Tuesday, September 30, 2014

AL Regular Season Capsules and AL Postseason Picks

As we wrap up the regular season and get ready to play some exciting postseason baseball, I look back on this season with mixed feelings.  I was excited to get a job working in baseball as the Broadcaster and Media Relations Director for a team in the NECBL.  It was tremendous fun, but also quite time consuming and had me working the majority of the baseball season.  That left me unable to finish my team breakdowns for the national league.  And while I wrote the remainder of the NL West Breakdowns and all of the NL East Breakdowns, I didn’t finish the rest of the NL and didn’t quite get to make all my playoff predictions.  So that’s what I’ll do now, share my original predictions, new predictions and some thoughts on each team involved.

I always pick division winners and wildcard teams.  This year I expanded it to pick dark horse teams to make the playoffs and under performing teams.  To be a dark horse team you had to have a losing record last year or at the very least not have made the playoffs.  To be an underperformer, you had to be a playoff team or at the very least have a winning record.

Original Pre-Season Predictions:

NL East Winner:        Atlanta Braves
NL Central Winner:   St. Louis Cardinals
NL West Winner:       Los Angles Dodgers
NL Wildcard #1:        Washington Nationals
NL Wildcard #2:        Cincinnati Reds
NL Darkhorse:           Milwaukee Brewers/Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Underperformer:            Pittsburgh Pirates

AL East Winner:        Boston Red Sox
AL Central Winner:   Detroit Tigers
AL West Winner:       Texas Rangers
AL Wildcard #1:        Tampa Bay Rays
AL Wildcard #2:        Oakland Athletics
AL Darkhorse:            Los Angles Angels of Anaheim/Toronto Blue Jays
AL Unferperformer:  New York Yankees

Those were the predictions.  Obviously, I didn’t do great.  Let’s take a look at each division.  I’ll order them in the positions they actually finished and share some thoughts about each.

AL East:

Baltimore Orioles:      The Orioles are a team that I thought could be pretty good.  I had them finishing in third place, but outside the playoffs.  Looks like I was wrong.  They were almost a playoff team last year with historically good luck in 1 run games.  And I didn’t see that lasting.  While they didn’t make history again this year, they didn’t need to.  Their offense was phenomenal and they improved their run differential by 77 runs.  They led the league in home runs, despite losing their starting catcher early, and seeing their starting third baseman miss significant time.  Adam Jones was consistently good, as you might expect.  Nobody saw Nelson Cruz having as good of a season as he had, but he led the majors with 40 HR and 108 RBI. The Orioles did a good job cobbling together talent to put a competitive team out there each and every night.  Steve Pearce had a breakout, 21 HR season.  The Orioles got quality games out of Kelly Johnson, Alejandro de Aza and Delmon Young.  All that offense helped the Orioles lock up the AL East early and currently hold about a 12 game lead heading into the playoffs.

New York Yankees:    The season was all about Derek Jeter, which was probably good because most baseball prognosticators, outside of the tri-state area, didn’t see this team as being very good.  And they weren’t.  However, I’ll say they were better than I thought they would be.  I had them as a last place team.  Instead they finished second.  While they finished above 500, they were well out of the playoff race.  The Brian Roberts experiment didn’t work out.  They ended up signing Stephen Drew (who sat a long time, re-joined the Red Sox and then got let go) and trading for Chase Headley.  But neither was overly impressive. What did work?  Ellsbury was a strong signing hitting a team-high 271 with 16 HR, 39 SB and 71 R.  Brian McCann had 23 HR and 75 RBI, but only hit 233.  No other starter hit higher than 260.  What kept the Yankees in it for so long?  Masahiro Tanaka.  The Japanese import had a shortened season, but in 19 games, he went 13-4 with a 2.47 ERA and 136 K in 134 IP.  But overall, this team struggled with C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and the aforementioned Tanaka missing time.  And with no starter logging 150 games, this team had a tough road ahead of them.  Even with all their top talent in place, the Yankees weren’t expected to be that good.  Add to that an empty farm system and lack of depth in the majors and in the upper levels of the minors, and this team really over performed to finish above 500. 

Toronto Blue Jays:      The Blue Jays ended up finishing third in the division at 83-79.  I had the Blue Jays listed as one of my dark horse teams.  That essentially meant that I thought they may be good, but I wasn’t sure enough to pick them to win anything serious.  I picked them to finish fourth in the division, but with a chance to be better.  Last year’s team was picked to win the division by many.  But they were waylaid by injuries.  As much attention as the 2013 Yankees got for injuries, it was actually the Toronto Blue Jays that led the majors in starters games missed.  For that reason, I thought that this year’s team, if healthy, could find some of that magic that was supposed to be with the 2013 squad.  And for the first part of the season, I looked really smart.  Mark Buehrle was leading the majors in wins.  Edwin Encarnacion was the best hitter in the AL.  Melky Cabrera hit over 300.  Bautista showcased his power and Reyes looked like the player of old.  Even R.A. Dickey was playing much better.  But then injuries returned.  Reyes missed time early.  Encarnacion followed.  Brett Lawrie played less than half the year.  Colby Rasmus and Anthony Gose played fewer than 100 games.  And eventually Melky Cabrera got hurt to miss the end of the season.  For the second straight year, this team was missing a lot of key pieces.  The bullpen was a little shaky as well, and while the starters were above average, they weren’t good enough to put this team on it’s back.  They stayed alive in the AL East, but finished well out of the playoff chase.

Tampa Bay Rays:       Man I really missed on this one.  I thought this was the second best team in the division.  Pitching wins championships and this team had the best pitching in the division.  But, as usual, they had trouble scoring runs.  Joe Maddon shuffles this lineup a lot, but couldn’t find the magic.  Not a single player hit over 300.  The closest was James Loney at 290.  And there were serious power outages.  Evan Longoria had 22 HR and 91 RBI.  Nobody else had more than 10 HR.  If you don’t have a lot of power, you have to create runs with good hitters and speed.  The Rays only had one player steal double-digit bases (Desmond Jennings with 15).  But hitting 244 didn’t get him on base enough.  So despite some of the best pitching in the game (4 of their starters had sub 3.50 ERAs, not counting David Price who had a 3.11 ERA and team leading 189 Ks when he was traded) this team’s offense was bad enough to undo that and keep them from sniffing the playoffs. 

Boston Red Sox:          Well this team fell apart.  Part of their run last year was good luck, although they had some great players.  But they lost a lot of them.  Jacoby Ellsbury became a Yankee.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia became a Marlin.  Stephen Drew was not re-signed.  Then he was.  Then he was let go.  But even with the turnover, I thought this team had enough talent on both sides of the ball to win games.  They had what I thought was the second best pitching staff in the division.  They had what I thought was the third best offense in the division.  I thought that was enough to win the division, but I was wrong.  In addition to their losses in free agency, they lost more to the injury bug.  Not a single offensive player made it to 150 games.  Shane Victorino only played in 30 games.  Will Middlebrooks played in only 63.  A.J. Pierzynski was signed to start at catcher, but was let got after 72 games.  And the guys that were healthy, mostly struggled.  Dustin Pedroia’s 278 AVG led the team, but he lost a lot of power (7 HR) and speed (6 SB).  Xander Bogarts hit 238.  Jackie Bradley Jr. hit 198.  Mike Napoli hit 248.  Only David Ortiz really got the job done, hitting 263 with 35 HR and 104 RBI.  The rest of the offense was forgettable.  But that did enable the Sox to let some veterans go to save money, and pull off a few big trades to set themselves up for the future.  They let Johnny Gomes and Jon Lester go to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes.  They let Jake Peavy go to San Francisco.  And they sent John Lackey to St. Louis for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig. They also got to trot out some good young players to get some experience, including Brock Holt, Mookie Betts and Christian Vazquez.  In addition, their pitching staff looks younger with Peavy, Lackey and Lester out and Kelly in.  And that’s not a bad thing, as the pitching staff looked very shaky this year.  I don’t know that this team will make the playoffs next year, but they should be better and will definitely cost less. 

AL Central

Detroit Tigers:            Interestingly enough, I feel that I know the least about this division.  But I got every single team right, in terms of their finish in the standings.  I picked the Tigers to finish first, and they did.  Even so, they underperformed.  This team was set to have a different look with Prince Fielder out and Ian Kinsler in.  That looked like a good move with Prince getting hurt.  Kinsler proceeded to lead the majors in plate appearances and hit 274 with 16 HR, 90 RBI, 99 R and 15 SB.  Miguel Cabrera was still great, though he had a down year by his standards (315/25/109/101).  Victor Martinez was one of the hottest hitters in the league for a while, and ended up at 336 with 32 HR, 103 RBI and 87 R.  Torii Hunter hit 288 with 17 HR.  Rajai Davis hit 283 with 36 SB.  Austin Jackson hit 273 with 9 SB.  And J.D. Martinez came out of nowhere to hit 317 with 23 HR and 76 RBI.  With offense like that, how could this team not run away with this weak division?  The answer was a struggle on the mound.  Justin Verlander was a mess.  Anibal Sanchez got hurt.  And the bullpen was shaky as well.  For that reason, GM David Dombroski went big after a second ace that could go deep into games and protect the bullpen.  That man was David Price.  They got Price in a 3-team trade with the Rays and Mariners.  They sent Drew Smyly, actually one of their better starting options through the year, to Tampa while Austin Jackson went to Seattle.  That worked out with the glut of talent they had in the outfield after J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis had breakout seasons.  And it gave them 2 legitimate aces for a 3-game series (Price and Scherzer) and then a solid option for the leftover game with Rick Porcello.  Obviously a healthy Anibal Sanchez would come before him, and even this version of Justin Verlander should be competitive.  So despite some regular season struggles, the Tigers look like they will be a tough out in the playoffs. 

Kansas City Royals:    The Royals finished second in the division, as per my prediction.  And though I had them in second, I didn’t put them in the playoffs.  That was a mistake.  They are the top wildcard seed and will host the A’s at home tonight.  The Royals have had a talented core (Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) for the last few years.  Last year they added some talented pitchers (James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas) to go with their homegrown arms, the best of which were in the bullpen (Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Greg Holland).  This season they added a new right fielder in Norichika Aioki, two more bench bats in Raul Ibanez and Josh Willingham and an All Star second baseman in Omar Infante.  While they fell short of the division, it was only by 1 game and they are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1985.  If your team isn’t in the playoffs this season, there is a pretty good chance you will be rooting for the Royals.  Why did it finally work?  They didn’t rely on one player.  Alcides Escobar played 162 games worth of fantastic defensive shortstop while hitting 285 with 31 SB.  Alex Gordon slugged a team leading 19 HR and 74 RBI.  Salvador Perez hit 17 HR.  Mike Moustakas hit 15.  Lorenzo Cain hit 301 in 133 games with 28 SB.  Aioki lead the team with a 285 AVG (among players who qualified for the batting title) with 17 SB.  Eric Hosmer hit 270.  All that production across the board helped this team survive a down season from Billy Butler (9 HR/66 RBI….though he did hit 271) and Moustakas’ 212 AVG.  And it made it okay that nobody surpassed 20 HR or 75 RBI only one player had over 75 R.  Instead 8 players had over 50 RBI and 50 R.  Add to that a lot of quality starting pitching (4 pitchers with double digit wins….3 of them with sub 4 ERAs) and you have a winning formula. 

Cleveland Indians:       I thought this team would finish third in the division and they did.  I also thought Kluber would have a good season.  So 2 for 2.  But overall, this team seemed like a mediocre team and played like it, albeit a little better than mediocre with 85 wins.  Michael Brantley was a revelation.  Lonnie Chisenall played better than most expected as well, though he cooled off as the season rolled on.  Yan Gomes was good.  Nobody else on offense lived up to expectations.  Carlos Santana hit 231.  Jason Kipnis hit 240 with 6 HR.  Michael Bourn hit 257 with 10 SB.  Nick Swisher hit 208.  That’s not good offensive output.  And injuries derailed the starting pitching.  Only one pitcher made it to 30 starts (Corey Kluber who was 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 269 Ks….Cy Young worthy).  Trevor Bauer was 5-8 in 26 starts.  Danny Salazar was 6-8 in 20 starts.  That’s not playoff worthy.  This team overachieved last season.  They fell back to earth a bit this year.

Chicago White Sox:     For a division that I almost never watch, I did a good job nailing the standings.  The White Sox finished fourth, right where I picked them to finish (spoiler alert:  I got the Twins last place finish right as well). Jose Abreu was better than anyone suspected.  He hit 317 with 36 HR and 107 RBI.  He could have had more, but injury limited him to 145 games.  But few others jumped off the page.  The good news is, their young players are still on the team and looked to be getting better.  Alexei Ramirez hit 273 with 15 HR.  Dayan Viciedo hit 231, but added 21 HR. Adam Eaton hit 300 with 15 SB.  And the White Sox were out of it early enough to shed some salary (Adam Dunn, Alejandro de Aza).  And while Chris Sale was the only pitcher of note, Jose Quintana made some nice strides with a 3.32 ERA in 32 starts and 200 IP.  So while this team didn’t do much this year, they have young talent and should see improvement on the horizon.

Minnesota Twins:       Like the White Sox, this team is chock full of young talents that aren’t ready to compete yet.  A last place finish was assumed.  The hope was that this team would get its young players some experience in the majors before competing in the future.  With that in mind, lots of players played for Minnesota this year.  Brian Dozier was the only player to surpass 140 games.  He hit 242 with 23 HR and 21 SB.  Not too shabby.  Trevor Plouffe hit 258 with 14 HR.  This team is still tied to Joe Mauer’s massive contract.  But 277 with 4 HR and 55 RBI isn’t worth all that money.  Danny Santana was a bright spot hitting 319 in 101 games.  So was Jordan Schafer, a late addition who hit 285 with 15 SB in only 41 games.  But the rest of this offense was plug and play.  Youngsters getting experience and treading water.  It cost Ron Gardenhire his job, but he did the right thing.  This team will be good one day, just not yet.  And the pitching has to get a lot better.  Outside of Phil Hughes (16-10, 3.52, 186 K in 209 IP) no one else looked good.  This will be a long journey for Minnesota.

AL West

Los Angeles Angels:    I picked the Angels to finish third in the division.  Instead they finished first, finally winning the division.  I picked them to win the division the last two years, but finally gave up and put the in third.  The Angels hate me.  I did pick them to be a dark horse team, but that just meant I thought they were possibly going to be better.  I wasn’t sure enough about it to put them in the playoffs.  So, in the end, I was just wrong.  What made it work?  The talent on their roster finally started playing like it should.  There was nothing wrong with this team.  They just inexplicably struggled the last two years.  Mike Trout continued to be the best player in baseball.  While he should have won the last two MVPs, it looks like he’ll win one this year, in what has actually been his worst season yet.  And he still hit 287 with 36 HR, 111 RBI, 115 R and 16 SB.  He finally had help.  Howie Kendrick, who has always been an above average player, had a good season with a team leading 293 AVG to go with 14 SB and 85 R.  Albert Pujols hit 272 with 28 HR and 105 RBI.  Erik Aybar hit 278.  Kole Calhoun hit 272 with 90 R.  Nobody was over the top good, but like the Royals, with everyone contributing at a better than average rate, you get plenty of wins.  What else happened?  The pitching finally got on track.  Jered Weaver found the ace that used to live inside of him, going 18-9 with a 3.59 ERA.  Garrett Richards went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA.  Matt Shoemaker pitched to a 3.04 ERA in 20 starts going 16-4.  They weren’t Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz, but with the offensive production they got, it was good enough to go on a run halfway through the season, win the division and have the best record in baseball.  This horse ain’t so dark anymore.

Oakland Athletics:       I consistently picked this team to finish third.  This year I picked them to finish second.  And I got it right.  In addition, they will be a wildcard team, just as I suspected they would be.  But until August, I looked very wrong.  This team was headed for a third straight division title.  Instead they fell apart and only made the playoffs by 1 game, winning on the last day to take the second wild card spot.  So what went right in the beginning and then wrong in the end?  Well Josh Donaldson was good with 29 HR and 98 RBI.  But he also only hit 255.  Brandon Moss had 25 HR and 81 RBI.  But he only hit 234.  Injuries also hurt.  Jed Lowrie played only 136 games.  Coco Crisp played in only 126.  Yoenis Cespedes had 17 HR and a 256 AVG.  But he was traded mid season for Jon Lester and Johnny Gomes.  Essentially, the A’s were hot to start, and cold at the end.  And the team’s batting averages bear that out.  How was the pitching?  Sonny Gray was good with a 14-10 record to go with a 3.08 ERA.  Scott Kazmir went 15-9 with a 3.55 ERA.  They both made 32 starts.  But injuries made them adjust.  They only got 7 starts from Dan Straily and 16 from Tommy Milone.  They lost A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker for the year before the season started.  So they added some arms mid-season.  Jeff Samardzjia went 5-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 16 starts for Oakland.  Jon Lester went 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts.  He also is being counted on to be their playoff ace with all his experience.  Some people think the trade is what killed them as Cespedes was their best offensive player.  But if Lester is great in the playoffs, it would have been worth it.  We’ll see how it works out.

Seattle Mariners:        The Mariners went for it all.  I thought they might be a little better, but I’ll admit that I didn’t think they would be as good as they ended up being.  I put them down for a fourth place finish in the division.  They ended up in third, but finished both a game out of third and a game out of the playoffs.  They made headlines by signing Robinson Cano to a massive contract.  They followed that up by adding Logan Morrison and Corey Hart.  Most people, me included, felt that wouldn’t be enough to contend in the division.  But the Mariners then threw everyone for a loop when they decided to spend more money, get active in the trade market and put some pieces around Cano.  It started when they traded for Kendrys Morales to be a DH.  They then made a big trade with Detroit and Tampa Bay to send Nick Franklin out and get Austin Jackson back in return.  Jackson gave them a legitimate leadoff hitter.  And, as expected, Cano did the heavy lifting.  He saw his power drop precipitously, but that’s to be expected when you leave a stadium with high school dimensions and move to one with some of the toughest hitter dimensions in the league.  He still hit 314 with 14 HR, 82 RBI and 77 R.  Kyle Seager was the power hitter on this team with 25 HR and 96 RBI.  Others stepped up as well.  Mike Zunino hit 22 HR.  Dustin Ackley had 14.  Michael Saunders hit 273 and Endy Chavez hit 276.  James Jones stole 27 bases.  Logan Morrison hit 262 with 11 HR.  They weren’t the Orioles, but this offense played better than it had in years.  And the pitching was, once again, phenomenal.  Felix Hernandez won 15 games and the ERA title with his 2.14 performance over 236 IP.  Chris Young went 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 29 starts.  Hishashi Iwakuma went 15-9 with a 3.52 ERA.  The Mariners weren’t a great team, but they played well in their division and almost made the playoffs.  They played better than anyone expected, but at the end of the day it wasn’t quite enough.

Houston Astros:          They are re-building and have a bright future.  It comes at the cost of a pretty atrocious present.  I had them finishing last.  The fact that they didn’t is truly incredible.  Although it had more to do with how bad the Rangers were, rather than how good the Astros were.  We are still only talking about a 70 win team that finished well outside of the playoffs.  Predictably, Jose Altuve was the highlight on this team.  He had his best season yet, hitting 341 with 56 SB and 85 R.  That was good enough to win himself the batting title.  No one else was that noteworthy offensively.  Dexter Fowler hit 277.  Chris Carter slugged 37 HR and 88 RBI.  But that came with a 227 AVG.  George Springer hit 20 HR in half a season, but that one came with a 231 AVG.  Matt Dominguez had 16 HR, but that came with a 215 AVG.  So there was some spark, but lots of low batting averages.  That’s to be expected with a young team.  Surprisingly, the Astros used only 6 starters for the majority of their games.  There was mixed success, but all had sub-5 ERAs.  That’s an improvement from last year.  Dallas Keuchel was the ace at 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA.  Colin McHugh went 11-9 with a 2.73 ERA in 25 starts.  The good news, with no expectation, the Astros were free to tinker and let a lot of young guys see playing time.  They did, and it will make the better in the future.

Texas Rangers:           This was the one that really killed me.  Not only did this team not finish in first, like I predicted, they finished dead last.   They had the worst record in the league.  And let me be honest, I not only had this team winning the division, I had them getting to the ALCS.  Yeah.  So there’s that.  What happened?  Well the big trade for Prince Fielder was a failure as he only played in 42 games before needing season ending neck surgery.  He wasn’t great in those games either, hitting only 247 with 3 HR.  Jurickson Profar, who was supposed to replace Ian Kinsler, the guy the Rangers traded to get Fielder, didn’t play a game all year either as right shoulder surgery knocked him out.  So, essentially, they lost Kinsler, Profar and Fielder in the same offseason.  Shin Soo Choo missed a large chunk of the season and only hit 242 with 13 HR and 58 R in the 123 games he did play.  Their pitchers struggled too with ace Yu Darvish shut down after only 22 starts.  Matt Harrison only made 4 starts before a potentially career ending back injury.  Mitch Moreland, the presumed DH and back up first baseman, only played 52 games before having his own season ending injury.  Alexi Ogando, Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez, young arms who were supposed to be back of the rotation and bullpen staples, all were knocked out of the season.  Derek Holland missed the majority of the season before coming back to make 5 late season starts.  So it was a lost season to injury in Arlington.  Even Alex Rios, who played in 131 games, missed the end of the year with an injury.  The only thing that went right was Adrian Beltre, who hit a team best 324 with 19 HR and 77 RBI.  Not a lot to like, but easy to write off with their catastrophic health. 

AL Playoff Schedule and Picks


Oakland Athletics @ Kansas City Royals

·      The Athletics fell apart in the second half and fell from a sure division winner and the best team in baseball, to the last wildcard team to sneak into the playoffs. 
·      The Royals have been solid all year and won enough games against a weak division to get into the playoffs and almost win their division.  And their strong play at the end of the season was enough to jump the A’s to be the number one team in the wildcard hunt.
·      The A’s have built a playoff pitching rotation.  Jon Lester has a ton of experience in the post season and has been great there.  Jeff Smardzjia is an ace.  Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir were great.  But a great postseason rotation may be meaningless if they can’t get out of the wildcard round.  Jon Lester will get the start in this single game wildcard matchup.  And while they didn’t want to be in this position, having a talented pitcher with post season experience like Lester will be huge.   They wanted him to be their Game 1 starter and then be available to drop the knockout blow on a team in a 5 or 7 game series.  But he’s got the skills for a 1 game series too.  I expect him to bring the A game.
·      The Royals are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1985.  That’s longer than I’ve been alive.  Remember the playoff drought for the Pittsburgh Pirates?  1992-2013?  That’s 21 years.  And the atmosphere there was insane.  It was the most intense home field advantage I’ve ever seen in baseball.  The crowd was a huge part of the win after their 21 year playoff drought.  This will be a 29 year playoff drought.  IMAGINE how insane Kauffman Stadium will be.  That will be a big help for the Royals.  So will their starter:  Big Game James Shields.
·      I know people like this new wildcard format, but nothing seems more un-baseball like to me.  It’s a coin flip of a game.  Baseball is a game that measures stamina.  Who wins over a stretch of 5 games.  That’s baseball.  I don’t like this.
·      PREDICTION:             Royals win 2-0.
o   I love what the A’s did.  They have a playoff rotation.  Unfortunately they landed in a situation where that is meaningless.  And as good as Jon Lester is, James Shields earned his nickname for a reason.  I see him going 9 innings in a complete game shutout victory.  Think 10-12 strikeouts as he mows down an Athletics offense that has looked anemic lately.  I think the A’s are a better team (and frankly I’ll be rooting for them) and they have great starting rotation.  If this were a division series, I would pick them.  Against most other starting pitchers, I would pick them.  But they will be in the lion’s den against one of the best big game pitchers in baseball.  And as poorly as they’ve played recently, I can’t pick them, despite my wish to see them win.


Detroit Tigers @ Baltimore Orioles

·      The Orioles had a great season.  Their offense was phenomenal, specifically in the power department.  And their bench is deep with Delmon Young, Kelly Johnson and Alejandro de Aza.  This team should score some runs.  But their pitching is not as strong.  They have some talented arms.  Their top 3 starters all won double digit games and had winning records to go with sub 4 ERAs.  And Kevin Gausman went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA.  But while all those pitchers are good, there is no ace. 
·      The Tigers struggled this year and barely won a weak division.  But their team looks better on paper.  They have one of the few offenses that can keep pace with the Orioles.  And as good as the Orioles pitching has been, the Tigers arms just look better.  Max Scherzer and David Price are aces.  Rick Porcello had a great year.  Justin Verlander has tons of experience and a healthy Anibal Sanchez could be great.  However their bullpen has been a question mark for a while.
·      Orioles have home field advantage and a deep starting rotation and stronger bullpen. 
·      But Tigers are almost as good in most areas and look just a little better on the mound with their starters.  But if a starter gets knocked out of a game early, the Tigers could struggle.
·      PREDICTION:             Tigers over Orioles 3 games to 1.
o   An ace is an ace.  And in the playoffs, individual performances loom large.  I could see a Tiger sweep with Scherzer and Price dominating on the road against Baltimore and Porcello getting to face the Orioles at home.  That being said, I think the Orioles are very good, and too good to get swept.  I’ll say they find a way to win one of the first two games at home beating either Price OR Scherzer, but no way they win both.  Then Porcello and either Sanchez or Verlander take care of business at home to finish the Orioles off. 

Oakland/Kansas City @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

·      I picked the Royals to win the wildcard game, so I’ll operate under the assumption that they will face the Angels in LA. 
·      The Angels offense has been a lot better this year and still looks very good.  And now that their pitchers are playing up to their caliber, this team looks like they could be a handful.  And it never hurts to have the best player in baseball (Mike Trout).
·      The Royals are a talented young team that have broken a playoff drought and are excited to play some October baseball.  Their strength is in their depth with every player contributing.  I love their offense.  And they have an underrated pitching rotation with Shields being the only one people pay attention to.  But Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy have looked great.  And don’t forget Jason Vargas who put together a solid season of his own.  And I’ll take the Royals bullpen over the Angels group right now, despite the strong seasons Joe Smith and Huston Street have put together.
·      PREDICTION:             Angels over the Royals 3 games to 1. 
o   Don’t forget that the Royals will have to use their best pitcher just to get into this matchup.  I think they will get there, but that will already put them behind the 8 ball.  AND they don’t have home field advantage.  Mike Trout is a force and the Angels have enough complimentary players (Pujols, Kendrick, Calhoun, Aybar) to support him on offense.  Add to that the playoff experience that Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson bring to the table and I think they will be too much for KC.  I’ll put them down for 1 win in K.C. when Shields can pitch again, but the Angels will overpower them beyond that and wrap up the ALDS in Game 4 in Kansas City.
·      If the A’s do win the wildcard game, I would pick them and their superior pitching to beat an Angels team they know well 3 games to 2.  It will be a low scoring ALDS in that situation. 


Detroit Tigers @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

·      I am now picking teams that I picked to win previous series, so who knows if I get it right this far.  But in this situation, I just think the Tigers are better than the Angels in all areas of the game, except in the bullpen.  But with their aces, it won’t matter.  And while the Angels offense has depth, so does the Tigers.  And they are still better at the top.
·      PREDICTION:             Tigers over Angels 4 games to 2.

Tigers go to the World Series.

Ok those are my thoughts on the AL.  I’ll do the NL tomorrow and have it up before the wildcard game.  Enjoy the playoffs!