by Brock Borgeson
Whether you are a baseball fan or a sports fan just looking to fill the time between the football-filled fall weekends, don’t count out the storylines, comebacks, and historic performances that the MLB playoffs bring out each year. Who will take all and win the 2014 World Series? Baseball fans can finally taste the finish line, so join us for the final leg of the MLB marathon.
Newcomers and Playoff Regulars Clash
While much of the United States is wrapped up in the first half of the NFL season, don’t push aside the storylines and players of the 2014 MLB Playoffs.
The field of the 2014 MLB playoffs is marked with teams familiar to the playoff limelight and those that are playing ball in October for the first time in a while.
Some of the familiar faces include the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers.
The Kansas City Royals were arguably the biggest storyline of the 2014 playoffs. They snuck their way into the postseason through a Wild Card appearance after having a 29-year playoff drought dating back to the World Series showdown with intrastate rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1985.
Going into the newly-added Wild Card round, the National League field included the San Francisco Giants squaring off with the Pittsburgh Pirates, entering the playoffs for the second straight year. Both teams came into the Wild Card round as spitting images of one another. Both teams came into play with 88-74 records and team batting averages, runs per game, and team ERAs within .4 points of each other.
Two-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete game shutout over the Pirates, 8-0, as he toed the rubber against Edison Volquez, an interesting starting choice. Volquez was designated for assignment last year after posting the highest ERA amongst starters in the MLB in 2013.
American League Playoff Bracket:
The American League’s Wild Card matchup featuring the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics took 12 innings, three lead changes and four unanswered runs, a far cry from the 8-0 shutout won by the Giants. The playoff-hungry Royals eventually edged a scuffling A’s team 9-8.
So far the divisional series have been largely one-sided. The AL East champion Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers in three games.
The Baltimore Orioles hit a blistering .309, generating 9.5 runs per game while allowing four-and-a-half runs a game to the Tiger’s startling 7.31 team ERA in the series.
Since losing to the New York Yankees in the division series in 2012, this was Baltimore’s first playoff appearance since 1997.
While Baltimore’s win was more of a new entrée on the menu rather than a surprising result, the Kansas City Royals unleashed their inner George Mason and Butler Bulldogs by knocking out the 98-64 Los Angeles Angels in three straight games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Kansas City Royals are the first team to ever sweep the team with the best record in the division series.
While the Angels hit 60 more homers than the Royals throughout the regular season, the Royals matched the Angels with four home runs through their three games played, two of which were game-winning home runs in extra innings. There will be a similar disadvantage for the Royals as they head into their series with the Orioles, as it will be the first time since 1982 that the team with the most home runs (the Orioles) will matchup with the team with the fewest. Neither team has been to the World Series in at least 29 years, with the Orioles waiting since their title year of 1983. You can bet managers Ned Yost for the Royals and Buck Showalter in Baltimore will be showing all the cards in this unique ALCS matchup that has the feel of a VCU meeting up with Gonzaga in the Elite 8.
National League Playoff Bracket:
So far the NLDS has seen some more conventional names shine, with 2010 and 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants jumping out to a 2-0 lead over the Washington Nationals, who can never seem to break the divisional series barrier.
So far the series has been dominated by pitching. The Giants won both games by a scoring margin of only 5-2. San Francisco boasts an astounding 1.00 team ERA through two games, while putting out just enough offense from a .213 team batting average to get a two-game lead on the Nationals. The Giants are one win away from knocking out the number one-seeded Nationals, which would make wild card teams 8-0 in postseason play this year.
The Giants’ postseason win-streak is currently at 10 games, which has only been matched by the 1998-99 and 1927-32 New York Yankees at 12 games. Their game two win against the Nationals ties for the longest postseason game in terms of innings (18), but also set the record for the longest game in terms of time at six hours and 23 minutes long. Brandon Belt’s game winning home-run in the 18th inning of game two was the second latest homerun in postseason history, only behind Chris Burke’s home-run in the bottom of the 18th during the 2005 postseason.
Ultimately, watch out for the Bruce Bochy-led San Francisco Giants in the coming weeks, and don’t be surprised if you see them representing the National League in the World Series, as it seems to be an every other year theme for them. The 2014 Giants are riddled with areas of weakness, but for some reason this seems to work for them. This reflects on the 2010 and 2012 Giants who were lead by guest appearances from Cody Ross, Edgar Renteria, Marco Scutaro, and what was thought to be a washed-up Barry Zito. They are a gritty team that beat the teams that should be doing the winning. That’s all that matters in the postseason.
The last divisional series, and the only one that has had both teams win at least one game, pits the postseason veteran, St. Louis Cardinals, and the 94-win Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers won the 2014 regular season series 4-3 and posted slightly better offensive numbers and team ERA than the 90-72 Cardinals. Although the Cardinals are the weaker team, five-game series always seem tend to lend themselves to the lesser team, so don’t count out the playoff darling Cardinals.
Game one featured a primetime pitching matchup as Adam Wainwright and 2-time Cy Young winning pitcher Clayton Kershaw toed off against each other. After jumping out to a 6-1 lead, the resilient Cardinals came back with an eight run 7th inning to knock out Kershaw who was previously 67-0 when giving a lead of four runs or more. The Cardinals eventually won in a game of offensive attrition, 10-9. The Cardinals have made the playoffs four of the last five seasons, so don’t expect them to be phased by big deficits or the need for a late-game comeback.
Game two transpired as advertised as a pitcher’s duel between Lance Lynn and Zach Greinke went to the Dodgers in a 3-2 victory, evening up the series at 1-1.
The Dodgers will be relying on Hyun-Jin Ryu, who hasn’t pitched to MLB competition in over three weeks. Expect this game to be another close contest as the teams have split their past 20 meetings, with 12 of them being decided by only one or two runs. Expect Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal to be crucial in deciding this series for the Cardinals. Although he notched 45 saves in the 2014 season, he has been shaky from time to time.
A Dodgers team that looks potent on paper will hope to ride a sizzling hot A.J. Ellis and Matt Kemp in the upcoming games of the NLDS and hopefully, for the Chavez Ravine-faithful, in the league championship series and World Series. This is somewhere they haven’t been since the 1988 series against the Oakland Athletics, when Kirk Gibson hit his iconic one-legged home run against Dennis Eckersley.
In a sport that sees 70-game winning teams such as the Cubs and Astros sweeping division leaders out of town on any given weekend, don’t count out any team and don’t miss the storylines as the greatest month in baseball goes into double-digits on the calendar.
Information Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN Stats & Info.