Now The Fun Begins-American League

The postseason. What a beautiful time of year. We watched our teams for six months, hoping they would be playing baseball in October. Thanks to expanded playoffs, a couple more cities are involved in baseball when the leaves turn colors. There really isn’t anything more exciting than watching your favorite team battle in the playoffs.

I feel sorry for the fans of the Brewers and Mariners in particular. Each club gave more than hints of being solid enough to make it to the end. But, it wasn’t meant to be. The Brewers never really got a full season from Ryan Braun (.266). What’s his future? Much depends upon his ability to swing the bat without pain and keep the rest of his body in shape. He didn’t drive the ball as he has in the past. That can be traced to injury. Jean Segura went into the tank until the very end of the season (.246) But Braun wasn’t the only problem. The pitching faltered. Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo didn’t pitch as expected. But they had great years from Jonathan Lucroy (.301) and guys like Scooter Gennett, and Carlos Gomez. Aramis Ramirez hit only 15 homers in hitter-friendly Miller Park. I looked for more. Look for big changes in the Brewers organization over the next couple months.

The Mariners had a very good year. They hit a bit better than the past, thanks to Robbie Cano (.314). But they still need that knock out punch in the middle of the order. One more bat. The pitching was fine with King Felix winning 15 games and throwing to a 2.14 ERA. I’m a huge believer in Hisashi Iwakuma (15 wins, 1.05 WHIP.) Frankly, I’ve never been on the James Paxton bandwagon, but he had a fine year and will likely get even better. The future has to rest in those pitching arms and the addition of Taijuan Walker as a permanent addition to the rotation. I like his stuff. One more bat and the full time deployment of Walker should help.

And now on to some thoughts about those teams that did succeed and are ready to move to the postseason. I’ll elaborate more in other blogs as the tourney continues.

I am writing this before Jon Lester takes the mound for the Athletics against James Shields. But in all reality, this one game (the play-in game) between Oakland and Kansas City is what the Lester and Shields trades were all about. Both teams gave up plenty to get to this point. Now-what happens? Can Jon Lester justify losing Yoenis Cespedes? Can James Shields compensate for the loss of Wil Myers? Frankly, the resurgence of Wade Davis certainly skews that deal in favor of the Royals up to this point. Davis has made a tremendous difference in the Royals pen-helping to make it one of the best in baseball. Myers got hurt this year and hasn’t shown the type of upside many feel he has. Time will tell. For now-advantage Kansas City in that deal.

But the pressure rests on the shoulders of Jon Lester. Most of the pressure, really. More than on Kansas City. Sure, the Royals have a good team and were expected to do better this season. But it may have been more acceptable for them not to have made the playoffs. it would simply not have been acceptable for the Athletics to be on the outside looking in. And they almost were. Oakland’s bats went in to the deep freeze. It happened almost at the same time Cespedes left the lineup. I am a huge believer in lineup protection. It was the way I was taught and I still believe that lengthening a lineup and protecting the heart of the order with strong hitters is the key to an offense. Without good hitters, the best hitter may not see more than one pitch to hit an at-bat, if that. The loss of Cespedes takes that potential power hitter out of the equation. Big loss. But guys other than Lester and Shields have to do their part for their team to win. It isn’t all on them. Hitters like Hosmer and Butler have to hit. Same for Donaldson and Reddick, etc. Score quick and get Lester or Shields out of the game. Then take your chances with the bullpens. But both pens are solid. Especially the Royals in my opinion.
Nothing against the A’s pen, but that Royals pen can be the difference.

True, the Orioles just don’t have the same type of panache, pizzazz, or pedigree as the Tigers in their first round. But as I’ve been saying since I was a scout with the Mariners, I’ll take Chris Tillman any time. He’s a darn good pitcher. Is he an ace? Probably not. But very close to it. And that’s where the problem occurs. Can he beat David Price or Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander? Everything will have to break right for him. That includes umpire calls, good defense and some timely hitting from robust bats like Adams Jones and Nelson Cruz. If the Orioles can jump out to an early lead, it will help. The key will be getting in to the Tigers bullpen as early as possible. That will be a must. While the past postseason hasn’t been the best for Tigers hitters, the Orioles pitching will have to at least slow down Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Hard to do. But the rest of the lineup is tough as well. Great matchup, but the Tigers have the three best pitchers. While I like Tillman, the Orioles rotation thins out with Gausman, Chen, Norris and Gonzalez in whatever order they are used. But make no mistake-they are far from chopped liver. I like them. Not as much as Scherzer, Price and Verlander.

The winner of Kansas City-Oakland gets to take on the Los Angeles Angels.
I wish it would have been the Angels with Garrett Richards and even Tyler Skaggs. I wish Matt Shoemaker was 100% healthy. Ditto for Josh Hamilton. I feel like the Angels task is similar to a prizefighter entering the ring with one arm behind his back. Yes, injuries are part of the game. Every team has injuries. Anibal Sanchez has been hurt for the Tigers, true. Same for Jarrod Parker and A J Griffin for the Athletics. But Garrett Richards is special. He can dominate a game. Watching him perform against the best Kansas City or Oakland can throw at the Angels would have been a treat. But it isn’t meant to be. The Angels have hung tough without him. Can Jered Weaver, C. J. Wilson and Hector Santiago carry the series? The Angels will have to score runs with Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, and Albert Pujols leading the charge. The offense is built with complimentary parts. Each partner has to show up, from Eric Aybar to Kole Calhoun.
The Angels can win if their starters can go five or six and then turn it over to the high quality, revamped bullpen for which general manager Jerry Dipoto gets my accolades. He did a fabulous job realizing his weak starting pitching depth can be augmented with a solid and reliable pen. But those starters have to keep the Angels in the game.

So, what we have are flawed teams. Each of them. But they are darn good.
Here’s what I see:

Oakland-deep and quality rotation, weak offense, solid, solid bullpen
Kansas City-shallow but effective rotation, mediocre offense, tremendous bullpen
Detroit-the best top 3 starters, power in the middle, weak bullpen
Baltimore-mediocre starting pitching, good offensive balance, solid enough bullpen
Anaheim-weak starting pitching, solid offense, very good bullpen

Ultimately, I feel the Detroit Tigers will come out of the American League and enter the World Series. That prediction is based on five names; Price, Scherzer, Verlander, Cabrera and Martinez. They would have been even stronger in my opinion with Doug Fister and a more reliable bullpen. But I think they have enough to fend off the rest of the pack. And that’s saying something. If you’ve been following me, you know I have loved the Orioles since I saw them in Spring Training. But for me, the addition of David Price makes this Detroit’s year.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com. Tomorrow-my thoughts on the National League playoffs.

That’s it. I’m done.

 

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