Playoffs vs. NFL, Pt. II

So Monday Night Football crushed the ALDS. The Buccaneers and the Colts drew 10.84 million viewers while the Yankees and Tigers drew 6.05 million viewers. That looks pretty awful at first, considering there were two boring, small-market teams going up against the most popular team in all of baseball. But since this is the biggest game of the football week on the World’s Leader in Sports going up against Game 3 on TBS, this isn’t such bad news for Major League Baseball.

Even though New York, Philly, and Boston are gone from the playoffs, it’s hard to say that these playoffs haven’t been a success. There were 3 game 5s decided by one run after the crazy Game 162, plus a 4 game series with the final game decided by 1 run. These games are close and they’re exciting, which is all you can really ask for. Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit, and Arlington may not be the biggest markets and brightest cities, but they’ll give us 12 to 21 more great games.

As with last week, I’m going to break down the baseball series followed by the NFL picks. Baseball comes first–but feel free to read both sections. They don’t bite. And yes, I did make my baseball picks before Game 1, don’t worry.

Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers

These teams are more evenly matched on offense than you’d think at first. At the surface, the Tigers appear to only have two good hitters–Miggy Cabrera and Victor Martinez–but Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta have been great. Both teams ended the year with a .340 OBP, good for fourth in the league. Yes, Delmon Young will be out for the season, but Detroit’s 3-hitter has been pretty bad this year. Don’t let Jim Leyland’s strange batting order ideas (Austin Jackson and his .317 OBP is leading off) confuse you, Delmon barely reached base 3 out of 10 times with below average power and defense. The Rangers may have the big names and a bit more power, but these offenses aren’t so far apart.

The key to this series, though, has to be Games 1 and 5. Outside of Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ rotation has been solid at best. Doug Fister has been historically crushed against the Rangers (4.50 ERA and 1.31 WHIP) while Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer have a combined ERA of 4.58. Their combined FIP of 4.10 doesn’t look much better. So if they can’t win one, if not both starts by Verlander over the good-but-not-great C.J. Wilson, they’re looking at having to win 4 games in five to six games with sub-par pitchers.

Despite being in a notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark and losing their ace Cliff Lee, the Rangers had strikingly good pitching this season. C.J. Wilson has completely been transformed from a solid closer to a number 1-number 2 type starter. Even young Derek Holland and Matt Harrison have really stepped up this year. But what really separates Texas pitching-wise is their bullpen. Jose Valverde, although perfect in save chances, has been wildly inconsistent. Furthermore, their big acquisition last off-season, Joaquin Benoit, gave up more than twice as many runs as he did before he got himself a $15 million contract. Texas took an already solid bullpen featuring fireballing closer Neftali Feliz and added three quality arms at the deadline: Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, and Mike Gonzalez.

Texas is just a little bit deeper, a little bit stronger overall than Detroit. You can never overestimate the value of Justin Verlander when he play’s, but he’s only going to be in 18 innings of this series at most. The middle of the Rangers’ order will crush the back end of Detroit’s rotation. This series will still go the distance since they are close offensively, but my pick is…

Rangers in 7

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

To be frank, I didn’t see the Cardinals even making the playoffs. They lost their best pitcher for the year, they’ve got little depth offensively, and they’ve got one of the thinnest bullpens in the league. But they beat out the Phillies, and that’s no small order.

Brian Wilson is crazy smart. Nyjer Morgan is just crazy crazy.

With these two NL Central teams, you’re looking at two different strengths. The Cardinals finished the season third in the league with a .341 OBP, 25 points ahead of Milwaukee, but the Brewers finished fourth in the league with a .164 ISO, thirteen points ahead of St. Louis. While I normally favor getting on base ahead of power, I like Milwaukee’s offense better. Pitchers can work around the heart of the Cardinals’ order because David Freese, Rafa Furcal, and Jon Jay are such easy outs compared to Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman. The Brewers have so many more ways to hurt you offensively, especially when they go into Beast Mode.

Both the Cards and Brew Crew have a great pitcher at the top of their staff, but Milwaukee actually has 3 of them. As a staff, Milwaukee’s 3.78 ERA is minutely better than St. Louis’ 3.81 ERA, but the 3.25 to 3.44 xFIP advantage held by Milwaukee’s 1-3 starters is really what pushes them over the top. It doesn’t really matter which order Zack Grenke, Yovani Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum pitches in because each can be so dominant.

Though the numbers don’t exactly show it, the Brewers are clearly better both at hitting and pitching. They’ve even got a better bullpen (4 former closers) and a less volatile coach. And if you like to believe in team unity helping out, there’s nothing cooler right now than the Brewers’ Beast Mode. I’m going….

Brewers in 6

Without further ado, here are my Week 5 NFL picks. As always, home teams are in CAPS.

Eagles (-2.5) over BILLS
Rumor has it that the Bills are looking to add Mike Williams and Steve Smith to their already exciting offense of Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, and David Nelson. But honestly, I don’t think the Bills are anywhere as good as they’ve been playing. And I think this is the game the Iggles turn their season around.

Bengals (+2.5) over JAGUARS
For the next decade, I’d rather have Blaine Gabbert than Andy Dalton as my backup quarterback. But for this game, I don’t hate Dalton’s teammates as much.

STEELERS (-7.5) over Titans
Yes, James Harrison is out, but the Steelers are more than equipped to come over this injury. Lawrence Timmons will slide to weak side linebacker an Larry Foote will be re-inserted into the starting lineup. Plus, Ben Roethlisberger isn’t Matt Hasselbeck.

Does this guy look more like a quarterback or a heavy metal rocker?

COLTS (-2.5) over Chiefs
I think I’m still emotionally scarred from watching Curtis Painter last week. Seriously, I think he completely messed with my image of what a quarterback is. But he did play competently, which is more than I can say about Matt Cassel recently.

TEXANS (-6.5) over Raiders
The Raiders will be absolutely inspired by the death of Al Davis, but there’s only so much better you can make Jason Campbell and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Cardinals (+2.5) over VIKINGS
What a bad game. The only thing holding the Vikings back from benching Donovan McNabb is their lack of a promising young player. Yeah, I’m calling you out, Christian “12th overall” Ponder.

Saints (-5.5) over PANTHERS
The Panthers are always the hardest game to pick. They’re clearly worse than the other team, especially with Jon Beason and Thomas Davis done for the year. But Cam Newton is so good at picking up garbage time points, just ask betters who took the Packers and Bears against the Panthers. But the Saints can win by 6. I think.

GIANTS (-9.5) over Seahawks
This is a big line, but it’s also an NFC West team on the road. I’m almost certain now that Seattle acquired Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson just to get Andrew Luck. Why else would they bring in these guys?

Buccaneers (+1.5) over NINERS
How are the Buccaneers underdogs to an NFC West team? They’re 3-1! I can understand some people questioning the Buccos if they were going up against the Saints or Falcons, but the Niners? C’mon son.

Chargers (-4.5) over BRONCOS
Philip Rivers is really good. Kyle Orton, not so much. I’ll take this game as an easy win. I’m whipping the Lance out of my Pants here for my Lock o’ the Week.

PATRIOTS (-9.5) over Jets
The Jets can’t run, they can’t stop the run, and they can’t pass. Not only that, but Bill Belichick won’t take it easy at one moment in this game. This is a near layup game.

Packers (-5.5) over FALCONS
I maintain that the Packers are slightly overrated and the Falcons slightly underrated, but being overrated isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the great Bomani Jones said, “being overrated is underrated. I’d like people to think I’m better than I actually am.” That is absolutely true; who wouldn’t want to be paid more than they’re worth, thought of higher than they should be. But back to football, both teams cannot stop the pass, and I like Aaron Rodgers much more than I do Matt Ryan.

LIONS (-5.5) over Bears
Jay Cutler is 20-10 when he throws 30 or less passes. Consequently, he’s 16-26 when he throws more than 30 passes. Will Matt Forte be able to get going against Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and maybe Nick Fairly? Probably not in Detroit.

Last Week: 7-9

Season: 31-33

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 3-1

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