Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 Playoff Preview, AL Division Series Edition

Here we are. It's the playoffs, and we're just in time for me to predict eery series incorrectly, the way I almost did in 2006. (Hey, I got the Mets over Dodgers right!) Don't you remember those 2006 World Champion Twins! Long story short, these are probably wrong. That's never stopped me before though.

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
Detroit: 95-67. Scored 787 runs, Allowed 711 runs.
New York: 97-65. Scored 867 runs, Allowed 657 runs.

Initial irrelevant thought: These two teams have the best home uniforms in baseball. So win or lose, these teams will look sharp doing it. 

Expected lineup:

SSDerek Jeter0.7CFAustin Jackson2.4
CFCurtis Granderson5.23BWilson Betamit1.3
2BRobinson Cano4.6LFDelmon Young0.0
3BAlex Rodriguez2.71BMiguel Cabrera7.1
1BMark Teixeira2.4DHVictor Martinez2.9
RFNick Swisher3.4CAlex Avila5.4
CRussell Martin1.3RFMagglio Ordonez-1.9
DHJorge Posada-1.0SSJhonny Peralta4.4
LFBrett Gardner4.22BRamon Santiago1.3

Yankees: Jesus Montero, Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nunez, Chris Dickerson, Andruw Jones
Tigers: Omir Santos, Brandon Inge, Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn

Starting Rotation:

C.C. Sabathia6.9Justin Verlander8.6
Ivan Nova3.5Doug Fister5.7
Freddy Garcia3.4Max Scherzer2.4
Rick Porcello1.0

Yankees: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, AJ Burnett, Rafael Soriano, Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Luis Ayala, Cory Wade
Tigers: Jose Valverde, Al Albuquerque, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Dan Schlereth, Brad Penny, Ryan Perry

Justin Verlander vs. C.C. Sabathia, the matchup of arguably the two best pitchers in the American League this year (Jered Weaver says hi from the golf course), will only happen once, as the Yankees will counter their starting pitching depth disadvantage by simply using fewer starting pitchers. It's a good move, as Sabathia proved in '09 that he's able to pitch on short rest, and Nova will get two travel days between Game 2 and a potential Game 5. 

Still, I think Game 1 is more important for this series than it is for any of the others. Both teams have a pretty notable dropoff after their ace, and are both facing pretty good lineups - the Yankees lineup scored more runs and works pitchers harder, but the Tigers lineup's higher batting average is no fluke. There is some evidence that low batting average/high scoring teams have trouble replicating that in the playoffs, for one sort of obvious reason. Being patient and waiting for pitches to drive out of the park works great against #5 starters on bad teams. Teams with good enough pitching to make the playoffs though, are usually there because they do the best job keeping the ball in the park and not walking guys.

The Yankees lineup is generally better, top-to-bottom, but starting Posada over Montero is a mistake. Montero was a monster the last month, and Posada is old. The Yankees might as well put Reggie Jackson or Yogi Berra out there. Maggio Ordonez is in sort of the same position for the Tigers, but is only out there because Brennan Boesch is out. He'll be lifted for defense in the late innings.

Surprised by Ivan Nova's low WAR? The whole "he pitches in the AL East" thing may seem to indicate he should be rated more highly, but he somehow only pitched against the Red Sox twice, and obviously never pitched against the Yankees. The Jays, Rays and O's aren't exactly offensive juggernauts, and Nova really pitched well against those three, going 6-1 with a 2.79 ERA. After the Yankees, the next two highest scoring teams were Texas (2-1, 4.67 ERA, 9 BB, 6K) and these Tigers, who he didn't pitch against. Either the Yankees did a good job protecting him so that he'd build confidence, or he got exceptionally lucky with what days he happened to be pitching.

With that in mind, if this gets to a Game 5, he'll be pitching against Justin Verlander. It'll be in Yankee Stadium, which would be a boost for the Yankees, but how much. I think whoever wins Game 1 tonight will win the Series - if the Yankees take it tonight, I think it goes four, if the Tigers do, I think it'll take them all 5. 

Prediction: It seems like a bad year to pick against Justin Verlander. Tigers in 5.

Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Area Rays
Texas: 96-66. Scored 855 runs, Allowed 677 runs.
Tampa Bay: 91-71. Scored 707 runs, Allowed 614 runs

Initial irrelevant thought: I'm not bitter.

Expected lineup:

LFDesmond Jennings2.32BIan Kinsler5.2
CFB.J. Upton3.8SSElvis Andrus3.5
3BEvan Longoria6.3CFJosh Hamilton3.6
2BBen Zobrist5.11BMichael Young2.4
DHJohnny Damon2.93BAdrian Beltre5.2
SSSean Rodriguez2.4CMike Napoli5.5
1BCasey Kotchman2.9RFNelson Cruz1.4
RFMatt Joynce3.0DHYorvit Torrealba0.8
CKelly Shoppach1.4LFCraig Gentry1.4

Rays: John Jaso, Jose Lobaton, Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson, Sam Fuld
Rangers: Esteban German, Matt Treanor, Mitch Moreland, David Murphy, Endy Chavez (Note - Murphy will be substituted for Gentry against right handed starters)

Starting Rotation: 

Matt Moore0.2C.J. Wilson5.0
James Shields6.1Derek Holland2.7
Jeremy Hellickson4.2Colby Lewis2.2
David Price3.7Matt Harrison4.0

Rays: Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Wade Davis, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Brandon Gomes, J.P. Howell
Rangers: Neftali Feliz,  Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez. Scott Feldman, Darren Oliver, Mike Adams

First off - Matt Moore starting Game 1?? I know the Rays are willing to trust the kids, but that takes some intestinal fortitude on the part of Joe Maddon. The kid only has 9.1 career innings and one start! Initially I expected Moore to be on the roster in an attempt to replicate David Price's 2008, but wow.

The Rangers, as you can see score a LOT more runs than the Rays this year. For most of the year though, the Rays didn't have Desmond Jennings in the lineup, and Evan Longoria was hurt the first month, and ineffective up to the all-star break. After dominant second halves by both players, this lineup is NOT what it was in the first half. The middle of their lineup though still can't compete with the power Hamilton, Napoli and Beltre in there for Texas.

The Rangers will also have the advantage in the bullpen. Feliz was much less dominant than last year, but Alexi Ogando will move nicely into his 2010 role, and Scott Feldman will be a nice addition there as well. I found it odd that the Rays left Jeff Niemann off the first round roster. His stuff would seem to translate better to the pen than Wade Davis, and if the Moore experiment goes kaput, he's a better bet in long relief.

If this series goes all five games, I do not expect to see Matt Moore start (however, I've also learned that it's folly to try to predict the actions of Joe Maddon). James Shields, coming off a fantastic year will get the nod then.

On paper, the Rangers have the better team. However, the Rays play better defense, have the more daring manager, and are all too familiar with being the underdog.

Prediction: The Rays are intriguing, but the Rangers have too much firepower on offense. Rangers in 4.

Next Round, just for the record: Tigers in seven

Tables made with TABLEIZER:
Statistics from Baseball-Reference:

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