October 4, 2012
It used to be simple: The best team from the National League played the best team from the American League in the World Series. As the league expanded, however, MLB continually expanded the playoffs to get more teams involved in the pennant races.
In 1969, divisions were introduced. Each league had a five-game playoff between the best teams in their respective East and West divisions. That playoff format was later expanded to seven games
In 1994, Each league was divided further into three divisions. To round out the playoffs, the best team to not win the division would be the wildcard team.
This year, a second wildcard was added, and a one-game “play-in” between the two wildcards will determine who moves on to the Division Series.
With so many playoff teams, the MLB postseason is harder to predict than ever. But here’s how it might develop:
NL Play-In Game: St.Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
The defending World Champion Cardinals will begin their title defense against the Braves.
Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) gets the start against Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA). Lohse has had an outstanding year, but Medlen has been white hot.
Medlen has not allowed more than 3 earned runs in a game since joining Atlanta’s starting rotation on July 31. Combined with the dominant back end of the bullpen, anchored by closer Craig Kimbrel and setup men Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, the Braves should have plenty of pitching firepower to shut down a potent Cardinals lineup.
Prediction: Braves win, move on to NLDS
AL Play-In Game: Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers
This is a battle of two teams that failed to claim the division title in the waning days of the season. In the Rangers’ case, they lost the division to the Oakland A’s on the final day, after leading the AL West all year.
Neither team is entering this game on a high. The Rangers lost their last 3 games of the regular season, and 7 of their last 10. The Orioles nearly stole the division title away from the Yankees, but didn’t stay hot enough in the season’s final week.
The Rangers will send Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) to the mound in their home ballpark in Arlington, TX. The Orioles will send Joe Saunders (3-3, 3.63 ERA with Baltimore) to the mound.
On paper, the Rangers have the superior team, but they weren’t good enough to get past the upstart A’s. The Orioles, on the other hand, are used to surprising people this season.
Prediction: Orioles win, move on to ALDS
NLDS: Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants
The Reds have pitching. The Giants have pitching. The Reds have Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. The Giants have Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval.
The Giants have an army of relievers. The Reds have an Aroldis.
The Reds bullpen, led by closer Aroldis Chapman, will make the difference in this series. The loss of Melky Cabrera to a PED suspension may also hurt the Giants.
Prediction: Reds in 4 games
NLDS: Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals
The teams that finished 1-2 in the NL East will meet again in the NLDS. Expect a heavyweight bout – the Nats will get off to a good start anchored by the front end of their starting rotation, but the Braves will shorten games with their bullpen and pull off a comeback series win.
The early shutdown of Stephen Strasburg will prove costly for Washington.
Prediction: Braves in 5 games
ALDS: Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers
The A’s come into this series having won 6 in a row, which was good enough to nab the AL West title away from the Rangers. They have four rookies in their starting rotation, and a bullpen of largely overlooked and undervalued pitchers, such as closer Grant Balfour. Oakland astutely acquired players like outfielder Josh Reddick and first baseman Brandon Moss, each of whom burst onto the scene in 2012.
The Tigers are known for two things: Their starting rotation and triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
Ace Justin Verlander will be backed by Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and a healthy Doug Fister.
The starting four will be to be too much for the A’s, whose chariot will morph into a pumpkin by the time this series is over. But they won’t go down without a fight.
Prediction: Tigers in 5 games
ALDS: Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees
Another matchup of division rivals. The Orioles gave the Yankees a scare, but the Yankees are healthy again (first baseman Mark Teixiera is back in the lineup) coming into this series. Baltimore’s negative run differential suggests they can’t keep up their success.
The Yankees will have too much pitching and offense to allow the O’s to move on.
Prediction: Yankees in 4 games
NLCS: Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds
It will be known as the battle of flamethrowers: Kimbrel vs. Chapman, and rightfully so – the Reds and Braves are evenly matched in the bullpen. Their starting rotation is also evenly matched. But the edge goes to the Reds’ offense. In this series, good hitting will stop good pitching.
Prediction: Reds in 6 games
ALCS: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
The Tigers started slowly in 2012. They stayed close enough to the surprising Chicago White Sox all year, however. And when the Tigers got hot, they were hot enough to surpass Chicago for the AL Central division title.
With a healthy starting rotation, and Cabrera and Prince Fielder in their lineup, the Tigers are firing on all cylinders.
The Yankees will give them a challenge early in the series, but they do not have the depth in their starting rotation that Detroit has. Pitching will be the key in this series, and the Tigers have an abundance of it.
Prediction: Tigers in 6 games
World Series: Detroit Tigers vs. Cincinnati Reds
For the second straight year, the World Series will go the distance.
The Reds were the most overlooked division winner this year. They won 97 games, and got very little attention.
Four of their starting pitchers each threw over 200 innings, and had sub-4.00 ERAs. Their ace, Johnny Cueto finished 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA, and will get some Cy Young consideration. Detroit still has an edge in this category, but it is close.
Their lineup can stand toe-to-toe with Detroit’s. Their bullpen has a slight edge over that of the Tigers.
It could come down to home field advantage, which the National League possesses. It will be close, but the Reds will prevail.
Prediction: Reds in 7 games