World Series Approaches

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

Last Wednesday marked the first day of October, which means one thing: It’s once again time for postseason baseball.

This year’s edition features a few old staples, as well as some new faces searching for Major League Baseball’s ultimate prize.

Neither the American nor the National League have a clear favorite, as the Tigers, Orioles and Angels all look capable of making a run in the AL, and both the Dodgers and Nationals stand out from the crowd in the NL.

Despite winning 94 games and beating out the Giants for the NL West crown by six games, the Dodgers underperformed for most of the year, especially considering the fact that they had the league’s highest payroll and played in the same division as the two worst teams in baseball.

Still, they’re my pick to win the NL pennant.

Their combination of a potent offense and a dominant pitching staff — they finished second in the NL in runs scored and fourth in the NL in earned run average — is unmatched. And as if that’s not enough, they have the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw, who is having one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the last 50 years.

Heading into the playoffs, the Dodgers’ primary challenger in the NL appears to be the Nationals. Buoyed by a solid bullpen and the best starting rotation in baseball, they steamrolled their way to the most wins in the NL. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are as good a one through three as anyone in the league can throw out there, and that makes them a dangerous team in any playoff series.

Second baseman Anthony Rendon is one of the most underrated offensive players baseball, but outside of him, I don’t see enough offense for the Nats to win it all. They boast a relatively deep lineup, but are still missing the big bat in the middle that could propel them deep into October. Give it a few years, and Bryce Harper could be just that — but not this year.

It’s hard to count out the Cardinals given their track record in October, but this year’s team has far more issues than those in past years. Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn have been solid all year at the front of St. Louis’s rotation, and the back end of the bullpen has been good as well. Still, offensive struggles will likely doom the Cards. Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina all had off years by their lofty standards, and I’m not willing to go out on a limb and predict a sudden bounce back in the postseason.

The Giants are in a similar position to the Cardinals, as they have lots of postseason experience, but not enough talent to make a run. Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Madison Bumgarner are all great players, but I don’t see enough talent on the rest of the team for the Giants to even advance past the Nationals.

On the AL side of things, this year’s Tigers team has an even deeper starting rotation than last year’s team that lost in the American League Championship Series to the Red Sox, but they are plagued by the same problem that has haunted them in year’s past: a shaky bullpen. Even with the additions of Joakim Soria and Joe Nathan this year, they still have a below average bullpen.

Still, if any team can make up for that, it’s Detroit. Miguel Cabrera finished a down season — for him — with a huge September, and Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler provide big bats in the middle of their lineup. Couple that with a rotation headlined by the last three AL Cy Young Award winners, and you have a team no one wants to face this time of year.

The AL lacking a favorite this postseason has a lot to do with the fact that the Angels lost starter Garrett Richards to a knee injury in mid-August. The Halos did manage to go 22–14 after the injury, but unfortunately for them, the impact of losing their ace will be amplified in the playoffs. Now, even with likely MVP Mike Trout in the fold, the Angels will have a tough time making an extended run. A rotation of Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson and Matt Shoemaker just won’t cut it in October.

The Orioles will also be held back by their starting rotation. Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman both had solid years, but neither will be confused for the ace of a staff any time soon. A strong bullpen and offensive firepower — they ranked first in the MLB in home runs — are Baltimore’s calling cards, but I don’t see these strong points outweighing their weak staff.

As for the remaining AL team, the Royals, I’d love to see them make a run, as they are this year’s Cinderella story, but I find it hard to imagine that the team that ranked last in all of baseball in home runs can win a playoff series. They made up for it in the regular season by leading baseball in steals, but come playoff time, the ability to knock one out of the park once in a while is huge. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

In the end, it’s a tough call, but I like the Tigers over the Angels in the ALCS and the Dodgers in a close one over the Nationals in the NLCS.

That would make it a Dodgers-Tigers World Series, and from there I like L.A.’s chances of winning it all.

Like every year, making predictions for this set of playoffs is a bit of a crapshoot, but if Tuesday night’s Wild Card game between the Royals and Athletics is any indication, it’s going to be one hell of an October.