2013 MLB Playoffs – Division Series Preview
With the Wild Card one game playoffs wrapped up, the playoffs swung into full gear last night with both National League Division Series. Last year, Major League Baseball adopted a new format in which two Wild Card teams from each league face off in an elimination game, placing greater emphasis on winning the division, while still technically expanding the playoff field. In Wednesday night’s action, the Tampa Bay Rays, fresh off defeating the Texas Rangers in Game 163 of the “regular” season, cruised to a shutout win over the surprising Cleveland Indians, thus denying Terry Francona a match up against his former squad, the Boston Red Sox. On Tuesday evening, the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing in their first postseason game in two decades, defeated the Cincinnati Reds, tagging the usually dependable Johnny Cueto for several home runs.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Cardinals are no strangers to the postseason, having won the World Series in 2006 and 2011. The club is remarkably resilient and the roster is deep, enabling it remain a perennial contender even after losing key pieces. Strong pitching, solid defense, savvy veterans and clutch hitting led them to a Central Division title this season and gives them an edge on paper. The Pirates are riding the emotional tide of the franchise’s first winning season and playoff berth since Barry Bonds carried the team to the brink of the World Series in 1992. NL MVP frontrunner Andrew McCutchen is one of the most exciting young players in the game and provides the spark that drives the offense, which was further bolstered by midseason acquisitions. The electricity in PNC Park was palpable during the Wild Card playoff game, in which the Pittsburgh faithful noticeably rattled Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto, and that home field advantage paired with the momentum of a long-awaited winning season just might be enough to propel the Buccaneers to victory.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5
Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Following a disappointing end to the last two seasons, missing the playoffs on the final day of the season in 2011 and losing the Wild Card playoff game in 2012, the Braves ran away with the NL East this year on the strength of their traditionally strong rotation supported by the dominance of closer Craig Kimbrel. The offseason acquisitions of Justin Upton abetted their already capable offense. The Dodgers seemed headed for a disappointing season in light of the hefty payroll, when salvation came in the guise of Cuban wunderkind Yasiel Puig, whose June callup, paired with the return of several key players from injury, coincided with a 46-10 run through the summer that propelled the Dodgers to an NL West title. Presumed NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw anchors a formidable rotation that should give the team an advantage in the series.
Prediction: L.A. in 5
Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
After collapsing down the stretch in historic fashion in 2011 and failing miserably under Bobby Valentine in 2012, the Sox finally returned to title contender form this season under the steadying tutelage of former pitching coach John Farrell, capturing the AL East crown for the first time since their 2007 championship season. A roster filled with veterans gelled nicely all season and the team is much better rested than the Rays. No strangers to the Sox, division rivals the Rays have been a force in the AL East ever since dropping the “Devil” from their moniker, regularly competing with big market teams like the Sox and the Yankees despite a comparatively paltry payroll. The team is currently riding a wave of momentum following a series of must-win games on the road to put them in this Division series, but the Sox should wrap up this series with relative ease.
Prediction: Boston in 4
Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers
A decade after the season that inspired the Academy Award-nominated film Moneyball, the A’s continue to excel on a miniscule budget guided by the baseball acumen of general manager Billy Beane. Year after year, the front office continues to extract value from cast offs, while also capitalizing off emerging talent from their farm system. In another successful season that should surprise no one at this point, the A’s won the AL West for a second consecutive year. The Tigers followed up an AL pennant last year with a division crown, led by the winning ways of pitcher Max Scherzer and the incredible offensive prowess of Miguel Cabrera who only missed a second consecutive Triple Crown due to injuries and a break out year by the Orioles’ Chris Davis. The team will be on the hunt for redemption after being swept out of the World Series last year.
Prediction: Detroit in 4