Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Preview: 2014 MLB Wild Card Play-In Games

If you missed it, check the blog entry below this one!  I posted some "thoughts of the day" here on the Daveblog.

We'll take MLB predictions one at a time this year.   I won't touch the Division Series til about Thursday morning although I just *love* the Nationals vs whoever emerges from that NL Wild Card.  I still like the Dodgers over the Cardinals but *again!!!!!!!*  NOBODY IS PAYING ATTENTION TO ST. LOUIS.  I did at least see some coverage of the Cards taking the division yesterday, but many feel like it's a mere formality to see the Dodgers beat them over the weekend.  I think that's a mistake.  Wainwright is incredibly good and he could match Kershaw inning for inning until the 6th, maybe the 7th.  Where does that leave us?  A battle of the bullpens, and guess what?  The Cardinals have a HAYUGE advantage in bullpen pitchers.  The Dodgers bullpen is a virtual disgrace, but I go back to an adage I thought of recently... as bad as it is, the closer is every bit as *good* so I still think I'd take my chances.  Nonetheless, the Cardinals bullpen is better and not by a little.  If a game were to go into extra innings, the Dodgers' chances of winning would decrease with every additional inning, IMHO.

Well, I suppose I can knock out one DS preview here.  Dodgers in 5 games.  They'll need all five to beat the Cardinals in this series, and if they lose out to the Cardinals, it really wouldn't be that big a shock.  Pitching wins and more than other teams in the senior circuit, the Cardinals have the pitching to match that of the Dodgers.  I'm expecting a far more closer series than many others would.  I wouldn't be surprised to see STL win Game 1 as a matter of fact.  I won't even worry about it.   Never expect more than you can chew, take the games one at a time, and this time around I'll have some fun with these games.

So on to the Wild Card Play-In Games...

The AL Preview: Athletics vs Royals

Athletics were playing .300 baseball from the moment of the Cespedes for Lester trade right through much of September.  It's simply a team that you can't trust right now.   My only argument in Oakland's favor is that the pitching favors their side.   The Royals can throw out James Shields, but Jon Lester betters him easily.  The issues for Oakland are with the offense.   Lately they just struggle to get runs on the board.  The Royals counter with a lineup that's fun to watch, talented, good with average, and young.  The problem with KC is that they don't have good power at all... a somewhat surprising development for a club with Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon.   Their .372 team slugging percentage is 22nd best in MLB, very VERY bad, and easily the worst of all AL playoff teams.

So!  As much as I don't trust the A's, I think they still have enough to win one game so I will select the Athletics to defeat the Royals in a low scoring affair.  The A's will survive, this time around, but I don't see them getting beyond this opening week of postseason.

The NL Preview: Giants vs Pirates 

One key development over the weekend was Pirates Catcher Russell Martin's pulled hamstring.  He tweaked it on Friday while the Pirates tried to beat the Reds to keep pace for the Division with STL.  The latest from the Pirates' twitter is that apparently Martin still is fighting hamstring tightness.  Not good... it's not good with a mere 2 days until the big game, and I felt like Martin was a big part of that Pirates' offense.  We came to find out that Pedro Alvarez was not a recent contributor, but Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer is.  Alvarez is still struggling with a foot injury according to reports, so his status is likewise up in the air.   Liriano tried to get in a start with the Pirates still playing for something, and he looked downright shaky, giving up hit after hit.  None of this is good news for the Pirates, despite an emotional postseason clinching, and back to back years in the 'offs.   I would be remiss if I did not bring up the runaway vote for team MVP, and possible NL MVP Andrew McCutchen... the Pirates would be nowhere near where they are without his valuable bat, great baserunning speed, and good defense.  This guy can play, and in his young career, he's played well in the clutch too.  One other bad break is that Garrit Cole had to start on Sunday with the division still in contention... in one sense, the Cardinals losing on Saturday actually *hurt* the Pirates more than it helped.  Getting a division title by that point was a long shot... if STL won that night, the Pirates would be strictly a Wild Card, and Cole would have been benched immediately in favor of a Wednesday start.  Now it can't happen, and the Buccos will offer Edinson Volquez.   That's a guy with a good fastball but while he's got a 3 ERA this year, he's a career 4 ERA pitcher, and not the showstopper you'd normally choose for a winner-take-all game.

So all of *this* is going up against Madison Bumgarner, the Giants' ace and one of the best pitchers in the GAME.  The Giants have some injury trouble too... Angel Pagan is out for at least this game, and not surprisingly Marco Scutaro is out of the picture due to his perpetual injuries.   In place of one of the two, Joe Panik put together a nice fill-in run at the plate, sent up from Fresno.   The Giants bullpen is my favorite aspect of this game:  Romo, Affeldt, and Cassilla.  These three are all rock solid.  It may be one of the better bullpens in sports.  You still have George Kontos once in a while, who is just dreadful, but overall, a very competent, consistent bullpen.  I laughed at Brian Sabean many years ago for signing Affeldt to big money, but give him credit, he's delivered.   For the Giants, their lineup still has good bats in the order, including the clutch Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt, and for now, the aforementioned Panik.   Gregor Blanco is a servicable bat with about a .700 OPS, but on the other end, Michael Morse proved to be a bust this year for San Francisco.  It's a lineup with some pop, some character, and probably not a lot of pizazz on paper, but these guys can play.

Ultimately this boils down to the pitching matchup and the Giants are just so much better in this area, that I can't pick against them in a winner-take-all game against Pittsburgh.  Even with the game at PNC Park, I just love the Giants in this spot, even as a Dodger fan.   This is my BASEBALL LOCK of the Week:

Giants will beat the Pirates in the NL Wild Card game.  I feel so good about this pick that I look forward to the days until the game goes down.  Now... with all of that said, I still root against the Giants, and if the Buccos find a way out of this one, it will be quite a *glorious* day, but I'm sad to say that #BUCTOBER is  going to end pretty early.

Whatever happens, these are going to be some terrific MLB play-in games.   I'm eager to see how it goes down.

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