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Welcome to the 2013 playoffs

Sep 30, 2013, 8:40 AM EDT

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We still have one game left that, technically and statistically speaking, belongs to the regular season. But practically speaking — and in our hearts — we are into the playoffs now. Game 163 between the Rays and Rangers is do-or-die and very, very few regular season games can say that. So: toss your technical orthodoxy. It’s playoffs time.

And what an intriguing time it proves to be. In some ways for who is on the outside as opposed to the inside. The Yankees will be home watching the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and for only the second time since 1994. The teams which made big offseason splashes — the Angels and Blue Jays — lost all hope long before the weather turned cool. Everyone’s favorite in the National League — the Washington Nationals — finished strong but it was too little, too late. The 2013 season looked at all of the experts’ predictions and said “ha!”

Expectations notwithstanding, at the 2013 playoff party are 11 teams with pretty compelling stories.  Some of those stories are mere dramatic narrative which will be beat into the ground by playoff game broadcasters over and over again. Or, at least until the results on the field render those narratives nonsensical. Some of the stories, however, truly do tell the tale of 2013 and the lasting power of those stories will determine how long their authors continue to play.

Here’s an overview of the party-goers

American League

  • Red Sox: This club may have the biggest disparity between the storylines we’ll hear and actual baseball relevance. What we’ll hear? Beards! Chemistry! Redemption after the collapse of 2011 and the horror of Bobby Valentine’s reign in 2012! Bad seeds like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford gone! John Farrell restoring order! The part about Farrell is definitely true. And there are certainly better feelings surrounding this team. But they also happen to have the best offense by far in the AL, a healthier, outstanding pitching staff and good team defense, and those things are way more important than any facial hair bonding.
  • Tigers: There are big stars here. The likely Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer and the likely two-time MVP in Miguel Cabrera chief among them. Cabrera was very ordinary and very hurt in September, however, and the Tigers as a whole stumbled to a 13-13 record in the month’s final season. That said, momentum is your next day’s starting pitcher, and the Tigers have had very good, very consistent starting pitching in 2013, with only five guys accounting for 156 of the team’s 162 starts. When they’re on, there are few teams better than Detroit. Jim Leyland just has to find a way to flip that switch after a quite ignominious end to the regular season.
  • Athletics: For the second year no one picked the A’s to win the AL West. For the second straight year they won it. Still, people will sleep a bit on the largely unknown-to-the-nation A’s (maybe unknown to Oakland too).  But after you get past decade-old “Moneyball” jokes about how this team is defying gravity and economics, know that they have the third best offense in the AL (after Boston and Detroit) and were third in home runs and walks. Know also that they allowed fewer runs than all but two teams in the AL (Kansas City and Detroit). It’s a very balanced team which, unlike Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles, actually won its division last year too. Still: they’re likely to be treated as newbie over achievers because people love those kinds of cliches.
  • Indians: A new manager in Terry Francona and a new motivational leader in Nick Swisher will get the credit for their presence in the playoffs. A very solid outfield defense has helped the pitching staff rebound this year, and the biggest rebound came from starter Ubaldo Jimenez. The Tribe went 21-6 in September, though a lot of that came against poor competition. Expect them to get a lot of “they have the momentum!” talk. At least until they play the wild card game on Wednesday.
  • Rays/Rangers: One of them will make it in after tonight. If it’s the Rangers, it could very well be because of the return of Nelson Cruz, who will be activated following is PED suspension (and whose suspension coincided with the Rangers playing poorly in the final month and a half of the season). The Rays have good overall starting pitching which, unfortunately for them, has feasted on poor teams but not always come up so big against the contenders. Neither of these clubs seem like good bets for long playoff runs. But note the above stuff about the value of predictions.

National League:

  • Braves: A new look after the trade for Justin Upton last winter and the continuing dominance of closer Craig Kimbrel get the headlines. But the second banana in the Upton trade — Chris Johnson — hit .321 on the year and the offense was buoyed by Freddie Freeman and his .319/.396/.501 line. The real secret weapon on this team, however, is shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who may have just posted the best defensive season by a shortstop in baseball history. The Braves were noted for their ball-bashing ability early in the year, but they ended up allowing fewer runs than any team in the NL this season, and Simmons’ sparkling defense had a lot to do with that.
  • Cardinals: The best team in the National League just keeps rolling along, producing talented player after talented player from its exceedingly fertile farm system. Adam Wainwright is still the ace, Matt Holliday led the team in OPS+ and Yadier Molina will get a ton of MVP votes, but it’s not a team that is overly-reliant on their big-name players. Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller and, if he makes the post-season rotation, Michael Wacha are some of the younger and, to some, unknown weapons at manager Mike Matheny’s disposal. Carlos Beltran has continued his wonderful play years after many considered him a top-flight star (note: he’s still pretty awesome). There are questions in the bullpen, but the Cardinals have been able to handle just about everything thrown at them for the past few seasons. Expect it to continue.
  • Dodgers: Derided in the spring as a chemistry-free team of high-priced parts assembled by owners with too much money to burn, the Dodgers’ amazing midseason turnaround has helped put lie to the notion that you can’t assemble a winner with high-priced free agents and trades for embattled (and highly-paid) veterans. Adrain Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were deemed part of the problem in Boston yet now find themselves on a winner. Flashy and, at times, controversial rookie Yasiel Puig is showing that young ballplayers can — shockingly — enjoy themselves on the field and still be productive. The real strength here, though, is the rotation. Clayton Kershaw should win the NL Cy Young. Zack Greinke posted a 1.85 ERA in the second half. If you’re playing the odds, you’re looking at the competition facing an 0-2 hole in a short series. A key concern, though, is the health of Hanley Ramirez and the absence of Matt Kemp, who will miss the playoffs. The Dodgers may have also played their best baseball in July and August (they were a mere 12-15 in September) and will be yet another test as to whether momentum matters.
  • Pirates: The Cinderella story of 2013. The Pirates sloughed off over 20 years of losing records and broke through this year, led by MVP favorite Andrew McCutchen, NL home run co-leader Pedro Alvarez and a stingy bullpen. If they win the Wild Card game against Cincinnati on Tuesday expect the bandwagon to overflow.
  • Reds: An up-and-down team this year which at times looks far better than the second wild card team that they are and other times looks a bit lost. The Reds were third in the NL in runs per game this year, but are pretty reliant on Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo. If they’re cold on Tuesday or beyond, runs may be hard to come by.

Those are the partiers. Now the party begins.

  1. chill1184 - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    Looking forward to seeing some weird managerial decisions late in games

    • coloradogolfcoupons - Sep 30, 2013 at 1:41 PM

      Count on it, especially in the Rangers case. Ron Washington pinch hit for a position player in the 2011 WS during a rally but let his pitcher hit. This year, without NL rules, he will have to use a pitcher to pinch hit if he wants to pull another managerial boner. And he doesn’t have Mike Young to hit cleanup…which in my book was the worst lineup boo-boo in MLB history, in the 2011 WS also. At the Time, Napoli and Cruz were hitting HRs at will and Washington the genius had them 8th and 6th. Washington should have been fired on his way back to the dugout after handing the umpire the lineup card. The baseball Gods don’t forget these things, like selling Ruth to the Yankees, and the Sox waiting 2 million years to get back a WS ring. The Rangers may well be doomed likewise, for employing a manager that Forrest Gump would pity.

      • moogro - Sep 30, 2013 at 2:53 PM

        You’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating.

      • coloradogolfcoupons - Sep 30, 2013 at 3:25 PM

        Re: You’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating.

        Let me give you a little background on why I want the idiot fired.

        You bet your ass it is worth repeating, just for the magnitude of the blunders. I used to pitch in the old stadium, then a minor league park, in high school and college playoff games. My teammate, Doug Ault, at Panola Jr College, performed one of the greatest feats in baseball history in 1970 pitching against San Jacinto Jr Colloge that sent us back to the Juco World Series…

        I had lost the 1st game 2-0 and the next day Ault pitched and won both games of a double-header in 100+degree heat, they second game going 12 innings.. He also won the game with a walk off HR in the bottom of the 12th. He pitched 21 innings and ate half a bottle of salt tabalets and still lost 17 pounds.

        He was drafted by the Blue Jays and hit 2 HR’s in the 1st game ever played in their home park back in 77 I believe. Mayberry eventually took his job.

        Long story short, I take my Rangers seriously, having watched many thousands of games over the years. To see an idiot totally butcher their WS chances in 2011 made me bite my foot off in frustration. It is my last goal in life to see them replace this abomination of a manager and get a manager than players can respect…not a foul-mouthed drug abuser who’s “Gut Instincts” have made the Rangers a laughingstock when the money is on the line, big choke jobs 3 years in a row.

  2. NatsLady - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    The Barves, more than the Dodgers, will be the test of whether a chemistry-free team can succeed in the playoffs.

    And, PROOF-READ! Seriously.

    • skeleteeth - Sep 30, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      And if you had spell checked, you would have spell checked the best.

    • bravojawja - Sep 30, 2013 at 9:43 AM

      This is the first I’ve heard that the Braves are somehow “chemistry-free.”

    • aceshigh11 - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:51 AM

      The Atlanta Barfs?

  3. theageofquarrel - Sep 30, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    LET’S GO BUCS!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Francisco (FC) - Sep 30, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    and those things are way more important than any facial hair bonding.

    Facial Hair Bonding? I have this image of Sox players with beards in the dugout getting close to each other and their beards magically twine and connect Avatar style.

    • historiophiliac - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      I think they just pick bugs out of each other’s beards and fight over shopping carts.

    • moogro - Sep 30, 2013 at 2:56 PM

      The A’s beards have powerforce inscribed at the DNA level.

  5. Francisco (FC) - Sep 30, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    Fun with stats: Andrelton Simmons is credited with 6.8 bWAR and MIguel Cabrera is 7.2 bWAR. I haven’t checked fan graphs. But it’s interesting how a great defensive shortstop with average hitting at a premium position can almost equal the value of the game’s premier hitter at a corner infield spot. Value is relative of course.

  6. takemytalentstosoutheuclid - Sep 30, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    The Indians played the same schedule as the Tigers, and only finished one game behind them. I’m already hearing about their weak September schedule. Nobody mentions Detroit played the same teams this season. If the Indians had gone .500 against Detroit, we’re looking at a much different picture here. What Cleveland accomplished, with arguably no star players, is a much greater achievement, IMO, than what Detroit did with their $162mil payroll.

  7. cur68 - Sep 30, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    Andrelton “The Package” Simmons. Pretty hard to get a ball past that guy. If his bat wakes up for the playoffs, he’ll really bring something to the table besides outstanding D.

    • Francisco (FC) - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      Sometimes, outstanding D is all you need in the playoffs. Also he doesn’t seem to strike out much, puts the ball in play. Make the other team play good D.

    • misterj167 - Sep 30, 2013 at 3:28 PM

      He’s hitting .247/.295/.397 with 17 homers and 58 RBI’s, a lot of his non-production early was due to his batting leadoff. He’s better when he’s at the back end of the lineup, IMO. Those are still pretty good numbers for a shortstop.

  8. unclemosesgreen - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    To be fair to Adrian Gonzalez – Sawks Nation viewed him more as the cost of unloading Beckett & Crawford than as part of the malaise. He gets a one-year shoulder mulligan & was never part of any perceived chemistry problem – good player, good guy by all accounts.

    • mornelithe - Sep 30, 2013 at 4:19 PM

      Yeah, that’s how I’ve always viewed it. Gonzo may not have ‘quite’ batted up to his paycheck, but he was pretty damn close outside of injury. Had some mini-slumps here and there but I was largely satisfied with him. Crawford just seemed like a bad fit, I know he’s a good player, and had he been healthy more of the time…maybe he could’ve turned it around. But, he clearly wasn’t comfortable in Boston, though I have to disagree with his comments during the season about how he was treated here. I think he came off largely unscathed, pretty much everyone gave him a free pass drooling over what he’d do when he got healthy. He just risked being a historically bad contract, so the Sox packaged him and Gonzo w/ Beckett.

  9. historiophiliac - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    I wasn’t going to say it, but I can’t resist…..

    Detroit might be broke, but we own the AL Central.

    he he

    • historiophiliac - Sep 30, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      Also, I hate that “Welcome to the Jungle” sprang to mind. Dammit!

  10. egb234 - Sep 30, 2013 at 5:50 PM

    Let me jump in here for the best fans on the message board:

    You’re totally wrong on my team!! My team is the underdog, scratching and clawing because they don’t get any respect! If you say we are the favorite, you just don’t understand how much adversity we have been through. We are really a blue-collar team with guys who have each others’ backs! The national media drool about the other team; they’re the media darlings who MLB is conspiring to help! My team has been under appreciated all year!! I AM YELLING TO MAKE SURE YOU KNOW I AM MAD!!!

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