World Series Pick: Upset Alert!
With the All Streak Break now in the review mirror, it is time to start evaluating where team’s stand and who has a reasonable chance at winning the final game of the 2015 MLB season. For me, there are about eight teams (ten if you’re the optimistic type) that have a chance at making a run this postseason, but four stick out in my opinion.
In the National League, the teams I view as true contenders are the same teams that we all had pegged as threats this offseason. The defending champion Giants may lack big name bats outside of Buster Posey, but they have few holes as well, and their experience cannot be overstated. The Dodgers are also a very real threat, especially if they can add another arm before the trade deadline. Unlike San Francisco, Los Angeles is comfortable in a high or low scoring game, making them a tough out. The Nationals struggled a bit out of the gate, but they are living up to their potential now and it appears that Stephen Strasberg’s health is now a bonus instead of a requirement. None of those teams representing the National League would be a surprise, but my pick at this point is the …
St. Louis Cardinals
No, it’s not a flashy upset pick (keep reading for that), but I like being right and this pick is the statistical choice. All great teams excel in the “obvious” measures, and these Red Birds do, but I’m going start with the hidden aspects that help make a winner. These Cardinals own a Top 10 defense, and in a pitching dominated era, not giving away extra outs/bases or unearned runs is absolutely crucial. Not only does stabilized defense limit the potential damage of the opposing offense, it also allows your offense to build a lead. If the Cardinals can do that, they will call on their elite bullpen that is anchored by Trevor Rosenthal. Has he looked human of late? Yea, but let’s not forget that he sported a sub-1.00 ERA in each of the four previous months and still has 24 percent more strikeouts than hits allowed this season.
Now onto the “obvious” stuff. Much like my pick of the Cardinals, their offense isn’t very exciting (13th in wOBA and 22nd in ISO). Again, if you’re chasing highlights, pick another team, but if you like making good picks, this offense is good enough. Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina have all done it before, but this offense doesn’t rest on the shoulders of any one player and that is what makes them a tough out in any seven game series. Jhonny Peralta has been one of the most productive shortstops all season long and has made great strides in his ability to handle right-handed pitching (.321/.375/.473 slash this season).Jason Heyward is realizing some of the potential that we put on his shoulders the second he stepped into the big leagues (go figure, a stable franchise that allows a talent to develop and flourish) and there are two promising youngsters in Randal Grichuck and Kolten Wong (remember his postseason gaffe? It has only made him stronger) that are shining in their extended opportunity.
Do you remember the Opening Day starter for the Cardinals? Yea, that Adam Wainwright guy, one of the best in all of baseball. Well, his season-ending injury hasn’t stopped this Cardinals staff from not only being serviceable, but arguably the best in the league. All four of their primary starters (Carlos Martinez, John Lackey, Lance Lynn, and Michael Wacha) have a sub-3.00 ERA and make an extended losing streak mathematically unlikely. Wacha’s 2.93 ERA is the worst among the quartet, but with a 1.10 WHIP and by averaging 3.6 strikeouts-per-walk, stat geeks like myself consider him the most dominate of the bunch. And while I think it is unlikely, Wainwright has made it known that he would love to contribute in any fashion this fall. Are you kidding me? He’s already recorded the final out in a World Series and would be icing on the cake if he can contribute anything this postseason. I don’t think that happens, but if it does … fuhgetaboutit!
NL Sleeper: Pittsburgh Pirates
They are more of a “sleeper” in that they are not a member of the elite moreso than they are a team flying under the radar. Gerrit Cole is a bonafide stud and capable leading his team in Madison Bumgarn-ian fashion, but he may not need to if A.J. Burnett can continue to pitch with the type of consistency that we have seen. The reason they rank outside of the elite teams is the lack of consistency from their hitters not named Andrew McCutchen, but they are as capable as anyone of catching fire. The Bucco’s have a history of losing, but this current cast has found success over the last few seasons and should build on that with a strong run this October.
NL Runner up: Washington Nationals
The American League has far less clarity. Whereas I don’t believe there are many sleepers with a chance in the NL, the AL is more open for the “hot hand” to represent them in the World Series. The Royals have the second best record in baseball and we learned last season that speed on offense and the ability to shut down opponents after the fifth inning are two ingredients that can lead to postseason success, and with many of the same pieces in place, it would simply be irresponsible to say that their regular season success is a fluke. The X-factor for them is Alex Gordon and his ability to regain health and be productive down the stretch. The Tigers and Angels both have the offensive star power that could drive a late run, but I’d prefer stable pitching and hope for hitting than the alternative. The team that fits that bill is my pick to represent the American League in late October …
Yes, I realize that they are a ways off the pace (as bad as they’ve been at times, 5.5 games back of a wild card berth seems like a minor victory), but here me out. Their pitching staff tops the American League in FIP, and while FIP isn’t going to win games, it certainly can be used as a predictive stat when looking for a team that needs to make up serious ground sooner rather than later. The strong FIP is the result of owning the top SwStr% and K% in all of baseball, a skill that I love in the playoffs. The ability to strikeout batters is useful when it comes to pitching out of jams, and based on my belief in these starters, wriggling out of the limited sticky situations could make them elite. On the backend of their bullpen is Cody Allen, not the most talented of closers, but one that gets the job done nonetheless (19/20 in save opportunities) and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
I’m not going to sell you on this offense as elite, but like the Cardinals, I think they can be good enough. Roughly 75 percent of pitchers throw with their right hand, which is why left-handed hitters are generally seen as more valuable, as they hold the handedness advantage over the majority of pitchers. Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley are the top two producers in Cleveland and both hit from the left side, giving them “carry this team for a month” potential. Yes please. Add in the fact that they regularly start a pair of switch-hitters and a high upside player in Brandon Moss, and I think you can see why I like this team as a sleeper to make a run. They are following the Royals contact based offensive model, as they are the fourth hardest team in baseball to strikeout, a trend that I love for the exact same reason why I liked their ability to strikeout opponents. Run-scoring starts with contact and the Indians have the potential to hold a strong advantage on both offense and defense in that respect.
AL Sleeper: Houston Astros
I don’t actually believe that they are among the best teams in the AL, but a hot start to the season has them in a good spot to qualify for postseason play. Having a Cy Young candidate is huge and their offensive upside is as high as any … but so is their downside. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled off an upset and it may even be in dominating fashion if they can catch lightening in a bottle, but they are a dangerous pick to win consecutive series’. That said, powerful offenses with an ace in their back pocket are tough to come by.
AL Runner up: Kansas City Royals
Photo via Getty
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