Giants vs. Reds
Rotation: Conventional wisdom says it’s the Giants who have a World Series-worthy rotation in Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum (even No. 5 starter Barry Zito was 15-8). But as a group they weren’t as strong as Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey in 2012. The Braves were the only playoff team that allowed fewer second-half runs than the Reds. Edge: Reds.
Bullpen: Can Aroldis Chapman throw strikes with the world watching? That’s the key question. The Giants nicely compensated for the absence of Brian Wilson, with Santiago Casilla (25) and Sergio Romo (14) picking up double-figure saves. Edge: Giants.
Hitting: Again, conventional wisdom lies. The Reds have lived and died with their bats since moving to Great American Ball Park, but this year they scored the fewest runs of the 10 playoffs teams. They hit more homers than the Giants, but San Francisco’s lineup has been better in the second half, with guys like Marco Scutaro, Joaquin Arias and Brandon Belt helping avoid the drop-off expected after Melky Cabrera’s positive PED test. Joey Votto, the 2010 MVP, could be a difference-maker. He only played 111 games, but his OPS (1.041) was higher than in his MVP year. Edge: Giants.
Fielding: Brandon Phillips and rookie shortstop Zack Cozart give the Reds a strong double-play combination. Catcher Ryan Hanigan was tougher to run on than the Giants’ highly respected Buster Posey. Edge: Reds.
Bench: Among pinch hitters with at least 25 at-bats, the Reds’ Xavier Paul ranked third in the majors with a .333 average. It would have been fun to have speedster Billy Hamilton on the bench, but the Reds were confident without him. Edge: Reds.
Manager: Dusty Baker is burning to beat his old team, and that might not be a good thing. The teams he has managed have lost three of their past four postseason series, beginning with the 2002 World Series. Bruce Bochy ran the table with many of these same guys in 2010. Edge: Giants.
Gut read: This is about as even as a series can get. The Reds’ pitchers enter with extreme confidence, which should make for low-scoring games.
The pick: Reds in 5.
Tigers vs. Athletics
Rotation: Largely because of Justin Verlander, the rest of the AL playoff field was hoping the White Sox would take out the Tigers. This could be the year Verlander establishes himself as a postseason weapon. Rookie Jarrod Parker is the ace in Oakland’s rotation, which because of the suspension of Bartolo Colon and injuries to Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson could be an all-rookie group. Edge: Tigers.
Bullpen: Among playoff teams, only the Reds had a lower relief ERA than the A’s. Rookie Ryan Cook was an All-Star, but Grant Balfour ended the season as the closer, with Cook working in front of him. Tigers closer Jose Valverde is sure to draw the ire of fans at the Oakland Coliseum. Edge: A’s.
Hitting: Miguel Cabrera finished strong to win the Triple Crown and help Detroit win the Central. But the Tigers averaged only 3.6 runs in their past 12 games. The A’s hit more home runs than the Tigers and were the highest-scoring team after the All-Star break. They have power throughout the order, with Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes the biggest threats and Jonny Gomes and Brandon Moss also game-changers. Edge: A’s.
Fielding: The A’s midseason trade for shortstop Stephen Drew allowed Cliff Pennington to move to second base, and his range there is a big asset. The A’s allowed 45 unearned runs, tying the Cardinals for the fewest among playoff teams, while the Tigers gave up a majors-high 74. Edge: A’s.
Bench: The Tigers make more defensive substitutions than most teams, and Quintin Berry and Don Kelly could play key roles. Avisail Garcia hit .319 in September, extending the bench. Seth Smith is the A’s top reserve. Edge: Tigers.
Manager: Melvin managed a Diamondbacks team that swept the Cubs in the first round in 2007, and he has done a great job in Oakland. Jim Leyland is under the gun after a season in which the Tigers played from behind, and he might not stay on the job beyond this season. Edge: A’s.
Gut read: Unless Verlander slams the door in Games 1 and 5, the Tigers will have a tough time winning and could lose ugly, given their proclivity for throwing the ball around. The A’s are dangerous, as the Rangers found out.
The pick: A’s in 4.