Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 10/2/13
The Indians and the Rays are still playing as I type, but with Alex Cobb inducing an inning ending double play with one out and the bases loaded for Cleveland, the remaining playoff picture is a mere finishing touch away from being complete. The Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers don’t need to wait for no stinkin’ Wild Card, but they do have the longest wait for their series to start as they don’t kick off until 9:30 Friday night. Oddly enough the AL will (likely, barring a Tampa collapse) have almost the same layout as it did in 2012: with the Tigers-Athletics squaring off on one side of the bracket while two AL East teams meet on the other side. Yet instead of the Yankees and the Orioles slugging it out, it will be (again, likely) the Rays and the Red Sox, two teams who were sitting at home this time last year. With the National League dominating the World Series the past three years, and with the All Star Game finally being won by the AL for the first time in just as long, one of these four American League teams will have a shot at snapping that drought. But before we look too far ahead, which two will be squaring off in the ALCS? Much like with the NL, Coley’s got your back again, internet. Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers Last year when these two faced off in the Divisional round the Tigers rode Justin Verlander to two wins (Games 1 and 5) over Oakland’s promising young pitcher Jarrod Parker. Now it’s a year later and neither are toeing the rubber for Game 1. Yet amazingly two legitimate Cy Young candidates will still be squaring off for the series opener: Bartolo Colon and Max Scherzer. Last year, the Tigers won the regular season series over the Athletics 4-3. This year, the Athletics won the regular season series over the Tigers 4-3. There’s plenty of symmetry here. The teams aren’t much different than they were a year ago. So will the results differ? Perhaps. Miguel Cabrera, while he turned in another monster statistical season, isn’t 100%. While almost every player will say “No one is 100% come this time of year” there are much different levels to playing injured. Seeing as the Tigers’ offense rests on Miggy’s production, this should be worrisome for Tigers fans. Granted, their pitching staff is as good as it gets in the MLB – not just the American League – but with the Athletics holding home field, it’s going to take someone’s offense to get hot in order to win this series. Both staffs are stingy enough to make every run mean that much more. In games 2-4, Sonny Gray, Parker, and Dan Straily will face Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister, respectively. While Scherzer, Verlander, and the AL leader in ERA Sanchez can surely keep the Athletics lineup in check on most nights, the A’s staff is just as capable to shut down Detroit – especially if Miggy is laboring. With all the talk about Miggy, I’m naming Prince Fielder my x-factor. He was brought in to protect Cabrera in the lineup and now he’s being relied upon to create some offense for this team. The 29-year old hit .279 with 25 jacks and 106 RBI in 2013. That average is going to have to come up drastically in a short series if the Tigers want to live to see another series. It’s tough to name one specific x-factor for Oakland, considering they continue to win in as unconventionally as possible. But I’m going with the guy who brought the initial spark to Oakland at the beginning of 2012 – Yoenis Cespedes. Whether in the field, on the bases, or at the dish, Cespedes has been everything he was asked to be when he signed with Oakland after defecting from Cuba. His average isn’t sterling (.265 over 1016 at bats) but he has recorded more hits (269) than games played (264). He’ll need to continue that hit-a-game trend if Oakland has any hopes of advancing past Detroit. Prediction: Tigers in 5. Boston Red Sox vs. (In All Honesty, It Doesn’t Matter) It’s currently the bottom of the seventh with two runners on base for Cleveland and two outs. The Rays are leading 3-0. I should wait for this game to end before I start doing things like predicting who the Red Sox will defeat, but the fact of the matter is it’s irrelevant information. The Red Sox have undergone one of the more drastic changes from one year to the next that I’ve ever seen in the MLB. Last year they were trash. A last place team who quit in early February. Yet in 2013, after some addition by subtraction in August of 2012, the Sox transformed into the best team in baseball. Truly remarkable. The players were worse on paper yet exponentially better on the field. They’ve been playing with the hearts of the city of Boston on their back since that fateful day in the middle of April. Most importantly: they’ve had fun. Yes folks, fun. It’s possible at the Big league level for any sport. And it’s what this group of Red Sox exudes. Their personality is effervescent. Their character is tangible. This team could be down five runs in the ninth and not a single member of Red Sox Nation would think the game was over. And for an opposing team, nothing is more dangerous than a team who is loose enough to not allow any situation to become too big. Are the Red Sox a team of destiny because of the Marathon bombings? No, they are not. But they’re as close to being a team of destiny as one can be. Not to mention, the Sox have talent. It’s not like they were a last place squad because they lacked the players. They simply lacked the care and desire – which is the unfortunate, harsh reality of the situation. The Sox will trot out a rotation of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy. One would have a hard time finding a stone cold “ace” of this bunch but at the same time I defy you to look at the respective seasons any of the four put out and call any of them less than a number two. The x-factor for the Sox is Mike Napoli. Plain and simple, if he decides this is the time for him to go through a slump – as he has a penchant for – it will make it increasingly more difficult for the Sox to do damage this postseason. The Sox can absolutely still win games if Hacksaw Mike Nap goes through a funk, it just wont be nearly as easy. When Napoli is feeling it in the heart of the Sox order, they’re the toughest team in the League to beat. Prediction: Sox in 4. Then the Sox beat Detroit. Then they beat whoever the NL sacrifices in the World Series. #RedSoxtober is real, y’all!
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