Wednesday brought about the crushing realization that there will be no more White Sox baseball in 2011. Wednesday night brought about the shocking revelation that there was other baseball being played wholly independent of the White Sox, and if the evening was any indication, this baseball is quite possibly of a drastically higher quality and far more chipper tenor.
As these new and mysterious teams prepare to enter into a tournament believed to be to the death, White Sox Observer is here to offer a brief introduction to the participants, and to the playoffs themselves.
First, it should be established that the playoffs are prone to randomness. Not complete randomness, because that would get annoying after a while, but as Shane Ryan of Grantland pointed out Thursday, since 2000 the team with the superior record is 32-32 in playoff series.
A lot of that can be attributed to only having a select few playoff teams producing very evenly matched contests, it's also because best-of-5 and best-of-7 series aren't a great way to determine which baseball team is better. It's a really fun way, but not a great way. If they determined the AL Central with a 7-game series, there's a chance the White Sox could have beaten the Tigers. And we all know that ain't right.
We'll start with the American League, because I don't even know how to start to explain this strange parallel universe National League that's being prattled on about
How did they do it?: Primarily by hitting the crap out of the ball. They have an admirable slate of not well-known but solid starters, but oh man, the offense. The Rangers were 2nd in baseball in wOBA, and Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, and Adrian Beltre combined for 116 HRs, despite neither of them eclipsing 125 games played.
They also have a fella by the name of Ian Kinsler, who doesn't hit for great average but walks a ton with very good power. Do you know what they do with him? They bat him leadoff! Leadoff! They had a player with good OBP skills and power lead the team in plate appearances! I think I love the Rangers.
Familiar Faces: Well, there's no former White Sox on the roster, but Darren Oliver probably went to high school with your Dad.
Hateability Index (out of 10): 6 - Much higher or slightly lower depending on how much you associate the team with the state of Texas itself. Main drawbacks are that their owner is an infamous Robin Ventura beater-upper, the potential to hear Joe Buck tell Josh Hamilton's personal story 800 times, and this.
If they win, it'll be because: They're offense continues to go ballistic, and Derek Holland and Matt Harrison stay competitive against elite offenses.
Tampa Bay Rays
How did they do it?: Almost entirely with defense? The Rays finished 0.01 out of 1st in the AL for team ERA, but advanced metrics actually rates their staff rather poorly because it appears they got lucky on balls in play. And they did get lucky; lucky enough to play for the Rays. Tampa opponents only had 26.5% of their balls in play fall in for hits, the lowest rate in baseball by miles.
Because defensive metrics are still a bit wonky, and Tampa rallied from a 7-run deficit in the 8th Wednesday night to clinch, let's just say the Rays won with magic. Pure, crude magic.
Familiar faces: Tampa Bay's bench coach is none other than former White Sox outfielder and future manager Dave Martinez. Martinez will lead the Sox to a championship in 2013, and be completely insufferable by 2019.
Hateability Index: 3 - They're everybody's favorite story, but some people really hate that Evan Longoria hat commercial, and I'm still bitter about B.J. Upton demolishing the White Sox in 2008 ALDS, then making them look even more stupid by playing possum for the rest of his career.
If they win, it'll be because: Eh, I don't see it. Matt Moore being a rookie phenom and James Shields continuing to suppresses his old gopher-ball ways would help a lot, though.
New York Yankees
How did they do it?: With money! How else? With boatloads of high-priced free agent acquisitions, or high-profile trades where they immediately signed the player to an exorbitant extension.
Also, dingers. 222 dingers, or 12 dingers more than the next closest team, which they hit in their cramped dinger-pad, which was built with lots of--you guessed it--money
Familiar faces: A lot. This video should cover it.
Hateability Index: 10. It's always going to be 10.
If they win, it'll be because: Their offense gets really, really hot because seriously how the hell were they winning with this rotation? A few clutch Freddy Garcia starts would fun, unexpected, and might knock their hateability index all the way down to 9.7.
How did they do it?: The Tigers had some ultra-elite contributors coming into the season, but huge breakout years from Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila vaulted them to another level. The Doug Fister trade was an absolute masterstroke, and having a regular infield that featured 7 chins just did not come back to bite them like I thought it would.
Familiar faces: Magglio Ordonez is the type of eternally beloved former White Sox player, where even the many years since his departure, and his establishing an identity and history with a different team cannot dull my happiness for his success. Wilson Betemit is not.
Hateability Index: 4 - I know they're division rivals, Miguel Cabrera isn't exactly cuddly, Jose Valverde commits war crimes, and the Tigers blogosphere has absolute contempt for the Sox, but...I donno....good for Detroit?
If they win, it'll be because: They win pretty much every game that Verlander and Fister start, and no crucial moment of the series comes down to someone needing to range to their right after a hard-hit grounder.
Because of length concerns, we're splitting the NL preview into a separate post. I know a bit less about the NL, so the way that the writing here broke down into a series of quips is only going to continue. Go to it here. It will also include my picks, which WILL BE WRONG.
Filed under: Playoffs
Tags: arian beltre, baseball, Detroit Tigers, Doug Fister, Freddy Garcia, ian kinsler, jhonny peralta, jose valverde, josh hamilton, Justin Verlander, magglio ordonez, miguel cabrera, mike napoli, nelson cruz, New York Yankees, tampa bay rays, Texas Rangers, White Sox, wilson betemit