St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals:
CARDINALS IN 5
Why: The Nationals are incredibly deep up and down the lineup. Even without Strasburg, they have a solid rotation, a lineup that can produce 1-8, and a veteran coach who has done this before. They have been the best team in baseball all season and have shown a flare for the dramatic. However, one advantage the Cards do have is their experience. They have shown their perseverance last year and this year, and their veteran savvy will be huge in this series in which the Nationals may have the deeper team on paper. The Cardinals should get big performances out of Carpenter and Wainwright, but the series will be won with the bats. If the team can put up a 6-spot like they did against the Braves on Friday night, they have as a good a shot of knocking off the Nats as anyone.
San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds:
REDS IN 5
Why: The Reds are absolutely stacked everywhere you look. Their triumvirate of Votto, Phillips, and Bruce is as potent as you’ll find in the NL, and their studs atop the rotation, Latos and Cueto, have been Cy Young worthy all season. Broxton and Chapman at the back end of the bullpen are lights-out and the Giants would be prudent to take a lead before seeing either, especially the fire-baller Chapman. However, the Giants have arguably the top starting rotation in the game, veteran savvy, a World Series pedigree from a few years back, and a couple of streaky hitters in Pence and Sandoval that can carry the team for stretches. I see the Reds winning this in a do-or-die 5th game in a classic NL showdown.
Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees:
ORIOLES IN 5
Why: The Orioles have been lighting hot all season, and have played their best ball down the stretch. The additions of veterans Jim Thome and Joe Saunders have galvanized this upstart bunch of young players, many of whom have little name recognition to date. Not for long. The Orioles have the ability to win games with the long ball and small ball (bunts, steals, moving runners along), but it’s the back-end of their rotation that has been such a revelation. Jim Johnson (51 saves) has been a rock at the end of games, and journeymen like Darren O’Day and Pedro Strop have found a comfort zone in manager Buck Showalter’s bullpen. The Yankees have the best starting pitcher in this series in CC Sabathia and a lineup that strikes fear in just about any pitcher on the mound. They have been reliant on the home run ball all season long, however, a recipe for disaster in the playoffs where manufacturing runs is the conventional way of winning games as the quality of pitching picks up. Beside Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda is the only other pitcher who has been consistent this season, and ultimately, I believe the starting pitching in this series will be the deciding factor, and, with all the lefties in the Yankees lineup, the Oriole southpaws should be able to keep the Yanks power game to a minimum.
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
DETROIT TIGERS IN 5
Why: Two words: Justin Verlander. Given a few runs of support, the guy is an automatic W for the Tigers. Given that he will likely pitch Games 1 and 5, the A’s better hope to win in 4 games to avoid facing Verlander in a decisive Game 5. The formidable combo of Cabrera-Fielder in the middle of the Tigers lineup is probably the best 1-2 punch in the AL, if not in all of baseball. Starters Max Scherzer and Doug Fister have the ability to strike out batters in bunches, a good sign for the Tigers given how often the A’s batters struck out this season. The A’s, on the other hand, have the intangibles win. No one could have predicted their success this season. Their lineup is filled with no-names who just keep stepping up when their number is called and producing in the clutch. Their starting rotation has been economical all season long, keeping them in games, before the oftentimes anemic offense can come up with a clutch hit. I foresee a hard fought, tight series that comes down to Verlander slamming the door in a Game 5 for the ages. It’s been a great A’s run, but the Tigers should win this series.