Tagged: MLB Postseason

Can the Rays Go All the Way? The Answer is As Simple as 9=8

When preparing a list of the biggest MLB surprises this season, there are several that come to mind.

The Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians were supposed to contend in their divisions and were out of contention by the end of June.

The NL Central was supposed to be weak, and yet it produced two playoff teams.

The NL West went from having two playoff teams last season to being doormats this season.

While all of these things are pretty suprising, the biggest shock of all this baseball season has been the play of the Tampa Bay Rays. Under manager Joe Maddon, they went from worst-to-first in the AL East, improving by 31 games to finish with 97 wins, good for second-best in all of baseball.

Their team ERA was 3.82, good for 2nd in the American League. Their team WHIP was 1.29. They had five starters with at least 11 wins, and the highest ERA among the bunch belonged to Edwin Jackson at 4.42, but he still managed 14 wins, a testament to the character of the team.

Not to be forgotten, the offense improved by leaps and bounds this year as well. They were 2nd in the AL in walks, first in stolen bases, and had a run differential of +103. 

They have a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender in Evan Longoria, who slugged 27 HRs and 85 RBIs in only 122 games. While his defense is hardly stellar (.963 fielding percentage), he does play on an incredibly tough field-turf diamond that eats rookies for breakfast, so it’s really not that bad. Oh yeah, and he’s already hit two postseason HRs, becoming the only player not named Gary Gaetti to hit HRs in his first two career postseason ABs.

Also, BJ Upton saw his strikeouts go down and his walks go up, and he stole a career high 44 bases. His hustle was called into question by a series of benchings by Maddon, but they seemed to get the point across, as evidenced by his triple this afternoon against the Sox.

With all of this being said, can this team, with nearly no postseason experience, overcome the likes of 2 of the last 3 World Series champions, and take home a championship in this year of their re-birth?

The answer is a resounding yes.

The Boston Red Sox are a team that is dealing with health issues at a bad time. Josh Beckett is still nursing a strained oblique, and Mike Lowell was benched in Game 2 with a bad hip. Also, Jonathan Masterson looked vulnerable in his outing today, and Daisuke only pitched 5 innings against Los Angeles.

In addition, the Rays finished with a record of 10-8 against Boston, including a 7-2 record against them in the final 9 games of the season series.

In terms of facing off against a National League opponent, the Rays have two things on their side.

They finished 12-6 against the National League this season, including a three game sweep over the Cubs in June. They had a team batting average of .290 in interleague play, in addition to 23 home runs.

The other is that they would have home field advantage in the World Series. They are nearly unbeatable at Tropicana Field this season, having gone 8-1 vs. Boston at the Trop and they were 57-24 overall. In addition, they are 23-2 when they draw more than 30,000 fans, a number eclipsed in both games vs. the White Sox.

The Rays present a compelling case as World Series contenders, but do they have what it takes to survive the rigors of October, often the cruelest and longest month on the MLB slate? If their performance this season is any indication, I wouldn’t bet against them.

  

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Can the Cubs Win Their Series? If So, Here’s How

The Chicago Cubs were defeated for the second consecutive night by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on Thursday night. Four errors, one by each infielder, cost the Cubs dearly, as the Torre-led Dodgers crushed the North Siders, 10-3, in front of a disappointed crowd at the Friendly Confines.

I can take losing. Hell, I’m a fan of this team, and we’ve had the title of “lovable losers” for about as long as I can remember. The team has never been what I consider to be surefire contenders on a regular basis, and for the life of me, I can never remember a time when expectations were riding so high as the Cubs entered a postseason.

What I cannot take is an offensive attack that looks like the Bad News Bears, woeful pitching that is less accurate than a Rex Grossman Hail Mary, and a defense so full of miscues it’s almost like a bankrupted billiards company warehouse.

They have been outscored in this series 17-5. They tied an LDS record by committing four errors in a single game. They have allowed the Dodgers to get within one win of their first postseason series victory since 1988. They have made Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley look like the second coming of Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser.

Manny Ramirez has hit two HRs to add to his already illustrious postseason career. James Loney and Andre Ethier have shown that they are two of the best up-and-coming players in the game today. Russell Martin has also shown that there is only one true superstar backstop in the N.L., and his name is not Geovany Soto.

With all of that being said, however, there are four reasons why I still think that the Cubs can still win this series and continue their postseason run.

 

1. Joe Torre is the manager of this ballclub.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Joe Torre has been to 13 consecutive postseasons, has more postseason wins than any manager in the history of the game, and he has four World Series rings stashed in his home jewelry box.

But this is also the same Joe Torre whose Yankee teams lost in the first round in three consecutive postseasons, leading to his unceremonious ouster as skipper. His Yankees also are the only team in postseason history to blow a 3-0 lead in a series, when they did so in 2004. They had the Red Sox three outs from elimination, and they couldn’t seal the deal.

This is not to say that Torre is a bad postseason manager by any stretch, but his recent past in the postseason is not anything to hang your hat on.

 

2. Four teams have won their Division Series after being down 0-2.

Are the odds in the Cubs’ favor when it comes to advancing to the next round? Of course they’re not. But four teams have gone down 0-2 in the Division Series and come back to win the series. Granted, the odds are only one in thirteen historically that the Cubs can come back and win the series, but it’s certainly better odds than the number of teams who have gone down 0-3 in postseason history (one in an unknown large number).

 

3. The Cubs’ pitching rotation is still solid one through four.

Carlos Zambrano pitched six-and-a-third strong innings in the game tonight and gave up two earned runs. Saturday’s starter, Rich Harden, is 10-2 this season, and he has had a solid reputation with the Cubs and has had plenty of rest between starts, a key to his success.

Ted Lilly, the Game Four starter, has only won 17 games this season and has really turned it on after an 0-4 start.

Also, if the Cubs can pull off the extremely difficult and win both games in L.A., the series would shift back to Chicago and Ryan Dempster would pitch the deciding Game Five. This is significant because he has won 14 games at home this season and is dying to make amends for his seven-walk performance in Game One.

 

4. Hiroki Kuroda is not bulletproof, and neither is Derek Lowe

Another thing the Cubs have working in their favor, if they want to make this a series, is that Kuroda has zero postseason experience, and before you crucify me on the altar of “he’s a rookie for God’s sakes,” he never pitched in the postseason in Japan either.

Also, his 9-10 record with 181 runs surrendered in 183 innings is hardly a ringing endorsement of his abilities.

Derek Lowe, the likely Game Four starter, was given a huge boost by the Cubs’ pitchers having a wild night trying to find the strike zone, and he had a 14-11 record during the season, which is partly a product of a poor offense during the first half, but is also similar to his last couple of seasons, in which he has a cumulative record of 26-25 in the last two years.

In the postseason, he is hardly a sparkling jewel, going 5-4 with a decent 3.31 ERA in his 19 career appearances. Also, a second outing against the Cubs would probably not work to his advantage, as the Cubs have seen every pitch he throws and will be more prepared than they were in Game One.

Am I saying that the Cubs are gonna run away with the next three games and ride a wave of glorious momentum into the NLCS? Hardly, but what I am saying is that the Cubs are not done yet, and there are several reasons for optimism in Cubs Nation as they head out towards the West Coast.