Thursday, October 03, 2013

Stark's World Series Poll Picks Tigers Over Dodgers In 6

Jayson Stark polled 24 baseball front-office folks to see how the postseason would end. And the consensus determination was that the Dodgers would win the NL, but lose in the World Series to Detroit:

I know because I just finished polling 24 general managers, executives and scouts on this very topic. They weren't exactly unanimous, either.

I'll let you in on how they saw it in a moment. But first, it's my turn. The winner of the 2013 World Series will be …

The Detroit Tigers. They're going to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. In six games. And you know what that means: You should call your bookie immediately -- and bet on everyone else. Or anyone else.

You know, it takes courage to pick a team that just got swept -- not to mention no-hit -- in their final series of the year, by a club that lost 100 games. But I wasn't shaken by that one bit, at least not after one scout who also picked the Tigers reassured me that they just "took the weekend off" and that "the games that team had to win late in the year, they won."

Oh, OK. That's right. So what were the other factors that led me to this clairvoyant conclusion? Read on.

Survey Says

But first, here are the results of the poll I took. You should know that I never feel like I'm bound by the picks of the baseball people that I survey. But it's always fascinating to see which teams they choose and how they think. So here's how they lined up:

American League Champ: Tigers 11, Red Sox 9, A's 4
National League Champ: Dodgers 13, Cardinals 8, Reds 2, Braves 1

You'll notice that seven of the 10 teams that got invited to the ball, and all six division winners, got at least one vote. But four teams -- Detroit, Boston, L.A. and St. Louis -- clearly separated themselves. Those four got 85 percent of all the votes cast.

When it came time to choose a World Series champ, though, there was even more separation. Take a look:

Red Sox: 8
Tigers: 6
Dodgers: 5
A's: 3
Preferred not to pick a winner: 2

So how about that? The Cardinals got eight votes to reach the World Series, but no votes to win it. The Red Sox, on the other hand, got nine votes to make it to the Series and eight votes to win it. And the A's only got four votes to come out of the AL, but three of the four baseball men in their corner saw them going all the way.

"Best backup sewage problems in the game," quipped one scout who picked them. Sewagegate aside, the fact is, I went into this process thinking Tigers-Dodgers. And it was great to see I wasn't the only one. [...]

[O]ver in the National League, the Dodgers can pitch a little themselves. Here's what you should know about them:

  • They lead the major leagues in starting-pitching ERA (3.14). That's the lowest ERA by any Dodgers rotation in 22 years.
  • Their staff threw 22 shutouts. That's the most by any team since the 1998 Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz Braves spun 23 -- and the most by a Dodgers staff since the Orel Hershiser Shutout Machine was doing its thing in 1988.
  • They'll roll out Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. He just finished compiling the lowest ERA (1.83) by any National League starter since Greg Maddux.
  • They'll start Zack Greinke in Game 2. In his last 19 starts, they're 16-3. In his last 16 starts, he's allowed a total of 19 runs (for a 1.57 ERA).
  • They'll probably start Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3. His ERA against the other four NL playoff teams -- the Cardinals, Braves, Pirates and Reds -- is 1.54.
  • And we might want to mention the closer, Kenley Jansen. He has 111 strikeouts this year and 18 walks. Since July 24, he has faced 98 hitters, and allowed a hit to just nine of them (while striking out 42).

So before you pick anyone else to come out of the National League, remember the words of one NL exec who reminded us that, "to beat them in any series, you're going to have to beat Kershaw twice." Or Greinke. Or Ryu. Some fun, eh?

Crouching Tigers

OK, so why the Tigers? One reason is that so many baseball people in this poll had deep reservations about the Dodgers, who "just aren't playing well," said one scout who saw them recently.

Over a span of 2½ months, from late June through early September, they lost only 13 times in 66 games. But since then, they've lost 15 times in just 24 games, and have scored two runs or fewer in 11 of them.

But I heard more doubts about their makeup than about their offense, doubts like these: "They could win 11 straight or go home in three straight." … "Deepest roster and the most talent. I just can't get on board with how they will deal with adversity in the playoffs." … "I think the Dodgers will fold. They lack the makeup of a champion, in my opinion."

And then there was this pointed review, which reflects the way a shocking number of people in the game seem to feel about the Dodgers' collection of dollars and personalities: "The only way they don't win," said one AL exec, "is if they are injured patting themselves on the back."

Indeed, we may have patted ourselves on the back during July and August. But September was indeed humbling. And we know humble, after seeing the first two months of this season.