MLB Playoff Preview: A look at all the opening series
CC Sabathia on the road is only certainly for Yanks
The Yankees won the AL East by outlasting the Orioles in the season's final week. They clinched the American League's best record by outperforming the Rangers down the stretch. Now, the Bronx Bombers wait their next opponent as Baltimore and Texas play for the wild card.
Only a few things are certain when it comes to the Yanks' impending ALDS series: CC Sabathia will take the ball in Game 1, and his start Sunday will not be at Yankee Stadium. All of the ALDS series begin with the higher seed on the road for two games before playing the final three in the home ballpark.
The Yankees can't control who they'll face, but they'll be tuned into Friday's 8:30 p.m. matchup in Arlington, Tex.
Each team presents a different set of challenges.
The O's don't have the firepower of the Rangers, who had the third-highest batting average in baseball.
The Rangers, however, aren't nearly as clutch as Baltimore, winners of their last 16 extra innings games.
The Rangers' best sluggers, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, haven't hit very well against Yankee pitching, Sabathia in particular. On the other hand, the Rangers have had postseason success against the Yanks in the past.
Among the most dangerous hitters Sabathia and the Yankees could see is Adam Jones, the Orioles' centerfielder. He's hitting .306 with seven homers against the Yankees, and .341 with three of those bombs against Sabathia.
Pitching-wise, neither team is loaded with imposing starters, but Baltimore's bullpen has been far better than Texas' in 2012. In fact, the O's team ERA in relief is nearly half a run better than that of the Rangers.
More than anything, Baltimore is too familiar with the Yankees and their pitchers. The Bombers have the best starting rotation of the three clubs, so it'd be better if they traveled to Texas for their first postseason game, and not to Baltimore.
Orioles and Texas must put aside failures
The AL one-game wild card round might as well be known as the Disappointment Series. Both the Rangers and Orioles entered Game 162 with hopes of winning their respective divisions, only to each suffer losses.
The good news: The one-game format allows the winner to turn its fortunes around in a hurry before a matchup with the Yankees.
Texas is playoff-tested and has been to two consecutive World Series - though it lost both times. In contrast, Baltimore hasn't tasted the postseason since 1997.
It doesn't help the O's chances that they have yet to face Rangers starter Yu Darvish. The rookie from Japan won 16 games for Texas while striking out 221 hitters. Chris Davis (33 HRs) and Adam Jones (32 HRs) certainly are capable of knocking it out of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and forcing Texas to go to its suspect bullpen.
The trouble is, the Rangers lineup might just be too much for Baltimore. No team scored more runs than Texas in 2012, and Josh Hamilton (43 HRs, 128 RBI) and Adrian Beltre (36 HRs, 102 RBI) know how to get runners home.
The Orioles will pitch Joe Saunders on Friday, who bounced back from a bad August (7.62 ERA) with a good September (2.75 ERA). Still, he's no ace, and that's part of the reason the Rangers will be moving forward.
Tigers' big cats vs. unheralded A's
No team is hotter than the Oakland Athletics right now. Since losing two of three to the Yankees two weeks ago, the AL West champions won eight of their final 10 games - all against division opponents.
They'll need to ride that momentum into Detroit for the first two games of their five-game ALDS series.
The Tigers claim the series' best pitcher, Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA, 239 Ks), and best two hitters, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44 HRs, 139 RBIs) and Prince Fielder (.313, 30 HRs, 108 RBIs).
What the A's lack in top-of-the-line talent they make up for in depth. Most casual fans couldn't name a pitcher in Oakland's starting rotation, but Game 1 starter Jarrod Parker (13-8, 3.47 ERA), Tommy Milone (13-10, 3.74 ERA) and A.J. Griffin (7-1, 3.06 ERA) are a formidable trio.
The A's young lineup posted the second-worst team batting average in the AL and set the AL record for strikeouts with a week to go in the season. That will be problematic in Game 1 - an perhaps Game 4 or 5 - against Verlander. But unheralded hitters such as Brandon Moss continue to connect on clutch hits down the stretch. Moreover, Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes could become the postseason's breakout star.
It won't be easy, but the A's have what it takes to get to the ALCS.
ATL's Medlen bad news for Cardinals
Kris Medlen made 12 starts for the Braves since joining the rotation on July 31, and the team is 12-0 in those games.
Atlanta is banking on that trend continuing when the Cardinals fly out from St. Louis for the do-or-die NL Wild Card game Friday afternoon.
The defending champions will counter with Kyle Lohse, who stepped up as the Cards' top arm in 2012 by posting a 16-3 record with a 2.86 ERA. They'll need him to be at his best against an Atlanta team that won five of six regular season matchups.
Lohse was roughed up by the Braves the last time he faced them, surrendering five runs in five innings. He'll have to keep Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, all of whom homered more than 20 times this year, in the park at Turner Field.
Carlos Beltran (32 HRs, 97 RBIs), Matt Holliday (27 HRs, 102 RBIs) and the rest of the St. Louis bats have a tall order ahead of them in getting Medlen rattled. The Braves righthander and his 0.97 ERA as a starter should propel Atlanta to a next-round matchup with the Nationals.
Giants-Reds an elite arms race
The NLDS is all about starting pitching. Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos for the Reds. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum for the Giants. And don't forget the Reds' Homer Bailey, who tossed a no-hitter in his final start of September.
Opening in San Francisco, the series sure looks set up to feature some terrific pitchers' duels, especially in Game 1 with Cy Young candidates Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA) and Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA, 1 perfect game).
But all these high-caliber arms only make the series' big bats more valuable.
Former MVP Joey Votto has hit .316 for Cincinnati since returning last month from knee surgery, while Jay Bruce (34 HRs, 99 RBI) has been a constant presence in the Reds' lineup. The Giants counter with MVP candidate Buster Posey (.336, 24 HRs, 103 RBI) and midseason acquisition Hunter Pence (24 HRs, 104 RBIs).
Ultimately, a deeper Cincinnati lineup and three home games give the edge to the Reds, even if the Giants' arms have more playoff experience and the World Series rings to prove it.