Out of Left Field predicts the 2014 postseason
• AL WILD CARD GAME
Athletics at Royals
This is why the two teams went out and got the two pitchers they’ll start tonight. Kansas City paid the steep price to acquire James Shields, so they could host their first playoff game in 29 years. The A’s paid the steep price to acquire Jon Lester so they could win in the postseason.
I don’t know if you would consider winning the one-game Wild Card as the second postseason “series” win under Billy Beane, but the A’s move on, regardless.
OUTCOME: A’s win, 3-2
• AL DIVISION SERIES
Tigers vs. Orioles While Chris Tillman has developed into an All-Star caliber pitcher, on paper, the Tigers have four of those to throw at the Orioles in Max Scherezer, David Price, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, and one coming out of the bullpen in Anibal Sanchez. Pitching will dictate this series. If the Tigers’ rotation can pitch up to that on-paper reputation — and at times, they have not — then it’s very winnable. Detroit’s staff just has to keep the homer-happy O’s in the yard. The X-factor — aside from the health of Rajai Davis — will be which team makes fewer errors at third base.
OUTCOME: Tigers in 5
• AL DIVISION SERIES
Angels vs. A’s
For all that the Angels zipped past the floundering A’s in the second half of the season, the matchup is much more even, given the Angels’ lack of a true (healthy) ace in the rotation. The A’s, like the Tigers, have several. Lester can pitch again by Game 3, lining him up to be ready to start the ALCS, if the A’s move on. It’s up to Jeff Samardzija and Sonny Gray to keep the A’s afloat. There’s something to be said for battle-tested teams coming into the playoffs, too.
The question is whether or not the A’s can score enough. I think they squeak out just what they need to advance again.
OUTCOME: A’s in 5
• AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Tigers vs. A’s
For the first time in seemingly forever, the Tigers have home-field advantage in a postseason series. This matchup won’t be a mismatch of rotations anymore, thanks to Beane’s wheeling and dealing, but rather a test of how the two offenses can do against those rotations.
It may not be a slug-it-out series, but the Tigers do have the better lineup, top-to-bottom, after the A’s had to trade Yoenis Cespedes to get Lester.
Everybody thought this was going to be the matchup at the trade deadline — and then didn’t shortly thereafter. Now it will be.
Verlander remains in the A’s heads, and beats them in Games 1 and 5.
OUTCOME: Tigers in 6
Giants at Pirates
The Pirates really don’t have Gerrit Cole for this game? No, seriously? That’s why you play for the division title, so that you can live if you don’t have your ace in Game 1 of the division series. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle did play for the division title, and got a 12-strikeout performance from Cole Sunday, but the Pirates ended up in the Wild Card game anyway, and are minus their best hope on the mound.
Unless the PNC Park crowd unnerves Madison Bumgarner and the Giants — and, given their postseason experience, why would it? — like it did Johnny Cueto last year, I don’t see the Pirates knocking off the even-year Giants.
OUTCOME: Giants win, 4-1
• NL DIVISION SERIES
Cardinals vs. Dodgers
This will probably be the best — or at least most competitive — series of the first round, with last year’s NLCS matchup replayed. It may help this time for the Dodgers to have home field advantage — the road team won one game in last year’s series.
It’ll certainly help for the Dodgers to have Clayton Kershaw, as long as he’s not forced to pitch on short rest again.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny’s never been ousted from a playoff series before Game 7 of the NLCS, but this might be the year for the early exit.
OUTCOME: Dodgers in 5
• NL DIVISION SERIES
Nationals vs. Giants
It’s the even-year Giants — who seem to thrive in the postseason every other year — against arguably the best team in baseball. It would be a colossal disappointment, after a first-round exit in 2012 and missing the playoffs in 2013, if the Nationals don’t win this series. They’ve certainly built the team to do it — now they just have to live up to that hype.
OUTCOME: Nats in 4
• NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Nationals vs. Dodgers
The Dodgers may be better at the top end of the rotation, but the Nationals have a deeper one. That may be enough to make the difference in a series that should be evenly matched almost everywhere else. Prediction: Bryce Harper gets his first postseason game-winner before Mike Trout does, and it makes the difference in the series. Doug Fister proclaims it “all part of the process” and “a step in the right direction” after pitching the clincher.
OUTCOME: Nationals in 6
• WORLD SERIES
Nationals vs. Tigers
The Nationals would love to have a Beltway Series with Baltimore, but I’m sure they wouldn’t quibble with this matchup, either. The tipping point is when the Tigers get to old friend Fister in Game 4 on the road, and head back to Detroit up 3-1. The Detroit bullpen finally springs a leak, though, extending the series, before the Tigers end their 30-year drought with a home win in Game 7, Max Scherzer’s last start before free agency.
OUTCOME: Tigers in 7