to determine who will play for the pennant.
Remember that for this season, the Division Series will use a 2-3 format, meaning that the series opens in the road team’s city and the final three games are played in the home team’s city.
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
Game 1 – Sat. 6:00 PM; Game 2 – Sun. 12;00 PM; Game 3 – Tue. 9:00 PM; Game 4 (If Necessary) – Wed. TBD; Game 5 (If Necessary) – Thu. TBD
The Tigers bring one of the game’s best pitchers and one of the game’s into this series. Justin Verlander put up another Cy Young caliber season, and Miguel Cabrera won the American League Triple Crown. Detroit’s line-up also includes Prince Fielder, and the young Austin Jackson, who had his best season in 2012. They go against an Oakland team that is built upon solid pitching, and timely hitting. With 86 runs, Oakland finished tied for 4th in the league in runs scored in late and close situations. Oakland’s starters boasts the 9th best ERA in the game, and their bullpen has the 4th best ERA. Yet for all of that, they do not have a true ace to counter Verlander. The A’s will send out Jarrod Parker to face Detroit in Game One of the series, which might be a given loss.
Oakland’s strength is the depth of their starting pitching, which is a weakness for Detroit. After Verlander, the Tigers will throw Doug Fister, who has been inconsistent in 2012, and Anibel Sanchez, who will be making his first playoff start. If the series goes longer than that, the question remains as to whether or not Verlander would pitch on three days rest. It’s extremely difficult to beat Verlander, and even more so when you don’t have an ace to counter with. My feeling tells me that Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland, saves Verlander for a Game Five.
Key for the Tigers: Give Verlander run support. At 3.82 runs per start, Verlander had the 4th worst run support among American League starting pitchers.
Key for the A’s: Take advantage of opportunities. With a team WHIP of 1.29, Detroit’s pitching puts the most baserunners on per inning. Oakland, which hits twelve points higher (.250) than their average with runners on base, and twenty-seven points higher (.265) with runners in scoring position, will have opportunities to drive in runs.
Key Player for Tigers: Miguel Cabrera – He tore apart Oakland this season. In 33 plate appearances, the MVP candidate hit .483, with 3 HR, 4 RBI, and his slugging percentage was an astronomical .862. The only team the Cabrera more thoroughly decimated was Baltimore.
Key Player for A’s: Grant Balfour – The bullpen is a huge advantage in favor of Oakland. Whereas Detroit’s Jose Valverde’s follow-up to his flawless 2011 season was sub-par, Balfour shined in the bullpen all season long. He converted 24 of 26 save opportunities, and hasn’t blown one since the end of April. His ERA of 2.53 is backed up with a WHIP of .92. Also, Balfour has only surrendered one home run since the end of April. If the game is in Balfour’s hands late, expect him to deliver.
The Pick: Oakland in four
Giants vs. Reds
Game 1 – Sat. 9:30 PM; Game 2 – Sun. 9:30 PM; Game 3 – Tue. 5:30 PM; Game 4 (If Necessary) – Wed. TBD; Game 5 (If Necessary) – Thu. TBD
Two teams that pitch very well, and two teams that have very different offensive strategies. Cincinnati hit the third most home runs in the National League, whereas the Giants hit the fewest. The Giants hit for average nearly twenty points higher than the Reds (.269 – .251). It’s often hard to out-slug a team in a playoff series. It’s even harder when you’re facing a pitching rotation like the Giants, who have surrendered less than a home run per game.
Cincinatti’s pitching is solid all around, but the Giants’ pitching is great all around. Yes, Tim Lincecum had the worst season of his career, but the last time he pitched in the playoffs, he led the Giants to a championship on the heels of a mediocre (for him) regular season. Matt Cain will garner some votes for the Cy Young award, and the bullpen, anchored by Sergio Romo, is still sharp.
Key for the Reds: The series’ final three games are in Cincinnati, where the Reds hit sixty percent of their home runs. Hold home field advantage by turning those games into slugfests, because San Francisco simply can not keep up with that sort of firepower.
Key for the Giants: The Giants had the fourth worst fielding percentage in the National League. As Atlanta found out last night, if you give your team four outs in an inning, it will kill you in the postseason. The Giants need to play solid defense behind Cain and Lincecum.
Key Player for the Reds: Todd Frazier – As a utility man that admirably filled in for Joey Votto while he was injured, Frazier’s 2012 season will get him some votes for Rookie of the Year. Against San Francisco, Frazier was 5 for 12 with a home run, and an OPS of 1.200. Frazier has earned playing time in the post season, and will likely get the start at third base, where he played all September long. Frazier could be this year’s version of David Freese, if things go well for Cincinnati.
Key Player for the Giants: Tim Lincecum – With an ERA over 5, Lincecum disappointed many. Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy has not even announced his starter for Game Three yet, and it may not even be Lincecum. Still, I think we will see The Freak in this series. He’ll have to better than he has against the Reds in the past. In three career starts against them, Lincecum has an ERA over 7, and no wins. He did not face them in 2012.
The Pick: Giants in five
Check out Part Two of the Division Series preview. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JustinCirillo