Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Tampa @ Cleveland WC game Pitching matchup thoughts

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Can the effusive Swisher lead his rag-tag team to victory?  Photo via wikipedia.

Can the effusive Swisher lead his rag-tag team to victory? Photo via wikipedia.

At first glance, knowing that the Rays have been travling around the country for the last two weeks like an indie band chasing side gigs, you would think the Indians would be favored in this matchup.

But look closer and you’ll see an Indians team that has a lot of heart but may not really be as good as their record indicates.  They readily beat up on the two weak teams in their division (going 17-2 versus the White Sox and 13-6 versus Minnesota).  They went 6-1 against the hapless Astros.  That’s a combined 36-9 against these three awful teams.   Against the rest of the league, just 54-51.  They lost the season series to Tampa, winning just 2 of 6 games.  They lost 15 of 19 against Detroit on the season.  They lost 6 of 7 to both Boston and New York.  So I think this is a weaker team than its 90-72 record; in fact I feel like in a different division they’d probably be just a .500 team.

You can only play who they put in front of you though.  They still had 90 wins and a fantastic 10 game winning streak to end the season  … but those 10 games were all against the 3 worst teams in the league.  What will happen when they play a battle tested, playoff-veteran AL East team like Tampa?

Tampa earned its way into a game 163 with tough road series victories at the end of the season, and earned its win over Texas in its first do-or-die game.  Unfortunately they burned their ace in the process and now will go with #3 starter Alex Cobb.  Not that Cobb doesn’t give them a great chance at winning: he’s 11-3 on the season, has pitched to a 138 ERA+.  His away splits are *better* than his home splits.  He’s been very solid since returning from the D/L and I would expect a solid outing tonight.  Perhaps 7 innings, 2 earned runs with 6 strikeouts.

Cleveland had to play it “straight” all they way til the end to guarantee a playoff spot and thus finds itself depending on 23-yr old Danny Salazar, he of exactly 10 major league starts, in this coin-flip game.  Salazar’s numbers in short sample sizes are good; 2-3, 3.12 era, 1.13 whip, 65/15 k/bb in 52 innings and a 121 ERA+.  The blogs rave about his heat and his change-up.  He gets a ton of Ks.  But he’s young, he throws too many pitches, and he’s likely only going to be able to give his team 5-6 innings in a best case tonight.   The Rays see a lot of pitches and are a patient team (2nd in the league in BBs); they and manager Joe Madden knows they can wait out Salazar, get into the Indians bullpen and take their chances.  The Indians pen is a mess, closer Chris Perez is lost, and they’re in the bottom third of the league in most macro categories (bullpen ERA, FIP, fWAR).   Their bullpen is righty heavy, so they can’t play matchups very well.   And the Rays are one of the better RH hitting teams in the league (top 10 in wOBA, top 5 in wRC+).

The Indians are at home (where they’re good), and they’re incredibly hot right now (21-8 in September).  They hit righties at about the league average and have a ton of left-handed/switch hitters at their disposal.   But I somehow see the Rays asserting their dominance, getting into the Cleveland bullpen and eking out a win.  I’m thinking perhaps a 4-3 victory for Tampa.  I’m not as confident here as I was in my first two predictions for the 2013 post-season … but have faith that Tampa will take the next step over the surprising Indians.

Written by Todd Boss

October 2nd, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Ranking the 2013 Playoff Rotations

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Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Now that the playoff fields are set … who has the most formidable playoff rotation?

Unlike previous rotation rankings posts, the playoffs focus mostly on the 1-2-3 guys.  Your 5th starter may not even be on the playoff roster and your 4th starter usually just throws one start in a series where you can line up your guys, and some teams skip the 4th starter altogether if they at least one veteran pitcher who can all go on 3 days rest (there’s enough off-days in the 2-3-2 format to allow most guys to go on regular rest).  So the focus here is on the strength of your top guys.

Here’s how I’d rank the 10 playoff teams’ rotations, despite the fact that two of these teams will be wild card losers and never get a chance to use their rotations:

  1. Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Nolasco, Ryu (Capuano left out).  As great a 1-2 combination Kershaw and Greinke are, Nolasco has for stretches outpiched them both since his trade, and Ryu is a #2 starter talent in the #4 slot.  They’re going to be a tough out in any short series where Kershaw gets two starts.  Easily the #1 playoff rotation.
  2. Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister (Porcello left out).  Hard to believe that a guy who most thought was the best or 2nd best pitcher in baseball (Verlander) may not even get the start in the first game of the playoffs.  But they’re still the 2nd best rotation.
  3. St. Louis: Wainwright, Miller, Wacha, Kelly (Westbrook and Garcia hurt, Lynn left out).  The knock on St Louis’ current rotation is their youth; two rookies and a 2nd year guy who was in the bullpen all last year.  Are there any innings-limit concerns here that could force a shutdown  It doesn’t seem so at this point?  It continues to amaze me how well St. Louis develops players.  Carpenter and Garcia out all year?  No worries we’ll just bring up two guys in Wacha and Miller who are barely old enough to drink but who can pitch to a 120 ERA+.
  4. Tampa Bay: Price, Moore, Archer, Cobb (Hellickson left out); A tough top 4, if a little young on the back-side.  Moore has quietly returned to this dominant form upon his call-up and gives Tampa a formidable 1-2 punch.  Price has already pushed them past game 163.
  5. Pittsburgh: Liriano, Burnett, Cole, Morton (Rodriguez hurt, Locke left out).  The team previously said that Cole would likely a reliever in the playoffs, but I’ll believe that when I see it; he’s been fantastic down the stretch.  It is difficult to put a rotation headlined by the burnout Burnett and the reclamation project Liriano this high, but their performances this year are inarguable.
  6. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Peavy, Lackey (Dempster, Doubront left out).  Buchholz just returning mid September after a hot start; could push this rank up.  I don’t necessarily trust the #3 and #4 spots here in a short series, but Boston can (and probably will) bash their way to the World Series.
  7. Cincinnati: Bailey, Cueto, Arroyo, Cingrani (Leake left out, Latos hurt).  Cingrani may be hurt, Cueto has returned to replace the sore-armed Latos.  Leake’s performance may push him over Arroyo if they get there, but the odds of them beating Pittsburgh were already slim after their poor finish and were vanquished last night.  Still, isn’t it nice when you have more quality starters than you need heading into a season, Mike Rizzo?
  8. Atlanta: Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Wood (Hudson hurt, Maholm left out).  If Wood is shutdown, Maholm makes sense as the #4 starter but has struggled most of the 2nd half and finished poorly.  I may have this rotation ranked too low; they’re solid up and down, just not overpoweringly flashy.
  9. Cleveland: Jimenez, Kluber, Kazmir, Salazar (Masterson in the pen, McAllister left out).  How did these guys get a playoff spot?  Amazing.  They’re all solid, nobody especially flashy, and they won’t go away.
  10. OaklandColon, Parker, Griffen, Gray (Milone, Straily left out, Anderson in long relief).  I didn’t want to rank them last, considering Oakland’s record over their last 162 game stretch.  But here they are; on an individual level one by one, they just do not stack up.  The age-less wonder Colon is easily the staff Ace.  The rest of these guys’ seasonal numbers are just not impressive.

These teams obviously didn’t make the playoffs, but were in the hunt until late, and since I had already typed up this content might as well say where I’d have ranked them, had they made the playoffs…

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren (Ohlendorf, Roark left out, Jordan shut down)  Perhaps you’d replace Haren with Roark based on September performances;  I just can’t imagine trusting Haren in a 7 game series..  I’d put them about #4, just ahead or just behind Tampa.   Gonzalez and Zimmermann have shown themselves to be oddly vulnerable here and there coming down the stretch, and I just don’t put Strasburg in the same elite category as Kershaw right now.  Too bad months of indifference cost them the 4 games they needed to make up in the standings to reach the WC game.
  • Kansas City: Shields, Santana, Chen, Guthrie (Duffy, Davis, Mendoza left out): Duffy may be a better choice than Guthrie based on small sample sizes.  I’d have put them just behind Cincy at #8 in terms of rotation depth.
  • Texas: Darvish, Garza, Holland, Perez (Tepisch, Grimm left out, Harrison hurt): Great Ace in Darvish (even if he has occasaional blowups), but falls off badly after that.  The Garza acquisition has just not worked out, and the rest of the rotation is good but not overpowering.  I’d put them behind KC but just ahead of Baltimore.
  • Baltimore: Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Feldman (Norris, Garcia, Hammel and others left out).  They’d probably be behind Atlanta at #9, only ahead of Oakland/Cleveland.
  • New York: Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pettitte (Hughes, Phelps left out): Kuroda has been the ace of the staff this year, but you’d always lead off with Sabathia (though, had they made the playoffs it would be unknown if Sabathia could even go with his late-season injury).  Either way, this would be behind any other playoff team’s rotation.