And then there were eight teams left in the 2012 MLB playoffs. Baltimore defeated the two-time defending AL West champion Texas Rangers and defending World Series Champ St. Louis moves further out of the Pujols and LaRussa era by disposing of The Braves, as both teams survived the inaugural MLB Wild Card game and advanced to American Division League Series matchups on Sunday.
Tonight starts The Division Series matchups, as Oakland meets Detroit in Game 1 of the ALDS and Cincinnati meets division-rival San Francisco in Game 1 of the NLDS.
The eventual World Series champion will have to display a combination of skills to reach baseball’s pinnacle. So, to determine each team’s chances, we ranked each them 1 (best) to 8 (worst) on three specific skills in the categories – pitching (ERA/WHIP, bullpen saves and rotation depth); hitting (team batting average, power and OPS); and managing (experience, total wins and bench strategy).
Peep the math…
8. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Pitching - 6 pts: The A’s erased a 13 game deficit and stole the AL Central Division from Texas on the last day of the season. Oakland’s pitching was great [3.48 ERA] and “rookie power” was the rallying cry. The Baby As got 54 wins from rookie pitchers, the most ever by a team that reached the postseason. However, relying on rookie right-hander Jarrod Parker (13-8) to win a playoff game against Detroit is risky.
HITTING 21 PTS: Money Ball strikes again; but this time GM Billy Beane is looking for World Series validation. Josh Reddick hit 32 homers and blended with veterans like Jonny Gomes . Oakland seemed to hit all of the big home runs and make every crucial play. If Oakland can up that dismal .238 batting average against Detroit in Sunday’s ALDS matchup, then its miracle run might last a bit longer.
MANAGER 16 PTS: Bob Melvin has dealt with the highs of winning 93 games as Seattle Mariners skipper in 2003 and the lows of being fired after a 99-loss 2004 season. He rebounded to lead the Arizona Diamond backs to the ALCS in 2007 and won MLB Manager of The Year that season. This season was his best job yet. Melvin managed a collection of rookies and journeymen to an improbable division title. Anything more than that is gravy.
OVERALL SCORE: 54
7. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Pitching - 14 pts: The Cardinals produced four 13-game winners, including first–year starter Lance Lynn, who won 18 games. The return of ace Chris Carpenter is key. ’s . The former Cy Young winner and two-time World Series champ has a 9-2 postseason resume. Closer Jason Motte, the fourth 40 save pitcher in Cards history and 8th-inning dude Mitchell Boggs, who led the NL in holds with 34, make St. Louis problem late in games.
Hitting – 9 pts: The post-Pujols Cardinals remained an offensive force, hitting .271 as a team. All Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina had to do was play true to the back of their baseball cards. . Holiday had another 100 RBI season, Molina hit a career-high .315, and a healthy Beltran returned to form smacking 32 homers with 97 RBI’s.
Manager 23 pts: Imagine the horror of taking over a mega-grossing record label and losing your top selling artist just days before you start. That’s how Matheny must have felt when Albert Pujols jetted to The Angels. Add the pressure of replacing a legend in retired manager Tony LaRussa and Mike Matheny has got to be ready for playoff baseball by now.
OVERALL SCORE: 46 PTS
6. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Pitching – 17 pts: How the heck did this team win 93 games with the second highest ERA among AL playoff teams (3.90) ? Buck Showalter has done a better coaching job than Denzel in Remember the Titans, by fusing a patchwork band into an effective pitching staff. The plan for the Os is to somehow get the ball to closer Jim Johnson (51 saves) with a lead.
HITTING 15 PTS: What the Orioles lack in batting average (.247), they make up for in power and clutch hitting. B-more has talent in all-star centerfielder Adam Jones (.287, 32 HRs) and Chris Davis (33 HRs), and three other players hit 20 or more homers. The O’s don’t have tremendous speed, but they’ll swipe a base if necessary. No prolific sluggers in the lineup, but they managed to hit 214 homers.
MANAGER 12 PTS: Buck Showalter can manage under pressure. He did that successfully with the Yankees 20 years ago. He will throw everything but the kitchen sink at an opponent. With Showalter mixing and matching like a couture show designer, Baltimore always has a shot.
OVERALL SCORE: 44 PTS
5. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Pitching – 9 pts: The Giants were fifth in the NL in ERA (3.68) and probably have the most talented starting rotation in the playoffs. They also probably have the most unreliable bullpen. Matt Cain has replaced Tim “The Freak” Lincecum as the team’s ace, going 16-5 with a 2.87 ERA. Lincecum, however, is still key because despite his uncharacteristic 10-15 record, he is always capable of a tossing an 11 K, two-hit gem. The last time the Giants won it all, closer Brian Wilson had an unconscious 2010 playoffs. San Fran doesn’t have a lights out reliever, but it surely has enough depth and firepower to get through any playoff series.
Hitting – 17 pts: When Melky Cabrera was suspended for using PED’s, San Francisco had an excuse to fold. Instead, they rode catcher Buster Posey (.336) to 94 wins and an NL West chip. Beyond Posey, the Giants offense is weak. Pablo Sandoval, a hero in the ’10 World Series, hits more like a dancing poodle than a Kung Fu Panda. The Giants are last in the NL in home runs. They use situational hitting and speed [118 stolen bases] to scratch out runs.
Manager – 12 pts: Bruce Bochy is a winner and trend-setter. He managed the San Diego Padres to the postseason in 1996, 1998, 2005, and 2006. In 1998, he led the Padres to their first National League pennant in 14 years before losing to The Yankees. He made up for that loss in 2010, when he brought the first –ever World Series Championship to San Francisco.
OVERALL SCORE: 39 PTS
4. CINCINNATTI REDS
Pitching – 9 pts: The Reds pitching staff was second in the NL with a 3.34 ERA, and place two players – starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA) and flame- throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman – in the top 10 of MLB’s Cy Young Predictor. The Reds bullpen had a MLB-best 56 saves and 2.65 ERA .
Hitting – 16 pts: Don’t let Cincy’s 17th place batting average (.251) fool you. Jay Bruce (32 HRs), 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick (26 HR’s) and Brandon Phillips cause an array of problems. They can jack it (172 HR’s) or run it like the speedy Drew Stubbs, who stole 30 bases and hit 14 HR’s. The Big Red Machine they are not…2012 World Series contender they are.
Manager – 13 pts: Dusty Baker, 63, is just one of three black managers to ever get his team to the World Series. Baker has withstood the test of time despite criticism and illness. His old-school coaching methods are often questioned by new age sabermetricians and a heart problem forced Baker to miss some of the past season. The Reds still won the 2012 Central Division championship in his absence, their second in three years and Baker's fifth as a manager.
OVERALL SCORE: 38 PTS
3. DETROIT TIGERS
Pitching – 15 pts: The AL Central champion Tigers finished third in the AL with a 3.75 ERA. Their pitching staff is as good as any in the playoffs. Justin Verlander won a modest 17 games, but he was still sick wit’ it, striking out a league-high 239 batters. Verlander ‘s clique includes Max Scherzer, (16 wins) another 200 strikeout guy, and Doug Fister who recently set an AL record by whiffing nine consecutive batters. Closer Jose Valverde [35 saves] gives fans more anxiety than Antonio Cromartie at a paternity hearing, though.
Hitting – 13 pts: What more do you need when you have the first Triple Crown Winner since 1967 in your lineup? Miguel Cabrera alone is enough to scare pitchers into retirement. With newly acquired Prince Fielder hitting behind him, Cabrera had the best statistical season in almost 1/2 a century. Detroit’s been here before, just never with a 3-4 punch like Cabrera and Fielder, the Capone –N-Noreaga of baseball. What-What !
Manager – 10 pts: Jim Leyland led the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship in 1997, and, before that, he won three straight division titles (1990, 1991 ,and 1992) with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the Tigers' victory in the 2006 ALCS, Leyland became the seventh manager to win pennants in both the NL and AL. He is a three-time Manager of the Year Award winner, and a font of all baseball knowledge.
OVERALL SCORE: 38 PTS
2. NY YANKEES
Pitching – 15 pts: If Chris Brown is smashing Rihanna again, then The Yanks pitching has a shot to recapture past glory. Entering the playoffs for the first time in 17 years without Mariano Rivera, is a problem you can’t solve. With that being said, The Bronx Bombers still sport three legit hurlers in Phil Hughes (16 wins), ace CC Sabathia (15) and newly acquired bulldog Hiroki Kuroda (16 wins). The return of Andy “Big Game” Pettitte adds a battle-tested lefty.
Hitting – 6 pts: The Yankees lead baseball in OPS.  and dingers (245). Robinson Cano is the best second baseman in baseball. Derek Jeter led the AL in hits again and Curtis Granderson turned into a rich man’s Dave Kingman. ARod is always a threat.
Manager – 16 pts: Joe Girardi has his share of NY media critics questioning his game management. Girardi also has a reputation for over-managing at times. Despite criticisms , Girardi already won a World Series ring in his second season in ’09 and handles the pressure-cooker NY media well.
OVERALL SCORE: 37
1. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Pitching – 11 pts: The Nationals pitched their way to an MLB best 98 wins. The Nats had the NL’s lowest WHIP at 1.22 and easily had the top rotation until Nats GM Mike Rizzo shut ace Stephen Strasburg down. Strasburg can’t be replaced, but Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzales (21 wins) is determined to prove that the Nats’ rotation is not a one pony show.
Hitting – 11 pts: The Nats’ lineup is thorough. Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper all hit between 22 and 33 dingers, contributing to the team’s 194 homeruns. The Nats do have to cut down on the Ks however – 1325 is too many.
Manager – 6 pts: In Davey Johnson’s first-full season as Nationals manager, he wins 98 games and gets the Nats to the postseason for the first time since 1933. Johnson’s no stranger to managerial success. He led the Mets to the 1986 World Series and an NL East chip in 1988. Johnson won’t be out-coached that’s for sure.
OVERALL SCORE: 28
So, according to our regular season formula The Nats will meet The Yanks in the World Series. However, taking into account the unpredictability of playoff performances and heightened pressure, I am picking the teams with the most playoff-ready pitching staffs -- The Tigers and The Cardinals – to meet in the World Series.