MLB Playoff Preview: Who is Moving On and Who Dropped the Ball

Major League Baseball’s regular season concluded Sunday, with the Hall of Fame career of arguably the greatest closer in history, Mariano Rivera, coming to an end along with the remarkable career of Rivera’s Yankee teammate Andy Pettitte

While Rivera’s Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, six American League teams had a shot at winning the World Series, since the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers were tied for the second wild card spot in the American League. The Rays beat the Rangers 5-2 on Sept. 30 in the wild card tiebreaker and advance to play the Cleveland Indians.

The division winners in the American League are the Boston Red Sox, with the AL’s best record at 97-65, the Oakland Athletics, 96-66, and the Detroit Tigers, 93-69. The Tigers will play the A’s in the Divisional Series, while the Red Sox will play Tampa Bay. The Rays defeated the Cleveland Indians 4-0 in the American League wild card game. 

The Tigers, Rangers, Rays and Red Sox have all been to the World Series since 2007, while the Indians’ and Athletics’ last appearances were in 1997 and 1990 respectively. A few intriguing matchups include a possible Boston and Cleveland Divisional Series, which would have Indians’ manager Terry Francona facing his former team. Oakland and Detroit will have a rematch of last year’s Divisional Series as they will meet each other again early in the playoffs.

In the National League, the Atlanta Braves, 96-66, Los Angeles Dodgers, 92-70 and St. Louis Cardinals, with the NL’s best record at 97-65, won their respective divisions. The NL wild card game on Tuesday featured two NL central teams in the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, with the Pirates moving on to face the Cardinals in the Divisional Series after beating the Reds 6-2.

The Pirates’ season was particularly remarkable, as the franchise had endured 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2012 prior to this year’s return to the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s 2013 season will be a success regardless of any postseason outcome, as will Boston’s and Cleveland’s seasons, simply because none of those teams were expected to even contend for a playoff berth when the season began.

The same can’t be said for the teams that failed to live up to high preseason expectations, namely the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and the aforementioned Yankees. The Nationals were undone by injuries and a lack of offensive production outside of Bryce Harper.

The Yankees failure to make the postseason could also be attributed to injuries as several key players missed significant time. For Example, Derek Jeter only played 17 games because of lingering injuries.

The Angels suffered from a dearth of pitching and yet another apparent free agent bust in Josh Hamilton. The Blue Jays’ collection of free agent signees struggled as a team and finished last in the American League East.

This postseason, ultimately, will come down to pitching, as it always does. The Dodgers’ combination of favored Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke give them a distinct advantage in Games one and two of their series against Atlanta, despite the fact that they’re on the road. 

Similarly, Rays’ ace David Price proved to be an advantage over the Rangers’ unheralded Martin Perez in the tiebreaker as did the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano over the Reds’ Johnny Cueto. This postseason is shaping up to be memorable and exciting, one that baseball fans will not want to miss.