2011 Major League Baseball Preview/Division Series Picks

Wow, that sucked.  At the same time, in the abstract, it was a terrific night of baseball.  Yes, the season is long.  It is hard to say one datapoint is more than any other.  But alone with soccer, baseball is the best vehicle in sports (and perhaps entertainment/art in general) to just create incomprehensible tension.  I was 8 years old again – it works every time, even in a season where I did not order the Major League Extra Innings Package and maintained some distance from the operation.  But when the Red Sox’ collapse was complete – the emptiness returns.  At the same time – there is nothing metaphysical about what happened.  The Red Sox did not lack “clubhouse unity” or “leadership”.  This is still the core of a team that came back from the dead to knock out Cleveland in 2007, and score one of the biggest comebacks of all time in 2008 against Tampa Bay (though they lost in 7).  The ticker is there – but the pitching was not.  Whether it be attrition or incompetence, a 7 ERA for the starters is simply impossible to overcome.  The good news is salvation lies within – the Boston market will want heads to roll because they are crazy.  However, there is nothing that a bout of health could not fix – and getting the depth back to 2004/2007 levels.  But there are 8 teams playing apparently.  So we break them down.

A quick ranking of the teams’ body of work:  A good place to start with the teams is to ignore the record and go to the run margin – a better predictor of future success and a better tool for measuring underlying performance.  Suppose we constructed an RPI formula using a teams pythagorean record, and the pythagorean record of its opponents and its opponents’ opponents.  You’d get a result like this (in order, number of expected wins):

  1. New York Yankees 94.38 expected wins, strength of schedule 81.68 wins (5th overall)
  2. Texas Rangers  92.98, SoS 81.31 (8th)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies 92.94, SoS 80.68 (10th)
  4. Tampa Bay Rays 89.89, SoS 81.86 (4th)
  5. Boston Red Sox 88.46, 82.14 (2nd)
  6. Milwaukee Brewers 85.44, 80.03 (17th)
  7. Saint Louis Cardinals 85.17, 79.57 (25th)
  8. Arizona Diamondbacks 84.47, 79.93 (21st)
  9. Detroit Tigers 84.03, 78.87 (28th)
  10. Anaheim Angels 83.93, 80.83 (9th)
  11. Atlanta Braves 83.16, 80.64 (11th)
  12. Cincinnati Reds 81.22, 79.78 (22nd)
  13. San Francisco Giants 81.17, 80.19 (14th)
  14. Los Angeles Dodgers 81.03, 78.72 (29th)
  15. Toronto Blue Jays 80.40, 82.59 (1st)
  16. San Diego Padres 79.43, 80.02 (18th)
  17. Washington Nationals 79.07, 80.56 (12th)
  18. Colorado Rockies 78.47, 80.13 (15th)
  19. Oakland Athletics 77.84, 79.43 (26th)
  20. New York Mets 77.26, 80.01 (19th)
  21. Chicago White Sox 76.88, 78.94 (27th)
  22. Florida Marlins 76.59, 81.56 (6th)
  23. Cleveland Indians 76.11, 77.4 (30th)
  24. Seattle Mariners 74.83, 82.05 (3rd)
  25. Chicago Cubs 74.66, 79.98 (20th)
  26. Pittsburgh Pirates 74.07, 79.57 (24th)
  27. Kansas City Royals 73.00, 79.60 (23rd)
  28. Baltimore Orioles 71.90, 81.48 (7th)
  29. Houston Astros 70.53, 80.5 (13th)
  30. Minnesota Twins 70.18, 80.07 (16th)

So the playoff matchups: #1 Yankees vs #9 Tigers, #2 Rangers vs #4 Rays, #3 Phillies vs #7 Cardinals and #6 Brewers vs #8 Diamondbacks.   A few thoughts about each:

Yankees-Tigers: The Tigers run differential looks impressive.  Their raw pythagorean record is actually 89.2 expected wins, but gets knocked down a lot for their really bad division that they run roughshod through.  The Yankees fundamentals are more persistent.  As far as the games themselves, the Tigers have a small edge when Verlander starts.  It is either a dead heat with CC Sabbathia or a slight edge at best.  The Yankees could crush every other schmoe Detroit puts out there.  Detroit needs to win Verlander’s starts to have a shot – this feels like too much to overcome with a hoss like CC.  Yankees in 3.

Rangers-Rays: This was a knee knocker last year, and no reason it should be different this time around.  Tampa Bay is the league’s best run prevention team, finishing 3rd in runs scored but playing in the tougher league with a much harder schedule than the teams that outpaced them (PHI and SF).  Their offense is merely adequate, and has been streaky at times – though Longoria has caught fire.  Texas is sort of the opposite.  Runs are no problemo here – and their run prevention was 9th in the league against the 2nd hardest schedule – so it certainly is more than adequate.  The starting matchups are even throughout.  Really at this point I think Texas can score a bit more easily.  Rangers in 5

Phillies-Cardinals: The amazing surge the Cardinals used to get in was amazing.  The Braves stumbled down the stretch but unlike the Red Sox collapse this was more a matter of the Cardinals “catching” them.  The Cardinals can hit all right, though they also played in a very poor division.  And Philadelphia is another kettle of fish pitchingwise.  I am not sure this is something the Cardinals would wish.  Maybe they win Carpenter’s start – but Phillies are too much.  Phillies in 4

Brewers-Diamondbacks: Do you believe in Ian Kennedy?  Neither do I.  Not when facing the rotation in the National League that can give the Phillies a run for their money.  Milwaukee finished strong on the strength of an unsustainably good home record.  So is their lofty spot justified?  God their division was weak!  This is all new for these Diamondbacks – and they are built to be back here several times in the future.  That said, the Brewers starting pitching is something I like better here.  Arizona allowed slightly more runs, but their pitching strength is tied in their bullpen.  I am not sure they can match what the Brewers have in the rotation.  Greinke in particular can carry a team.  Brewers in 5

 

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