2014 Playoff Preview: Royals Run, Tigers Hit, Nationals Can Do Everything
The two wildcard games that kicked off the 2014 MLB playoffs were examples of the best and the worst the postseason has to offer.
The Kansas City Royals outlasting the Oakland Athletics in a 12-inning, 9-8 game is why we watch baseball. Conversely, the San Francisco Giants manhandling the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 was an excuse to leave our living rooms and go clean out our sock drawers.
That’s the MLB playoffs. You never really know what you’re going to see. That’s especially true in 2014. The field is wide open. Parity has found its way into Major League Baseball.
That’s not to say there aren’t favorites. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Washington Nationals are the best teams in their respective leagues. Even so, they’re not locks to reach the World Series. The Angels don’t exactly have a heavenly starting rotation and the Nationals don’t really have a championship pedigree.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the pesky Kansas City Royals. They play a fun-to-watch style of baseball that relies on speed and timely hitting. They were last in the American League in home runs (95) but first in stolen bases (153).
In the middle, you have the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Neither of these teams appears formidable on paper, but get them on the diamond and they can beat anyone. It wouldn’t shock anyone if either team won the World Series or if both teams were swept in the NLDS.
The Dodgers come in as the league’s hottest team. They not only finished September with a 17-8 mark but they finished their regular season campaign with a five-game winning streak. They also have the league’s highest payroll at $235,295,219.
So who’s going to pop champagne bottles and hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy come Thanksgiving? That is when the MLB playoffs end nowadays isn’t?
I have no idea who’s going win the ALCS and NLCS much less the World Series—nor does anyone else. Baseball fans are fortunate to have such a competitive postseason and the competition is made even sweeter by the fact that there are no New York Yankees to worry about.
So I’m not going to go with my intellect. I’m going to go with my heart and pick the Royals and Nationals in the World Series. Call me a softy.
In case your team is out golfing, and you need something to root for, here are a few possible matchups you might see in the Fall Classic.
The I-5 Series
The home park of the Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim) and the home park of the Dodgers (Dodger Stadium) are a mere 30 miles part. That’s a 36-minute drive if traffic is good. Here’s where we both break into riotous laughter (like the traffic is ever good in SoCal). This doesn’t have the same cache as the Subway Series between the New York Yankees and New York Mets but the Angels and Dodgers are in adjacent counties connected by Interstate 5.
You have to love this possible matchup, the Baltimore Orioles clashing with the Washington Nationals in the “MD-295 Series.” That’s the coolest series name ever! It sounds like a George Lucas student film. Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Nationals Park are separated by 38 miles—about 37 of those miles are taken up by the MD-295.
The Show Me Series
The Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals aren’t necessarily close but they do reside in the same state. Busch Stadium and Kauffman Stadium are on opposite sides of Missouri about 240 miles apart. If you were to drive between the two ballparks you’d probably take I-70 and you’d need more than four hours. These two teams clashed in the World Series back in 1985.
The California Series
Obviously, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Los Angeles Dodgers would be a “California Series” and so would the Angels and San Francisco Giants. The Angels’ friendly confines and the Giants’ friendly confines, AT&T Park, are separated by 409 miles. There have been four World Series featuring nothing but California teams. In fact, the Angels defeated the Giants in 2002 for their only World Series crown.
The Frequent Flyer Miles Series
The World Series matchup that would involve the most traveling would be the Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants. Their two respective stadiums are separated by more than 2,800 miles. I know both teams are classic MLB teams but an Orioles-Giants World Series would have little to no heat. The two ballparks that are the farthest apart (of the eight teams still remaining) belong to the Giants and the Nationals who are currently playing one another in the NLDS.
The number would have been a lot bigger if the Oakland Athletics had advanced but the eight teams competing in the ALDS and NLDS have met one another in the World Series eight times. Three of those times occurred in the 21st century. The most frequent pairing has been the Cardinals and Tigers. They’ve dueled in October on three previous occasions.
Previous World Series Matchups Between 2014 ALDS/NLDS Teams
>>Cardinals and Tigers in 1934
>>Cardinals and Orioles (then the St. Louis Browns) in 1944
>>Orioles and Dodgers in 1966
>>Tigers and Cardinals in 1968
>>Royals and Cardinals in 1985
>>Angels and Giants in 2002
>>Cardinals and Tigers in 2006
>>Giants and Tigers in 2012
World Series History
Of the eight teams remaining in the postseason, the Cardinals have the most titles with 11. They are tied with the Giants for the most World Series appearances with 19. The Nationals are the only National League team that has never reached the Fall Classic. Of the 22 teams that have won a World Series, the Royals and Angels are two of three that have only won it once (the other being the Arizona Diamondbacks).
Open Day Salary: $107,406,623 (15th)
Ballpark: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Last World Series Title: 1983
Manager: Buck Showalter
2014 Record: 96-66 (won AL East)
September Record: 17-10
Team Batting Average: .256
Team ERA: 3.43
Best Pitcher: Chris Tillman
Best Position Player: Adam Jones
Strength: Power, bullpen, manager
Weakness: Starting pitching
The Optimist’s Opine: For the O’s to reach the World Series all they need is for their starters to keep them in the game.
The Cynic’s Critique: How are the Orioles going to make a big run without Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters?
Open Day Salary: $162,228,527 (5th)
Ballpark: Comerica Park
Last World Series Title: 1984
Manager: Brad Ausmus
2014 Record: 90-72 (won AL Central)
September Record: 16-10
Team Batting Average: .277 (led Majors)
Team ERA: 4.01
Best Pitcher: Max Scherzer
Best Position Player: Miguel Cabrera
Strength: Lineup, playoff experience
The Optimist’s Opine: Miggy wants a ring. He’ll put the Tigers on his back and take them to the promise land.
The Cynic’s Critique: The Tigers reaching the postseason is an October tradition. Unfortunately, so are their early exits.
Kansas City Royals
Opening Day Salary: $92,034,345 (19th)
Ballpark: Kauffman Stadium
Last World Series Title: 1985
Manager: Ned Yost
2014 Record: 89-73 (wildcard)
September Record: 15-12
Team Batting Average: .263
Team ERA: 3.51
Best Pitcher: James Shields
Best Position Player: Alex Gordon
Strength: Small ball, bullpen
Weakness: Small ball, manager
The Optimist’s Opine: From now until they win the World Series (or suffer elimination) they are America’s team.
The Cynic’s Critique: Being the feel-good team won’t help you hit for power. Believe in Sabermetrics. Bunting and stealing don’t win championships.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Opening Day Salary: $155,692,000 (6th)
Ballpark: Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Last World Series Title: 2002
Manager: Mike Scioscia
2014 Record: 98-64 (won AL West)
September Record: 15-11
Team Batting Average: .259
Team ERA: 3.58
Best Pitcher: C.J. Wilson
Best Position Player: Mike Trout
Weakness: Starting rotation
The Optimist’s Opine: The Angels are hungry and their lineup is formidable.
The Cynic’s Critique: An early departure means fans can once again remind the Angels’ brass that money can’t buy a championship.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Opening Day Salary: $235,295,219 (1st)
Ballpark: Dodger Stadium
Last World Series Title: 1988
Manager: Don Mattingly
2014 Record: 94-68 (won NL West)
September Record: 17-8
Team Batting Average: .265
Team ERA: 3.40
Best Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw
Best Position Player: Yasiel Puig
Strength: Top of rotation, lineup
Weakness: Under a lot of pressure, health of third starter (Hyun-Jin Ryu)
The Optimist’s Opine: Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet and Matt Kemp is healthy. This is the year the Dodgers put it all together.
The Cynic’s Critique: Kershaw has 4.23 ERA in the postseason and Kemp is always one hard sneeze away from the disable list. Dodgers are perennial underachievers.
St. Louis Cardinals
Opening Day Salary: $111,020,360 (13th)
Ballpark: Busch Stadium
Last World Series Title: 2011
Manager: Mike Matheny
2014 Record: 90-72 (won NL Central)
September Record: 17-9
Team Batting Average: .253
Team ERA: 3.50
Best Pitcher: Adam Wainwright
Best Position Player: Yadier Molina
Strength: They know how to win
Weakness: Lineup, lack of power
The Optimist’s Opine: The Cardinals can turn it on better than anyone. No one would be surprised if they represented the NL in the World Series.
The Cynic’s Critique: They’re just not that good. Remember, they were six and half games behind the Milwaukee Brewers on July 1.
San Francisco Giants
Opening Day Salary: $154,185,878 (7th)
Ballpark: AT&T Park
Last World Series Title: 2012
Manager: Bruce Bochy
2014 Record: 88-74 (wildcard)
September Record: 13-12
Team Batting Average: .255
Team ERA: 3.50
Best Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner
Best Position Player: Buster Posey
Strength: Lineup, bullpen, experience
Weakness: Starting pitching
The Optimist’s Opine: Like the Giants, the Cardinals can seemingly turn on the winning ways at will.
The Cynic’s Critique: Come on people, enough with this “they know how to win” crap. If that was true the Giants would have won 100 games and run away with the NL West. They’ll be lucky to reach the NLCS.
Opening Day Salary: $134,704,437 (9th)
Ballpark: Nationals Park
Last World Series Title: N/A
Manager: Matt Williams
2014 Record: 96-66 (won NL East)
September Record: 19-8
Team Batting Average: .253
Team ERA: 3.03 (best in Majors)
Best Pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann
Best Position Player: Adam LaRoche
Strength: Balance, health
The Optimist’s Opine: The Nationals are well rounded and stacked. They really don’t have a weakness. No wonder they’re favored to win the World Series.
The Cynic’s Critique: They’re the Nationals. Enough said.
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