By Isaac Furman
For baseball fans, the beginning of fall means one thing: Playoffs. After six months and 162 games, 10 teams have established themselves as contenders, and over the next month they will battle it out for a shot at a World Series ring.
New York Yankees: The Yankees started the season with serious questions about their starting rotation. Luckily for Yankee fans, these questions were answered by veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. The Yankees potent offense and deep bullpen helped them earn the best record in the AL. Curtis Granderson has been the team MVP all season and a big post season from him could mean a 28th ring for New York.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers ran away with the AL Central this year thanks to the dominance of ace Justin Verlander and slugger Miguel Cabrera. All the attention will go to those two, but the Tigers also feature a strong supporting cast. Johnny Peralta, Alex Avila and Victor Martinez manufacture a ton of runs. If Doug Fister can keep his hot streak going, the Tigers will be tough to beat. They are my personal pick to win the World Series.
Texas Rangers: Texas broke out last year, making it all the way to the World Series. If they want to improve upon that, they’ll have to hope Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando pitch well enough. Offense won’t be an issue as Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Mike Napoli provide more than enough production. The key to Texas’s success will be getting the ball to their trio of dominant relievers.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are clearly the class of the NL. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have been superb. The Giants showed last year that dominant pitching is all a team needs in the playoffs. The Phillies were the preseason favorites, and they head into the playoffs in the same spot. The only concern is that the offense does have some weak spots. A good pitching performance from the opposing team could really hurt the Phillies’ chances.
Milwaukee Brewers: The Brew Crew is a fairly top heavy team. Braun, Fielder and Weeks are great, but there are concerns with the rest of the lineup. On the pitching side, Yovanni Gallardo will look to receive some national recognition for his excellence. This team has the best shot at knocking off the Phillies.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs shocked everyone by winning the NL west just one year after finishing last. This was in large part due to breakouts by ace Ian Kennedy, Right Fielder Justin Upton and a completely revamped bullpen. Arizona has a lot of unknown players, so they will probably fly under the radar in October. Still, they are a very talented team and in the playoffs, all it takes is a couple of good breaks to win it all.
At the time of publication the wild card race was still undecided in both conferences.
Atlanta Braves: For the Braves to make it, they must avoid a massive September collapse. While the potential collapse may have made people forget how talented they really are, they can still make a lot of noise come October. Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters form one of the best bullpens in recent memory. Young starters Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy can all shut down any offense. Like the Giants last year, the Braves will struggle to score runs, and instead rely on great pitching and a few clutch hits. It’s a risky strategy, but it has worked before and it could work again.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cards are the team looking to capitalize on the Braves potential collapse. Even in a down year, Kyle Farnsworth is still the guy Cards fans want up in a big spot. The lineup also features Matt Holliday and a rejuvenated Lance Berkman. The rotation will be anchored by Jamie Garcia and Chris Carpenter. While neither is elite, both should be able to keep their team in the game. The Cards lack of a true ace might hurt them when they go up against some of the other powerhouses of the NL.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox, similar to the Braves, are trying to avoid an epic collapse. Their play over the last month was so awful that they nearly lost they’re in danger of losing a Wild Card spot that seemed all but locked up a month ago. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken seriously. They still have three of the best players in baseball in Ellsbury, Pedroia and Gonzalez and a great 1-2 punch in Beckett and Lester. The problem is their starting pitching after Lester and Beckett isn’t even major league quality. Will the offense be able to outslug their opponent if the pitching falters?
Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays have made a spectacular run to get back into the playoff race. They’re obviously one of the hottest teams in baseball right now, and, if they finish the comeback, they should expect to carry that momentum into the playoffs. The Rays make up for an average offense with excellent defense and starting pitching.
Their weakness is in the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth has been good, but his recent elbow injury is cause for concern. The Rays will rely heavily on strong performances from David Price and James Shields, but if they struggle, so will the Rays.