UCB Project: 2011 Postseason Preview

As this month’s United Cardinal Bloggers network project draws to a close, I take a look at the post season. You can check out the other UCB members’ posts at the site, but for me you can look at my previous predictions here on the site. I’ve done the AL East, Central, and West, along with the NL East, Central, and West. All that’s left is the playoffs.

In last season’s World Series, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in five games. For the Rangers it was their first World Series appearance. For the Giants, it was their first since 2003 and the first World Series appearance since 2002.

A lot of times the winner of a playoff series is difficult to pick. It’s even more difficult to pick seven months in advance when the small sample size of the playoffs depends more greatly on who is healthy and who is hot. I’m not going to let a little thing like that stop me!

American League Divisional Series
Based on my predictions, the divisional series’ should be the Boston Red Sox against the Texas Rangers. The Red Sox, on the offense of new additions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez take a step back into the playoffs and then power their way past the Rangers in the first round. Despite solid seasons from their rotation, the Rangers just don’t have the necessary offense to hold up against the Red Sox. Adrian Beltre was a nice addition to the Rangers offense, but he is notorious for putting up career years in contract years, much like he did last year. I expect Red Sox in four.

The second ALDS puts the New York Yankees against the Minnesota Twins. The last time the Twins won a playoff game against the Yankees was 2004, in fact that was the last time the Twins won a playoff game, period. However, the Yankees inability to truly stabilize that starting rotation during this season, as I expect, will hurt them. Behind C.C. Sabathia there really isn’t anything that’s scary to a team in the playoffs. But the Yankees have an offense that is nearly unrivaled. Meanwhile the Twins are dependent on the heart of their lineup and a pitching staff with no clear #1 pitcher. I expect the Twins to actual win against the Yankees this year, but looking more like Yankees in 5, though it really could go either way.

National League Divisional Series
The first NL series is a rematch of the 2010 NLCS and one of my favorite matchups. There is nothing that I love more than a pitcher’s duel, and it will be the incredible and heralded pitching staff of the Philadelphia Phillies against the incredible and slightly less heralded pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants. But much like last year, I can’t see the Giants getting past the Phillies without the luck they had last year. Do it twice in a row? Unlikely. Philadelphia cruises past the Giants in 3.

The second matchup is the Atlanta Braves against the Milwaukee Brewers. This could be an exciting matchup of itself. With a healthy club, I think the Braves will beat the Brewers but this is one that can go either way. I think the Braves are the more rounded club and have the better management. Braves in 4.

American League Championship Series
So it matches up the Yankees v. the Red Sox in the ALCS once again. Who can forget the epic 2004 ALCS where the Red Sox stole a win in Game 4 and then went on to win the series?  Then they rolled over a cold St. Louis Cardinals team to win their first World Series in 86 years.

But this time, there really shouldn’t be a contest. The Red Sox are a vastly more complete team than the Yankees are and are nearly as good on offense as the Yankees are. Because of that, they should be able to pretty much cruise to a series winner. Red Sox in 6.

National League Championship Series
I have the Braves v. the Phillies in the NLCS. Interesting to note that it’s the two teams from the East in each league and it’s the wild card and their division champion matching up too. I wonder what that means to the balance of power in baseball.

With the aging Phillies lineup, the Braves have an excellent chance to defeat them. I thought the Braves could have gone far last season and they’ve only improved. I expect the Braves to make their first return to the World Series since 1999 when they lost to the Yankees. Braves in 5 as the young guys show their stuff for first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez.

World Series
Red Sox v. Braves. Comparable pitching staffs, I think the Red Sox have the more complete offense. Braves may sneak a couple out, but I expect the Red Sox to win their third World Series in the last decade. Red Sox in 6.

Rookie of the Year
Beginning with the Rookie of the Year award. It’s always my least favorite because you have the flashy guys who get the notoriety and then you usually have some guys turning in great seasons being ignored. Just look at last season’s NL Rookie of the Year. Jason Heyward was the early favorite, Buster Posey jumped onto the scene mid-season, but Jaime Garcia was solid all year. His mid-2s ERA over 28 starts, in my opinion for a pitcher, was far more impressive to me than what Heyward and Posey did, but he wasn’t recognized and was typically just an after thought when people discussed the Rookie of the Year award.

Two rookies I like are Atlanta first base Freddie Freeman and Kansas City infielder Mike Moustakas.

Freeman has gotten the most playing time of any Brave in spring training, but hasn’t done much in the majors yet. Freeman does have a pretty good minor league resume and should get the chance to play first base everyday as long as he can play well. He has the talent, but can he put it together in his rookie year?

Meanwhile, Moustakas will likely start the season in the minor leagues for the Royals, but a mid-season call up should happen for him. With no clear cut challenger in the American League that I can see, it makes him the leader in the category if he can perform with the bat once he makes the jump.

Cy Young Award
Wins don’t make you a lock for the Cy Young. That’s the lesson American League pitchers have learned the last two years as 16 game winner Zach Grienke and 13 game winner Felix Hernandez were the guys who took the trophies home for the American League.

In the AL, I expect it to be Trevor Cahill with 19 wins and taking the Cy Young trophy home. However, there are several guys who can challenge him for it and probably will.

For the NL, I think the hype of Cliff Lee returning to the league will help him become the sixth player to win a Cy Young in both leagues. I see 19 wins from Lee and an ERA in the high-2s.

Most Valuable Player Award
This is really where it gets difficult because it’s so hard to predict. Again, won’t stop me. Though, I think I will probably make some non standard picks.

In the American League, Adrian Gonzalez will get a bright welcome to the American League as he moves from one of the best pitchers parks to a pretty good hitter’s park. I expect his offensive performance to jump, I think he’ll push 40 homers this year and be around 120 RBI while he maintains his nearly .290 batting average.

In the National League, I think it will once again be an NL Central first baseman, but will once again not be Albert Pujols. In a contract year and helping lead Milwaukee to a playoff berth, Prince Fielder will get recognized as he turns in a year with a batting average in the .290s, just over 40 homers, and just over 110 RBI. It would still be a little bit of a question mark whether Fielder could. Since 1990, only one player has won an NL MVP with a batting average under .300, that was Jimmy Rollins in 2007.