Seattle Times baseball reporter Larry Stone fearlessly predicts each postseason playoff series. His crystal ball shows the Washington Nationals beating the Oakland A's in the World Series.
Heavens to Bartman, there are a ton of juicy story lines in this year’s MLB playoffs.
You have Atlanta’s Chipper Jones yearning to end his brilliant career with one more title. And Baltimore’s Jim Thome, in his 10th, and perhaps final, postseason at age 42, trying to win his first title.
You have Reds manager Dusty Baker, back in uniform after suffering a mini-stroke and trying to end his postseason misery. You have the gutsy A’s and the plucky Orioles (or is that the plucky Athletics and the gutsy O’s?) gunning to ride their miracle seasons to the ultimate storybook ending.
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You have Ichiro of the Yankees — still doesn’t sound right, does it? — back in the postseason for the first time since 2001 and hitting like his younger self.
You have the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera, leading the Tigers, and the hottest player on the planet, Buster Posey, leading the Giants. You have the Rangers trying to rebound from the misery of last October, not to mention the misery of this October, and the Cardinals trying to recapture last year’s magic.
Sorry to say, none of those plot points will play out to their maximum heart-tugging extreme. Instead, the 2012 World Series will be a punch in the gut for every Mariners fan — a double punch, in fact, as you’ll soon discover. But first, here’s how the first four-round postseason in baseball history will go:
In the National League wild-card showdown (one game, winner take all), the Braves will have the opportunity to get back at the Cardinals, who stormed past them on the final day of the season last year then rode the momentum all the way to the title.
Not this year. The Cardinals won’t even get a home game to show for new manager Mike Matheny’s first playoff go-round. Matheny did an admirable job succeeding one St. Louis legend, Tony La Russa, without the benefit of another, Albert Pujols; but the Cardinals will be powerless against the indomitable Kris Medlen. The Braves have won his last 23 starts, a live-ball era record, and they’re not going to stop now, not with Jones’ career hanging in the balance.
In the AL wild-card game, the Rangers are so done. Did you see them wilt in triplicate in Oakland this week, disintegrating to the point that their All-Star center fielder muffed a routine fly? Did you see the return of the same stunned, hangdog look they had after losing Game 6 of the World Series last year in the cruelest fashion possible?
I don’t care that the Orioles spent Thursday madly trying to scrape together a starter. I don’t care that historically, bad finishes to the regular season don’t tend to carry over to the postseason. The Orioles will find a way to win this game; or, more likely, the Rangers will find a way to lose it.
The Orioles will then take on the Yankees — the team they have hounded for weeks — and, alas, their magic will come crashing to an end in the division series. Facing a Yankees team that hit more homers (245) than anyone in the majors and that has a resurgent ace in C.C. Sabathia, that has Robinson Cano rolling with nine consecutive multihit games to end the season, the Orioles’ admirable run will end. Unless, of course, every game goes into extra innings and/or is decided by one run. The Orioles don’t lose those. They’ll lose this five-game series in four, however.
Oakland’s magic is more sustainable than Baltimore’s magic — even against the Tigers, who boast the AL’s most productive hitter (Cabrera) and best pitcher (Justin Verlander). Just like the 1995 Mariners — the last team to come back from a deficit of 13 games or more — the A’s don’t know they’re not supposed to be doing this. And they’ll keep doing it, losing the first two games in Detroit just to raise the degree of difficulty, and then coming back win three in Oakland.
In the NL Division Series, Baker returns to the site of his previous glory, San Francisco, to face a Giants team eager for a return to the World Series. The Giants have Posey, hitting .388 in the second half, and Matt Cain, who didn’t give up an earned run in three postseason starts in 2010. They have Tim Lincecum, always an adventure in 2012 but still capable of greatness on any given night.
It won’t matter. The Reds have enough weapons in their offense — including the superb Joey Votto, who hasn’t homered in 25 games since coming off the disabled list — to supplement a strong rotation and the majors’ best bullpen. They’ll win this one in five.
In the other NL Division Series, the Nationals return to the postseason for the first time since 1981, when they were known as the Montreal Expos. Never mind the fact they will be without their top pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, controversially shut down for the rest of the year. They have more than enough weapons to win this series in four games. Farewell, Chipper. See you in Cooperstown.
The ALCS will thus be a rematch of the 2001 ALDS, in which Oakland won the first two games in New York, only to lose the next three — including the famous Derek Jeter miracle relay play to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate. It was one of four consecutive Division Series the A’s lost in the final game and the one that prompted the “Moneyball” approach immortalized in print and celluloid.
This A’s team out-Moneyballs Moneyball, and they’ll finally get revenge on the Yankees. This time, it will be Oakland taking the decisive game, because that’s what they do. A’s in 7.
In the NLCS, I foresee more heartbreak for Baker, who seems destined to be a tragic hero. Even without Strasburg, I love the Nationals’ rotation, I think their lineup is very underrated, and I see Bryce Harper — red-hot down the stretch (.327 with 12 homers in his last 44 games) — rising to embrace his first moment on the postseason stage. The Reds will squander a late Game 6 lead (Dusty’s been there, done that, twice) and lose it in seven.
Getting the picture? The World Series will match the A’s, whose crazy ascension to the top of the AL West only accentuates the ongoing woes of the Mariners (the fact that they’re managed by a guy the M’s fired, Bob Melvin, is merely piling on), against the only other franchise in the majors, besides Seattle, that hasn’t been to the World Series.
Oops, sorry. Now the Mariners will be the only one, a singular monument of futility. And this year, not only will Washington bring the first World Series action to the nation’s capital since 1933, they’ll win it. In ’33, the Senators lost in five games to the New York Giants. This time, ‘Nats over the A’s in six, one Strasburg tied behind their backs.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry