Saturday, February 16, 2008

AL PLayoff Preview

The AL playoffs are all but set as there is only one real battle to be won and that is in the AL North.     New Britain and Minnesota are battling for the fourth seed.    The winner goes to the playoffs and the loser goes golfing.   This will probably go down to the end as they play a 3 game series at New Britain just before the end of the season.    Here is a full breakdown of all playoff teams.

#1 Seed

San Francisco Night Demons

Surprise, Surprise.  Last season's World Series winner is looking like the favorite again.   Their winning percentage is down a little from last year, but they are still on pace to win 116 games.    With a 3 man rotation this team is going to be very tough to beat.    With Felipe Bournigal, Pete Daly, and Sal Kennedy going 1-2-3 this team will never need a 4th starter.    Those 3 have combined for a 61-14 record with an ERA under 2.50.    If it needs to get to the bullpen they might get stronger as Joe Ogea and his .89 WHIP sets up possible fireman of the year Jared Page and his 34 saves.    
The teams one weakness, if there is one, could be on the offensive side of the field.   They do hit for a decent average, but they don't have much power and no speed at all.   1B Mark Kim is the key to this offense.    His .420 OBP and .989 OPS are very important to how far this team can go.    With 7 regular starters over a .350 OBP, they can get some people on base, but only Kim has over 100 RBI.   
If this team runs into a solid pitching performance, it could give them trouble, but I think they should skate into the World Series.

#2 Seed

Washington DC Generals

The previous 3 time World Series winner may not be as strong as previous years, but don't overlook them.   They should have the first round bye locked up, which assures them of not facing San Francisco until the LCS.   If the playoffs come down to one game and DC can start Elvis Ogea, this team could be tough to beat.   He is 20-5 with 14 complete games and a very solid 2.55 ERA.    After Ogea, this teams pitching drops off substantially.   Carlos James and Andres Mesa should round out the playoff starting rotation and hopefully they can get a solid performance out of 1 of the two of them.    James and Mesa combined for a 27-17 record but an ERA around 4.15.    That is not bad, but if they go up against the starting pitching of San Fran and give up 4 runs, that will be too many.   The bullpen is pretty solid, going with a closer by committee.   Four different pitchers have combined to go 32 for 39 in save opportunities.   
The offense is led by possible MVP Darryl Biddle.   A .403 OBP and .984 OPS gets this 1B many opportunities to drive in runs, and he usually comes through.  With 8 players scoring over 75 runs, the Generals usually don't miss out on a scoring opportunity.  If the Generals can get some people on base ahead of Biddle and C Brad Musial, they could be tough to contain.    
Three straight losses to Louisville does show a little of this teams weakness.    If they can get some solid pitching out of the 2 and 3 starters, along with getting some men on base ahead of the studs, this team could be tough.   On a personal note, the Wichita Bad Boys did manage a split in the 10 games with the Generals.

#3 Seed

Louisville Sluggers

This is a team that doesn't do anything extremely well, but they do win games.   Young stud Tomas Calles could be the key to this offense.   Combined with perennial MVP candidate Magglio Javier, this team can put some runs on the board.   Those two have combined for 87 home runs and 257 RBI's.   Outside of those 2 players, this team is full of role players who know their role.   This offense is well rested as no one has played over 138 games.  Hopefully having everyone at 100% will help this offense as they will have to play all four rounds if they hope to win the World Series.
If Louisville could pitch Dave Caufield every game, this team could definitely go somewhere.   Caufield is 19-5 with a 2.74 ERA.   The key to his success is to get deep into games as he has only had 1 CG so far this year.   Once it gets to the bullpen, Darrin Cota can pitch well and often.  With 113 innings out of the closer, if they can get 7 solid innings out of the starters, Cota could finish out the last two innings.    With 19 of Cota's 33 saves going more than one inning, he could become the key to how far this team can go.   Without a solid #2 or #3 starter, if Cota can come in and pitch 2-3 innings at a time, this team can win a lot of games late.   

#4 Seed

Minnesota Explorer (My prediction, with 6 of 9 games against teams with well below .500 record)

Sorry New Britain, but I think Minnesota will take over the AL North on the last weekend and move into the playoffs.   The loss of John Crow for the remainder of the season could hurt Minnesota's chances, but I think they can still come through.  The key to Minnesota's pitching is to get it to the bullpen.   If the Explorer's can get 5 solid innings out of the starters, their bullpen can pitch them to victory.   Stud closer Sergio Johnson is 36 of 36 in save opportunities along with a 2.43 ERA.   The bullpen is 23-10 while the starters are 7 games under .500.   
The offense is pretty balanced as they have 3 guys with over 100 RBI.   The one special player on this offense is Braden Cox.   With over 30 HR and SB, he can definitely jump start any offense with his .985 OPS.   
New Britain could still win this battle, but they will need some solid pitching and hitting down the stretch, as they play 3 vs Minnesota, and 3 vs the very strong Louisville Sluggers.

#5 Seed

Burlington Black Sox

Burlington will definitely make the playoffs, the only question is will they be the #5 or #6 seed.   Two season long injuries will make it difficult to advance very far in the playoffs.   The loss of Phillip Daniels will be extremely harmful to the starting pitching and the loss of C Tom Collier will not help the pitching staff either.   
The 3 man rotation of Vin Alvarez, Robin Uribe and Duke Weston give this team a fighting chance.   All three have an ERA under 4.50 and a WHIP under 1.40.   Closer Terrence Floyd and his 41 saves also give this team a way of holding the lead.   I really like the chances of this team in a 3 game series.   If they can drag a series out, this pitching could give them a good opportunity to win.
The hitting is a little weak, but if Jerome Cuddyer can get on base more, his speed can definitely cause some problems for the opposing team.   If his .341 OBP can increase in the playoffs, Rodrigo Brito and Oscar Collier can knock him in.   
This team has potential, but there may be too much pressure on this pitching staff.   Pitching does win championships, but I am not sure if there is quite enough pitching to advance them very far.

#6 Seed

Scottsdale Aces

This team can definitely score runs and score them in bunches.   With 3 players over 40 homeruns and 4 players over 100 RBI, there is no lack of run scoring.   The key to this offense could be Tomas Rivera and his .403 OBP.    His power isn't as much as Bernie Marrero, Angel Nunez and Bernard Maxwell, but he gets on base and doesn't strikeout.   The Aces have no speed, but they don't need it with all this power.
Christopher Kieschnick and Tony Cortez anchor this rotation and Javier Escobar closes them out.   Escobar is 36 for 37 in save opportunities with an ERA under 2.00.   Kieschnick and Cortez are very similar pitchers in stats and both can keep the team in any game.   They have a 32-17 combined record and both have ERA's under 4.00.   
The pitching for the Aces can keep them in most games and the power can win about any game for them.   I can see this team being a possible spoiler and Louisville could definitely have a challenge early in the playoffs.


San Francisco will be tough to beat, but there are 5 other teams that want to be the spoiler.   I see the Night Demons still being able to pull it out, but it could be interesting.    

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