Well Balanced Cardinals Primed For Another Championship

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No Clear Cut Favorite In Baseball Playoffs

By John Ventola

The start of the major league playoffs is only one week away, and a few things have become clear about the forthcoming postseason. All ten of the playoff teams will have a chance at the World Series championship, but each also has weaknesses that can be exploited by the opposition. Like last season, an individual player (in 2014 it was San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner) will probably step up and take his team to the title.  Also, there is a good chance the World Series titlist will come from the National League’s Central Division where the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburg Pirates, and Chicago Cubs posted the three best won-loss records in baseball.

The New York Mets, Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers captured the East, Central,

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All Ten Playoff Teams Capable Of Capturing World Series

and West Divisions of the National League, respectively, while the Pirates and Cubs will square off in the wild card one game playoff. It seems unfair that a team with either the second or third best record in baseball will be eliminated based on a single game, but it guarantees that fans will see a pitcher’s duel between the Pirates Gerrit Cole and the Cubs Jake Arrieta.

American League winners Toronto (East), and Kansas City (Central), await the season-ending battle between AL West contenders Texas, Los Angeles, and Houston. Only two and a half games separates the three teams with five games remaining. East runner-up New York has a three game lead in the wild card race over the Angels, and a three and a half game margin over Houston. The Angels have won seven straight games to overtake the faltering Astros, who have lost sixteen of twenty-six games in September.

Bumgarner posted the best post-season pitching performance in baseball history to lead the Giants to the 2014 championship, and it will take a similar effort by pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Michael Wacha, David Price, Cole, or Arrieta to lead their team to victory this year. While hitting is still a special part of the game, pitching has shown itself to be the key element in winning recent World Series titles.

Toronto’s explosive bats, led by former Auburn star Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion, should make the Blue Jays the favorite to capture the AL pennant.

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Toronto Power And Pitching Should Win AL Pennant

The trio has combined for 126 home runs and 339 runs batted in to lead the Canadians. The mid-year acquisition of lefthander Price from Detroit solidified a staff that also runs out veteran lefthander Mark Buehrle (14-7), Marco Estrada (13-8), and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (11-11). Price is 18-5 on the season, and 9-1 in eleven starts with Toronto.

Last season’s surprise team Kansas City (World Series loser to San Francisco) used the same formula to easily win the Central Division over Minnesota. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain leads the Royals with a .306 average and 1. 6 home runs, while first basemen Eric Hosmer has 17 home runs and a .302 average. Catcher Sal Perez has hit 20 home runs while handling a young, capable pitching staff. Third baseman Mike Moustakas has hit 21 home runs with a .271 average, and left fielder Alex Gordon and slick fielding shortstop Alcides Escobar have been steady at bat and in the field.

The Royals “V Boys” Yordano Ventura (12-8), Edinson Volquez (13-9) have started 59 games between them to lead a balanced pitching rotation. Reliever Wade Davis (8-1) has stepped into the team’s closer role for the post-season. Hard-throwing Johnny Cueto was acquired from Cincinnati to bolster the staff, but has only a 3-7 record (10-13 for season) in 12 starts for the Royals.

The Rangers have somehow managed to pass Houston and lead the Astros and Angels

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Rangers Angels Astros Go Down To The Wire

going into the final five games in the AL West. Prince Fielder is hitting .308 with 23 home runs and another veteran, Andre Beltre is batting .281 with 16 home runs. The team lacks overall offensive productivity. Righthander Colby Lewis is 17-9 with a 4.53 ERA, and Yovani Gallardo is 12-11 with a 3.42 ERA. The pitching staff and offense is not capable of going far into the playoffs.

The Yankees may look an old-timer’s team, but they have pieced together adequate seasons from aging veterans and a patchwork pitching staff to get to the post-season once again. Alex Rodriquez has enjoyed his return season by hitting 32 home runs at age 40, while 38-year-old Carlos Beltran has hit 18 homers with a .274 average. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner each have .262 averages while Mark Teixeira has hit 31 home runs. Japan’s Masahiro Tanaka, 12-7 in 23 starts, Michael Pineda, 12-9 in 26 starts, and Nathan Eovaldi, 14-3 in 27 starts, have combined to cover for the second consecutive subpar season from high-priced lefthander CC Sabathia, who is 5-10 in 28 starts with an high 4.82 ERA. Sabathia was only 3-4 in eight 2014 starts.

Angels superstar Mike Trout has recovered from a brief slump to lead the late season resurgence of Los Angeles. The centerfielder continues to make unbelievable catches

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Trout Leading Angels Effort

in center field and has hit 40 home runs despite his ordinary, for Trout, .295 average. Veteran Albert Pujols has 38 home run, but is hitting only .241. Garrett Richards has a 15-11 record, but no other Angels pitcher has won more than nine games. Teams will work Trout and Pujols carefully in the playoffs, and the Angels do not have the pitching to go very far, in my opinion.

Houston has “The Beard” (lefthander Dallas Keuchel) and power, but plays miserably on the road. Keuchel is 19-8 with a 2.47 ERA in 32 starts, and righthander Collin McHugh is 18-7 with a 3.98 ERA in 31 starts, but no other starter has more than six wins. Hit machine Jose Altuve is hitting .311 with 193 hits (he led the league last season), while newcomer Carlos Correa has hit 21 home runs in only 95 games. Third baseman Luis Valbuena and first baseman Chris Carter have each hit 23 home runs, but are saddled with low batting averages, .216 for Valbuena and .195 for Carter. Designated hitter Evan Gattis (27 homers), leftfielder Colby Rasmus (22 home runs) held ignite the offense, but the Astros are limited in some aspects of the game, and are in jeopardy of not making the playoffs.

In the National League, the Cardinals Matt Carpenter, 27 home runs, .267 average, led a well-balanced offense to the best record in baseball. Jason Heyward and Jhonny Peralta helped Carpenter, but the team is built around its strong pitching. Michael

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Cardinals Will Prove That Good Pitching Is The Key

Wacha, 17-6, John Lackey, 13-9, Carlos Martinez, 14-7, former Ole Miss righty Lance Lynn, 12-10, and lefthander Jaime Garcia, 10-5, all contributed solid mound efforts. Star Adam Wainwright, who suffered a ruptured Achilles in his fourth start of the season, will test his body in the final days of the season in preparation for possible postseason action.

NL East winner New York easily beat the disappointing Washington Nationals and should continue to use the exploits of talented Yoenis Cespedes and veteran Curtis Granderson to make its run. Cespedes has 35 home runs, 17 of them after being acquired from Detroit. Granderson has 25 home runs. Jacob DeGrom, 14-8 in 29 starts, Matt Harvey, 13-7 in 28 starts, and veteran Bartolo Colon, 14-13 in 31 starts, lead a balanced pitching staff.

Kershaw, 16-7, and Greinke, 18-3 with a 1.68 ERA, will carry the Dodgers hopes on their shoulders. Adrian Gonzalez, 28 homers, and young centerfielder Joc Pederson, 25 home runs (but only a .211 average), lead the LA offense. Outfielder Yasiel Puig has

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Kershaw Greinke Would Win Arms Race But Dodgers Lack Hitting

suffered through an 11 homer, .256 season. The Dodgers will go as far as Kershaw and Greinke take them.

Arrieta has been fantastic for the Cubs. The 29-year-old righthander is 21-6 with an impressive 1.82 ERA in 32 starts. Veteran lefthander Jon Lester has the second most wins with 10. Lester has a 3.43 ERA. Rookie star third baseman Kris Bryant has hit 26 homers while batting .281. The 23-year-old, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been complemented by the offense of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, 30 home runs and .277 average, and the play of Addison Russell and shortstop Starlin Castro. Arrieta will be used up in the initial play-in game, and that fact will make the Cubs a long-shot to advance.

Cole will probably face Arrieta for the Pirates and he, like Arrieta, is far and away the best Pirates starter. The former UCLA star has a 18-6 record in 31 starts while veteran Francisco Liriano is 12-7 with a 3.27 ERA. Star Andrew McCutchen and former Vanderbilt All-American Pedro Alvarez lead the Pirates offense with 48 home runs between them.

Anything can happen in the crazy, unpredictable world of baseball during the next month, but this blogger sees Toronto facing St. Louis for all the chips. I call it Cardinals in six games!

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