World Series Breakdown: Cardinals vs. Red Sox

The 2004 World Series Trophy in City Hall Plaz...

The Commissioner’s Trophy, given to the World Series champion.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 109th World Series begins tonight between the National League champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the American League champions, the Boston Red Sox.  Both of these franchises have a strong tradition as well as a rich recent history, as the Cardinals will be playing their 4th World Series out of the last 10, and the Red Sox will be playing their 3rd out of the last 10.  The Cardinals won it all in 2006 and 2011, with their lone Series loss in this stretch coming to the Red Sox in 2004, with the Sox also winning the Series in 2007.  These two teams have met in three previous Fall Classics, with the Cardinals winning in 7 games in both 1946 and 1967, and the Red Sox sweeping the Cards in 2004.  Let’s have a look at some of the matchups in the 2013 Fall Classic.

Lineup:  Red Sox (barely).  The Cardinals will have some help from the returning Allen Craig, who will be able to play DH in the games in Boston.  It is unsure, however, how well Craig will hit, since he last played on September 4.  He joins clutch hitters Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday in a very solid Cardinals lineup.  But the Red Sox have a tendency to force opposing pitchers to throw more pitches, wearing them down over time, and eventually get the big, timely hits to beat them.  Expect Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia to shine, and we know David Ortiz will be strong for the Sox.

Bench:  Cardinals.  With Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma platooned at shortstop, one will always be on the bench.  In addition, Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers have contributed throughout the playoffs.  The Red Sox bench, which I had doubts about at the beginning of the playoffs, have also proven their worth, with contributions by Jonny Gomes, Matt Carp, Quentin Berry, David Ross, and the platoon combination of Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks at third base.

Rotation:  Cardinals.  This was a tough call, as the names in the Red Sox rotation are more recognizable and the players are much more experienced.  Jon Lester will start Game 1, and will be backed up by John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy.  But what the Cardinals lack in experience, they make up for in stuff and nerves of steel, with Lance Lynn, in just his second full season, and rookies Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha, who won the NLCS MVP award after being extremely stellar.  And of course, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is always brilliant, and hasn’t allowed a run in 3 innings of previous World Series action (he was the closer for the 2006 Cardinals).

Bullpen:  Cardinals.  This is another tough decision (kind of a theme in this series).  I had seen the Red Sox bullpen as a weakness going into the playoffs, but they have been very solid, with Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Franklin Morales shining so far in the postseason.  The Cardinals’ bullpen ERA during the regular season was 0.36 better than the Red Sox, and like the rotation, they simply have a bunch of good, strong arms, including Edward Mujica, Seth Maness, and John Axford, in addition to the 38-year-old veteran of the staff, Randy Choate, whose last World Series appearance was with the 2001 Yankees.

Closer:  Red Sox.  I’ve given the edge to the Cardinals opponent in each round on this criteria, but in this case it isn’t because of Trevor Rosenthal’s inexperience, but instead Koji Uehara’s excellence.  Rosenthal has proven himself as a viable option, not allowing a run in 7 innings this postseason, and 8.1 innings in the playoffs last year.  Uehara, however, showed the world why he would have been 2nd on my Cy Young ballot, if I had one.  His ALCS MVP award was earned with 3 saves and a win, with 6 innings pitched in the series and 9 strikeouts, while allowing just 4 hits and no runs.  Expect Uehara to continue to shine in the World Series

Manager:  Red Sox.  Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would have the edge in this category against most opponents, as all he’s done in his two years is get within a win of the World Series last year, and reaching it this year, after taking over for future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa, who retired after the Cardinals 2011 title.  John Farrell, however, took over the Red Sox last winter after they had gone 69-93 under Bobby Valentine.  Following some offseason roster changes, and the inspiration the team led in Boston after the Marathon bombings on April 15, the team proved they were the best in the east, going worst to first, and beating the Rays in the ALDS and the Tigers in the ALCS.  Even before the playoffs, Farrell showed why he should be AL Manager of the Year, and has now solidified that award that he is likely to win.

Home-field/crowd:  Red Sox.  This is a tough one, as these two teams have equally proud and intense fan-bases who know their baseball and have had a lot to cheer about over the last decade.  In the end, the Red Sox would have 4 games at home, if the series goes the distance, and the Cardinals would only have 3.  Therefore, give the slight edge to the Red Sox because of the incredible atmosphere created during playoff games at Fenway Park.

In all seven of these criteria, it was very difficult to choose one team with a better unit or individual, and the Red Sox ended up with a slight edge in 4 of the 7 criteria.  Therefore I think they will win the series in 7 games, 4-3.  If this happens, it would be the first time the Red Sox win in a World Series Game 7, as they are currently 0-5.  That being said, since Game 7 in 1986, the Red Sox have not lost a World Series game, sweeping in both 2004 and 2007.  Regardless, this should be an excellent series, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals win the series, even though I’m picking against them.  The only thing that would surprise me is if the series was a sweep, either way, or even if it ends in 5 games, because both teams are too good for that.  This is, after all, the first World Series since 1979 to include the teams with the best records and the best run differential from both leagues.  One final note is that tonight’s Game 1 will be pivotal, according to this trend:  the winner of Game 1 has won 21 of the last 25 World Series.

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ALCS Breakdown: Tigers vs Red Sox

The Tigers and Red Sox will meet for the first time ever in postseason play in this year’s edition of the ALCS, and both will try to make their third appearance in the World Series in the last 10 seasons.  The Red Sox won it all in 2004 and 2007, while the Tigers had World Series losses in 2006 and 2012.  Let’s look at how the matchup breaks down:

Lineup:  Red Sox.  The Tigers lineup is absolutely fantastic, and is a big reason they were my preseason pick to win the World Series.  The Red Sox, however, have been surprisingly solid offensively all year long, and it showed in their ALDS against the Rays, particularly in the two games at Fenway Park.  Also, Miguel Cabrera is struggling to be as productive as usual for the Tigers, with nagging injuries that let him play but keep him hobbled.

Bench:  Tigers.  The Red Sox don’t have to go their bench much, but when they do, it is not their stronghold.  Their best bench player is their backup catcher, David Ross, and backup catchers aren’t generally used too much for pinch-hitting or in postseason play.  The Tigers, on the other hand, have Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Nick Castellanos waiting in the wings on the Tigers bench, which is quite an advantage.

Rotation:  Tigers.  Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez is the playoff rotation for the Tigers (in no particular order, since they are all capable of leading a pitching staff).  While the Red Sox counter with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy.  This is a solid rotation, and is part of the reason they are here, but can’t compete with the Tigers.

Bullpen:  Tigers.  The bullpen of the Red Sox is another slight weakness, and most of the runs scored by the Rays in the ALDS were off the Red Sox bullpen.  The Tigers have an incredible trio of setup men, with Phil Coke, Drew Smyly, and Al Alburquerque.

Closer:  Red Sox (tough call).  Even though Red Sox closer Koji Uehara had a fantastic regular season, he struggled a little bit in the Rays series, although he did get the final three outs in the clincher.  Joaquin Benoit has a lot of playoff experience as a setup man, and did well in both the regular season and the first round of the playoffs in his first closer’s gig.  In the end, a really close call goes to Uehara.

Manager:  Tigers (really tough call).  In most of these playoff series, I have given the edge in this category based on my Manager of the Year voting in my “MLB Postseason Awards” blog.  If I followed that procedure here, the edge would go to the Red Sox, because John Farrell has my vote for Manager of the Year and will likely win it after leading the Red Sox from worst to first in his first year at the helm.  However, Jim Leyland is in the other dugout, and has 3 pennants and 1 World Series title under his belt, as well as 6 division titles, and is probably a future Hall-of-Famer.  It’s a very tough call, but I’ll go with Leyland.  (Note:  I wrote this post out-of-order and this was the last criteria, and in the end decided the overall advantage in the series, so that made the decision even tougher.)

Home-field/crowd:  Red Sox.  Both of these teams have extremely passionate fanbases, and you can guarantee the stadium will be full and loud for all games at both Fenway Park and Comerica Park.  Since the Red Sox have home-field advantage, and will potentially host 4 of 7 (should the series go the distance), I’ll give them the edge here.

This series is very even, with the Tigers winning 4 out of 7 criteria in my breakdown, although the Red Sox could have just as easily won more than the 3 they do have the advantage in.  Therefore, I think the series will go 7 games, and in the end, Game 7 will go the way of the Tigers, and they will become the second consecutive team to win back-to-back AL pennants (they won last year, following the Texas Rangers in 2010-11).

NLCS Breakdown: Dodgers vs Cardinals

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals will meet in the NLCS for the first time since 1985.  The Cardinals are in their third straight NLCS, after winning the NLCS (and the World Series) in 2011, and losing in 7 games last year, while the Dodgers are in their first NLCS since 2009, and are trying for their first NL Pennant since they won the World Series in 1988.  The Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves in 4 games and the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in 5 games in the best-of-5 NLDS to advance to the best-of-7 round.  Let’s break down what should be a great series.

Lineup;  Dodgers (tough call).  The Cardinals had better stats throughout the season, and that’s mostly without Matt Adams, who has stepped up to be a force in the playoffs.  Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday all had great series against the Pirates.  The Dodgers, however, scored 26 runs in 4 games against the Braves, who had the best team ERA in the NL.  Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and particularly Hanley Ramirez are hot at the plate.

Bench:  Dodgers.  Michael Young and Nick Punto can come off the bench for the Dodgers, and both have loads of experience, even in the playoffs.  Andre Ethier (or if he is able to start, Skip Schumaker) can pinch-hit while he battles injuries.  The Cardinals also have a good bench, with contributions mainly coming from Shane Robinson, as well as Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, who share time at shortstop but also come into games late.

Rotation:  Cardinals.  This was a tough call, and the top two pitchers for both sides are pretty even, with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha for the Cardinals and Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke for the Dodgers.  After those top two, however, the Cardinals have Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn, fairly solid options, while the Dodgers have Hyun-Jin Ryu, who struggled against the Braves, and Ricky Nolasco, who was shaky in his final few regular season starts.

Bullpen:  Dodgers.  The Cardinals bullpen is decent, but not great, and may be their weakness in the series.  The Dodgers have great leadership from veterans JP Howell, Brian Wilson, and Brandon League, while also receiving contributions from Ronald Belisario and Paco Rodriguez.

Closer:  Dodgers.  Kenley Jansen has less than a season of closing experience for the Dodgers, although he was impressive striking out the side in Game 4 against the Braves.  The Cardinals, however, have had closer issues for much of the year, due to injuries and other struggles, and their latest closer Trevor Rosenthal had just 3 saves in the regular season, and only got 1 save in the NLDS (Game 4), since the other Cardinal wins were a blowout (Game 1) and an Adam Wainwright complete game (Game 5).

Manager:  Dodgers.  Don Mattingly will likely be NL Manager of the Year after taking the Dodgers from a 30-42 mark in mid-June to the NL West title, eventually winning that division by the largest margin in baseball.  Mike Matheny isn’t bad either, as he has taken teams to the NLCS both of his first two seasons as a major league manager after replacing future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa.

Home-field/crowd:  Cardinals.  The Cardinals will have home-field advantage, hosting Games 1, 2, 6, and 7, after winning that right with the best record in the NL in the regular season.  The Cardinals are also known for having one of the best fan-bases in the game; Busch Stadium will be a sea of red for the NLCS games in St. Louis.

The Dodgers may have the advantage here in 5 of the 7 criteria, but most of these were a very close call between the two teams.  Therefore, I believe the series will be closer than that 5-2 margin would indicate.  I think the Dodgers will win the series in 7 games, in what may be a classic NLCS, to advance to their first World Series in 25 years.

ALDS Breakdown: Rays vs. Red Sox

The Rays outstanding run into and through the AL Tiebreaker and AL Wild Card games now lands them in Boston, to play the AL’s #1 seed, the Red Sox.  This will be a rematch of the 2008 ALCS, which the Rays won in 7 games.  The Red Sox won 12 out of the 19 regular season meetings.  The first two games will be in Boston; Game 1 will be today at 3:07 PM ET, and Game 2 will be Saturday at 5:37, with both games on TBS.  Games 3-5 will be Monday, Tuesday (if necessary), and Thursday (if necessary).

Lineup:  Red Sox (tough call).  The Rays lineup, centered around Evan Longoria, has heated up over the last couple of weeks to help them get to this point.  The Red Sox lineup has done that all year long.  The weak spot in the Red Sox lineup is probably Will Middlebrooks (.227 BA, 17 HR, 49 RBI), but that’s not because his numbers are bad, but because everyone else in the lineup is that good.  Any lineup with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli automatically looks good.

Bench:  Rays.  The Red Sox have no headliners on the bench, and their best bench player is probably backup catcher David Ross, but backup catchers are rarely used in the postseason due to the high number of off days.  Members of the Rays bench include Luke Scott, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, Kelly Johnson, and Sam Fuld.

Rotation:  Red Sox.  This was another tough decision.  The Rays have two aces, with Matt Moore and David Price pitching games 1 and 2, respectively.  The Red Sox, however, have 4 pitchers who would all be number one starters for most other teams, with Jon Lester, who will pitch Game 1, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy.

Bullpen:  Rays.  Joel Peralta and Jamey Wright anchor the Rays bullpen that has looked impressive in their two elimination games this week.  The main arm in the Red Sox bullpen, Junichi Tazawa, should see a lot of work in this series.

Closer:  Red Sox.  While Fernando Rodney is a good closer for the Rays, Koji Uehara has had a ridiculously good year, while somehow flying under the radar.  I’m probably the only person who had him 2nd in my AL Cy Young picks, but here’s why:  A 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP in 73 games, with 74.1 inn.  He has 21 saves since getting the closer role at midseason.

Manager:  Red Sox.  While Joe Maddon is an excellent manager and one of the game’s great personalities, John Farrell will likely win AL Manager of the Year after leading the Red Sox from worst to first in the East in his first year as manager.

Home-field/crowd:  Red Sox.  The Red Sox have home-field advantage for the series, and the Rays are known for not drawing well.  While Tropicana Field will be full, the Rays fan-base cannot touch the intensity and passion of the Red Sox fan-base.

The Red Sox have the advantage in 5 of the 7 criteria in my breakdown, but these teams are more even than that would indicate.  In the end, however, the Rays great run will end and the Red Sox will win the series in 4 games.

ALDS Breakdown: Tigers vs. Athletics

The defending AL Champions, the Detroit Tigers, begin their quest for another title in the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics.  Games 1 and 2 will be played Friday at 9:37 and Saturday at 9:07, in Oakland.  Games 3 and, if necessary, 4 and 5 have not been given a start time, but Games 3 and 4 will be in Detroit on October 7 and 8, with a potential game 5 in Oakland on October 10.

These two teams played in the ALDS last year, with the Tigers winning in 5 games, with the home team winning each game except the winner-take-all Game 5.

Lineup:  Tigers.  The Athletics lineup is solid, both for now and the future, with several stars like Yoenis Cespedes, and only one lineup regular over the age of 30 (Coco Crisp).  The Tigers, however, feature potential AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, as well as Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, and Jhonny Peralta.  A’s pitchers will have to pick their poison here.

Bench: Tigers.  The Athletics have a strong bench, including Chris Young and Alberto Callaspo.  The Tigers, on the other hand, have starters in reserve, with Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Nick Castellanos.

Rotation:  Tigers.  While Bartolo Colon and the rest of the A’s starters have been solid all year, they are no match for the Tigers.  Max Scherzer at 21-3 will likely win the AL Cy Young, and will pitch Game 1, followed in some order by 2012 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez.  This is probably the best rotation in baseball.

Bullpen:  Tigers.  Oakland’s bullpen is full of solid arms, like Pat Neshek, Ryan Cook, Jesse Chavez, and Sean Doolittle, but the Tigers counter with Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque, and Phil Coke. each of whom more than hold their own.  A tough call goes the way of the Tigers.

Closer:  Athletics.  This one was another tough call, but Australian Grant Balfour has shown he is one of the best closers in the game.  He saved Game 3 in last year’s series between these two, and had 38 this season.  Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit inherited the role from struggling Jose Valverde at midseason, and although he has 14 career postseason appearances, and saved 24 games this season, he has never had a postseason save opportunity.  Balfour by a nose.

Manager:  Tigers.  Another tough call, because Bob Melvin is an excellent manager who has done great things in the Athletics organization.  Jim Leyland, however, won his 6th division title this year, and has won 3 pennants and the 1997 World Series (with the Marlins), while losing a fourth pennant on a Francisco Cabrera miracle in 1992.  I have a feeling the last thing he wants to accomplish is bringing a World Series to Detroit before he ends what is likely a Hall of Fame career.

Home-field/crowd:  Athletics.  The Athletics have only won one playoff series since losing the 1992 ALCS, when the swept the Twins in the 2006 ALDS only to lose to, you guessed it, the Tigers in the ALCS that year.  This crowd will be hungry, and the A’s will have 3 of the 5 games at home, if the series goes the distance, and there’s a good chance it will, because 5 of the A’s 6 appearances in the ALDS ended in Game 5 losses (the exception being 2006).  Although they play in what may be the worst stadium in baseball, I’ll give them the edge here.

Although the Tigers won 5 of my 7 criteria, these were all very tough calls to make.  The series is probably a toss-up, but since Detroit had the edge in my breakdown, I’ll give them the edge in the series, in 5 games (just like last year).

NLDS Breakdown: Pirates vs. Cardinals

The Pirates won their first playoff game in 21 years in the NL Wild Card Game, and now advance to the NLDS to play the St. Louis Cardinals.  These two teams know each other well, as they played 19 times in the regular season.  The Pirates won 10 out of 19.  Game 1 of this series will be Thursday in St. Louis at 5:07 PM ET on TBS, while Game 2 in St. Louis will be Friday at 1:07 PM ET on MLB Network.

Lineup:  Cardinals.  While the Pirates proved against the Reds they have a good lineup, the Cardinals led the league in runs, doubles, and on-base percentage.  Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and Allen Craig make quite a group, and pitchers can’t pitch around all of them.

Bench:  Pirates.  The Pirates unit is very strong, consisting of multiple players with a lot of starting experience elsewhere.  John Buck, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, Felix Pie, and Josh Harrison can all hold their own coming off the bench to pinch-hit late in the game.  Matt Adams, Pete Kozma, and Shane Robinson are all very good in their roles for the Cardinals.

Rotation:  Pirates (tough call).  The Pirates, behind ace Francisco Lirano, are very solid, with 2-4 (in no particular order) being AJ Burnett, Jeff Locke, and Gerrit Cole.  The Cardinals have a Cy Young candidate in Adam Wainwright, as well as the solid Lance Lynn and the impressive rookie Shelby Miller, and their 4th starter will be Joe Kelly, who has been impressive in 15 starts this year.  Both rotations have a good mix of veterans and strong young arms.  The Pirates four has the slight edge over the Cardinals four.

Bullpen: Pirates.  I was thinking the Cardinals had a small edge here, but then I noticed the Pirates bullpen ERA of 2.89, compared to 3.45 for the Cardinals.  Jason Grilli, who has been the closer most of the season but is now in the setup role after battling some injuries, as well as Justin Wilson are two good reasons why the Pirates have this low bullpen ERA, second only to the Braves in the NL.

Closer: Cardinals.  This one is another tough call, and Pirates closer Mark Melancon actually has better stats than the Cardinals Edward Mujica.  Melancon spent most of the year as Grilli’s setup man, so he has only 16 saves, and has never appeared in the postseason.  Mujica saved 37 games this year, and has 9 career postseason appearances, including pitching in 5 of the 7 games in last year’s NLCS.  He did not allow a run in that series.

Manager: Pirates.  Mike Matheny has done an excellent job in his two years as Cardinals manager since taking over after the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa.  However, Clint Hurdle is my pick for NL Manager of the Year after leading the Pirates to their first winning season and first playoff berth since 1992.

Home-field/crowd:  Cardinals.  This is a tough call because, although the Cardinals have 3 of the possible 5 games at home, these two teams have two of the best fan-bases in baseball.  The Cardinals fans are legendary for their great knowledge of the game and love of the Cardinals, while the Pirates crowd didn’t disappoint at the NL Wild Card Game after their 21 year wait.  The crowd aspect of this portion of the breakdown is a tie, but the Cardinals have more home games in the series.

The Pirates own 4 out of the 7 criteria in the series breakdown.  However, these are all very close, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Cardinals pitching or bench shines.  Since the Pirates have the advantage in the breakdown, I’ll pick them to upset the Cardinals, who have the best record in the NL, and win the series.  I think these teams are way too even for the series not to go 5 games, except for one thing:  I think the way the Pirates win is to split the first 2 games in St. Louis, before winning games 3 and 4 at home to win the series 3-1 and advance to the NLCS.

Note:  If my series predictions are correct, the Pirates and Braves would play in the NLCS in a “rematch” of the 1992 NLCS (the last time before this year that the Pirates had been in the playoffs), as well as the 1991 NLCS a year before that.

NLDS Breakdown: Dodgers vs. Braves

The Dodgers meet the Braves in the NLDS matchup of the 2 and 3 seeds in the NL.  The Braves have home-field advantage, and will host games 1, 2, and if necessary, Game 5.  Game 1 will be Thursday at 8:37 and Game 2 will be Friday at 6:07, with both games on TBS (All times ET).  The schedule for the remaining games has not been announced.

Lineup:  Dodgers.  This may be the best top-to-bottom lineup in the NL, as it has few weaknesses, led by Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier.  There are questions how Yasiel Puig will perform in postseason pressure.  The Braves main weakness comes from Dan Uggla (who actually isn’t on the series roster) and BJ Upton, only the fourth duo in history to both hit under .200 with over 400 AB in a single season (the Braves are the first team on this list to make the playoffs).

Bench:  Braves.  The Braves have several role players on their bench whose names may not match the fame of a few on the Dodgers bench but are more effective, like Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer, and Gerald Laird.  The Dodgers bench is impressive, with Michael Young, Skip Schumaker, and Nick Punto.

Rotation:  Dodgers.  While the Braves have a strong rotation with Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and possibly Freddy Garcia, the Dodgers will throw potential NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, followed by Zach Grienke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and either Ricky Nolasco or Edinson Volquez.

Bullpen:  Braves.  The Dodgers bullpen is impressive, with veterans JP Howell, Brandon League, Peter Moylan, Carlos Marmol, and Brian Wilson.  However, some of these big names have struggled, while the Braves, despite multiple injuries of key bullpen pitchers, have posted the best bullpen ERA in the NL, due to the emergence of David Carpenter and Luis Avilan and the off-season acquisition of Jordan Walden.

Closer:  Braves.  In any game the Braves lead after 8 innings, Kimbrel will pitch the 9th (excluding a blowout win).  All he’s done this year is save 50 games with a 1.21 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 67 innings.  Kenley Jansen has had a good year, but he just can’t compete with that.

Manager:  Dodgers (tough call).  These are two excellent managers.  In my postseason awards post, I voted for NL Manager of the Year like this:  Clint Hurdle (Pirates), Don Mattingly (Dodgers), Fredi Gonzalez (Braves).  I’ll stick with that and go with the man who took a 30-42 team on a 62-38 run the rest of the way to win the West.

Home-field/crowd:  Braves.  The Braves have home-field advantage in this series, and they are 56-25 at Turner Field.  That may come into play in a potential game 5.

This may be the most even of the four Division Series matchups.  In my 7 criteria, the Braves have the advantage in 4, and the Dodgers in 3.  I think this will be a very even series, and will go the distance, with the Braves winning Game 5 at home, where they are so good, to win the series and advance to the NLCS.