The postseason: Readers speak

You’ve seen well-reasoned forecasts of the postseason from Hardball Times writers on this site, and you’ll see more. But we thought it would be interesting and fun to look through the other end of the telescope: What do our well-informed readers think?

We asked seven—all avid fans, of course, and most experienced in writing and blogging about baseball—to tell us and you who’ll win the World Series and why.

Without consulting with each other, they overwhelmingly predicted the Phillies will be champs. Here’s what they said (all before any games had been played):

Andrew Milner, a longtime SABR member and baseball historian:

July 15, 2007: As Andy Cavazos strikes Ryan Howard out swinging to end the Cardinals’ 10-2 victory over the Phillies, I join 44,871 melancholy fans exiting Citizens Bank Park on a warm Sunday evening. This nondescript defeat draws nationwide attention, as the Phillies become the first North American professional sports franchise to lose 10,000 games in its history. More relevantly, the 2007 Phils are now 46-45 on the season. A year after trading Bobby Abreu to the Yankees and missing out on the Wild Card in the final weekend of the season, the franchise appears to have plateaued.

Regardless of how the Phillies fare in the 2010 postseason, Charlie Manuel deserves credit for what he has already accomplished: Little by little over the past three years, his Phillies have helped erase Philadelphia’s negative perception of itself. The 2007 Phillies comeback in September (seven back on Sept. 13, they won 13 of their final 17 to topple the Mets on the final day of the season) helped avenge the fabled 1964 collapse. Jimmy Rollins‘ walk-off two-run, two-out double in Game Four of the ’09 NLCS atoned for the trauma of 1977′s “Black Friday,” when the Phils blew a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth of Game Three of the NLCS to the same Dodgers franchise.

The Phils were playing with the house’s money in 2007-09, able to play without regulars being significantly injured. Indeed, the 2009 Phils were only the 15th team in major league history with as many as six regulars who each played a minimum of 150 games. The law of averages caught up with them in 2010—Utley and Rollins were on the DL a combined 112 games—and yet they won four more games than they did in ’09. The Phillies, in fact, have won four straight division titles while improving their W/L record in each season. Only the 1995-’98 Braves have accomplished this since the start of divisional play. The Phils have done everything the last three years except plateau.

The Phillies enter the 2010 postseason as favorites to win it all. With eight teams in the current postseason and every team with a 1-in-8 shot at winning the Series, of course, being the “favorite” might only mean a 20 percent likelihood, but the Phils still have quite a bit going for them. You might have heard a little something about their top three starters. During the Phils’ mammoth August and September drive, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt were a combined 21-7 with a 2.33 ERA. And for the record, No. 4 starter Joe Blanton was more than chopped liver in the same span (5-0, 3.01). Brad Lidge has overcome his 2009 injuries and, since the All-Star break, has pretty much returned to his 2008 level (2.10 ERA, 21 saves). The Phils’ 21 shutouts are the most by the team since the Grover Cleveland Alexander era of 1917.

As a result of their pitching, the Phillies dominated in one-run games (29-17) during 2010. Conversely—and Bill James has said that one characteristic of a dominant team is its consistent ability to win blowouts—the Phils were 30-16 in games decided by five or more runs. And that was with the injuries and their weird offensive outage (inexplicably scoring 17 runs over a 12-game stretch in late May/early June). The 2010 Phillies are capable of beating you 11-4 or 1-0.

There are no guarantees in October, and any team is capable of upsetting. But the 2009 Phillies took the Yankees to Game Six of the World Series on half a healthy pitching rotation. With Roy Halladay pitching his first postseason leading a strong staff, who knows how far the 2010 Phils can go?

Mike Clark, who once ran a weekly newspaper devoted to the South Atlantic League:

Now that the regular season dust has settled and the San Diego Padres have been consigned to the “close, but not enough” file, it’s time to take a look at the 2010 playoffs, with the goal of divining a World Series champion prior to the first postseason pitch.

Common sense says to count on statistics. But statistics lie when making predictions; they don’t tell you about what’s inside a player when everything is on the line. Who could have predicted, statistically, Don Larsen‘s perfect game in 1956? Or Bill Mazeroski‘s walk-off home run in 1960? Statistics didn’t tell us the 1991 Twins-Braves series would come down to an extra-inning, 1-0 game.

Picking a winner ultimately comes down to the heart (who you wish would win) along with a dose of logic (who will probably win). Heart v. Gut.

Looking at the upcoming playoffs, it seems logical that the Phillies—the Roy Boys (Oswalt and Halladay) and Cole Hamels—will be able to dispatch the Reds; the Giants, with their trio of fine pitchers, will outlast the Braves. The Yankees’ experience should be able to take down the Twins; the Rays’ experience should eliminate the Rangers.

Assuming heart and gut are correct, the Phillies and Giants will fight for the NL crown; the Yankees and Rays will go to war for AL supremacy.

The Phillies, in my estimation, are the best team in baseball. Their starting three—and closer Brad Lidge—are intimidating. But the Giants have an equally impressive staff: Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain, with major league saves leader Trevor Wilson in the ‘pen. Outside of pitching, though, the Giants are a squad created from Dr. Frankenstein spare parts, the exception being rookie catcher Buster Posey. The Phillies, on the other hand, descend from George S. Patton’s Third Army. Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino embody the Fightin’ Phils moniker of the 1950s.

In the AL, we have a Rays-Yankees playoff. Senor Joe Maddon (much like the former White Sox’ manager Al Lopez in temperament) and his squad of Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and David Price go up against Major Joe Girardi‘s Yankees (Girardi, post-Joe Torre seems similar to Ralph Houk post-Casey Stengel).

This could be the last hurrah for the aging Yankees of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, but heart vs. gut says they’ll prevail in seven against the lesser-talented Rays.

Now we’re down to two: the Phillies and the Yankees. We’ve seen this movie before. Last year the Yankees prevailed— but the 2009 Phillies rotation consisted of Cliff Lee (who won both of the Phillies games) and little else. The difference in 2010 will be the Phillies’ ace rotation versus the Yankees’ bats, and the Roy Boys and Hamels should make it hard for the aging Bronx Bombers to score enough to leave things to closer Rivera.
My gut says Phils win it in four; my heart beats a little differently—Phils in seven. Either way, it should be an exciting World’s Series with dynamic pitching, plenty of hitting and sterling defense from two teams completely at ease in the national spotlight.


Dan Markham
, a magazine editor who helped editor THT staffer Chris Jaffe’s book on managers:

Playoff prediction columns aren’t exactly in short supply this week. From the big media conglomerates to your Cousin Mike’s blog that you read out of family guilt, fearless forecasters are everywhere. Steve Phillips is likely putting the finishing touches on his carefully constructed playoff outlook as we sit and pretend to work, so obviously it’s an oversaturated marketplace.

That’s why you have to differentiate. It’s not enough to simply forecast winners and losers. Any schmuck can fail at that. No, you need a system, preferably something with a veneer of science, to make your doomed postseason predictions stand out.
You can give your system a catchy name; something like the Covert Condiment would work in a pinch, at least if your website is small enough to avoid attention. Or you can give your equation a haughtier moniker, such as the Acronymed Soothsaying System, from which you can pull your predictions right out of … while still sounding smart.

The benefit of the system-based forecast is obvious. If I were to study the individual contests and make predictions based on a careful examination of the data, the inevitable failure is on me. But with a system, then the outcome is never my fault, but merely evidence that the “methodology needs tweaking.” It’s foolproof.

Thus, I introduce FLY (Forget Last Year), which takes the results from the preceding year’s postseason and tosses them in a dumpster, under the scientifically tested* premise that the same stuff isn’t going to happen two years in a row.

Let’s review. The 2009 postseason was most noticeable for the nearly 100 percent absence of shot crap. The best team won the World Series. In all but one series, the home team was triumphant. And the lone road team to win without the home field edge was defending champion Philadelphia, hardly the plucky underdog type.

Better yet, virtually every team that qualified for this year’s eight-team funfest seemed to be operating under the principle of FLY. As soon as clubs clinched a postseason berth, they immediately set out to lose as many games as possible by season’s end in a desperate attempt to avoid gaining any semblance of momentum or home field advantage. Heck, in some cases teams were shrewdly applying this strategy before clinching a spot. They know. In this year’s scrum, chaos will reign.

Let’s get to the match-ups and see what FLY spits out.

Tampa Bay vs. Texas: The networks will be billing this as Josh Hamilton squaring off against the team that drafted him. Who am I trying to kid? This series will not be billed at all. As for FLY, last year’s first-round winners were intimately familiar with postseason success, so it’s time for an upstart. Rangers in three.

Minnesota vs. New York: Nothing screams FLY more clearly than an early exit for the defending champions. Twins in four.

ALCS, Minnesota vs. Texas: FLY sees two big reasons to jump off the Minnesota bandwagon. The Twins are trying to follow the 2009 Yankees’ blueprint by dispatching a long-time nemesis en route to winning the title in their first year in new digs. Rangers in six.

Philadelphia vs. Cincinnati: A two-time league champion that looks to be the most loaded team to enter the playoffs in a long while vs. a squad that hasn’t won a series from a team with a winning record since, I think, May. Reds in four.

San Francisco vs. Atlanta: A year ago, the Wild Card teams made nice appetizers for the league’s more decorated regular-season performers. Braves in five.

NLCS, Cincinnati vs. Atlanta: Last year’s World Series was overloaded with hooded sweatshirts, visible breath and pitchers legally able to go to the mouth on the mound. Though the Fall Classic will stretch into November this year, FLY says we’ll avoid the numerous frostbite cases that have plagued recent postseasons. Braves in five.

World Series, Atlanta vs. Texas: There are no obvious angles for FLY here, so let’s go for a tug of the heartstrings instead. Can you think of a more fitting end to Bobby Cox’s magnificent career than to see him, just once more, manage a World Series loser? Rangers in six.

* Editor’s Note: No scientific testing was done in preparation of this column.


Greg Simons
, former editor of GetSportsInfo.com:

As usual, determining who will win the World Series leads to analysis of the upper crust of each team’s roster, since the bench and pitching dregs are essentially cast aside in the playoffs. This year, several star hitters are questionable or completely unavailable for the postseason, particularly in the American League, putting even more pressure on those remaining. Given this information, how will the MLB playoffs shake out?

With Josh Hamilton returning last weekend and Cliff Lee pitching like an ace again, Texas is essentially at full strength. However, those two superstars can’t cover for the mediocre remainder of the squad in the showdown with Tampa Bay . The Rays’ two-headed monster of Evan Longoria and David Price keeps pace with the Rangers’ duo, and the remaining players have a definite edge, meaning Tampa Bay will move on to the ALCS.

The Yankees and Twins face off for the second straight year. While New York has Andy Pettitte back to join CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes in the rotation, Minnesota hopes to squeeze past the Bronx Bombers with its heavy hitters—Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jim Thome—all dealing with health concerns. A tall task for any team. One seriously short on firepower and relying on Carl Pavano as its No. 2 starter behind Francisco Liriano won’t be able to measure up. The Yankees will cruise through this series.

The National League playoff entrants were finally settled on the regular season’s last day, with the final entrants—San Francisco and Atlanta—facing off in the first round. Neither is an offensive juggernaut, with each team’s catcher as its best hitter.

Where the Giants outshine the Braves is the rotation. Yes, Tim Hudson has performed exceptionally and Tommy Hanson is a fine second starter, but Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez give their team the significant advantage, and they’ll vault San Fran into the NLCS.

Cincinnati hopes to prevent Philadelphia from winning its third straight pennant (something the Big Red Machine never did). Sorry, not gonna happen. While Joey Votto should win the NL MVP, he can’t pitch, and neither can the Reds. “H2O,” “Two Roys and a Boy,” whatever—Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels will mow down Queen City batters in quick succession.

The beasts of the AL East will square off for the AL pennant, and it should be a slobber-knocker. No quarter asked and none given, this battle should rage seven games, and in this war of attrition, endurance will determine the winner. That factor favors the younger, healthier Rays and will push Tampa Bay back to the World Series.

The NLCS will feature two fearsome pitching staffs and one awe-inspiring offense. Unfortunately for the Giants, they’re bringing a knife to a gun fight. Philly is capably armed to dispense with these bothersome gnats as it marches to the Fall Classic.

Then, it’s 2008 all over again, in more ways than one. Philadelphia simply has a better overall club than Tampa Bay. The Phillies’ starting pitching is more dominant, their offense more explosive, and their bullpen at least as reliable. The Rays fans who do show up will be disappointed once more, but Philly phans will be pheeling phantastic as their team hoists the World Series trophy.

Jason Linden, a high school English teacher:

For the first time in 15 years, I find myself invested in the playoffs. My favorite team, the Reds, clinched the Central on Sept. 28. I’m hopeful, but I’m not optimistic. I like to think I have an analytical mind, and I just don’t believe the Reds are likely to win the World Series. Sure, anything can happen and all that, but I believe in realism.

Sadly, they’ll be opening against the Phillies, who are obviously the class of the National League. If they’d opened against the Giants or the Braves, I’d bet on them getting out of the first round, but they don’t match up well against the Phillies. I look at the Phillies, especially their pitching staff, and I think that if they’d been healthy all year, they would have run away from everyone else a while ago. I don’t see an NL team with a realistic chance of matching them, though I’d love for the Reds to prove me wrong.

The AL is more difficult to call, and not because I don’t always pay rapt attention to the Junior Circuit. This is a strong crop with few glaring weaknesses, but the Twins and Rangers are clearly outclassed by the Rays and Yankees. The AL East is the toughest division in baseball and winning it (or finishing a few games back) means more than winning the West or the Central.

The Yankees have the best run differential in baseball, the Rays are second and no one else is within 30 runs of either team. Let me state this explicitly: The Rays and Yankees play an unbalanced schedule in the toughest division and they still look like giants among men.

I think it’s a crapshoot between these two, but I’m going with the Rays for two reasons. First, they are the younger team and so, theoretically, possessed of more endurance. The Yankees are old and getting older by the day. Second, and most importantly, the Rays have a pitching staff better suited to the playoffs.

This leaves me with a Rays-Phillies World Series, and a pretty easy call. I’m taking the Phillies. Both clubs feature solid but unspectacular offenses—the Phillies check in with a .328 wOBA while the Rays are a few points better at .331— but the pitching is no contest. The Phillies have an xFIP of 3.90 vs. the Rays 4.20.

Much of the difference is made up by the Rays’ excellent fielding, but we’re not really talking about regular season pitching staffs. The playoffs are all about your top three starters and no one competes with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels. Halladay has an xFIP of 2.93—that is not a typo— and figures to throw more innings than anyone else in this series. This should be a close series, and I’ll readily admit that the Rays are clearly the better regular season team. But this isn’t the regular season.

David Raposa, former co-editor of the baseball satire blog Yard Work:

With Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels at their disposal, the Philadelphia Phillies boast the best shortened rotation of all eight playoff teams. Their regular starting lineup features only two position players with OPS+ values under 100, and the two players bringing up the rear—Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco—bring other skills to the table. With cast-offs like Jose Contreras serving as solid contributors, the always-dependable Ryan Madson, and save soaker-upper Brad Lidge rewarding Charlie Manuel’s undying faith, the Phillies’ bullpen is doing just fine.

Finally, thanks to Commissioner Bud Selig’s need to imbue an exhibition game with significance, the owners of the second-best home record in baseball will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Put that all together, and it looks like the Phillies are a lock to win their second title in three years.

Of course, there is that small matter of actually playing the other teams.

A run-in with the San Francisco Giants would force Philadelphia to contend with the second-best shortened rotation in these playoffs, assuming Bruce Bochy opts to make the mercurial Jonathan Sanchez his No. 3 over Barry Zito. With Sanchez, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain getting honest-to-goodness run support from rejuvenated slugger Aubrey Huff and presumptive NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, a Phillies-Giants series could be the marquee tilt of the entire playoffs.

On the flip side, if the Chipper-less Atlanta Braves found themselves against Philadelphia, it would probably lead to a one-sided Phillies romp. The Cincinnati Reds, powered by MVP hopeful Joey Votto, have the hitters that would most fluster the Phillies’ pitching staff. The Reds’ pitchers, however, are the sort of folks that don’t miss many bats, and Phillies’ sluggers will do their damnedest to take advantage. Unless hard-throwing wunderkind Aroldis Chapman can pitch every inning, the Reds won’t get very far.

One could make the case for the Tampa Bay Rays to have a Philly-like advantage over the rest of the American League field. For the Rays to be that dominant, however, rookie Jeremy Hellickson would have to be the team’s third starter behind David Price and Matt Garza, and someone besides Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford would need to step up their hitting game.

Playoff success for the Twins would be a nice way to cap off Target Field’s inaugural season, but it will be difficult for their pitchers’ successes against the dregs of the AL Central to translate into playoff success, especially without Justin Morneau’s bat in the lineup.

Back a few months ago, it would’ve been silly to think of the Yankees and Rangers in similar terms, but the rotational problems both teams experienced of late, both performance-wise and health-wise, have turned any starts that don’t feature CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee into slugfests, and one dependable starter does not a sustained playoff run make. Regardless of whether it’s the Rays pitching their way into late October, or the Yankees using their prodigious bats to get there, it’s not likely either team would survive another late-season go-around with Philadelphia’s finest.

Michael Engel, who writes for a Royals-themed blog:

At the start of every baseball season, every team, whether it believes or not, is a contender. The season starts with a clean slate and all 30 major league teams are tied for first place. Once the games begin, though, it’s a marathon where some teams start strong but wither late, unable to maintain their pace. Others have run the race many times and know how to pace themselves for the long trek. But in the end, only one team can win.

So congratulations Phillies fans. Yours is the team that will enjoy a champagne shower and a nice new pennant at Citizens Bank Park come next spring.

The Phillies were the first team I thought of when asked who I thought would win the World Series, and I trust that gut reaction. But I also wanted to step back and make sure I had a good reason to deem Philadelphia my favorite.

First, the Phillies finished with the best record in baseball at 97-65. Second, the Phillies are balanced. While they don’t have the most runs scored or the least runs allowed in the National League, they have the best run differential. Additionally, according to FanGraphs, they lead the National League in WAR with 15.50, bolstered by a solid pitching staff.

With the best record in the NL, the Phillies will enjoy home field advantage through their entire playoff run. Considering their second-best home record in the majors, that gives them an advantage. They’ve also been solid enough on the road.

If I were to go against my instincts, my choice would be the New York Yankees to repeat World Series champions. The Yankees own the best home record in the American League and are second only to Tampa for the best road record. Moreover, they have the best run differential of all the playoff teams regardless of league. They led all of baseball in scoring and have their ace CC Sabathia in contention for the Cy Young Award.

Still, I trust my gut. Remember, the NL won the All-Star Game this summer, earning its representative home field advantage for the World Series. Also, while the Yankees have Sabathia, the Phillies have Roy Halladay. If the playoff schedule allows the Phillies to open up with home starts by Halladay and Roy Oswalt they’d have a strong shot to take a 2-0 series lead with them to New York, where Halladay could have a shot at a second start in Game Four if he went on three days’ rest.

So grab a cheesesteak, run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum with your arms raised, listening to “Gonna Fly Now,” or celebrate in whatever safe manner you choose, Phillies fans. You’re winning the World Series in five games.

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Comments

  1. t ball said...

    I think the Rangers top three starters stack up pretty well against the Phillies, and the Giants aren’t too far behind.  Everyone knows about Lee and Halladay, and they would be an awesome game one to watch.  But Wilson and Lewis match up pretty well with Oswalt and Hamels on a WAR per start basis. 

    I’d give the nod to Oswalt and Hamels over the Rangers’ two, but not by much.  I’m rooting for a Rangers-Phillies matchup, both because I’m a Rangers fan and because I would love to watch those 6 pitchers face off.

  2. gdc said...

    “major league saves leader Trevor Wilson in the ‘pen”
    Even sharing a name with one of the Beach Boys isn’t enough to keep people from mixing him up with some other player I had forgotten.

    And Greg must have replied too early but you probably could have edited this for him to take Morneau out, it wouldn’t have changed his opinion.
    “Minnesota hopes to squeeze past the Bronx Bombers with its heavy hitters—Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jim Thome”

  3. Greg Simons said...

    @gdc – thanks for reading and for the feedback.  I did write my piece before Morneau was ruled out of the playoffs, but I tried to cover that contingency by including “-all dealing with health concerns.” after the quote you cited.  And you’re correct, knowing for certain he would be absent wouldn’t have changed my opinion about that series.

    Now, if only I could rewrite my glowing Rays comments…

  4. Mike Clark said...

    Yes, thanks—- Trevor was a Giant, but that was the late ‘80s.

    Brian Wilson, of course, is the current Giants saves expert – and recently also released a fine album of Gershwin tunes …

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