With the Divisional Round set to begin, sportswriters Eric Russo, Katie Martineau, and Ricky Morin preview each series and make their picks. Stay tuned to the Voice every round for MLB postseason predictions and previews!
National League Divisional Series
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Eric Russo: Pirates in 5 – Did you see that atmosphere at PNC Park in Pittsburgh during the wild card game? Who knew they had such passionate fans? I guess that’s what you get when you haven’t been to the playoffs in 20 years. Pirates ace Francisco Liriano won’t pitch until Game 3, but, like in Oakland, there seems to be something in the water in Pittsburgh. They take down the NL’s best regular season team in St. Louis.
Katie Martineau: Cardinals win in4: The Pirates won the National League wild card game and have made the post-season for the first time since 1992. Both the Pirates and the Cardinals have good starting pitching and are evenly matched when it comes to the starting rotations. St. Louis’s ace Adam Wainwright could give the Cardinals an advantage since he will be fully rested for game 1 and could pitch in game 5, if its needed. The Pirates, on the other hand, might have momentum on their side after their exciting wild card win.
Ricky Morin: St. Louis wins in 5: Three NL Central teams earned playoff honors this season, with Pittsburgh knocking off the Reds in the play-in game. This should be a fun series with quality pitching for both squads. Both teams also have balanced lineups and big name players—Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez for the Pirates and Allen Craig, Matt Holliday for the Cardinals. The Cardinals, however, have a stellar rotation led by the rejuvenated Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright, who is supported by a young, talented staff. The Pirates may not have the pitching depth to stay consistent.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
ER: Dodgers in 5 – Clayton Kershaw is going to pitch twice in a five-game series. Plus, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu hit the hill in Games 2 and 3. The Braves have some pop in their lineup with Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Brian McCann, and Jason Heyward, but they won’t be able to match-up with the Dodgers starting staff. Advantage: LA.
KM: Dodgers in 5: The Dodgers have a very good rotation behind their ace Clayton Kershaw, who could potentially pitch twice in the series. They also have Zack Greinke who is 7-1 in his last 12 starts. With the Dodgers 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation and their solid offense, they have a good chance of taking the series. The Braves have a very good bullpen, which would be beneficial to them if their starters can get through the first six innings. Their closer, Craig Kimbrel has 50 saves and a 1.21 ERA, which should make the Braves confident in their chances. Both teams have flaws in their offense, which is why the series could go either way.
RM: Dodgers in 3: Probably the most intriguing division series matchup, the red-hot Dodgers will take on the home-field playoff winners, the Atlanta Braves. Both teams were in non-competitive divisions this season, so I don’t that should affect a single team specifically. Atlanta has some series sluggers, as do the Dodgers. The fact is that series play always comes down to pitching, and the combination of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu—the way that it’s been going—is unstoppable.
American League Divisional Series
Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers
ER: Athletics in 4 – The Tigers offense is, arguably, the most dangerous in the league. The Tigers starting rotation is, arguably, the best in the bigs. So…why did I pick the A’s? Because they have a bunch of guys that nobody has ever heard of and they won 96 games. They have something going on out there. Yes, I know. That’s not much of an analysis. But who is ever right when going by what the matchup looks like on paper?
KM: Tigers in 5 – Both the Tigers and Athletics have improved since last year, and both have high expectations set for them in the post-season. The Tigers have the best rotation in baseball and have the most quality starts (108) over any other team. Their ace Max Scherzer has 21 wins, while Justin Verlander continues to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Tigers also have Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister who can pitch in big games and shut down offenses. The Athletics on the other hand, have a very versatile bullpen, and possibly one of the best in the American League. They also have great starting pitching, which if they can get through the first six innings, the end of the game should be no problem for the bullpen. This A’s team is more play-off ready than last year’s team, and is evenly matched with the Tigers. My guess is this series will come down to the last game.
RM: Athletics in 3 – For the second straight year, the Oakland Athletics are proving to people that they are legitimate contenders. We had this exact same matchup in the ALDS last year, with Detroit winning in five. While the Tigers have the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and the probable Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, well, Oakland has home field this time around. Josh Donaldson is significantly improved, Brandon Moss is crushing baseballs and the young A’s staff has been in a playoff series one time around.
Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
ER: Red Sox in 5 –
The division foes have created a nice little rivalry over the past few years, starting back in 2008. That year, they met in the ALCS with the Rays taking down the defending World Series champion Red Sox in seven games. Expect this series to go the distance, too. The Rays are scary good on the mound with David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb. But the Red Sox are pretty good in the starting rotation, too. With Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz, this could be a low-scoring series. The Sox will prevail. It’s all in the beards. (Plus, they have home field)
KM: Red Sox in 4 – The Red Sox won 97 games in 2013, after finishing in last place only one season ago. The Sox clinched the AL East behind the solid starting pitching of Jon Lester and John Lackey, along with contributions from just about everyone on the team. Newcomers Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Mike Napoli have all been important to the success of the team, as well as the bench players, who have all come up with big hits. The Sox only weakness may be in the bullpen leading up to closer Koji Uehara. There are no apparent set-up pitchers, which could be a problem if the starters do not pitch well. The Rays have won two do-or-die games to make it to the divisional series and have always been a tough opponent on the Red Sox. They have great starting pitching which, in the past, have been able to shut down the Sox offense. However, I believe the Red Sox will win this series in four games.
RM: Rays in 5 – I picked Tampa Bay to win the American League this season. Now, with many teams—such as the Red Sox—having surprising seasons, the pick is obviously compromised a little. Tampa Bay is rolling off of two emotional win-or-go-home games, which is important. Boston has the advantage of home field play in the series, but the combination of Matt Moore and David Price—against a team that has been dreadful in 2013 against lefties—will prove detrimental to the Red Sox. Top to bottom, the Red Sox have the advantage in the lineup, but talent on paper means nothing if the opposing pitchers shut them down. To win, Boston will have to get to a tough Rays rotation and an impressive bullpen.