Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Look out for those A's

Jon Lester and the Oakland Athletics will be the most dangerous team in the postseason, if they can get by the Kansas City Royals in Tuesday night's Wild Card game

The regular season is in the books. Now that we know who's in and who's out, here are my 2014 MLB Postseason predictions:

--Oakland Athletics over Kansas City Royals
Had I known the A's would trade for both Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester this season, I would have most certainly put them into the postseason mix in my preseason predictions. Lester goes for Oakland in the "play-in" game. Since being traded from Boston, Lester's posted a 2.35 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 76.2 innings. And we know he's a big-game pitcher. But he'll go up against another big-game pitcher in James Shields. In fact, that's his freakin' nickname, "Big Game" James Shields. It should also be mentioned that both Lester and Shields will be free agents this offseason. So, expect a pitcher's duel. I'll put my money on the A's though. Shields enters the game with a 4.98 postseason ERA, while Lester has a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances. And oh yeah, Lester has been downright dominant against the Royals, as he's 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA against them. That includes his 3-0 record with a 2.61 ERA against Kansas City this year. I can't possibly bet against that. And with Oakland's absolutely stacked rotation, they'll have one message for the rest of the league: "Don't let us win the Wild Card game."

--San Francisco Giants over Pittsburgh Pirates
A lot has been made of the Pirates attempting to win the division by throwing Gerrit Cole in the team's final regular-season game. Pittsburgh needed more than just a win to challenge the Cardinals for the NL Central. But it didn't matter, because they lost to the Reds. And while Cole got the no-decision, some say the Pirates wasted his services. So instead, they'll go with Edinson Volquez, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Volquez enters the game hot as a pistol. He finished the regular season with a 1.78 ERA in his final 12 starts. On the other side though is lefty Madison Bumgarner. He's 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA. He was my preseason pick to win the NL Cy Young, and while he won't beat out Clayton Kershaw for that award, Bumgarner is someone you shouldn't bet against, even on the road, where he is 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 18 road starts this year.

--Detroit Tigers over Baltimore Orioles
How about those Orioles? In my preseason predictions, I said, "A rock-solid Baltimore Orioles club will wish they were in a different division." So I did give them credit. I just didn't see them winning 96 games. And sure, Nelson Cruz' 40 home runs are nice. But if Baltimore wants to do damage in the postseason, they'll need some dominant pitching. And it's not that I don't think the Orioles' rotation can be dominant, it's just that I've seen the Tigers' rotation actually do it in the playoffs. Detroit would like to see their top-dog starters pick up their game when it matters most, and I think they will. I feel like nobody is talking about Detroit. Perhaps that will help them. And oh yeah, David Price is pitching for a new contract.

--Oakland Athletics over Los Angeles Angels
The Angels finished with the most wins in the majors, with 98, but they saw one of their best pitchers go down with a terrible knee injury in late August. Garrett Richards was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA before he tore his left patellar tendon. That will turn out to be a tough loss in a series against the most stacked rotation in baseball. Sonny Gray had his coming out party in last year's playoffs. And now, he's joined by a rejuvenated Scott Kazmir, Lester, and Samardzija. I'm a firm believer that dominant starting rotations win championships, even if Mike Trout is on the other side. If Kansas City somehow beats Oakland in the Wild Card game, then obviously the Angels will advance to the ALCS, but I don't see that happening. I expect the A's to make some serious noise.

--Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals
If I felt comfortable about Michael Wacha's shoulder, I would be sticking to my guns and would have them still advancing to the World Series. But as good as Adam Wainwright is, and as much as I respect John Lackey as a big-game pitcher, they'll need Wacha to be the stud he's supposed to be. And with shoulder problems this season, I don't feel comfortable sticking with them, especially against Kershaw and the Dodgers. Kershaw is simply on another planet this year. I have to go with LA.

--Washington Nationals over San Francisco Giants
After Bumgarner, I'm not sure how much I trust the Giants' rotation. On top of that, I feel strongly about Stephen Strasburg having his postseason coming out party. That Nationals also have Doug Fister, who finished the regular season 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA that ranked fourth-best in the National League. Fister has a 2.98 postseason ERA in seven postseason starts, all with the Detroit Tigers. I'm going with the Nats.

--Oakland Athletics over Detroit Tigers
In a rematch from last year's ALDS, the A's will get their revenge, thanks to jacked up rotation. I realize that all of this success I predict for Oakland relies on the fact that they win the Wild Card game, but if they do, I believe their top-four starters will dazzle all the way through to the World Series.

--Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals
Again, kind of tough for anyone to bet against Clayton Kershaw at this point. This one will go seven games, but I expect the Dodgers to have Kershaw in Games 3 and 7. Kershaw was 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA against the Nats this year. Take it to the bank. Dodgers in 7.

--Oakland Athletics over Los Angeles Dodgers
Let's just say that the Royals end up beating the A's in the Wild Card game. If that happens, I would choose the Dodgers to beat anyone else in the American League. But, I think Oakland will get past Kansas City, and then will use their dominant rotation to power through to the Fall Classic. And it's there that they'll continue to prove my theory true: dominant pitching wins championships. Oakland in 6. Sonny Gray the MVP.

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