Baseball 2010: The second season starts today

The Phillies have the pitching. The Yankees have the history. The Rays have… a tough fight on their hands.

We asked for some quick assessments from Hardball Times writers on the three Division Series match-ups that start today. Here’s what they see:

Tampa Bay-Texas

The biggest difference between the regular season and postseason: the back of the starting rotation ceases to exist.

The Rangers had 60 starts this year from pitchers not listed as projected playoff starters. Those Rangers pitchers posted a 5.43 ERA. Non-playoff projected starting pitchers posted a 4.10 ERA in 37 starts for Tampa. If you switch to runs allowed per nine innings, it’s 4.14 for those Tampa back-benchers, 6.01 for Texas’.

Texas just might surprise.

—Chris Jaffe

Tampa Bay should beat the Texas Rangers, but it will likely be a tough series. Look for Tampa to play like a National League team and try to run all over Texas’ two catchers, Benji Molina and Matt Treanor. Those two combine to throw out only about 25 percent of baserunners, and speed is one of the Rays’ strong points. Josh Hamilton figures prominently for the Rangers’ chances and a Roy Hobbs-type script for him may be required for a Texas win.

—David Wade

Of all the postseason match-ups, Rangers-Rays will likely be the most dynamic. It will feature two of the league’s premier defenses. And it will have two top-of-the-rotation aces (Cliff Lee and David Price) leading a promising set of pitching match-ups (probables: C.J. Wilson vs. Matt Garza, Colby Lewis vs. James Shields), two lock-down, high-stuff closers (Neftali Feliz and Rafael Soriano) and a plethora of “dangerous hitters” (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, etc.).

These are the two most balanced, equally matched teams in the AL. The lynchpin of this series for both teams will likely be the health of their primary cogs, Hamilton and Longoria. Longoria has not played a game since Sept. 23 (quad injury), while Hamilton returned to action only this past weekend after sitting out most of September with a rib injury. If either is injury-stifled, you have to give the advantage to the other team.

Assuming health is a non-factor, I will take the Rays as the round one victor. While the teams are evenly matched in terms of their stats, the Rays’ comparable talent level comes at the cost of playing a disproportional number of games against the Yankees (.347) and Red Sox (.345 wOBA), the two best offensive teams in baseball. The A’s and M’s just do not stack up.

—Jeffrey Gross

Philadelphia-Cincinnati

The Phillies should beat the Reds. They have the best record in the majors and midseason acquisition Roy Oswalt means they should be better than their record. (They would’ve won a few more games if he had been there all year).

Also, Cincinnati’s success came from beating up lesser teams. The Reds are an NL-best 71-38 against teams with losing records, but only 20-33 against .500 or better teams. Philly, meanwhile, is 40-28 against teams with good records.

—Chris Jaffe

Philadelphia owns a huge advantage in the starting pitching match-ups against Cincinnati. The Reds have been a good story during their 2010 Central Division run, but there is no team outside of the Giants that can come close to the frontline starters Philadelphia sends out in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. While the Reds may sneak in a win somewhere, this series should go to Philadelphia handily.

—David Wade

It’s tough to give the Reds any reasonable chance in this series on paper. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels have performed very well against the Reds. In Hamels’ career at the Great American Ballpark, he has held the Reds to a line of .172/.264/.344 in four career starts. Roy Oswalt vs. the Reds (32 career starts) has posted a line of .242/.298/.374.

Laynce Nix, in only 26 plate appearances, has hit an anemic .087/.192/.087 against Phillies pitching but he has had success against Oswalt (18 PAs, .529/.556/1.176). I would expect the Reds to use Nix at some point against Oswalt.

The one advantage I see for the Reds is their bullpen depth. If these games remain close, manager Dusty Baker could be finding himself in the driver’s seat: He has plenty of quality arms to throw at the Phillies offense.

Prediction: Phillies win 3-0. The Reds will play admirably and I expect some exciting moments from their bullpen, but the Phillies’ front three should withstand any predicaments.

—Vince Caramela

New York-Minnesota

The Yanks have a whammy on Minnesota. Since Ron Gardenhire became Twins manager in 2002, he’s faced the Yanks 72 times (including the postseason) and gone 18-54 in those games. Ouch.

The Twins and Yankees have faced each other in 22 series. The Twins have won four of them. Meanwhile, the Yankees have swept the Twins nine times, including the 2009 ALDS.

Oh, and reports are that Justin Morneau is out this postseason. Ooph!

—Chris Jaffe

The Yankees will likely start two left handers versus the Twins. CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte mean Delmon Young will need to continue to produce as he has in his breakout 2010 season. Home run threat Jim Thome‘s contributions will be dampened by New York’s two southpaw starters, but Thome could see important at-bats in late innings. In the end, New York is too deep and should handle the Twins easily.

—David Wade

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees are making a mistake starting Phil Hughes in Game Three at the Bronx. His fly ball tendencies would be better served on the road at Target Field.

The Yankees will have their hands full facing two quality left handers in Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing (the Yankees are collectively hitting .258/.342/.426 this season against left-handed starters) along with a bullpen that leans toward the groundball side of things.

In 238 career plate appearances, Mark Teixeira has hit .374/.416/.526 against the Twins (but has struggled against Liriano in only 17 PAs, hitting .188/.235/.375. In only 12 PAs, Alex Rodriguez has struggled offensively at Target Field with a line of .182/.250/.182.. But this is an extremely small sample, so I wouldn’t take it too seriously.

Prediction: Yankees win 3-2. The Yankees do well against finesse pitchers and I think they still have enough firepower to push ahead, but it won’t be easy.

—Vince Caramela

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Comments

  1. Matt said...

    You guys must all live on the east coast. Way to totally dismiss the Twins. Nevermind that they had one of the best records in the AL after the all-star break, and that they have a lineup that is solid from top to bottom, even without Morneau. The rotation has been insane this season, especially Liriano, Pavano, and Duensing. Pavano, Duensing and Blackburn pitched great to close out the season, and they should be more than enough to beat the Yankees even if Liriano stumbles. The Yankees don’t have any pitching behind Sabathia. Jeter’s bat and defense are missing. These are not last season’s unstoppable Yankee juggernaut, this is a team with some serious pitching questions going against one of the best pitching teams in the AL in a serious pitcher’s park.

    So, yeah. Lots of reasons why you shouldn’t dismiss the Twins.

  2. David Wade said...

    Alan- these are for today’s matchups- I’m guessing Braves/Giants is coming soon, perhaps tommorrow. 

    Matt,

    I live on the west coast of the Kentucky River, so no Yankee bias here.  I do admit to being a non-believer in the Twins, though.  That second-half record has had a lot of Indians, Mariners, and Royals wins boosting it.  Don’t get me wrong, they still had to win the games, and did- but I think it’s worth noting that their second half schedule had them set up for a good finish to the year.

    Outside of Liriano, their starters don’t strike anyone out.  If Yankee batted-balls find the fielders in a short series, then yeah, they could be alright.  But if they don’t…

    Plus, Vince has it going 5 games, so we’re not totally dismissive!

  3. Steve Treder said...

    “Alan- these are for today’s matchups- I’m guessing Braves/Giants is coming soon, perhaps tommorrow.”

    Yeah, I’ve submitted a write-up on the Braves/Giants, that I presume is going to run tomorrow.

  4. gdc said...

    Maybe it’s just a slip and you probably meant to say “two best offenses” but the following looks like “AL (nort)East bias”:

    the Rays’ comparable talent level comes at the cost of playing a disproportional number of games against the Yankees (.347) and Red Sox (.345 wOBA), the two best teams in baseball.

  5. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Holy macaroni.

    Cliff Lee cliff lee’d the Rays: 10 K, 0 BB, 1 run. Price was filthy, but “hittable”

    Wow. Maybe I need to reassess the already mighty power of Nelson Cruz.

  6. Jeffrey Gross said...

    And yes, GDC, I did mean to say best OFFENSES in baseball…

    As for the AL East Bias, I’m a die-hard Cubs fan, so…

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