Major League Baseball 2014 Playoff Preview courtesy of Stuart Barefoot, with GreensboroSports.com:
It’s October and that could mean a lot of different things depending on whom you speak to. But for our purposes, it means the MLB postseason is here and though its been a while sine we last spoke (right after the All-Star Break) it’s time to look ahead at the upcoming playoff matchups, to look back at the season that was and a recap the Wild Card games in both leagues.
The Abbreviated Version of the 2014 Season
NL East: Not that the Nationals didn’t play well or anything, but the Braves blew it. The Washington Nationals were the best team in baseball after the All –Star break and finished the season 96-66, 17 games ahead of the Braves and Mets.
This had every chance to be an exciting division race, with The Nats and Braves tied for first. But after the Braves proceeded to go 25-40 while Washington went on post a 45-24 record after the break it wasn’t even close and the Nationals proved that they are the team to beat in NL.
NL Central: The St. Louis Cardinals won their second division title in a row and their third in five years. They edged the Pirates by two games, finishing 90-72. Pittsburgh won the top Wild Card spot in the NL, but lost to the Giants 8-0 (more on that later.) The Brewers started out as one of the hottest teams in baseball, and were still first in the division as late as August 31. But going 29-37 in the second half and 9-16 in September doomed the Brew Crew who finished 82-80 and 8 games out of first.
NL West: The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t quite cruise to a division crown but finished six games comfortably in front of the Giants. No one aside from San Francisco and LA were competitive in this division and The Dodgers clinched a playoff spot in the final week while the Giants nabbed the second Wild Card spot.
AL East: The Baltimore Orioles won their first division title in 17 years, and did so fairly easily. At 96-66 they were 12 games ahead of the Yankees and 13 ahead of the Blue Jays.
AL Central: The Detroit Tigers won their fourth consecutive division title a game ahead of the Kansas City Royals. The two teams traded spots in first place, with KC leading as recently as September 11, but the Tigers ended up with the crown while KC took the top Wild Card spot (more on that later.)
AL West: The Oakland A’s seemed destined to win this division. But it was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who won the division and finished 10 games in front of Oakland. The A’s earned the second Wild Card spot but lost in extra innings to the Royals.
Wild Card Recap
NL: Giants 8 Pirates 0
Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete game shutout as the Giants pounded the Pirates. Brandon Crawford provided all of the offense the Giants would need in the fourth inning when he smacked a grand slam over the right field wall, becoming the first short stop in post-season history to do so.
The Giants tacked on three more runs off the bat of Brandon Belt and Buster Posey added an RBI as well. The Pirates managed just four hits all bight, all of them singles and never posed a major threat to score. The Giants will play the Nationals in the NLDS.
AL: Royals 9 A’s 8
Kansas City made their first playoff appearance in 29 years and made it worth the wait for their fans. With the game tied at 8 in the bottom of the 12th, and Christian Colon on second base, Salvador Perez slapped a double down the left filed line to plate the winning run, propelling the Royals into the ALDS.
The game was a microcosm of the A’s season, who led 7-3 going into the 8th inning. After the Royals platted three runs in the 8th and another in the 9th to tie the game, the two teams traded scoreless innings until the 12th, when Oakland took an 8-7 lead. The Royals would tie the game at 8 before Perez’s heroics in the bottom half of the inning.
NLDS Matchups and Previews
San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals:
Not only does San Fran have to face to best team in the National League but they have a few guys who are hurt at the moment. Mike Morse and Angel Pagan were left off the Wild Card Roster and their status remains uncertain for the Division Series. That being said, the lineup they had in the Wild Card game won 8-0, so who knows?
The Nationals on the other hand are riding a 19-8 September into the playoffs and have all of their key players healthy. Their five man rotation, led by Jordan Zimmerman, all have ERA’s under 4 and offensively have one of the better lineups in the Majors, led by Anthony Rendon and Adam Lacroche.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers:
The Dodgers have the best pitcher in the world right now in Clayton Kershaw who finished the regular season with an ERA of 1.77. They also have a lineup that consists of Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Adrian Gonzalez to name a few.
The Cardinals have the fewest wins of any playoff team this year, but they’ve won four pennants in the last 10 years, including last year’s and in 2011. The good thing for the Cards is they have their ace, Adam Wainwright back to form and the addition of Jhonny Peralta has added some power to their lineup, which has been largely missing since Albert Pujols left town
Baltimore Orioles vs. Detroit Tigers
For much of the last several years the Tigers have been a staple in the playoffs as 2014 marks their fourth consecutive division title. The Orioles are in for just the second time since 1997 and boasts the most powerful bat in the majors with Nelson Cruz, who led all of baseball with 40 home runs. The turnaround this team has experienced over the past few years is incredible, and Buck Showalter has to be in the running for AL Manager of the Year.
The Tigers bring in a stud filled lineup, led by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They also added Ian Kinsler before the season when they traded Prince Fielder to Texas, and the emergence of guys like J.D Martinez and the leadership of Torri Hunter make the Tigers a formidable opponent. Not to mention they added David Price to their rotation, and still have Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer as well. NO easy pitching matchups there.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Kansas City Royals
These teams are kind of on opposite ends of the spectrum in a way. The Royals, no matter what happens, will look back at 2014 as a successful season. The Angels, on the other hand, have put all of their eggs in one basket by signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (Pujols is signed through 2021 and Hamilton through 2017) and anything less than a World Series will not be looked well upon.
The Angles have arguably the best outfielder in baseball in Mike Trout; the most accomplished in Albert Pujols, the most tenacious in josh Hamilton and the best manager in Mike Scioscia. Combine that with the fact that they have the best record in baseball, and the Royals will have their work cut out for them.
Kansas City last played in the playoffs in 1985, when they won the World Series. Ronald Regan was president, gas was…I don’t know, but cheaper than it is now, and you still bought cassette tapes and so on and so on. It’s been a while, we get it. KC threatened to win the AL Central all year and even held first place and spent 45 days in first. They won in dramatic fashion during the Wild Card game and feature lesser known players such as Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Nori Aoki, as well as well known standouts like Alex Gordon and James Shields.
The playoffs begin on Thursday and I’ll be back before the World Series starts to recap the Division and Championship Series and to preview the World Series.