Tonight marks the start of the MLB Postseason, featuring the first of two fights for the right to play in the Divisional Round between eternal enemies Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, followed by a second duel to
the death elimination tomorrow between Cleveland and Tampa Bay. (There might be some fairly grandiose moments throughout this column because I just watched the new trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and might be mildly freaking out at the moment. I mean, new Hobbit footage AND a Reds postseason game in one day? Your intrepid writer’s mind melts like butter on hot asphalt.)
What I’ll try to do with the Postseason is to do all of my Round Previews in one article, before each new set of Series begins. This will culminate with a team-by-team preview of the two pennant winners, followed by World Series recaps. All part of our mission at the Addison Recorder to provide you with the best continual analysis of the major shakings and dealings of popular culture.
(Oh, by the way, apparently there’s hockey tonight, though I cannot verify such things as truthful.)
Let’s begin with tomorrow’s game – my brain still needs time to recover before I can provide objective coverage of the Reds. (Otherwise it would come out something like “GRAH AROLDIS CHAPMAN SON OF SMAUG BREATHS FIRE AS HE THROWS HIS HEATER BILLY HAMILTON IS PART ELF PART COOL PAPA BELL DUSTY BAKER IS THAT FAT OLD GOBLIN PLAYED BY DAME EDNA REDS WIN 14-3” And who wants that, really?)
AL WILD CARD GAME
CLEVELAND INDIANS VS. TAMPA BAY RAYS
First, a few words about last night…specifically, the implications:
- David Price seems to have forgotten that he can’t step up big when it counts. Then again, it wasn’t really the postseason, was it? (Though it should have been, yet stats still count for the regular season, but it’s win or go home, like the playoffs…etc…)
- Ron Washington is probably going to get fired sooner, rather than later…
- The Texas line-up really IS anemic against lefties.
- Thankfully, this play (charmingly set to the music from TRON apparently) didn’t end up costing one team the game. Otherwise, the calls for replay would be through the roof. THROUGH THE GOD DAMN ROOF.
- Indians fans should be glad that David Price won’t be pitching against them if he’s turned it up this high.
The Indians come into this game riding a 10-game winning streak (shades of Rocktober!), with Terry Francona kicking his team into overdrive against the dregs of MLB in September. (But you know this already.) Both teams come into this essentially having played elimination games for the past few weeks, forced to keep pace in a break-neck fashion. It’ll be interesting to see whether the winner of tonight’s contest will roll over and play dead against Boston, exhausted by their efforts, or if they’ll simply fire two proton torpedoes into the Death Star that is known as Fenway Park, riding their hot streak on through. It’s not something we haven’t seen before (see: San Francisco 2012, St. Louis 2011, Colorado 2007, etc.) so keep your eyes peeled. If such a team comes from anywhere this year, it’ll most likely be one of these two.
Pitching for the Rays tonight is Alex Cobb, who over his last three starts (all against playoff competition somehow) has gone 3-0, with 25 IP, 26 K’s, and 3 earned runs; in addition, in his only start against Cleveland this year, he tossed 7 shutout innings, moving to 2-1 with a lifetime 2.70 ERA against the Indians. He goes against Danny Salazar, he of the 10 starts this season and all of 52 IP. Granted, he does come complete with a high 90’s fastball, a 3.12 ERA, and 65 K’s in those innings, though much of his quality work seems to have been turned in against lower-class competition. However, he did have this to say regarding his looming postseason start: “This is awesome….I’m just going to do my best out there.” Granted, those are the lines you’re expected to say, but it’s refreshing for Indians fans to note that he said “awesome” as opposed to “Holy crap, my 11th start is a win or go home playoff game? FUCK THIS SHIT.”
Lineup wise, the Indians are led by second baseman Jason Kipnis, one of the most underrated great players in the league, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana (no, not that Carlos Santana), and Asdrubal Cabrera. Collectively, they’re a solid line-up, though nothing compared to the might that a Detroit Tigers team might offer. Scrappy seems to have been a good word to describe their play, with less emphasis on the home run than on solid station-to-station baseball. (Four players have at least 17 steals on the team, led by Kipnis’ 30) Meanwhile, the Rays have Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, James Loney (the dreaded first baseman with no power who hits .350 on the road), and the rookie Wil Myers, a lineup that has been inconsistent over the past year.
The key X-factors for the game for me are if Salazar can continue the Indians hot streak for at least one more day and if the Indians offense can manage to scrape together enough runs. The idea that “God Hates Cleveland” sets this up as a potential heartbreaker for Indians fans, yet I think that, in the end, Cleveland’s hot streak and sheer determination to win gives them a victory. OFT-WRONG PREDICTION – Indians win 4-3 in dramatic fashion.
NL WILD CARD GAME
PITTSBURGH PIRATES VS. CINCINNATI REDS
Ah, the moment I’ve been
dreading waiting for all season long. Reds postseason baseball.
This hasn’t been the best of years for Cincinnati, who came into this year with their ambitions of repeating as division champs undone by a remarkably solid St. Louis Cardinals team and a Pittsburgh team that finally overcame 20 years of consecutive losing.
The real story of the game, no matter how much we Reds fans may grumble (and we do, believe me), is postseason baseball returning to Pittsburgh. It’ll be a wonderful sight to see a sold out PNC Park, one of the most elegant and beautiful parks in all of baseball, host its first playoff game. If I’m a baseball fan in the Western Pennsylvania area (and believe me, they exist), I’m pouring into the streets in a giant outpouring of support for my team, because
who knows when this might happen again the Pirates are a damn good team built to win. Andrew McCutcheon is a stud, who just might win the MVP this year. Russell Martin is one of the best backstops in the league (though his hitting line might leave much to be desired), Pedro Alvarez is a young slugger with great potential, and Sterling Marte can be electrifying at times. They are joined by productive bat Marlon Byrd, a late season acquisition from the Mets, and Justin Morneau, the former MVP still struggling with the after-effects of a grisly concussion from many years back. The Pirates closed out the season with a 3-game sweep of the Reds in which they outscored Cincinnati 16-6 (pardon me while I go vomit), and will be sending a resurgent Francisco Liriano against the Reds. Though he holds a 16-8 record and a 3.02 ERA, he was 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA when playing in Cincinnati this year. His opponent, Johnny Cueto (recently recovered from a seemingly endless stream of injuries), meanwhile, went 1-0 with a 0.73 ERA against the Bucco’s this year, and has a recent history of domination in big games.
On the other hand, Cincinnati’s Achilles’ heel is actually its once mighty line-up.
Take a look at the following slash stats:
Votto: .305/.435/.491, 101 runs scored, 135 walks, 20+ home runs, 70+ RBI’s
Choo: .285/.423/.462, 107 runs scored, 112 walks, 20 stolen bases, 20 home runs
Bruce: .262/.329/.478, 30 home runs, 109 RBI’s, 89 runs scored
Those are the heavy hitters for the Reds, their 1, 3, and 5 hole hitters. They either get on base or they figure out how to drive in the man in front of them. They are the core of a solid line-up.
Or, they would be, if the following slash lines didn’t exist…
Ladies and gentlemen, your starters for tonight’s game!
To put the slash stats in perspective, the first is batting average, which in the grand scheme of things does mean something, but not as much as it used to. The last is slugging percentage, or how much power you hit for (most quality sluggers bat around a .500 slugging percentage). The middle one is the key to the Reds’ woes, and that is on base percentage, a stat that takes into account walks, hits, and being hit by pitches, and the crux behind the Moneyball philosophy. To put into perspective how bad the Reds are at getting on base, let me state that a mediocre OPB is typically in the .320 to .330 range, though some push it as far up as .340. While Votto and Choo are in a class of their own as far as OBP is considered, the rest of the team struggles to just get on base, instead falling into unproductive, rally-killing outs more often than not. As a team, the Reds OBP is .327, which is only dragged up that high because Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo play for the Reds. (The potential factor of Choo leaving the Reds after this year utterly terrifies me) Even worse, the Reds have a tendency this year to have lapses of thinking on the base path, costing them even more runs. None of which is made any better by Dusty Baker’s prevalence towards
stupid dumbfuck idiotic eclectic line-up constructions. (He’s hitting Ryan Ludwick second! SECOND! I must watch this game alone tonight, or I might commit murder in the streets of Chicago.)
The big X-factor for the Reds is sitting on their bench, and in this columnist’s
uninformed opinion, should be starting in center field tonight (moving Choo to a more natural left field): Billy Hamilton, he of the 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts, to go along with a (extremely small-scale) slash line of .368/.429/.474. He has already come into several late-game situations in the month of September, scoring go-ahead or winning runs on four separate occasions (Including against the Pirates! Why isn’t he playing more when you have the Corpse Formerly Known As Ryan Ludwick perched in left field waiting to collapse as a ground ball squirts past him?!), while providing a spark of energy sorely needed by this team all season long. I understand the playoffs are not the best way for a player to truly get used to big league pitching, but on the other hand, this is the playoffs. This is a win or go home game. Every player counts.
The outcome? I honestly have no idea. My head is telling me that Cueto and a middling effort by the Reds line-up ought to be enough to get past the Pirates, but on the other hand, the Pirates line-up is more effective than the Reds, which goes along with the recent psychological smack-down the Bucs just gave them in Cincinnati. Ah, screw it, I’m going with my heart. Prediction: Cincinnati wins 4-2.
Cumulative Postseason Record: 1-0 (I’ll be keeping tabs on myself for individual series, as opposed to predicting the final outcome of every game, which is a fool’s errand. Then again, I’ve been called worse.