The Tenth Inning – ALCS and NLCS Previews and Predictions ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
Let’s start this LCS preview with a quick recap of the LDS predictions:
Prediction: Boston 3, Tampa Bay 2
I will give myself a little pat on the back for nailing the Dodgers and Tigers perfectly and correctly predicting a Red Sox win. I also did have a line in my preview that the Pirates would have the chance to win game four at home against St. Louis, but apparently Michael Wacha decided he had other ideas. As such, I’m left without a rooting interest in the National League and will be rooting for whichever AL team emerges to win the league’s first World Series since the Yankees saved me from a fate worse than death by beating the Phillies in 2009. And now, on to the LCS!
I am so done with the Cardinals. I was done with them in 2006 when Jeff Suppan, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright combined to break the hearts of Mets fans everywhere – with a little help from a “just looking” Carlos Beltran. Speaking of the infamous curveball watcher, Beltran now has more postseason homeruns than any player ever, which apparently has made some national pundits at the Worldwide Leader (::cough:: Jayson Stark ::cough::) gush about his candidacy for the Hall of Fame and his claim on the title of Mr. October. He even compared Beltran to Jeter! Loyal readers know I’m not a Yankees fan by any stretch, but Jeter has FIVE championships. Beltran has never even played in a World Series GAME!!! Seriously folks, let’s come back down to earth for a second. He has now made the LCS four times with three different teams (2004 Astros, 2006 Mets, 2012 and 2013 Cardinals) and has lost in his three previous trips. Ironically, his ’04 and ’06 teams lost to these same Cardinals, so I think it would be poetic justice if the Dodgers won here just to keep the streak alive. But the point is that we need to see Beltran actually play in the final game of the season before we start crowning him one of the best players to ever pick up a bat. Don’t we???
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have things set up perfectly for their series with St. Louis. Zack Greinke will pitch games one and five for LA while ace Clayton Kershaw will get the ball for games two and six. On the flip side, St. Louis won’t get to send Adam Wainwright to the hill until game three, meaning he likely won’t be able to pitch twice unless this series goes the distance. Sure, that gives St. Louis a distinct advantage if game seven does, in fact, materialize, especially since it will be played at Busch Stadium, but the biggest issue could be getting there. The Dodgers duo has been masterful all year, even though Greinke lost game two against Atlanta. It’s going to be very difficult for the Cardinals to beat those guys multiple times in this series.
The key for this series is Matt Carpenter. If he can get on base ahead of Beltran and Matt Holliday, then the Cardinals will have a very good chance to win because it will just add increased pressure to the Dodgers pitching staff. In actuality, St. Louis has to feel like getting a split with Joe Kelly and Wacha in the first two games in a bit of a victory, because they can then hand the ball to Wainwright in game three with a chance to swing home field back in their favor without having to face either Kershaw or Greinke. Ultimately, I think this series will be one of two outcomes – Dodgers in six or Cardinals in seven. I don’t like that LA has basically turned into “Yankees West” and will basically be “buying” an NL pennant, but it’s significantly preferable to dealing with another World Series involving the Cardinals – and their fans.
Like it or not, this Tigers team is just built for the postseason. They have two unbelievable starting pitchers, two other very good starting pitchers, a lineup that provides a tough out 1-9 in the order, and a bullpen that, while not necessarily filled with Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman clones, has been very good to this point. The A’s discovered just un-fun it is to play Detroit in the playoffs, suffering their third straight series loss to the Tigers thanks, once again, to Justin Verlander, who tossed a gem to win game five in Oakland for the second straight year. That sets up exactly what I expected before the postseason began – Tigers and Red Sox – and it should be a tremendous series that deserves your full attention.
On the Boston side, the sudden solidifying of their starting pitching this season is the reason they are where they are. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both pitched like aces, and the Sox finally got a return on their investment from John Lackey. The addition of Jake Peavy gives Boston the ability, more than any other team in the postseason (including the Dodgers), to go pitch-for-pitch with the Tigers starting staff. They’ll need it, too, because Miguel Cabrera announced his arrival to the postseason party with a two-run homer against Oakland in the decisive game five. He’ll be playing hurt all postseason – that’s a given – but if he starts producing for the Tigers, they’ll be holding a parade in the streets of Detroit in early November.
So how to the Red Sox host a parade of their own? For starters, the stars need to continue to play like stars. That means Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz must find a way to produce some offense against Verlander, Scherzer, et al. That will cause players like Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli to see better pitches, two guys that have made a habit of getting big postseason hits beyond just last series against Tampa. Boston also has home field, and Fenway hasn’t had this much electricity since 2004 when the Sox rallied to beat the Yankees in that classic ALCS. The World Series title in 2007 spoiled them, they were stunned by the Rays in 2008, and suddenly it’s almost like Boston faded with their interest in the Red Sox. The Celtics and Bruins each won championships and played in another Finals and the Pats played in a Super Bowl while the Red Sox were busy falling apart and losing their core from those championship teams. Now, though, the buzz is back, and fans have embraced the new group of characters the organization has assembled, and there’s just something about postseason baseball at Fenway that brings a little added atmosphere and electricity to the game.
Still, I just can’t imagine this Red Sox team – one I picked to finish last the AL East in the preseason preview (can’t get everything right) – beating this Detroit team that for so long has just seemed destined to win a World Series. My initial thought before the playoffs began was Tigers over Dodgers, and with Verlander slated to pitch game seven, there’s really no reason to change course now.
Check back after the completion of the LCS for a complete World Series preview from “The Tenth Inning,” only at the Ultimate Capper.
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