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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.