The baseball gods can be fickle.
One day after one of the most thrilling games in postseason history, we got a dud of a one-sided, boring blowout. (Though kudos to Madison Bumgarner for an outstanding pitching performance.)
The four division series will begin later today. There had been much talk about "regional" World Series matchups before the postseason began, as there were four such possible matchups (one is gone now with the Athletics eliminated). The New York Times listed all of them and the cute names given, which gave me an idea. This year's Division Series matchups don't have any obvious "series" names like those. So I'm going to give each of them one.
And you'll see that I'm nothing if not consistent. I'm going to end this forecast with the same two teams in the World Series that I picked to be there last March. (Please ignore the fact that I picked the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had the worst record in baseball, to make the playoffs. I did manage to get six of the 10 postseason teams correct.)
I'm going to dub this one "The Southwest Airlines Series." Before Southwest flew you pretty much anywhere nonstop, you had to airport-hop to get to the West Coast. That involved changing planes, frequently in Kansas City.
You wouldn't think the Royals have much chance here. The Angels had the best record in baseball this year and the Royals have... well, they have the excitement of winning Tuesday's game. Maybe that'll give them some momentum, though games like that often don't.
The Angels led the major leagues in runs and hit 60 (!) more home runs than the Royals did. On the other hand, KC showed the other night how you can win with small ball. If Kansas City can somehow get a lead into the seventh inning, their bullpen is about the best in baseball from that point on.
Over/under on bad/inexplicable/surreal decisions by Ned Yost in this series: 10.
Former Cubs on these rosters: Scott Downs wasn't on KC's wild-card game roster, but he might be for this series. The Angels will likely use Tony Campana as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.
Pick: Angels in four
"The Animal Kingdom Series."
Tigers are fierce, big cats! Orioles are birds. Tigers usually eat birds.
These, however, are men wearing baseball uniforms, not members of the animal kingdom. The Tigers had trouble closing games all year, as Joe Nathan creaked through what might be his final season with seven blown saves, some in spectacular fashion. Detroit's offense scored a lot of runs (second in MLB to the Angels), and given their bullpen failures, they might need to in this series.
Baltimore also had a high-powered offense, leading the majors in home runs (211) and getting good years out of Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones, making up for the failure of Chris Davis, who will not play in this series due to a PED suspension. Orioles pitching was very, very good this year, with contributions from many pitchers who didn't have much of a big name before 2014.
You know, sometimes players who have bad years step it up in the playoffs. Maybe this will be Nathan's series to shine.
Number of rain delays in this series: 2. The Orioles should be used to that after their wet weekend at Wrigley Field this year.
Former Cubs in this series: The only ex-Cub who might appear here is Baltimore's Steve Clevenger, though he was mostly a minor-league callup this year. Al Alburquerque and Ryan Flaherty are former Cubs minor leaguers.
Pick: Tigers in 5
"The Three-Time-Zone Series"
Fans of one of these teams will be out of sorts regarding starting times for some of these games. Either the east-coast fans of the Nats will be up very late, or west-coast Giants fans will have to listen to some of the early innings of games sitting in rush-hour traffic in their cars. Or, as in the case of Game 1, at lunchtime in San Francisco and the middle of the afternoon in Washington (2 p.m. CT Friday will be the starting time).
At the end of May the Nats were under .500 and people were saying new managerwas in over his head. And then... they just started winning, ending up with 96 wins and winning their division by 17 games, one of the largest divisional margins in history. Their starting pitching is solid top-to-bottom and they allowed only 84 runs in 27 games in September, and overall missed leading the majors in fewest runs allowed by just one.
The Giants, on the other hand, had a 10-game lead in the N.L. West in early June and were 22 games over .500, seemingly headed for a 100-win season. They blew the division lead, although they were never seriously challenged for the second wild-card spot once September began. The Giants wound up in the middle of the pack in both runs and runs allowed, but as we saw Wednesday night, just about any one of their pitchers can shut down an offense on any given day.
With both teams having good pitching, this looks to be a low-scoring series.
Number of games in which the winning team scores fewer than four runs: 2
Former Cubs in this series: The Nats have two discarded Cubs outfielders, Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz, but at this writing it's uncertain whether both of them will be on the roster. The Giants have no former Cubs.
Pick: Nats in 4
"The Matt Holliday Memorial Ball-Dropping Series"
I never get tired of looking at this, and I bet you don't either:
We can only hope for such an event to happen again.
Both teams in this series also have excellent pitching. The Dodgers, as they did in 2013, roared from way behind the Giants to win the division title. The Cardinals struggled early -- they were still as many as five games out of first place in early July -- but, like the Nationals, had a strong September in which they allowed even fewer runs than Washington (75 in 26 games).
The Dodgers' pitching, I think, is a bit better than the Cardinals', especially their bullpen.
Number of times Fox/MLBN announcers mention the Holliday play: Zero, unless he does it again.
Former Cubs in this series: Darwin Barney.
Pick: Dodgers in 5
NLCS: Nationals over Dodgers in 7
ALCS: Tigers over Angels in 7
World Series: As I did last March, I'm picking the Tigers to, at last after several tries, to win the Series. It'll be a tough-fought seven games with the Nationals. Leave your own picks in the comments. The game thread for today's games will post at 3:30 p.m. CT.