October 3, 2014
Baseball Nirvana Game Previews
All losses count the same no matter the score, so after a dismaying loss Thursday the Tigers get a chance to even the series.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Injuries/Availability: It will be interesting to see if Andrew Miller, who threw a season-high 32 pitches to record five outs in Game 1, is available for Game Two. Miller has pitched on consecutive days only twice for the Orioles since being acquired at the trade deadline. However, it would be a surprise if he was not available, given the situation and the guaranteed day of rest on Saturday.
While Verlander has the star appeal and will be the more discussed of the two hurlers, Chen will be the one causing changes in both teams' lineups. Look for right-handed hitting Bryan Holaday rather than Alex Avila to start at catcher against the Orioles’ lefty. Regarding the Orioles, it is assumed they will start Caleb Joseph, who caught all five of Chen’s September starts, in place of Game One starter Nick Hundley.
Other than some high HR/FB rates in May and June, Chen has been consistent all season. Look for Chen to try to “throw strikes, avoid walks, and try to limit the damage against opposite-handed batters,” as R.J. Anderson noted in our series preview. The major obstacle for Chen will be that the Tigers will start eight right-handed batters and the switch hitting Victor Martinez. Righties have hit fly balls at a decent rate against Chen (>40%) this year, which is not optimal for Camden Yards’ high home run environment.
For Verlander, 2014 appears to have been another year of decline for the former Cy Young winner. His strikeouts per nine dropped below seven for the first since 2008. Simply put, Verlander was not good for the first four months of the season. However, after dealing with some right shoulder soreness in August, Verlander was able to bounce back and show some of his old effectiveness—improving both his strikeout and walk rates for the final two months of the season.
As will be the case with any game this series, Detroit seems to hold an edge in starting pitching. While hitting seems to be close between the two clubs, Game One highlighted the Orioles’ advantage in defense and relief pitching. —Jeffrey Quinton
The Nationals cruised to their second NL East title in three years and the best record in the National League. The Giants crushed the Pirates 8-0 in the Wild Card game to earn a berth in the NLDS. Here is a look at the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game One.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Injury/Availability Notes: Ryan Zimmerman is on the roster, but it's not clear how available he is or where. He has been recovering from a hamstring strain but worked out with the club in an intrasquad game this week.
The Nationals starting lineup is completely healthy and ready to go for the team’s second postseason appearance in the last three seasons. With Zimmerman, the team has an excess of everyday players, a nice conundrum for manager Matt Williams. In his sophomore season, Rendon emerged as the best hitter in the lineup, but Washington has potential weapons throughout the entire batting order.
Peavy was rejuvenated after he was traded to San Francisco, posting a 2.17 ERA after the deal. The pitching edge in this game has to go to Strasburg, who dominated all year long with a 3.14 ERA (his 2.91 FIP was even better). Stras finished the season with a 1.13 ERA in his last six starts across 39 2/3 innings.
Strasburg didn’t throw a complete game all year, and it is unlikely he will in the LDS. That isn’t necessarily a comfort for the Giants, though, as the Nationals had the fourth best bullpen ERA and best bullpen FIP of any team in the majors. As heralded as the Nationals' rotation depth is, their pen is also formidable and doesn’t offer the Giants aid or comfort. With the fading Rafael Soriano out of the closer role, it will be even more difficult for the Giants to gain an advantage in the series opener.
PECOTA likes Washington, a lot, in Game 1. For context’s sake, Clayton Kershaw was given a 59 percent chance by PECOTA to win last year against the Atlanta Braves in Game One of the NLDS. Peavy is probably being dinged a good deal for his pre-trade numbers; the Giants will hope that September/October Peavy is better than PECOTA's version of Peavy. —Mike Gianella
The Dodgers open the playoffs as the favorites to win it all, but have to take on the always pesky, and seemingly magical, Cardinals in the National League Division Series. Here is a look at the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game One.
Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) 6:30 p.m. ET
Projected Starting Lineups:
Injury/Availability Notes: None.
The Cardinals offense has struggled for much of the season, but they do fare quite a bit better against lefties (.718 OPS against) than righties (.679 OPS against). However, this isn’t just any lefty, it’s Kershaw. No matter how well the Cardinals bats do against southpaws, their best bet at scoring some runs is running up Kershaw’s pitch count and getting to a suspect Dodgers bullpen.
The Dodgers have a balanced attack up and down the lineup, with their weakest bat, A.J. Ellis, getting on base above a league-average level (but doing little else at the plate). Even with an impressive veteran talent on the mound in Wainwright, L.A. has the pop to put up runs in a hurry.
Regardless of the apparent mismatch in offenses, it would surprise most if this isn’t a low-scoring affair. The bullpens will likely be factors in this series at some point down the line, but expect both managers to lean on their stud arms in Game One as long as nothing unexpected happens. If that’s the case, it makes sense that PECOTA would favor the Dodgers so heavily. No matter who takes the mound for the opposition, Kershaw always has the advantage and the Dodger offense—which scored 99 more than the Cards and posted 110 OPS+ vs. St Louis’ 93—is clearly a level above their opponent. —Sahadev Sharma
The Royals have already claimed home field advantage heading back to Kansas City, and will look to ride the momentum of back-to-back instant-classic victories.
Projected Starting Lineups
Injury/Availability Notes: Wade Davis should be available, but he did toss 27 pitches in Game 1. Kelvin Herrera left Thursday’s contest with forearm tightness. Danny Duffy pitched out of the bullpen Thursday, quieting suspicions he might be hurt.
The Royals are lucky enough to hand the ball to Yordano Ventura, who has also been throwing the baseball well. He’s posted ERAs of 2.92 and 2.41 in the final two months, respectively. Fans may remember the homer he surrendered to Brandon Moss just a couple days ago, but his single postseason appearance—out of the bullpen, no less—should not overshadow his impressive stretch of performances down the stretch. He remains a key reason the Royals ended their 29-year playoff drought.
Both projected lineups are relatively balanced in terms of right- and left-handed batters, which means the two squads do not carry extensive platoon splits. The Royals have hit .261/.310/.372 against righties with a .111 ISO, while the Angels have managed a .254/.317/.399 slash line with a .145 ISO against right-handed pitchers. Those numbers largely mirror their overall performances and do not project to affect the game in any significant manner.
Barring an uncharacteristic implosion on the mound, it seems the Angels should have the upper hand, at least as much as any team can in a one-game playoff scenario. Shoemaker has been brilliant in recent months, and the Royals do not possess a potent offensive attack. PECOTA agrees. Yordano Ventura had better shake off his rocky postseason debut and chuck up the zeroes because he doesn’t project to get much run support. —J.P. Breen
Sahadev Sharma is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @sahadevsharma