The MLB playoffs kick off Tuesday with the start of October as ten teams aim to best the competition and emerge as the 2013 World Series Champions. It's been a long season and after 162 games of regular season play, the Boston Red Sox, Oakland A's and Detroit Tigers emerged as the AL's division winners, with the Cleveland Indians hosting the wild card game against the winner of the Texas Rangers vs Tampa Bay Rays play-in game, happening later this evening. The AL saw the Red Sox go from last place in the division last year to a tie with the St Louis Cardinals for the best record in baseball, completing one of sports most impressive season turnarounds in a while. The Indians, who signed former Red Sox manager Terry Francona last off-season, also had quite the turnaround, as they finished 20 games back of Detroit last season.
In the National League, the Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and LA Dodgers, won their division, with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds facing off in the Wild Card game. The surprise this year is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have not been to the post-season since 1992.
2013 marks the second year of MLB's controversial one-game playoff system. Division Series return to a 2-2-1 format with the team with the better regular-season record hosting the first two games, as well as game five, if necessary. The American League team will enjoy home-field advantage during the World Series due to the league's victory in the 2013 All-Star Game. The National League has won the past three World Series titles.
The NL Wild Card game goes down on Tuesday, October 1 and the AL game is on Wednesday. The National League Division Series starts on Thursday, while the American League Division Series is on Friday. The National League Championship Series is scheduled to start on Friday, October 11, with the ALCS starting the next day. The 109th World Series is scheduled to start on Wednesday, October 23 with game seven on October 31. Here is the complete 2013 MLB Postseason Schedule.
With plenty of playoff baseball coming up, here's a quick primer on the American League playoffs.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are back in the post-season following a terrible stretch of squandering a seven game lead with a month to play in 2011, a tumultuous off-season that saw general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona leave town, followed by a dismal season marred by Bobby Valentine and ending in a last-place finish.
The Sox are characterized by gritty hitters who work pitchers with their patience.
They also have beards.
Which they tug on.
Boston's starting rotation looks solid, especially if Clay Buchholz is healthy and pitches the way he did before missing much of the season with an injury. He has looked good since rejoining the team. The Sox acquired veteran winner Jake Peavy to help bolster a rotation that has been one of the best in the league. But perhaps Boston best weapon on the mound is closer Koji Uehara, who has put in an history season.
As the Boston Globe's Peter Abraham points out, the Sox have some decisions to make about who will be on the post-season roster. With Buchholz' return the Sox have a rotation, in some order, of Jon Lester, Buchholz, Jake Peavy and John Lackey. Ryan Dempster, Boston's fourth closer for most of the season will likely move to the bullpen, while Felix Dubront, who has 27 starts this season, could very well be left off the post-season roster.
With the best record in baseball, a solid rotation, hitters that excel at working the count (Boston's .349 team On Base Percentage and .446 slugging percentage led the league), and 11 walk-off wins, the Red Sox are aiming to win a third World Series in nine years.
The Athletics and GM Billy Beanie repeat as AL West champions despite not having anyone what could be considered a superstar. The Athletics, who were in contention for the best record in the league right until the end, not surprisingly can pitch and hit well. Oakland's 3.45 team ERA was the second lowest in the league behind the Royals, and the team allowed the fewest number of walks. Bartolo Colon, Sonny Gray and Jarrod Parker look to be the starters, and if the team goes with a forth starter it will be between A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily.
The team's .745 OPS is the third highest in the league, as is their 767 total runs. Josh Donaldson's .301 batting average and Brandon Moss' 30 home runs are lead the team. Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp have also had impressive offensive seasons. Could this be the year Billy Beane's "Moneyball" strategy works? It's as good a year as any.
The Detroit Tigers ended last season being swept out of the World Series by the San Francisco Giants despite having what most people agreed were the best hitter and the best pitcher in the game. The Tigers, last year's AL champs, feature what is likely baseball's most potent offense as well as two of the best starting pitchers in the league. Miguel Cabrera turned in another insane season, leading the league in batting average and on base percentage and trailing only Chris Davis in home runs with 44. However Justin Verlander had a bit of an off-year. Luckily for the Tigers, Max Scherzer stepped into Verlander's Ace spot. The Tigers lead the league in hits, and their .283 team batting average was the highest in the AL.
In Verlander and Scherzer the Tigers have what looks like the best one-two punch in the game, and closer Joaquin Benoit has done a great job as the closer, with 24 saves, on loss and a 2.01 ERA.
If the Indians win the wild card game, it would give Francona a chance to enact some payback after leaving Boston on sour terms. But they have to get past the wild card game first. This is a remarkable turn-around for a franchise that lost 94 games a year ago, and marks Cleveland's first playoff berth since 2007, when the Red Sox eliminated them in the ALCS despite Cleveland's 3-1 game lead.
Pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has been stellar since the All-Start break after struggling the past two seasons. He was 4-0 in September with a 1.09 ERA. Justin Masterson, a former Red Sox, averages more than a strikeout per inning and has been invaluable to the Tribe. In Michael Brantley, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana the Indians have some formidable bats that will help bolster the pitching. The Indians won ten in a row to secure home field advantage in the wild card game and had an overall record of 21-6 in September. If they keep playing at that level, they are going to be tough to beat.
Because of they won the season series, the Rangers will host Tampa Bay in the playoff game to see who gets the last Wild Card spot. The Rangers come in having won the last seven straight, doing all they could to keep pace with the Indians and Rays. After using Yu Darvish on Sunday, the Rangers will start lefty rookie Martin Perez against the Rays. Perez is 10-5 with a 3.55 ERA. The Rangers have a potent offense, led by Adrian Beltre, and have six players with more than 60 RBIs.
Should the Rays get off to an early start, don't count out the Rangers, as they will stay in the game until its over. They have excelled in coming from behind, as they did against the Angels on Sunday. Texas has the best bullpen ERA in the league and with veteran closer Joe Nathan can contain offenses in deeper innings, although after a heavy workload during the weekend the bullpen is pretty tired.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays will face the Texas Rangers in the 163rd game of the regular season. The team' strength has been the managing of Joe Maddon as well as pitching, as they allowed the lowest number of hits in the league with 1,308. The Rays will get to send their Ace David Price to the mound against Texas. Price is the defending AL CY Young Award winner, while Alex Cobb has emerged as a solid #2. Price has had trouble against the Rangers, as he is just 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA against them, including 0-3 in the playoffs with a 4.66 ERA.
The Rays have plenty of talented hitters, led by Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and James Loney. The Rays were playing great baseball coming into the playoffs, winning seven in a row, but they lost against the Blue Jays in Friday and Saturday before winning on Sunday.
It's been a grueling off-season for the six teams vying to represent the American League in the Fall Classic, but the real season starts tonight. The league features one of the most level fields in ages, and expect both ALDS series as well as the ALCS to be tight races. If you want to get into the game, there is a wide selection of tickets Ticket Liquidator. Browse MLB playoff tickets.