Yes, we know our beloved Braves have their many fallacies and faults. We also know that they have many strengths, and they have the potential to put together an offense, starting pitching staff, and bullpen on the field in October that can beat anyone in baseball.
Yet, it’s those faults, a woeful offense early, a recently struggling rotation, and an over-used bullpen, as well as countless injuries, that lead to a plethora of doubt as to the validity of the Braves World Series hopes. The good news is, the playoffs don’t last long, and EVERY team has their faults. Every team could lose a five or seven game series. And for that, the Braves absolutely can win the World Series.
Detroit Tigers- I have a hard time seeing either Cleveland or Chicago catching Detroit in this division. The Indians have injury issues and the White Sox seem to be mired in a rut of mediocrity they can’t get out of. Either way, if one of those two sneak into the playoffs, nobody is going to look at them as a team to be deemed a favorite to hoist up a trophy at the conclusion of their final game.
As for Detroit, they’ve allowed more runs than they’ve scored. Yes, you read that correctly. We are in mid August and the Tigers have been outscored on the year. If that doesn’t indicate some serious flaws with this team, what exactly would?
The lineup is good enough to win a short series if Miguel Cabrera hits. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander alone could possibly get this team out of the first round. In the extended seven game format, there are still enough big bats that the thought of them advancing through the playoffs isn’t ludicrous.
The problem for Detroit is that Justin Verlander and Jose Valverde cannot pitch every inning in the playoffs. Aside from Verlander there’s not a pitcher on this roster I’d trust starting a playoff game. Considering the likely AL opponents in the playoffs are Texas, Boston and New York, yeah, good luck winning four out of seven against any of that trio.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- I said Texas is a likely playoff team, but that’s doing a dis-service to the surging Angels. They are 21-12 since the beginning of July. They were 51-46 on the morning of July 20th, five games back of the Texas Rangers. They’ve won 12 of their last 18 and pulled to within one game of the Rangers, suddenly interjecting themselves into this conversation.
However, for all their hotness as of late, the Angels would still enter the playoffs with a ton of question marks, most notably on offense. The offense is a very mediocre one. However, it’s mediocre throughout the lineup. In some ways, it’s not a bad thing. The problem is that there isn’t that one guy, or pair of hitters who could carry a team through a series.
Granted, the Giants lacked that last year as well, and rode Cody Ross and dominant pitching to the World Series.
The Angels have a good recipe for postseason success in their collection of arms. They boast three very quality starters, including Jered Weaver who is the type of pitcher who could win every postseason start he makes. Their bullpen is also solid, and one they could rely on in those close October games.
But it comes back to the offense for this club. They just don’t have anybody that scares you. If one or two guys even get it going in a playoff series, it will be too easy to pitch around them and make the other guys beat you.
With some playoff contenders boasting players in the midst of a down year, or dealing with injuries, thus leading to the thought they could still turn it around and deliver when it counts, the Angels lack anyone to expect that from. Nobody in their lineup is a player you can say, “Well, they’ll get it turned around, it’s going to happen”. Mark Trumbo is the best bet for them to find such a player, but that’s a huge onus to put upon a youngster.
Age seems to have caught up a bit with Bobby Abreu, you can’t expect him to carry a team in October either. Tori Hunter is perhaps the one guy you look at and think, perhaps he’s the one who will turn it on and get hot. But a 35 year old former center fielder who played the way he did, age isn’t going to be kind, and we are seeing it.
The offense just doesn’t have that guy that can put a team on its back, and without a lineup 1-9 of good hitters, you need that to have a real shot in October. As such, winning in October will prove to be difficult.
Texas Rangers- We know the Rangers can score, and can score in bunches and score a lot. There are several potent bats throughout the lineup, enough that team wide slumps are rare. Enough that pitching around one or two of them often proves to be a futile act.
We also know the rotation is solid, so is the bullpen. Feliz has been injured, and has struggled at times, but he still presents a trustworthy option at the end of games. Trade deadline acquisitions such as Koji Uehara and Mike Adams only make the bullpen better, the point they could enter the American League playoffs with the best bullpen of everyone at the party.
However, they don’t have an ace starting pitcher. Winning a World Series almost always means having one, usually more than one, ace caliber pitcher taking the hill for playoff games.
In the playoffs everybody’s good. And good pitching generally tops good hitting. So the Rangers offense, as good as it is, isn’t likely to carry this team all the way to the World Series. There will be nights in won’t get it done. And it’s on those nights they need a starting pitcher to keep them in the game.
The 5-13 combined record against Detroit and New York doesn’t do anything to squelch such concerns.
C.J. Wilson and Matt Harrison have been good, very good actually. And Alexi Ogando has been outstanding. But do you really trust either of those guys to go head to head with Verlander, or John Lester or Josh Beckett, or even C.C. Sabathia? I didn’t think so.
If you’re Texas and you absolutely face a must win situation, do you have the pitcher to trot out there trusting he can get it for you? No, you probably don’t. And without that, it can be tough to find those 11 wins necessary in playoff baseball.
New York Yankees- For as good as the Yankees are, they could enter the playoffs with as many questions as anyone else.
We’ll skip the obvious one for the moment, and look at a potential underlying issue.
The backbone of this Yankee dynasty has been Derek Jeter, with a lot of supporting help coming from Jorge Posada. The fact that the two of them have been arguably the most unproductive hitters on the club could be a huge matter of discussion as playoff rosters and lineups are set.
Do you really enter a playoff series without “The Captain” leading things off? Do you keep Posada relegated to bench duty? How do they handle something different? It may seem like nothing, but should they keep struggling, or should they struggle in the playoffs, how this gets handled could be interesting.
Beyond that though, who do they have pitch after C.C. Sabathia? And if they play Boston this question becomes even more pressing due to Sabathia’s consistent struggles with the rival Red Sox.
A.J. Burnett shouldn’t be trusted to win a game against high school kids at this point. You absolutely never know what you’ll get with him. He walks half as many as he strikes out, and he allows a home run for ever ten punch outs.
Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have been solid thus far in the year. And of course, the response to that would be, “Who?”, and “Wait, it’s 2011, right?”
You don’t enter a playoff series with those three guys as your 2-3-4 starters and expect to win a World Series. Even if you somehow make it out of the American League playoffs, do you want them matching up with the big three out of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, or Milwaukee? I think not.
Boston Red Sox- Aside from the distraction possibility, simply see above. The starting pitching without question is an enormous question mark in the playoffs for the Red Sox, especially if they were to face, say, the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander in a five game series.
If they were to somehow lose two games against Verlander, do they have enough confidence in the rest of their starting pitching to win the other three?
The one difference with the Red Sox starting rotation and the Yankees starters is the depth at the top. The Yankees can throw Sabathia, and then the questions mount.
For Boston, they can throw Beckett and follow that up with Lester, giving them a 1-2 punch that nobody else in the American League can really match, save perhaps the Angels.
But after that, if Clay Buchholz can’t get healthy and pitch the way he has this season, things get ugly, and in a hurry. Uglier than even the Yankees.
And this is another area in which Boston might differ from Texas and New York. While both those clubs would enter the playoffs with a trio of pitchers who have pitched well in the regular season, but leave doubt as to how much they can be counted on in the playoffs.
With Boston, they know going in, to win the starts of any of their middle to back end starters, they are going to have to outslug people to do it. While the Red Sox possess the offensive firepower to do just that, remember, it’s the playoffs. You don’t win many playoff games 9-7.
Now this was not to say none of these teams can win the World Series. Of course they all can, but for the sake of argument, these are merely reasons each team cannot win it, reminding even the most serious of Braves doubters that the Braves still have a chance. Because as long as everyone else can find a way to lose it, the Braves can still win it.