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AL East Preview: 5 Team Toss-Up

If the Tampa Bay Rays won the division, would you be surprised? With reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price towing the line, TB does what they’ve done every year since 2008: reload, relock and fire all over again. Starting pitchers Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Roberto “Don’t Call Me Fausto….Wait, I Made Up a Fake Name and I Chose Fausto?” Hernandez do what Matt Garza, James Shields, Wade Davis, and a half dozen others have done before them–step up, fill the new free agent void and dominate. The offense cobbles together enough runs with 3B Evan Longoria providing the middle order pop and OF Desmond Jennings and OF Wil Myers enjoying breakout seasons. The bullpen is put together with spit and dental floss (again), but somehow, pitching coach Jim Hoey and King Emperor manager Joe Maddon make it work. The Rays win their fourth playoff berth in six seasons, and their third division title.
 
If the Boston Red Sox won the division, would you be surprised? After a winter expunging the locker room sewage that took down a 90-win 2011 season, the Sox ride a resurgent Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz, Ryan Dempster and John Lackey to the AL East crown, in spite of a offense that’s slightly above average, at best. The reason for it being even above par? OF Jacoby Ellsbury and 2B Dustin Pedroia look like a MVP candidates again, rookie outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is the ROY and 3B Wil Middlebrooks enjoys a fully healthy season. Yes, the Red Sox miss DH David Ortiz, OF Shane Victorino and 1B Mike Napoli for large chunks of time to the DL (at their age, is it unexpected?), but the younger performers are able to keep them afloat. Despite the baggage of 2011 and 2012, Boston remembers they’re not too far removed from a 90+ win season, September collapse aside. They’re not heads and shoulders better than the other teams, but good enough to survive the gauntlet of the AL East.… Read more...

MAMBINO’s MLB Playoff Preview, Part 2: Yankees/Orioles and Nationals/Cardinals

National League Division Series: St. Louis Cardinals over the Washington Nationals in 4 Games

KOBEsh: Let’s get this out of the way: St. Louis’ controversial win over the Atlanta Braves has zero bearing on this game. The Cardinals, having faced elimination five times in the past 12 months, didn’t go into this game thinking that they could possibly lose, even though most people (even here on MAMBINO) picked Atlanta to come of this game tonight. A younger, more inexperienced team could have been rattled, thinking that they could have, or even should have, lost that game. The defending champions aren’t giving a second thought to a call that in honesty was only the second worst sports referring job in the past two weeks.

That being said, the reason the St. Louis Cardinals will go on to defeat a team with almost 10 more regular season wins than them isn’t just for all the reasons they’ve survived every comeback before this one. Yes, STL has a mountain more postseason familiarity than their opponents from the District who have only one regular player with any substantive playoff experience (Jayson Werth). But that can’t account for everything. What will get them three wins is patience.
Just like in their matchup with Atlanta, St. Louis has a slight offensive advantage against Washington, with Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and Pete Mothereffin’ Kozma swinging hot sticks right now. The Cards have a knack for taking every advantage they can, serving up long at-bats and wearing out opposing pitchers. On the flipside, the Nats have a bunch of high strikeout hitters like Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper, whose groan-inducing whiffs will play right into the hands of patient pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia. I can’t expect that the Washington ‘s lineup will be shut down completely, but they certainly won’t be one of the league’s leading offenses for the next week or so.
The Nationals have a couple of horses in Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, both of which are ready to  go the distance in every start. To answer, the Cards are throwing Adam Wainwright (twice) and Chris Carpenter, who aren’t only just as good as the two youngsters, but are battle-tested and won’t panic or press at the sight of a Bryce Harper homer or any man in scoring position.
I want to make this clear: I’m not putting too much of a premium on experience, even though the advantages it gives STL as well as takes away from DC is just too much to overcome. The fact is that in every facet except for the bullpen, the Cardinals are just a much more superior team right now.
Ho
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MAMBINO’s MLB Playoff Preview, Part 1: Wildcard and (a couple) Divisional Series

The second Wild Card slot has added in another dramatic cadence to what has been in recent years an extremely exciting last week of the season. In four out of the past five seasons, playoff spots weren’t settled until Game 162 out of 162, with the Rockies, Phillies, White Sox, Twins, Rays and Cardinals all eeking out monumental, last-second comebacks. The drama has been so fantastically unreal that the Commissioner Bud Selig, who miraculously looks like the best out of the four major sports right this moment, decided to heighten it starting in 2012 by adding another contender to the mix.

More teams than ever before were in the postseason hunt up until the final series of the year, including the freshly eliminated Dodgers, Brewers, Angels, Rays and White Sox. For the uninitiated, the playoffs begin today, when the two American League Wild Cards, the AL West deposed Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles and the two National League Wild Cards, the reigning champion St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves, face off in a sudden death game to see who goes on to play the two teams with the best records in their respective leagues. As opposed to years past, the margin of benefit between being a division titlist and a Wild Card team just became canyon-like. If you’re a divisonal winner, you’re at least guaranteed a five-game series. A Wild Card winner? All you get is a one-game playoff to play the best team in your league, and a giant choco-taco full of crap. Needless to say, it’s infinitely advantageous to win the division. But even as tenuous as this sounds for the teams playing, you know who this sucks most for? THE GREAT MAMBINO.

That’s right. US. Since the Divisional Series matchups aren’t set yet, here we are previewing two one-game playoffs and only two out of the four divisional series. What about us, Bud? Your loyal bloggers? Who do this for nothing but the love of the game and the mountains of women that come with being an amateur writer? C’mon, man. Think about us, for once. Ass.  

Regardless of my personal vendettas, we here at MAMBINO would never intentionally deprive our dozens….AND DOZENS of followers. From the hearts and minds of MAMBINO HQ are our picks for tomorrow’s playoff games and the two Divisional Series that are set:

American League Wild Card Game: Texas Rangers over Baltimore Orioles


El Miz:
The Texas Rangers have limped into the postseason, fading down the back stretch before getting swept by the Oakland A’s and losing what looked like a certain third-straight AL West crown on the last day of the season.  All is not lost, however, as the Rangers and Baltimore Orioles will square off thanks to the new one-game play-in for the Wild Card (actually, we would have had the same result even if MLB didn’t change the rules, as the Rangers and Orioles finished with the exact same 93 wins).

So how does Texas have any chance?  They are playing arguably the hottest team in baseball and the dreaded “team of destiny” thanks to Baltimore’s incredible 29-9 record in 1-run games, the best winning percentage since the Brooklyn Bridegrooms way back when President Benjamin Harrison was in the White House…you know, 1890. 

First, Texas is at home, which has got to help since Camden Yards would have been an absolute madhouse with their first taste of the postseason since 1997. Second, Texas is throwing Yu Darvish.

Texas paid $51.7 million dollars to Darvish’s former team just to be able to negotiate with him (the total deal cost $11Read more...

Burning Qs for the 2012 MLB Season (Part 2)

The MLB season has partially gotten underway (16 teams have yet to throw a single pitch as of Friday morning), so to prep, we started our world famous internet renowned popular burning questions for 2012. We launched part 1 back on Wednesday, and here are, what we think, the most important questions from now until October.

Are the Rays the best team in the AL East?
BockerKnocker: No, of course not.


But they will give the Yankees and Red Sox fits, possibly all the way through game 162, just like last year. As everybody knows, Tampa’s rotation is one of the best in the bigs. David Price and James (dare I say “Big Game,” KOBEsh?) Shields form one of the best 1-2 punches in the game, but it is the #3 and #4 slots in the rotation that has the folks in Florida beaming. Matt Moore is probably the game’s brightest prospect right now, including The Bryce Harper Experience. Moore struck out 15 in 9+ innings last year and was credited with the Rays’ lone win against Texas in the ALDS. Then again, he struck out 15 in 9+ innings last year. To anoint this guy so quickly is problematic; not only will this be his first big league season, but he will probably be pitching on an innings limit. Following Moore will be an absolute stud in Jeremy Hellickson, who proved that he can win on the big stage last year. Hellickson posted an ERA under 3 in the vaunted American League East on the way to the Rookie of the Year award. Hellickson, however, had an awful spring, allowing an earned run per inning pitched. Veterans are usually able to shake off the effects of a horrendous spring training, but how the young buck deal with it remains to be seen.

Got to get it together, BJ

The pitching will carry the Rays all year. Even if a starter gets injured here and there, the team has some minor-league depth in Wade Davis and Alex Cobb. The problem for the Rays lies with their lineup card. The franchises in New York and Boston will produce hitting clinics all summer, featuring brand names like Cano, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Gonzalez, and Granderson. Tampa struggled to put runs on the board all year, so they did what any bat-starved team would do. They went out and signed Luke Scott, daily golden sombrero candidate and Rays retread Carlos Pena, and Jeff Keppinger. Nice. There are some familiar faces returning in Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. But even if those guys have the years everyone knows they can have, the team will need breakout seasons from B.J. Upton (seriously, B.J., we’ve been waiting forever for one from you) and Desmond Jennings.

The Toronto Blue Jays have become somewhat of a sexy sleeper pick to make the playoffs with the extended wild-card format. The always dangerous Jose Bautista leads a decent hitting squad, especially at home, but the Jays just don’t have the firepower on the mound to make a significant move in this 3-horse race. The Baltimore Orioles round out the AL East, but they don’t deserve any more than 1 sentence because they lost to a COMMUNITY COLLEGE team on Tuesday.


Are we in any danger of seeing the Orioles, Pirates, Mariners or Royals ending their years-long futility?
KOBEsh: No, don’t be silly Peter Pan. But that doesn’t mean there’s not signs of life.

There’s not a team in that sad bunch of glorified minor league teams that I would guess play for better than third-place in their divisions, and that’s partially because the Mariners play in a four-team division.

Out of the four, the O’s have the greatest opportunity to continue their tradition of absolute abject suckitude. Looking at … Read more...