The Playoffs were almost set as GT went to press Monday night with just the second American League Wild Card spot to be determined in a one game playoff.
Tampa Bay played at Texas with the winner advancing to Cleveland where the red hot Indians will host the Wild Card game on Wednesday.
Cleveland swept its four game series in Minnesota to end the regular season on a 10-game winning streak, the longest current run of any of the teams in the Playoffs.
The record books will show that Cleveland finished just one game behind Detroit in the AL Central but the Tigers clinched the Divisional title late last week and were just playing out the string to stay in shape when they dropped all three games in Miami over the weekend. Included in that sweep was a no hitter thrown by Miami’s lightly regarded Henderson Alvarez on Sunday to end the Marlins’ season.
The National League matchups are all set with Pittsburgh hosting Cincinnati on Tuesday in the Wild Card game. After 20 losing seasons the Pirates finally ended that lengthy run of futility by going 94-68 to finish three games behind St. Louis in the NL Central. The Pirates had a better record than the winners of the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were 92-70.
The Dodgers are the number 3 seed and will start their best-of-five NLDS series at second seeded Atlanta. The Braves were 96-66, losing out to St. Louis by a single game for the best record and top seed in the NL.
The Cardinals were 97-65 and tied with Boston for the best record in all of baseball. St. Louis is looking to win a second World Series title in three seasons, much like the San Francisco Giants did when they won it all last season.
The Cardinals will face the winner of Tuesday’s Wild Card game between the Reds and Pirates in the NLDS.
Boston holds the top seed in the AL and will face the winner of Wednesday’s Wild Card game between Cleveland and the winner of Monday’s tie breaker game between Tampa Bay and Texas.
The Red Sox finished just a game better than AL West Champion Oakland. The Athletics are the 2 seed and will face AL Central champion Detroit in a rematch of last season’s ALDS, won by Detroit in 5. Each game was won by the home team. Oakland has the home field advantage this time and would host a final Game 5 if the teams split the first 4.
Should Cleveland win its Wild Card game it will set up a most intriguing matchup as Cleveland manager Terry Francona would be facing the franchise with whom he won a pair of World Series titles over the past decade.
The Red Sox will be solid favorites to win the best of five series. Boston played in the much tougher Division, the AL East, while Cleveland struggled against the better teams it faced and beat up the lesser ones. The Indians have a solid offense that fared very well against lefties but its own starting rotation, while better than expected in Spring Training, is still the weakest of the five AL Playoff teams. Boston won 6 of 7 meetings with Cleveland this season although the teams have not met since late May.
Boston would still be favored, although not by quite as much, against either Texas or Tampa Bay. Boston should be able to get by either the Rangers or Rays with their potent offense and a pair of front line starters in Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester in addition to John Lackey who enjoyed a resurgent season.
Texas did win 4 of 6 games against Boston although their last meeting came in early June. Against Division rival Tampa Bay, the Red Sox won 12 of 19 games.
Boston is the choice to defeat either Cleveland or Texas in four games and to defeat Tampa Bay in 5.
The road team won 5 of 7 games between Detroit and Oakland. The Tigers took 2 of 3 in Oakland in mid-April but Oakland took 3 of 4 games in Detroit in late August. Oakland will be likely be the public’s preference in the series based on their style of play and location in a small market with a much smaller budget to acquire players than Detroit or most other teams. The Athletics are a scrappy bunch and showed grit in rally from down 0-2 to Detroit last season only to lose in the decisive fifth game 6-0 in Detroit.
Detroit is the best balanced team in the AL Playoffs with outstanding starting pitching capable of going deep into games. That has allowed its rather modest bullpen to remain fresh late in the season. The offense is one of baseball’s best with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder anchoring a strong lineup.
Oakland’s offense is better than generally perceived but not on a level with Detroit. The pitching has been solid but, again, below that of the Tigers. The call is for Detroit to win this series in 4 and advance to face Boston in the ALCS.
Despite not having Matt Kemp for the Playoffs the Los Angeles Dodgers are the team to beat in the NL. The Dodgers played a great part of the season without Kemp and fared quite well without him. The Dodgers were 30-42 on the morning of June 23, 9½ games behind Arizona and in last place in the NL West.
Manager Don Mattingly was close to being axed. Rookie Yasiel Puig had been called up from the minors a few weeks earlier and had started turning heads with his early exploits. The Dodgers turned things around in a dramatic way and blew past the rest of the Division, ultimately winning the West by 11 games.
The LA starting pitching trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and rookie HJ Ryu are as formidable as any 3 in baseball. And the playoffs are often decided by pitching which usually shuts down strong offenses. The Dodgers, despite opening on the road, are predicted to get by Atlanta in 4.
Pittsburgh is the prediction to get past Cincinnati in Tuesday’s NL Wild Card game and take on Division rival St. Louis. The Pirates have had the better momentum over the season’s final few weeks, including taking 4 of 6 from the Reds in the season’s final 10 days.
Interestingly, Cincinnati would likely present the greater challenge against St. Louis with its stronger lineup and solid starting pitching.
In fact, if there is to be an opening round upset the call would be for Cincinnati to defeat St. Louis. The Cardinals did win 11 of 19 games with the Reds during the regular season. The call is for Cincinnati to win such a series in 5, which would mean winning the series on the road.
St Louis’ experience would be a huge edge against Pittsburgh and the Cards would likely need no more than 4 games to dispatch the Pirates. Thus the forecast is for the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS to face either St. Louis (if Pittsburgh wins the Wild Card game) or Cincinnati (if the Reds are the Wild Card game winners).
In the American League the call is for Boston to face Detroit in the ALCS.
Bottom line: The Dodgers defeat Boston in the World Series.
Although not all the matchups for the opening games of each Divisional series are known the early preferences are to play the Dodgers and Kershaw over Atlanta and Kris Medlen in Thursday’s opener and then to play the Game 1 loser in Friday’s second game if priced as an underdog or favored by no more than -120. That matchup is expected to be Greinke vs. Mike Minor and the expectation is for that series to head to Los Angeles even at a game apiece.
At press time neither Oakland nor Detroit had named its starter for Friday’s opener of the ALDS. Boston has named Lester as its game one starter and Lester can be backed at -150 or less.
In general, playing underdogs of +150 or more would be the first way to look. A second method of play would be to take home teams when trailing in a series if laying no more than -125.
The matchup between the Dodgers and Braves is most likely to be an UNDER series and Totals of 7½ or higher can be played UNDER.
A series between St. Louis and Cincinnati would favor playing OVER 8 or lower whereas a Cardinals versus Pirates series would lend itself to playing UNDER 7½ or higher.
The American League series are likely to be higher scoring unless Tampa Bay is involved. Look to play OVER 8 or lower in the two ALDS series. If Tampa Bay faces Boston the preferred Totals plays would be UNDER 9 or lower.
In next week’s column these predictions shall be revisited based upon the status of the four series through next weekend.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]