Opening Day 2013 is only ten days away, with the Texas Rangers visiting the new kid on the block in the American League, the Houston Astros, on March 31. The National League doesn’t start their season until the following day (April Fool’s Day) when the Miami Marlins play the Nationals in Washington; San Diego Padres travel cross-country to the New York Mets; Pittsburgh Pirates host the Chicago Cubs; Milwaukee Brewers are home to the Colorado Rockies; San Francisco Giants travel to rival Los Angeles Dodgers; Braves welcome the Philadelphia Phillies to Atlanta and the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
New to 2013, due to the move of the Astros to the American League to create six five-team divisions, is interleague games will begin on April 1 and will continue for almost every day during the regular season. Thus, the Los Angeles Angels and Cincinnati Reds will inaugurate play between the leagues this year.
Each team will play eight interleague series for a total of 20 games. Similar to what the National Football League does, each division will be matched up against a division from the other league. Each team will play four of the five teams from the opposite division they are matched up against in one three game set. The last team in the opposing division will be played in two two-game sets. For this year, the matchups will be the NL East vs. the AL Central, NL Central vs. the AL West, and the NL West vs. the AL East. This amounts to 16 of the 20 interleague games.
In addition to these interleague contests, each team will play an additional four games, in two back-to-back two-game sets, against what is referred to as their "natural rival." For these games, the divisional matchups will be reshuffled with the NL East paired against the AL East, NL Central against the AL Central, and NL West facing the AL West. These "natural rivals" are: Braves/Blue Jays, Marlins/Rays, Mets/Yankees, Nationals/Orioles, Phillies/Red Sox in the eastern divisions; Brewers/Twins, Cardinals/Royals, Cubs/White Sox, Pirates/Tigers in the central divisions; Diamondbacks/Rangers, Dodgers/Angels, Giants/A’s, Padres/Mariners, Rockies/Astros in the western division. Some of these, like the Mets/Yankees and Cubs/White Sox, make sense as "natural rivals." Others, like the Diamondbacks/Rangers and Padres/Mariners, not so much.
The remaining 142 games will be scheduled as 19 intra-division games, six games each against some intra-league, non-divisional opponents and seven games each against the other intra-league, non-divisional teams.
Simple, huh? It’s gotten to the point where you need a computer science degree to understand the major league schedule.
Pitching matchups for some of the April 1 games have tentatively been set. As of now, it looks like Miami/Washington will have Ricky Nolasco facing Stephen Strasburg. Chicago/Pittsburgh will feature Jeff Samardzija against A.J. Burnett. St. Louis/Arizona will have Adam Wainwright matched up against Ian Kennedy. San Francisco/Los Angeles has the marquee matchup of Matt Cain vs. Clayton Kershaw.The next week and a half will be filled with many fantasy drafts (including my final one of the year), and owners are frantically putting the finishing touches on their draft preparation and consuming every bit of information they can get their hands on. Next week, I will update all the NL pitching matchups for Opening Day and take a look at some of the lingering injuries that will impact teams for the start of the season.
If you play in a league that uses saves as a category, then closers are a necessary evil for your team. Necessary because unless you totally dump the category, you need to invest in at least one of the specialists. Evil because the job of a closer is not exactly the most secure position on a team. Just look at how many closers-in-waiting emerge each year to become the last man out of the bullpen due to injury or implosion by their predecessor.
I divide the closers by quarters for ranking purposes and try to have as many from the top two quarters while avoiding the bottom two quarters as best I can. This isn’t always possible and sometimes I’m forced to roster closers from this group. To try to mitigate the possibility of being on the wrong end of a closer losing their position, I try to get an extra one or two from this group or make sure I pick up their backup or some other closer in waiting.
The top of the heap for National League closers is Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. He burst onto the scene with 46 saves in 2011 and followed that up with 42 saves last year. But the saves weren’t the only thing, as they came with a gaudy 14.8 and 16.6 K/9 rate as a bonus for fantasy owners.
The rest of the top group of closers includes Jason Motte, and Jonathan Papelbon. After being given a chance in 2011, St. Louis gave Motte a chance in 2012 and he responded with 42 saves and 86 strikeouts in 72 innings. He did blow seven saves but his high strikeout rate and low WHIP more than made up for it. Unlike Kimbrel and Motte, the 32-year-old Papelbon had been closing for a number of years with the Boston Red Sox before transitioning to the National League's Philadelphia Phillies last year. The transition was a success as he recorded 38 saves while striking out 92 batters in 70 innings.
The next quarter includes Rafael Betancourt, Steve Cishek, Jason Grilli, J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano, and Huston Street. Betancourt became the full-time closer for the Colorado Rockies last year and finished with 31 saves and a strikeout per inning, although he did blow seven chances. Cishek was given a chance by the Miami Marlins last year and converted 15 of 19 save opportunities while striking out more than a batter per inning. The blemish is a higher than desired walk rate which led to a 1.30 WHIP. Grilli is basically untested in the closer’s role as the 35-year-old Pittsburgh Pirate only has five saves in his career. He has a less than stellar home run rate and slightly elevated walk rate. Putz, of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has good peripherals and the role but has David Hernandez and Heath Bell, who both have the ability to close, waiting behind him if he falters. Soriano has the tools and the job to start the year for the Washington Nationals as well as closer experience with Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and filling in for the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera last year. His two issues are a higher than desired walk rate and Drew Storen right behind him. San Diego Padre Street has all the tools except for a below average fastball. Despite that, he still manages to retire batters at a very high rate. His only bugaboo is being plagued by injuries.
The third quarter is comprised of John Axford, Jonathan Broxton, Brandon League, and Sergio Romo. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Axford has recorded 105 saves over the past three seasons, but that’s the silver lining. The dark cloud is a really bad 5.0 BB/9 rate as well as surrendering 1.3 HR/9. This translated into a 1.44 WHIP and 4.67 ERA in 2012. Broxton saved 27 for the Cincinnati Reds last year but also blew six chances. This combined with his sub 7.0 K/9 pushes him down the closer ranking list. League, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, walks too many and strikes out too few and has Kenley Jansen waiting in the wings for an opportunity. San Francisco Giant Romo doesn’t have an elite fastball yet still manages to strike out better than a batter an inning but is relatively untested as a closer with only three saves prior to last year’s 14.
The last quarter that I don’t want any part of consists of Carlos Marmol and Bobby Parnell. Marmol of the Chicago Cubs had an outstanding 11.7 K/9 in 2012 but as good as that was, he walked more batters (7.3/9) than some closers struck out. The New York Mets’ Parnell gets the nod by default but stands a good chance of losing it once Frank Francisco is ready.In my NL-only league, I was willing to pay for both Kimbrel and Motte, so I should be set there. The mixed leagues I’m in have a combination of the different levels, so I was also on the lookout for closers in waiting just in case. A strategy of having multiple plans is the best when it comes to the volatility of closers.
Two weeks ago, I started talking about putting together a fantasy team and the cost of rostering certain players. To recap, there are certain players that would be too expensive for me to own, either by virtue of the draft choice it would take (the prime example, albeit not a National League product, would be Josh Hamilton) or the dollar value it would take in an auction league (Bryce Harper will probably cost more than I’m willing to pay).
But for those who are too expensive to roster, there has to also be those who are undervalued or who slip far enough in rounds to warrant being picked. Let's take a look at some players who fit this category.
The first name on my list is Ryan Howard. It’s not too long ago that he was one of the premier power hitters in the league and a consensus early-first round pick. He put together a string of four years where he hit 58, 47, 48, and 45 home runs before ‘tanking’ with 31 bombs in 2010. The Phillies’ first baseman added another 33 in 2011, and these two years were enough to drop him out of the first round in some drafts. Then came 2012 and his Achilles surgery with a season of 14 home runs and a .219 batting average, and that was enough in many people’s eyes to signify that the end has come for Howard. I was more than happy to pick him up with the 11th pick in the 10th round of an NFBC 50-round slow draft just completed and will gladly add him to more teams at that price.
It seems like it’s been forever now that Juan Pierre’s demise has been predicted due to him being too old. Yet he keeps providing what his owners draft him for – a pretty good average to go along with a bunch of stolen bases. Even with only 130 games in 2012, the 35-year-old managed to swipe 37 bases for the Phillies while batting over .300. I’m not going to chase the next biggest thing in Everth Cabrera, Ben Revere, or Jean Segura for my stolen bases. I’ll gladly take Pierre and the old man discount that will come with him as well as playing on a Miami Marlins team that won’t get any respect this year. To that end, I was rather elated to purchase him for $17 in the CBS NL Analysts league – about $10 less than my projected value.
I consider Angel Pagan to be kind of like Juan Pierre-lite in that he’s also north of 30, will provide a good batting average and, while not stealing as many bases as Pierre, will still provide you with mid to upper 20’s. Pagan never seems to get much love or respect and as such can be undervalued. He hasn’t made it onto any of my teams yet but there’s still time.
When you talk of catchers in the National League there is, of course, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina at the top followed by the likes of Miguel Montero, Russell Martin, Brian McCann, and Wilin Rosario. But in that second group is another catcher who doesn’t have the name recognition but who I like more – Jonathan Lucroy. He’ll give you low teens power with an average much more likely to help you as opposed to what you’ll get from many other backstops.
There aren’t too many things I like about the New York Mets (especially being a Yankees fan), but Jon Niese is one of them. He’s not flashy or a big up and coming name but the 26-year-old will quietly provide you with about 8.0 K/9, double digit wins and ratios that won’t kill you. All at a price worthy of, well, the New York Mets.
It was only a few years ago that The Freak was all the rage in major league baseball. With a lightning start to his career, Tim Lincecum was at the top of the baseball world after winning consecutive Cy Young awards. But then cracks started to appear in the invincible facade, with a declining strikeout rate that went from 10.5 to 9.8 to 9.1 combined with win totals that went from 18 in 2008 to 13 in 2011 and his first losing season. That was followed up by his fantasy killing 2012 with a 10-15 record, 1.47 WHIP and 5.18 ERA. I was on record here for two years prior to 2012 that I was staying far away from Lincecum but most people were still willing to pay top dollar plus for the San Francisco Giants star. I’ve now come full circle and am now a buyer for his services. Not that I think he’ll return to his Cy Young glory days, but the price of ownership will be way down from those days that he might actually return a profit on the investment.
Last on my list is a pitcher fellow Mastersball contributor Ryan Carey had as one of his targets going into the CBS NL Analysts auction – Jordan Zimmermann. Ryan was able to secure his services for $20 – an amount certainly within my range of tolerance. The Washington Nationals' starting pitcher went in the seventh round of my just completed NFBC draft – just before I was able to take him. He certainly is not unproven but I believe he is just starting to come into his own at 26 years of age. Being third fiddle to Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez will help temper the price enough for me to be a buyer.These are just a handful of the players I think will come cheap enough for me to roster on more than one team this year and who I’ll be ready to jump on. Proof in my mind that the right POO doesn’t have to stink.
For those expecting to see my second part to last week’s column, The Price of Ownership (POO), I beg your indulgence as I stray from that this week. The reason for the change of plan is I (as well as Ryan Carey) are representing Mastersball in the CBSSports.com Analysts NL-only league, the auction being held this past Tuesday. I won’t reveal anything of Ryan’s team as he will most likely be posting about it and the auction itself from his perspective.
In participating this year, I am looking to improve greatly on last year’s tenth place (out of 12) finish – even if it happens to be at Ryan’s expense (sorry, buddy). In preparing for the league, I was contemplating my strategy. How was I going to beat all the sharks in this league? Should I go stars and scrubs? Draft for positional scarcity? Take a balanced approach? After mulling over different possibilities, I decided not to pigeonhole myself into a strategy but to instead take what the auction presented me. Many times this is counter-intuitive to what we think about drafts. We always have to come up with the perfect plan that will guarantee a Yoo-Hoo shower at the end of the year and the accolades (as well as the bragging rights) that come with it. In most cases, that plan usually goes up in smoke well before the season actually ends with our team languishing deep down the standings.
As it turns out, I drew the last place in the nomination process, which worked to my advantage in waiting to see what the draft was going to give me. While I was sitting there bidding some but mostly watching the proceedings, it became evident to me that this auction was dovetailing nicely with The Price of Ownership. First on the block was Washington Nationals phenom outfielder Bryce Harper and the bidding was hot and furious, finally topping out at $29. This was a little over my value but effectively set the bar for the top tier players and I realized the price of ownership was going to be expensive.
Next up was a curve ball in shortstop Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds, which was obviously a speculative play as he’s projected to get fairly minimal playing time this year. Hamilton went for a meager $3. Being that he is one of the hottest prospects out there, this signaled to me that most people were quite possibly saving their money for the big boys.
The next player on the block was Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen, who I had valued in the mid teens but who was sold for $20. After Medlen came the whale of the auction, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. I had him valued in the $41 - $43 range and was mildly surprised when he sold for $40. But I just didn’t want to pull the trigger and bid $41.
Next player up was the premier NL starting pitcher, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. My draft sheet showed him at $33 - $35 and I couldn’t resist as the bidding started to stall in the upper $20’s and I bought him for $31. Back to offense and teammate Matt Kemp was thrown up for bid next. I looked at my sheet and saw I had him valued in the $33 - $35 range and was surprised when he actually sold for $39.
The bidding was back to the NL Central’s Reds with Joey Votto up for sale. The mashing first baseman was auctioned for $37 against my projected value of $30 - $33. Next was another young power hitter in Giancarlo Stanton. The Florida Marlins outfielder sold for $39 versus my value in the mid to upper $20 range.
Up next was the premier NL closer in the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel and I knew the price was going to be a bit steep. Bidding escalated quickly then slowed considerably in the high teens. My list price on him was in the $20 - $22 range and as the bidding dragged, I jumped in near the end and purchased him for $25. I now had the top starting pitcher and top closer in the National League on my team.
The next two players were Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Strasburg went for pretty much the same value ($30) versus my $29 projection. I mentioned last week that 2012 was the year to own Cutch as the secret is now well out. I had him valued at about $34 which was exactly what he went for. I bought him last year in this same league for $32 so the price of ownership has gone up a bit as I predicted.
It became obvious to me that the top players were pretty much going for a premium and I then decided to try to work this to my advantage and get some players that would provide a profit. I looked down my list and came upon the name Andrelton Simmons. This is a player I like (especially in an NL-only format) and I figured I’d try to get someone I actually wanted to own at a discount. I had the Atlanta shortstop valued in the mid-teens and won him with a bid of $12. Chalk up a profit of a few dollars.
I stayed with this plan and didn’t purchase another player until I nominated Darwin Barney my third time up and purchased the Chicago Cubs second baseman for roughly half his value at $6. I continued watching players go over value then had to spend some money on a first baseman as the position was getting thin. I overpaid a bit on the New York Mets’ Ike Davis at $24 but really like what he did in the second half last year. Likewise for shortstop, which was also getting thin at the top, so I ponied up $24 for Davis’ divisional opponent Jimmy Rollins. I made one mistake midway through the draft with the +$1 button and got saddled with Travis d’Arnaud as my first catcher for $8 when I wanted to top out a couple dollars below his $7 projection.
All in all, I stayed with this game plan and wound up pretty much in control of the last third of the auction when I was able to purchase the likes of Tim Hudson, Nate Schierholtz, Wandy Rodriguez, Gerardo Parra, Chris Nelson (both of whom I spent $10 on just because I could), Gregor Blanco, Ted Lilly, Eric Kratz, Sean Marshall, Jorge de la Rosa, and Jhoulys Chacin. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results. Here is the whole squad with price paid along with projected value in parenthesis.
C – d’Arnaud 8 (7), Kratz 2 (2)
MI – Barney 6 (11), Simmons 12 (14), Rollins 24 (25)
UT – Nelson 10 (10)
P – Kershaw 31 (34), Kimbrel 25 (20), Motte 18 (15), Hudson 6 (5), Rodriguez 4 (5), Lilly 1 (1), Marshall 2 (4), de la Rosa 3 (6), Chacin 1 (1)
As we are really getting into draft season, there certainly are a number of ways to skin a cat to put together a team. And there are certainly many fantasy players who have their must-have list. Of course, everyone would like to have the top portion of the rankings list but unless you’re playing in a league comprised mainly of your son or nephew’s 12-year-old friends, you’ll be lucky to get even one of these gems, the likes of Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp or Joey Votto on the hitting side and Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg or Cliff Lee on the pitching side.
No matter if you’re playing in a straight draft or an auction league, there is a cost associated with every player you add to your roster. In an auction, the cost is pretty straight forward – it is the dollar value out of your budget you had to pay for that player. Obviously, the higher the player is ranked, the more it costs to purchase him, thereby leaving you with fewer dollars to spend on other players. That is the cost – fewer funds to pay for more players.
In a snake draft league, the cost is more subtle. If you draft first and take Braun, for example, you now have to wait until the 24th pick to be able to take a second player. In theory, you miss out on 22 better players before you get to make your second pick. In a snake draft league, you don’t really have control over what happens except for who you choose when it’s your turn. Your fate, in a sense, has been locked into a specific position and there is little you can do except watch the players fall off the board. Granted, that is a very simplistic notion and only is the case if the rankings are followed verbatim without taking into consideration factors such as reaching for players, position scarcity or position runs.
In either case, though, there is a high cost to pay for the top players. For this reason, there are a number of them I am unlikely to have much ownership in this year, with the aforementioned Braun being at the top of the list. I just won’t be willing to pay the mid $40 price tag and, even though I will kick the tires a bit, I won’t be driving him home.
Last year was the year to own Andrew McCutchen and I did have him on a couple teams, having targeted him going into the season. The breakout happened to the tune of 31 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .327 batting average. The cat is now out of the bag and the Pirates' outfielder will be going for a premium I’m not likely to pay.
The trade of Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves has hurt his value more than just the price tag consideration in my eyes. He was going to go for a hefty amount to begin with but now has to play half his games in a home field where the home run park factor was 26% less than Chase Field in 2012. Does that mean the 25-year-old will hit 26% fewer bombs in 2013? No, but that’s a considerable difference to make up just to break even with the investment.
Bryce Harper will not be on any of my 2013 teams. Not that he isn’t a great talent and will eventually become one of the premier players in the league, but he’s still only 20 years old and the hype has inflated his perceived value into the stratosphere. I’m just not seeing a positive ROI on Harper for 2013.
In looking at pitchers I likely will not own this year, R.A. Dickey was at the top of my list but is now out of consideration for this column with his move to the American League. So that leaves me with my second choice of Gio Gonzalez. With the success of the Washington Nationals last year as a team, there are high expectations for them entering 2013. They aren’t going to take anyone by surprise again. I was high on Gonzalez going into 2012 and pretty much no one expected Washington to be as good as they were. Their success has increased the cost to own many of their players and Gio is no exception. Add to this the fact that the 27-year-old was in the running for the Cy Young award and actually finished third in the voting, and the price for Gonzalez will be through the roof.
The success of the San Francisco Giants in 2012 will also hurt fantasy players looking to own Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Both pitchers had good seasons but the fact the Giants won the World Series will inflate their cost even more.I certainly wouldn’t mind owning any of the players mentioned here but the cost will likely be too high for me and there will be no profit. I’ll be more likely to own one of the pitchers in a straight draft league as the round they’ll go in will be more conducive for me to use a pick on. In fact, I picked Gio Gonzalez in the fifth round of a slow NFBC draft I’m participating in. But I can almost assuredly guarantee none of them will be on any of my auction teams. So who will I be more likely to pay for? I’ll go into that next week.
The season has started off slowly for me as I’ve been pre-occupied with personal things. As it stands now, I’m in a handful of leagues. One is a 14-team mixed keeper league in which I haven’t been able to get out of my own way and wound up in rebuilding mode again last year. The second is a 16-team mixed keeper league that I won in 2012. The third is an NFBC mixed slow draft that I joined at the last minute and is now in the 12th of 50 rounds.
The last team I currently have is the Mastersball entry in the CBSSports.com Analysts Auction League, National League version. I represented the site last year in the same league which was won going away by Al Melchior of CBSSports.com. I wound up 10th of 12 teams and will be looking to avenge the site’s honor this year.
I felt pretty good with my team entering the year with my offense and pitching anchored by Andrew McCutchen and Roy Halladay, respectively, but it didn’t work out as I had expected. The entire 10th place squad (with auction values) was as follows:
U – Roger Bernadina (1)
While this team was good on saves, it turned out to be woefully light on other categories, especially home runs, runs and strikeouts.
The auction for this league is February 26. So what will my strategy be entering this draft? I don’t really have a strategy per se but I do know I probably won’t be too involved in the bidding for the likes of top players like Ryan Braun, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, all of whom will most likely go for more than I’ll be willing to spend.
Another player I’m not too high on is Justin Upton, who will be making the move from the Valley of the Sun to Atlanta and the Braves. I expect a rebound from last year but don’t think the power will be what it was in 2011.
I doubt I’ll be too much involved in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes either. While he’s a very good talent, the outfielder is still only 20 years old and there’s a lot of hype (or high expectations, if you prefer) to meet for the price someone will have to pay.Anyone else, I’ll at least look at. I’ll be keeping a close eye on things the next week and a half as I set out to redeem last year’s result.
I succeeded in continuing my wretchedly poor record of picking the winners in the postseason by saying the St. Louis Cardinals would defeat the San Francisco Giants and go to the World Series. What made it all the more a lousy prediction was the fact the Cardinals blew a three games to one lead. We now have the Giants with a two games to none lead over the Detroit Tigers in the final matchup of the season. I’m not going to lie and say I picked the Giants. I actually went with the Tigers to dispatch the Giants fairly easily.
Why did I envision the Tigers coming away with the World Championship? One reason was they had their starting pitching all set up. Justin Verlander would go in Game 1 and could possibly start three games in the series if necessary, albeit on short rest. The Giants, on the other hand, had to start with Barry Zito taking the ball for Game 1 instead of Matt Cain or even Madison Bumgarner. Zito held Detroit to one run in five and two-third innings while Verlander was torched for five runs in only four innings. San Francisco went on to win Game 1, setting up a Bumgarner vs. Doug Fister matchup in Game 2. We now know that Bumgarner didn’t allow a run in seven innings and the Giants scored two late runs to defeat Detroit and take a 2-0 lead despite a good pitching performance by Fister.
San Francisco now has the pitching advantage with Ryan Vogelsong getting the start for Game 3 and ace Cain in line for a Game 4 start to go against Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. And don’t forget, that’s with a 2-0 lead!
The other reason I picked the Tigers was the combination of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But the two combined went 2-for-7 with one RBI and no runs scored in Game 1 and 0-for-4 with one walk in Game 2. That’s a total of 2-for-11 with one RBI between the two mashers, which just isn’t going to get it done.
On the other hand, Pablo Sandoval cracked three home runs in his first three at-bats (after only a dozen round trippers in the regular season) in Game 1, leading San Fran to an 8-3 drubbing of Verlander and the Tigers. In Game 2, the Giants scratched two late runs to earn a 2-0 victory and a 2-0 series lead.The series now switches to Detroit for Games 3, 4 and 5 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday after an off-day on Friday. The Tigers are now in a position of having to win all three games at home if they want to win the championship, as I don’t see them winning the last two back on the West Coast. It’s going to be a long, uphill battle for the Tigers and it doesn’t look good at this point. But on the bright side, a Giants World Series victory would give me a perfect oh-for record in my postseason predictions.
What have the playoffs told us to this point? Mainly, they have again told everyone not to bet anything on my predictions. Aside from that, they’ve told us that Chipper Jones will retire on a losing note because the Atlanta Braves couldn’t fully exorcise the demons from last year’s season ending collapse. This year, they actually made it into the postseason but that foray lasted exactly one game as the St. Louis Cardinals dumped them from the playoffs and onto the golf course.
The Cardinals warrant extra mention here. They lost some key players in Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Lance Berkman, and Rafael Furcal near the end of the season but again managed to get themselves into the playoffs in spite of many pooh-poohing their chances. Kind of like when they beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series and Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series. Just saying.
After dispatching the Braves, St. Louis went on to outlast the Washington Nationals in the Division Series three games to two. I believe Washington made a fatal error in not pitching Stephen Strasburg in the series at all and paid for it with a short playoff stint. But at least he’ll be rested for the start of the 2013 season.
Moving onto the other Division Series, I picked the Cincinnati Reds to dispatch the San Francisco Giants. Things looked good for awhile as the Reds jumped out to a two game lead but then proceeded to surrender the next three games to the Giants – all of them in Cincinnati where the Reds won 50 of 81 in the regular season. Cincinnati scored 14 runs in the first two games but then went on to score a total of eight in the next three games. That was their downfall.
So it’s obvious my Washington/Cincinnati League Championship didn’t come to fruition as we’re left with the Giants and Cardinals. At the moment, St. Louis is up three games to one as Tim Lincecum got the start in Game 4 for San Francisco and performed as he did all season long. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that St. Louis will make their 19th World Series appearance – 23rd if you count the St. Louis Browns years.In the American League, the Detroit Tigers completed a sweep of my beloved New York Yankees (who will have a lot of work to do in the off-season) to advance to the Fall Classic. The first two games are scheduled for next Wednesday and Thursday in St. Louis courtesy of the NL winning this year’s All Star game – which is ridiculous but I digress. Both teams finished the regular season with identical 88-74 records so this should be a good series (assuming the Cards get past the Giants). Detroit should be favored but I feel some St. Louis magic again this year.
In reading last week’s piece it’s obvious to anyone I shouldn’t be counting on my prognostication skills to make a living, as the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t make the playoffs. Not only didn’t they make the postseason, it wasn’t even close as the St. Louis Cardinals finished five games ahead of them to win the second wild card spot.
The Cardinals accomplished this by heating up over the last five series of the regular season. Near the beginning of September they lost two of three to Milwaukee then were swept in a three-game series by the San Diego Padres before splitting four games with the Los Angeles Dodgers. At this point, it looked like St. Louis might be going into a nose dive.
But the Red Birds managed to pull the nose up and swept the Houston Astros, take two of three against the Chicago Cubs, win twice in three games against the Astros again, then win twice in three games against both the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds.
Milwaukee, on the other hand, swept three games from the Pittsburgh Pirates, split four games with the Washington Nationals, and then lost two of three against both the Reds and Astros before taking two of three against the Padres when it was too late. St. Louis finished the season victorious in seven of their last ten games while Milwaukee limped to the wire winning only four of ten.
So with the last day of the regular season behind us, the postseason teams have been decided and in the National League they are division winners Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco as well as wild card entries Atlanta and St. Louis. After a one-day respite from the regular season marathon, the playoffs get started on Friday as the wild card winners, the Braves and Cardinals, square off in a one-game sudden death matchup in Atlanta. The winner will go on to face the surprising Washington Nationals in a potential five-game series with the first two games scheduled for the home field of the wild card game winner. The final three games would be in the nation’s capital.
The other division series will pit the Giants against the Reds with the first two games of this five-game series in San Francisco and the final three scheduled in Cincinnati. The winners of both the division series would meet in the League Championship series in a best of seven format. Washington owns the home-field advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs (including the World Series courtesy of a NL victory in this year’s All-Star Game) with Cincinnati the runner-up.
While I like the idea of an additional wild card team (it certainly added to the excitement of the regular season and kept more people interested longer), I am not a fan of a one-game, winner-take-all, do-or-die proposition. I don’t even like a five-game contest in the division series. But there isn’t much of a choice with the playoffs now stretching into potential snow-out season.So the wild card game will pit Kyle Lohse of the Cards against Kris Medlen of the Braves. So dare I venture into predictions again? Why not. There’s no fun just sitting on the sidelines. I’m going with Atlanta to continue to put the ghosts of 2011 behind them – at least for the wild card matchup. They will end their quest for a World Series title in a loss at the hands of the Nationals. In the division series between San Francisco and Cincinnati, I’m going with Cincinnati to set up a Nationals/Reds League Championship series. Washington will get revenge for 1994 and proceed onto the World Series. Time will tell if my prediction will hold up.
This is it. The last week of the twenty-six week regular season is about to start. A week from now we will know all we need to know for the start of the playoffs as far as who will be dancing and who will be playing golf. Last week I really went out on a limb predicting the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants would win their respective divisions. We now know the Reds and Giants have held up their side of the equation while the Nationals have a comfortable four game lead over the Atlanta Braves with seven games to go. In fact, Washington has clinched a playoff spot – the first time a major league team from Washington, D.C. has accomplished this since way back in 1933.
I also said the Braves would put last year’s debacle in the rear view mirror and make the playoffs this year. They have done just that, clinching at least a wild card spot in Chipper Jones’ final year. They are still mathematically in the race for the division title but overcoming a four game deficit at this point is a very long shot. Especially since the Nationals (with the best record in the major leagues) haven’t shown us any sign of surrendering their lead.
One of the questions now is if the Reds or Giants will coast the rest of the regular season, thus sticking it to any fantasy team with some of their top players who may get extra rest. I don’t think either of them will take this approach since the fight for home-field advantage is still up in the air. Every one of the four National League teams that have already made the playoffs have at least 90 wins with Washington in the lead with 94. There is still a lot to gain for each team by penciling in their best players on the lineup card.
As for the last playoff spot, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the driver’s seat with a three and one-half game lead over both the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers. St. Louis expanded their lead over the Dodgers by one and one-half game and the Brewers by one game in the past week. My prediction was Milwaukee would win the second NL wild card spot and I’m not going to take the easy way out by changing that now.
I still think the Brewers have an advantage even though they are trailing at this point. St. Louis did what they had to in taking five of seven games from the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs. But they now have three games each against Washington and Cincinnati, who are only separated by one game and are fighting for the best record in the major leagues and home field throughout the NL playoffs. St. Louis has split the 12 games against Cincinnati this season but has only won two of six in the second half. Against Washington, they only have one victory in four games.
Milwaukee has won four of seven games in the past week (only one less than the Cardinals) even though six of those games were against the Nationals and Reds with the Brewers splitting the six games. They still have one game left against Cincinnati before finishing at home with three games against the Astros and finally three games against the San Diego Padres. The Brewers have won eight of 14 against Houston, four of six in the second half while splitting six games against San Diego – all of them in the first half.They still have an uphill battle but I’m sticking with Milwaukee to pull it out. The Brewers have won 17 of 24 games in the month of September and have held their own against the best teams in the league. They will continue their winning ways and squeak into the playoffs on the last day of the season. It might seem like wishful thinking on my part but I’d like to see another exciting end to the season like last year.
Here we are at the top of the stretch run of the 2012 Major League Baseball season. As things now stand, the National League is the cream of the crop as far as team records go. The Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds are in a virtual dead heat in the race for the best record in all of baseball. Washington is currently 90-58 while Cincinnati is 90-59. The Nationals are clinging to a five game lead over the Atlanta Braves and the Reds are sitting on a very comfortable 11 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.
The other NL division leader – the San Francisco Giants – has a better record at 86-63 than every team in the American League save for the Texas Rangers. The Giants are also sitting on a comfortable lead – nine games over the Los Angeles Dodgers with 13 games to go for both teams. Cincinnati and St. Louis also have 13 games each left to play while Washington has 14 remaining and Atlanta has 12.
The wild card race has Atlanta and St. Louis currently in the playoffs if the season were to end today. There are a handful of chasers including the Los Angeles Dodgers at two games out, Milwaukee Brewers at two and a half games out, Philadelphia Phillies at four games out, and both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks four and a half games out. Philadelphia and Milwaukee have each staged nice comebacks over the past month to put themselves back into contention for a wild card berth.
Philadelphia plays one game at the New York Mets and then head home for three each against Atlanta and Washington before finishing the season on the road with three games at Miami before a season finale set of three at Washington.
Milwaukee has one game left at Pittsburgh before going to Washington for four games and Cincinnati for three games. The Brewers then head home to finish the season with what should be three easy games against the Houston Astros and three against the San Diego Padres.
Los Angeles plays at Washington once more before going to Cincinnati and San Diego for three games each then are back home for three with the Colorado Rockies and three games with division leader San Francisco.
The Pirates finish a series with one more game against Milwaukee then travel to Houston for three games and New York for four games. Pittsburgh (who slumped badly in the second half) then finishes the regular season at home with three games with both the Reds and Braves.
Arizona finishes a series with the Padres then hit the road for four at Colorado and three at San Francisco. Then they are back home for three each with the Chicago Cubs and Rockies.
St. Louis has the last game of a series with Houston then goes to Chicago for three with the Cubs and Houston for three with the Astros. The Cardinals then finish at home with three tough games against both the Nationals and Reds.
The Atlanta Braves travel to Philadelphia for three games then are back home with three-game series against both the Marlins and Mets before finishing at Pittsburgh for three games.If any of these teams get hot, they can really shake things up. My limited bankroll says Washington, Cincinnati, and San Francisco will each win their division. I definitely feel Atlanta will exorcise the demons of their collapse last year and win the first wild card berth. My second wild card team is the hottest National League team at this time. They will ride their hot streak to competitive series against division leaders before beating up two lesser opponents, thus giving the second wild card spot to the Milwaukee Brewers.