The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Will Korn 

Talking Sports - Welcome to October: series-by-series predictions

 


Now that October is here, so are the baseball playoffs. Here’s how I see things shaking out:

Detroit Tigers (90-72) vs. Baltimore Orioles (96-66)

Prediction: Tigers in 5.

Of the two American League divisional series, Detroit-Baltimore seems to be the more intriguing one. The storyline of this showdown is a classic one: the Tigers’ elite pitching against an Orioles’ lineup that led the league in homers.

At first glance it’s easy to give Detroit the edge since its offense is close to on par with that of Baltimore and it has a sizable advantage in its rotation. The Orioles actually had a lower team ERA than the O’s this season, but Baltimore lacks that game one, no question starter like Max Scherzer or even Justin Verlander when he’s right. Chris Tillman is the Baltimore’s best starter and he would likely be Detroit’s No. 3 at best.

The O’s are riding the emotional wave of a thrilling AL East title – the first time that has happened since 1997 – and Camden Yards should be rocking in Games 1 and 2. For Baltimore, the long ball is the key. The Tigers though, held the O’s vaunted lineup to a .228 team batting average and a .345 slugging percentage in six games in 2014.

The key for the Detroit staff is to neutralize Baltimore’s big sluggers with quality off speed pitches. Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones will swing and miss. Jones is a notorious refuse-to-walk hitter and while Cruz is having a career year in the patience department, he too will chase more often than the average 40 home run hitter.

K.C. Royals (89-73) vs.

L.A. Angels (98-64)

Prediction: Royals in 5.

Who isn’t rooting for the Royals right now? It’s been 29 long years since that historic 1985 World Series victory over the Yankees. Now they are finally back in the thick of the postseason once again.

Although the Angels probably hold the slight upper hand on the mound, these two teams’ rotations are roughly even.

For Kansas City, it’s all about reeling in and containing baseball’s biggest fish – the Angels’ Mike Trout. Trout is the game’s premier all-around player and has the ability to single handedly take over games and win series.

The most pressing concern for K.C. off the bat is that it had to burn its ace James Shields in the Wild Card win over the A’s. Against L.A. ace Jered Weaver, former Angel Jason Vargas will start for K.C. in Game 1. He is familiar with the park and the Angels’ lineup and has a respectable record pitching at Angel Stadium.

The Royals will need to rely on its lineup depth, which is its one standout advantage over L.A., to put pressure on a Weaver and C.J. Wilson-led Halos’ rotation. Lefties Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are the Royals’ engines and if both of them are on, watch out. Especially, with that short right field wall in L.A.

S.F. Giants (88-74) vs. Wash. Nationals (96-66)

Prediction: Giants in 4.

Everyone is saying this is the Nationals’ year. They’re “the best team on paper.”

But having to play the playoff battle-tested Giants isn’t the ideal matchup for the Nats. The Giants aren’t scared of anything – literally. In the last four years, they’ve been in just about every postseason situation imaginable.

Since the All-Star break, the Giants’ rotation has a 3.67 ERA – fifth-worst in the National League. Outside of ace Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco’s rotation has been average.

Meanwhile, Washington might have the strongest rotation is baseball, with Stephen Strasburg at the helm, breakout Jordan Zimmerman slotting in as the No. 2 and Doug Fister as the No. 3. Gio Gonzalez, who would be a No.1 on more than a few teams, is the fourth starter in Washington.

Look out for Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval in the Giants’ lineup. If anyone is going to consistently hit that Nats’ rotation, it’ll be those two. Posey is hitting .354 since the All-Star break while Sandoval his hitting .317 against righties this year.

The Nats’ offense is about as close to flawless as they come. There isn’t a weak link in that lineup and everyone can be threat in some way. But this club hasn’t been able to handle the pressure in the last couple of seasons.

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) vs. LA. Dodgers (94-68)

Prediction: Dodgers in 5.

Of all the Game 1’s in the division series, this is the one to tune into if you had to choose. It pits two 20-game winners in St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, who is a lock for the NL Cy Young.

The Dodgers are loaded in the batters’ box and on the mound, but they haven’t done much with all that talent in the last couple of years.

This series could very well come down to which team makes fewer mistakes. Automatically, the edge there goes to St. Louis, who benefits from simply not having Yasiel Puig in right field to toggle between phenomenal and bonehead plays.

The Cards aren’t nearly as strong as they were in 2011 when they won it all. Nor are they as good as last season when they hit nearly .350 with runners in scoring position. This year they were 23rd in runs scored and just 14th in on-base percentage this season. Meanwhile the Dodgers ranked Top 10 in just about every major offensive category this season.

On the mound, the Dodgers have the edge in sheer talent, but the Cards’ rotation is a bit deeper. After Kershaw and Zack Greinke, L.A.’s rotation gets a little thin with Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren. Kershaw will start twice if needed, but in the playoffs, he hasn’t been the machine he has been in the regular season.

St. Louis will need to win Game 1 against Kershaw to have any chance in this series.

 

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