Can you smell it? Summers gone, and the crisp fall air is finally here. People are putting away the shorts and flip flops and taking out the jeans and heavy jackets. No? Neither can I. October means playoff baseball, and in the American League the race is wide open and any one of the four teams still alive could win the pennant.
The Boston Red Sox have the best record and will take on the Wild Card winning and division foe Tampa Bay Rays. The other match-up is the Central division winning Detroit Tigers facing the surprise winner of the AL West, the Oakland Athletics. Both of these series has the potential to go five games and I am excited to see how it plays out.
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox
On paper, the Red Sox seem like they are clearly the better team. They have the much higher payroll, a deeper pitching staff, and a deeper lineup. However, these two teams are so familiar with each other, and adding that to the playoff atmosphere, anything can happen.
Going deeper into the pitching matchups for these two teams, they are very equal. Tampa Bay finished 5th in the AL with a 3.74, and the Red Sox finished 6th with a 3.79. The other big team pitching stat is batting average allowed. Tampa actually led the American League during the regular season keeping opponents to a .240 average with the Red Sox finishing tied for 4th allowing .248. Being over a 162 game season the .008 discrepancy can add up but over a five game season the ERA and batting average allowed numbers pretty much even out.
Game 1 has Red Sox ace Jon Lester facing Matt Moore for the Rays. This game is crucial for both teams because for one, it is only a five game series so getting off to a good start is huge, and for the fact that David Price had to pitch Monday and will not be pitching in game 1. The Red Sox would love to get a win so there is a little less pressure on them in game 2 where Price is likely to start. For the Rays, if they can sneak out a win on the road without their best pitcher and against the Red Sox best pitcher that could give them the confidence they need to win the series.
Where the Red Sox have the clear advantage is hitting and scoring runs. The Red Sox led the American League with 853 runs while the Rays finished 9th with 700. Also Boston has a much better team batting average, finishing 2nd with a .277 while the Rays were 7th with a .257. The Red Sox have a deeper lineup in general with many bench players coming through in the clutch throughout the season. Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and even Will Middlebrooks have been great surprises this year with how good they have performed, especially in the second half of the season. Overall, Boston is the better team and should take the series.
Prediction: Red Sox in 5 games.
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
This series is very interesting to me because nobody expected the A’s to win the west, and if you say you did you are a liar. Everyone had the Angels winning this division and the Rangers fighting for a Wild Card spot, which they were. Most people did expect the Tigers to win the central with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder. The big surprise was Max Scherzer going 21-3 with a sub three ERA. He did have fantastic run support throughout the whole year, but having an ERA under three in the American League is very impressive.
Detroit has the clear advantage in the hitting department, hitting .283 to Oakland’s .254 in the regular season. It helps when you have the best hitter in baseball for the past couple years in Miguel Cabrera who was a Chris Davis resurrection away from a second straight triple crown. Detroit has also scored 30 more runs than Oakland which is not a big difference but with the higher average, Detroit should be able to score.
The Tigers also have the potential to have the two best starting pitchers in the American League. Scherzer will most likely win the Cy Young, and even with Verlander having an off year, Detroit still should have the confidence to throw him out in a must win situation and expect him to dominate. The X factor in this series is Bartolo Colon. He had a great year out of nowhere, which has become tainted by being mentioned in the Anthony Bosch situation, but that does not matter at this point because he is eligible to play. If Colon can upset Scherzer in game one that can put Oakland in a good situation where he can come out again in game four on three day’s rest if needed, or in game five for a winner take all game. In the end, I see Detroit taking this series fairly easily.
Prediction: Tigers in 4 games.