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Baseball playoffs open to new organization

By Charlie Romanow

Section: Sports

October 4, 2013

The Major League Baseball Playoffs have finally begun, albeit in a different manner than we would usually expect. Instead of the system that has been used since 1995, where four teams from each league earn a spot in the postseason, five teams from each league will now get a chance. One-game wild card matchups took place this week to see which of the two wild card teams in each league would advance to the division series.

This year’s race for the World Series championship is being fought by the remaining eight teams that are all within five wins of one another. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox enter with the best record in the league and will face the division rival Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on Friday. The Sox will be difficult to beat with home-field advantage. The Rays are nearly as strong at home, so Tampa will have to upset the Red Sox in Boston to win the best-of-five series. Boston won the season series against the Rays 12-7 in a slew of low-scoring games. This trend will likely continue into the playoffs with pitching a key factor. Both teams have had strong offenses this year, but the Sox stand out in the MLB, leading the league in runs with 57 more than the second place Tigers. Boston’s hitters have had a good eye all season long, seeing the most pitches faced, but the Rays can match up with them in this category, as they lead the majors in base on balls.

With the Red Sox regular season advantage over Tampa, this is Boston’s to lose. Their strong core of hitters will need to be led by veterans Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz with the myriad of newcomers continuing their strong play from the regular season. The Rays have had fewer stars with none of the players gaining more than 90 runs batted in, or hitting an average over 300. On the mound, both teams have a strong group of starters, but the guys at the back of the rotation will have to step up their game to push their team ahead.

The Detroit Tigers will face the Oakland Athletics on Friday. These division leaders faced off against each other during two series during the season with each team winning on the road. The teams were nearly even during the season in terms of runs scored and runs allowed. The Tigers are led by MVP incumbent Miguel Cabrera, who put up big power numbers and led the majors in hitting. The A’s come into the postseason with less star power and playoff experience than the Tigers, who have won the division in each of the last three years.

Oakland is 80-28 when hitting a home run, so the Tiger’s pitching will have to focus on not giving up the long ball. The A’s will be led on the mound by 40-year-old Bartolo Colon who may begin to tire out in October. The Tigers come in with a strong starting rotation that has been disappointed by former ace Justin Verlander’s lackluster performance this season. Detroit seems to have the advantage in this series, even with Verlander’s sub-par pitching, but they may need him to advance further in the postseason.

The National League Division Series began on Oct. 3 with the Pittsburgh Pirates facing the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers facing the Atlanta Braves.

Despite the Cardinals’ winning the division title, they were 8-10 against the Pirates this season. The run differential in those 18 games was nearly identical with six of the games being a shutout. St. Louis enters with a much stronger offense led by Matt Holliday and veteran Carlos Beltran. The Pirates are led by the duo of Andrew McCutchen and power hitter Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez only hit .233 this season but was able to amass 36 home runs. The Cardinals have the advantage in this series, dominating the league in hitting with runners and scoring position and have a clear dominance in their veteran players with plenty of experience; the Pirates have not made the playoffs in 21 years.

The final series between the Dodgers and Braves pits two teams that have not had great success in the playoffs recently. Atlanta’s home-field advantage in the series will be an asset as they are 56-25 at home and Los Angeles has near identical records at home as on the road. The Braves won the season series 5-2. Each team is nearly even in terms of runs scored and runs allowed. The Braves offense will be led by youngster Freddie Freeman, while the Dodgers have a solid group of hitters that have the potential to break out at any moment. Los Angeles stars Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have disappointed this year with Kemp having to be kept out due to injury for much of the season. The Dodgers’ first three starting pitchers, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, give the Dodgers the leg up in this series.

A survey of 21 general managers was conducted found that eight favored the Red Sox to win it all, six believed the Tigers would win, and five thought the Dodgers would win, with the remaining two not predicting a winner. General managers are wary about rooting for the Dodgers who had been inconsistent this year. The Red Sox have the experience to lead them to a championship, and the Tigers have the star pitcher and batter to carry the team. This year’s postseason has less of a clear front-runner than previous years; any of the eight teams have the talent to make it to the World Series.

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