It’s a new era for Major League Baseball, and I’m not just speaking about the new playoff system. Usually eras in baseball transition smoothly, but this year the transition was very abrupt. Five out the eight teams still playing did not make the playoffs last year.
One team that is back in the playoffs is the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. They might as well be considered a new team. After longtime manager Tony La Russa retired and they lost star player Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency last winter, the Cardinals were forced to reinvent themselves.
Led by new manager, former Cardinals’ catcher Mike Matheny, and the offseason acquisition of outfielder Carlos Beletran, the Cardinals find themselves playing the new best team in baseball (record-wise), the Washington Nationals. Even though the Nationals are now without starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, their rotation is still considered one of the most intimidating in the playoffs.
The Nationals shut down Strasburg in mid-September because they did not want him to reinjure the throwing arm that he had Tommy John surgery on last season. Led by 20-game-winner Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals have their work cut out for them against this Cardinals team that seems to be adamant about defending their crown.
Whoever wins this series is going to have to go against my favorite to win it all, the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are playing the Giants in the Division Series, who I feel is no match for a team that seems to be doing everything right.
They have lost Johnny Cueto to a throwing arm injury, but still have the rotation to back it up. Mat Latos was supposed to start game 3, but was forced to make a relief appearance in game 1 after Cueto’s injury. He delivered on the spot. Homer Bailey ended his season by pitching a no-hitter, bringing that momentum into the playoffs for the Reds, and pitcher Bronson Arroyo is no stranger to the playoffs, winning a ring with the Red Sox in 2004.
The Reds’ lineup is built around star first baseman Joey Votto, who was hurt for a good portion of the season, but is now back to full strength for the playoffs. I just cannot see the Giants beating them. I feel as though the Nationals could play them close, but in the end I see the Reds prevailing into the World Series.
Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is the first Triple Crown winner since 1967. The Oakland Athletics are the worst hitting team statistically to ever make the playoffs. Cabrera boasted a .330 batting average with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. The Athletics didn’t even have one .300 hitter or even a player hit 90 RBIs.
Hitting .238 as a team on the season, the Athletics just don’t have the hitters to go up against the Tigers 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. The Athletics’ hopes rest in the fate of a very young and inexperienced pitching staff playing beyond their years. The staff is led by three rookies, all the age of 25 or under, Tommy Millone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Considering that the Tigers have arguably the best middle of the order in baseball with Cabrera and all-star first baseman Prince Fielder, who had a .313 batting average with 30 home runs and 108 RBIs, the rookie staff is in trouble.
Another team with no big name players has also made the playoffs. The Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and are facing off against the New York Yankees.
There is just something about this Baltimore team that intrigues me. They don’t have any star hitters that led the league in stats, they don’t have one starting pitcher who seems clutch enough to pitch a game seven of the World Series, but yet here they are. There is a reason why I have more faith in the Orioles than the Athletics, and that reason is veteran manager Buck Showalter.
Showalter knows how to build a good team, he just never gets the chance to win with them. After being fired from his first managerial stint with the New York Yankees from 1992 to 1995, the Yankees went on to win the World Series in 1996. His next stint was in 1998, when he became the first manager in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was fired in 2000, a year before they won the World Series in 2001. Showalter moved on to the Texas Rangers in 2003 and left in 2006, a few years before the Rangers would appear in back to back World Series.
Showalter is managing with a chip on his shoulder, and beating the richest team in baseball would only make the Orioles seem more dangerous. I like the Baltimore Orioles to take the series against an old Yankee lineup, but to go on and lose to a Detroit Tigers team with just a little more momentum than the Orioles.
As I said earlier, I have the Cincinnati Reds winning it all. Besides Cueto’s injury, everything seems to be falling into place for this team. They have revitalized the fans in what once was an enormous baseball town. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are reminding Cincinnati natives of the days of Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. Whether my predictions are right or wrong, I can guarantee that baseball fans are in for another spectacular October of baseball.