The MLB regular season is a grueling six-month struggle to stay healthy, fight through injuries and constantly convince yourself that every game matters, even though an August matchup with San Diego may seem trivial and pointless in the long, hot dog days of summer. Through these trials, favorites emerge and division dynasties are formed. Teams like the Yankees, Braves, Cardinals, Phillies and Rangers are used to looking forward to October as the time when their games really matter.
However, when that time comes, anything can happen. One injury, one hot streak, one fluky month can change the entire complexion of the MLB postseason. Nine different teams have won the World Series in the last 12 years. Ten different teams have lost the World Series in that time. The Dodgers, A’s and Indians are in a position to inflate those numbers. And this year, the Pittsburg Pirates are in the playoffs for the first time in my lifetime. The best part: They’re legit.
In a wild baseball year when there are three single-game elimination rounds before the Division Series even begin, the 2013 World Series title is as open as ever. However, there is a formula for success that can be traced back over the last decade. Pitching wins championships, and this year, a few teams are loaded.
According to the numbers, the Dodgers have two of the top five pitchers in baseball. In addition to Co-Aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, L.A. sports two solid number threes in Hyun-jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco. But the Dodgers are dealing with injuries to star outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, causing them to sputter down the stretch.
Whether L.A. faltered due to injuries, resting their starters or losing their momentum, they better hope their pitchers rebound to the elite level that they were at during the Dodgers’ historic hot streak. If not, St. Louis, Atlanta and Pittsburg are waiting in the wings.
The Pirates can match the Dodgers’ pitching on any given day, even if they don’t have the payroll and the star power. AJ Burnett is looking like a revelation after being an injured shell of his former self in recent years. Francisco Liriano had the Cy Young season that people have been predicting since he was co-lead of a Minnesota Twins rotation with Johan Santana.
While they haven’t had the headlines this season, the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves continue their persistent excellence by way of the “next-man-up” philosophy. Longtime Atlanta number one Tim Hudson went down with an injury, but next up is Kris Medlen who takes over the ace mantle after a September in which he went 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA. In year 2 PA [post-Albert], the Cardinals feature two first basemen with .300 averages in Allen Craig and Matt Adams.
The National League is stacked, but on the American League side of things, the Red Sox, A’s and Rays are playing to prove that they’re for real, again. All three teams have enjoyed sustained success, but the lack of star power causes critics to doubt their legitimacy.
The Red Sox, who scored more runs than anyone in the game, just won the toughest division in baseball on way to the best record of all 30 teams. Yet they’re not even considered the favorites in the American League, a distinction that belongs to the Tigers, led by Miguel Cabrera. I guess people can’t believe that the Red Sox are for real after trading Adrian Gonzalez and blowing up their team last year. But with Mike Napoli filling the void admirably, David Ortiz having a career year, and the rest of the lineup getting on base and hitting with runners in scoring position, the Red Sox could surprise everyone. Well, everyone who didn’t pay attention to the numbers.
And for the second year in a row, Oakland surprised everyone and took the AL West. The legend of Josh Donaldson continues in the bay to ease the pain of the Giants fall from grace, and it seems like they have about a dozen quality pitchers waiting in the wings. If Oakland can turn Bartolo Colon into an ace at age 75 and Coco Crisp into a power hitter, I’m sold that the A’s have something supernatural going on.
But the question remains: can these teams compete with the Tigers? Max Scherzer should win the Cy Young, Miguel Cabrera should be awarded “Best Hitter Of A Generation” distinctions, and Justin Verlander can still throw 101 MPH in the 9th inning of a game in October.
Underdogs can heat up at any given moment as well. Just ask the Giants. San Francisco will testify that in can happen two out of three years in fact. It all comes down to health, nerves and preparation. A star-studded team like the Dodgers can choke after a cold streak down the stretch.
Or they could blanket the Cardinals with dominant starting pitching that allows the bullpen to rest until the NLCS. Miguel Cabrera could hit .700 with half a dozen home runs in three games to bomb the Tigers over the A’s. Hell, he could hit like that but the rest of the lineup could freeze in the face of no-name Oakland pitchers who find their groove and hit their spots. And Josh Donaldson might hit .800 and will his team to victory.
Ok that last one might be a bit of a stretch, but with the parity in baseball this year, we should be in for a postseason for the ages.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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