Friday, October 5, 2012

Wild Card Thoughts

Since the nature of the MLB wild card is one and done, a normal preview picking who wins doesn't do the same justice as picking teams to win a series. In lieu of stacking teams together, I figured that I would give some thoughts about the four teams in question today and of this new format itself.

-I think that the second wild card works in a sense that it allows for playoff expansion without a massive drop in quality. It also puts a division title as something that's to be desired, instead of something one shrugs their shoulder whether they win or not. Sooner or later, there will have to be an extension to the Wild Card Game into a series (I'd go with a best of 3) in order to avoid basically one pitcher being hot or cold as the difference between winning and losing. It also gives division winners a week off, though there are pros and cons in this event (Pro: Rotations would be set no matter who pitches game 162; Con: hot teams wait around for a week and begin cooling off). Let's see the games first before making any tweaks, though.

-If there's any team who would deserve a better fate if they lose today, it's clearly the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta, for the most part, remained the top NL Wild Card team and easily earned their playoff spot. Even though the Cardinals weren't that much worse than Atlanta, it's enough so that the Braves would be a major loser, since last year a finish like this for the Braves put them against the Brewers.

-That's the second major thing with the Braves tonight; last year, they collapsed and lost out to the Cardinals on the season's last day. This year, they avoided collapse, but a loss to the Redbirds again here would be just as bad. Actually, it would be worse. Why?

-This would be the final game for Chipper Jones if the Braves lose. Even if you don't care to see the Braves win, I'd hope you like me hope that it's a series that defeats them and retires Chipper and not just one game. 

-There's a flip side to that argument: The Cardinals, because of the second wild card, are in a position to defend their title. So why it's not fair for the Braves to easily make the playoffs and have that position threatened because of one game, the same goes for St. Louis, who should get to be beaten over the course of a series to lose in their defense.

-We must look at the starting pitcher matchup and the Braves obviously put Kris Medlen on the mound. He's been probably the best pitcher in baseball since August. As a starter this year (which again, is basically August), Medlen went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA, and a 0.80 WHIP. He had a 9.0 K/9 rate and a 2.22 FIP. However, his opponent, Kyle Lohse, just finished the best season in his career. His 143 K's, 3.51 FIP and 3.6 WAR aren't the most impressive number, but they are career highs for him, along with a 2.86 ERA. It would be tough for the Cardinals to score a lot considering Medlen and the Braves bullpen which features Craig Kimbrel to close. They'll need Lohse to pitch well and hold off a Braves lineup that won't have Brian McCann (yes, I know far too well that McCann didn't have the best of years in 2012, but having your starting catcher play is more than just important for hitting). I'm thinking the Braves win today and get the Nationals who are waiting.

-Finally, we get to the AL Wild Card, which incidentally would be a one game playoff in any prior year, between the Rangers and the Orioles. Unlike the arguments for the Braves and the Cards, I think it's absolutely fair for these two teams to play one game for the wild card. Both teams are tied (as I mentioned at the top) and the arc of the seasons for both make the wild card a natural destination. The Orioles matter for the first time since 1997 and even if they had fallen short; this season is still a success. Meanwhile, the Rangers flat out played mediocre throughout the second half, allowing the A's to catch them for the division and so this is their fate; a one and done game at home.

-While the Braves and Cards have their aces pitching today, the Rangers and Orioles don't really have an ace. Yu Darvish and Joe Saunders square off, but neither guy would be the Game 1 starter for any other playoff team. Bullpen play will more than likely play a significant role in who wins, along with which lineup can outslug the other.

-All things being equal, you'd want the Rangers lineup among almost every team's in the playoffs (I'll put the Yankees lineup ahead, but it's not a major difference). From Baltimore, I'd want Adam Jones, Chris Davis and hot Mark Reynolds. Probably want Matt Wieters since I'll take his hitting from the catcher spot. Otherwise, this team has a lot of young players and journeymen who somehow put it together this year. 

-I don't think it matters to Washington who they play among Atlanta and St. Louis (they should be thrilled to have postseason baseball for the first time since Prohibition was still law of the land). If I'm the Yankees, I'd probably take my chances with Baltimore than Texas, in case the Rangers finally realize that they have Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, etc., and begin mashing the ball again. 

-I do think the lineup of Texas and a day off to accept this fate of a Wild Card game (not to mention playing at home) will ultimately give the Rangers the edge and a cracker of a ALDS with the Yankees would follow (sorry for using a word in cracker that's used to describe an outstanding English football match, but it sounds right to me). 

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