NL Wild Card Game Preview/Prediction

Like I said yesterday, it’s really hard to predict any single game, and that holds true for tonight. Sure, you’d think the the Pirates- who handled the Reds in their season-ending series- would win, especially with home field and tens of thousands of screaming fans who have waited since 1992 to see playoff baseball. However, again, one game is hard to predict.

That said, I like the Pirates’ chances tonight.

For one, they have the advantages I mentioned above- having shown they can beat the Reds and also having home field. For another, they are better set up to win tonight in other aspects.

Take pitching, for example. The Pirates will be sending Francisco Liriano to the mound. He has a 1.49 ERA in PNC Park, and has lost a grand total of once there this season. In contrast, the Reds have Johnny Cueto on the mound. While probably the better pitcher than Liriano under most circumstances, this will be only Cueto’s third start after returning from a DL stint and that carries huge risk, especially since the Pirates have a better bullpen than the Reds.

While, admittedly, the Pirates’ bullpen has had it’s ups and downs just like every other bullpen, the fact is that Fangraphs lists Pittsburgh’s relievers has having near two more Wins Above Replacement than the Reds’ bullpen. Although it’s something of a simplification, this essentially means that a team with the Pittsburgh bullpen would win two more games than, say, a team with the Reds bullpen. That might not seem a lot, but when you remember how razor-thin some races are in baseball, it can make a big difference. Also, I’m not exactly confident in how well Dusty Baker will do managing the bullpen in tonight’s game, although admittedly managerial comparisons are sometimes heresay.

However, the Reds do have two advantages. The first is the x-factor that is Billy Hamilton. If he gets on base- whether by getting a hit or by pinch-running- then the whole game situation could change, as his speed provides both a real (he can actually steal bases and beat throws) and psychological advantage. The second is that they are better at getting on base.

However, in general, I’m going with the momentum and home field advantage: I predict the Pirates win 6-3. Just don’t quote me on it… unless I’m right.

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AL Wild Card Tiebreaker Preview

Well, Game 163 is tonight, as the Texas Rangers host the Tampa Bay Rays for the right to advance to the Wild Card Game against Cleveland on Wednesday.

It is, of course, folly to try and predict a single baseball game. There are so many actors and factors (a rhyme!) that are in play, and a single strange hop or blown call can change everything. Luck will have just as much to do with the result of this game as skill.

That said, the old axiom that good pitching beats good hitting suggests that the Rays have the advantage tonight. Why? Because they have David Price on the mound. While Price was only 9-8 this year while Texas’ Martin Perez was 10-5, win-loss records are misleading. Instead, look at how Price has a lower ERA than Perez, and how Price has a better WAR than Perez, and how Price has experience pitching in big games while this will be Perez’s first rodeo.

Of course, that experience could cut both ways. You see,  Price’s relative veteran status means that the Rangers have had plenty of times to face him. They know him firsthand, and while that might not save them if he is having a good day, it certainly evens the odds a bit. Alex Rios, for example, is a career .435 hitter against Price in 23 at-bats, including two home runs. Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre also have good numbers against Price, and Nelson Cruz– back from his Biogenesis suspension- has had three home runs in his career against the Rays’ ace, including one in the 2010 postseason.

By comparison, only four members of the Rays have ever faced Perez, so they will be going mainly on scouting and video. Maybe this will mean nothing, as the Rays’ contain plenty of hitters who are just naturally gifted.

Which, of course, leads to how these two lineups stack up. In general, I’d say this is a slight advantage to Texas, especially with Cruz back. Texas, statistically, has hit better for average and power this year than Tampa, although not overwhelmingly so, while Tampa has a edge in getting on base. The two are ridiculously close when it comes to OPS, with Tampa at .737 and Texas at .736. However, Texas didn’t have Cruz these past few months due to his suspension, so I hypothesize that his addition will provide the ever-so-slight edge for the Rangers.

So, the starting matchup favors Tampa, but the lineups will likely favor Texas. What does that leave us with? Bullpens, fielding and managing.

Starting with the last of the three: Joe Maddon is unquestionably the better strategic mind than Ron Washington, using advanced metrics and unconventional tactics while Ron Washington… doesn’t.

Next, fielding. This is tough, as the advanced fielding statistics are really complicated, Gold Gloves are subjective and the traditional statistics are often misleading. And, I got to say, it all depends on what stat you look at… so I’m calling this one a push.

And so, finally, the bullpens. I give a slight advantage to the Rangers, at least assuming there aren’t any screwups. Their bullpen was better statistically than the Rays’ bullpen this season, although admittedly Fernando Rodney was erratic all year for Tampa, going from Cy Young to Cy Yuk and back again several times, so who knows?

So, there you go, it looks like a very evenly-matched contest, but I’m going to go with the Rays, 4-2. I just don’t feel like going against David Price.

The races that will define September

It’s September, and while Green Day once asked that they be woken up when it ends, baseball fans would be wise to stay awake, because, once again, September looks like it will be a crazy month for baseball. Here are some (but not all) of the big races to look for:

The Chase for the AL East

The AL East will feature many games between the division’s teams this month, but the ones that will really count will be the ones between the Yankees, Orioles and Rays. Including games that have already been played or are being played as I type this, the Yankees and Orioles will face each other six times, the Orioles and Rays will face each other three times, and the Yankees and Rays will face each other six times. The Orioles and Yankees have so far split their first two games of their series (including the last day of August). The Yankees appear to be in control here, especially if they win today’s game against the Orioles, who are still somehow only three games back despite the fact that the run-differential suggests they should probably be closer to three games from being mathematically eliminated than three games out of first.

The race in the AL East will be interwoven with….

The AL Wild Card

The following teams have a chance at the AL Wild Card spots: The three division leaders, the Athletics, the Orioles, the Rays, the Tigers and the Angels. I can honestly say that I have no idea who will win this, other than that it will likely come down to not who had the best season, but who has the best September- a team needs to get hot to win this, and then remain hot during the one-game wild card game. An interesting twist: due to the fact that the Wild Cards will probably have to use their best pitchers to get a spot to begin with, it could get very interesting as to who they will be able to start if they make the play-in game.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the possibility that there is a tie for the second-place wild card. If that happens, it will be madness, the baseball equivalent of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Any team that could survive the ensuing gauntlet would probably become target practice for whatever division leader they then face. Unless, of course, the wild card survivor had gained so much momentum that they slice through the entire playoffs like a buzzsaw.

AL Central

The Tigers are going to win this, right? Right? I mean, they have Verlander. And Prince Fielder. And… wait, the White Sox are still in first? I’m telling you, the Robin Ventura hiring looks more genius by the day, and in any other year (such a year where Buck Showalter isn’t bringing the Orioles to a month away from the playoffs), he’d be shoo-in for manager of the year.

 

NL Wild Card

Like the AL Wild Card, but slightly less crazy, I cannot even fathom a guess as to who will get those two spots.