I'm not sure why I agreed to write this column -- the one in which I let you know, before a single postseason game has been played, who's going to win the World Series.
Seriously. No good can come of it. Especially this year. Especially after I screwed up my perfect record in the Clairvoyance League last October … by actually getting this right!
Yes, my official World Series prediction last fall, for those who haven't been carrying a clip of it around in their wallets, was Giants over Tigers. No kidding. I have proof. Just look.
So what are the odds I ever do that again? Sheez, they have to be right up there with the Jaguars winning the Super Bowl. But, being the fearless prognosticator I am, I'm going to go through with this anyway. That is, after all, what us fearless prognosticators do. Just remember, though, after I get this wrong, that last year's champs came as close to winning zero games in the postseason as they came to winning the World Series. So as one GM put it last week, "All I know is that I don't know."
Good point. Nobody knows in advance that, say, Barry Zito is going to turn into Sandy Koufax in the biggest October game of his life … or that Pablo Sandoval is going to hit three home runs in a World Series game started by Justin Verlander … or that Hunter Pence is going to defy the law of physics (he's under arrest!) by hitting the same baseball three times with one swing.
And all that happened just last October.
Us fearless prognosticators never see stuff like that coming, largely because no one sees stuff like that coming -- including the teams and players that do that particular stuff. So if none of what I'm about to predict comes true, that's my No. 1 alibi.
But wait, I've got a backup alibi! Which is that nobody INSIDE the game knows what's going to happen, either. 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 …
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.
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
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.
Of course, I should probably have remembered that last year, I looked over the results of this survey and then mostly ignored it, upon the advice of one GM who said: "It never goes the direction I pick, so pick the opposite." Which I did. And look how well that worked out. But this year, even though the same GM went with the Tigers and Dodgers, then advised me, "Now pick everyone else," I'm not going to listen this time. Instead, I'm actually going to agree with him. What's my reasoning? It's coming right up.
Can You Spell P-I-T-C-H-I-N-G?
I could have made a case for almost every team in this field. And it was especially difficult NOT to pick the Cardinals, Red Sox and A's.
The Cardinals have balance, toughness, the best catcher in baseball (Yadier Molina), the best lineup in their league and an ingrained culture that breeds winning. "There's a reason," said one NL executive, "they've been there the last three years." But I worry about Allen Craig and their rotation questions beyond Adam Wainwright.
The Red Sox have that all-important October-ready facial hair, might be the most prepared team in baseball, have a closer (Koji Uehara) who has allowed four hits to the last 60 hitters he's faced and run a lineup out there that "grinds out the best at-bats in the game," top to bottom, said one AL exec. So it wouldn't shock me one bit if the victory podium is packed with foot-long beards in four weeks.
And then there's Oakland -- a team that's 61 games over .500 since July 1, 2012, yet is almost unidentifiable to about half of North America. But anybody who underestimates this team's pitching depth, versatility, power and mindset is making a huge mistake: "They play with no pressure," said one GM. "And they do nothing but put pressure on you. They're the all-time 'got nothing to lose' team. And they play like it."
So boy, was it tempting to shock the world and pick the A's. Think how smart I'd look on Halloween if that actually happened.
But … I couldn't do it. Too many of the exceptionally bright people I polled kept pushing me in another direction. And their logic, ultimately, got to me.
Here's how one exec on the Tigers bandwagon summed up his case, pithily: "Pitching, pitching and pitching."
Hey, he had me at the first "pitching."
When we size up what we're looking for in a potential World Series champ, what's always the first item on our list? Not just this October -- every October. We always ask ourselves: "Who has the most dominant, most October-ready pitching?" Don't we? And, specifically, we ask: "Who has the most dominant, most October-ready rotation?"
Well, if the answer isn't the Tigers, I'm not sure which sport you've been watching the past six months. Here are some tidbits about this Tigers staff that you probably ought to know:
Their starters have ripped off 21 games this year of 10 strikeouts or more. And yeah, that's a lot. In fact, it's the most double-digit strikeout games by any rotation since the 1989 Angels.
Every one of the Tigers' starters has had at least two games with 10-plus whiffs this year. So how many other teams since 1900 could say that? Not a one, the Elias Sports Bureau reports. And their Games 1-2-3 starters (in some order) -- Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander -- have combined for 17 double-digit K games just by themselves. Whew.
The strikeout ratio of this group is an incredible 8.63 strikeouts per nine innings. That would merely be the best ratio by any rotation in the history of the American League.
Their 108 quality starts this year are the most by any AL pitching staff since the dawn of the DH -- and 13 more than the next-closest AL rotation this year.
They also averaged 3.47 strikeouts for every walk. That's the second-best strikeout/walk ratio by any rotation in the history of the American League.
Oh, and one more thing. Scherzer (21-3, 2.90) is probably going to win the AL Cy Young Award -- and he didn't even lead his own team in ERA. Sanchez did that (with a 2.57 ERA). In fact, he led the whole league.
So I heard the same reviews of this staff over and over: "Best starting pitching in the league." … "Best collection of power arms." … "Stud pitching." … "Any team that could have Verlander as maybe their (fourth-best) starter is pretty strong."
Hey, ya think? But over 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 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?
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."
Whoah. But even after all that ominous talk, I nearly picked them anyway. Except I couldn't -- because I like the Tigers' October readiness even better.
Hard to believe I've gotten this deep into this opus and I haven't even mentioned their trusty manager (Jim Leyland) or Miguel Cabrera and an offense that led the major leagues in hitting (and struck out 244 fewer times than the Red Sox). Tough to overlook the fact that the Tigers scored almost 150 more runs than the Dodgers.
Amazingly, the biggest worry about the Tigers' offense these days might be Cabrera himself. No one knows for sure the extent of his groin/abdomen issues. But he hasn't been the same guy for more than a month now, with just two extra-base hits in his last 96 plate appearances.
"I just finished watching them, and he can't run or move," said one NL scout. "He doesn't have his legs under him. He's hitting everything to right field and right-center. And if he has to run, he goes like 25 percent."
But he also now has four days of rest before he has to play again. He's still a good enough hitter, on one leg, to have finished his season with four multi-hit games in his last six games. And, as one NL exec put it, "Half of Cabrera is still better than most guys."
"I'd actually be more concerned," said the same exec, "if Verlander was not the same guy." But a scout who just saw Verlander expects him to have a big October.
"[There's] all this worry about Verlander," the scout said. "And the last time I saw him, he was throwing 100 [mph] in the fifth."
"I wouldn't put it past him," said another scout who just left Detroit, "to go out and strike out 14 in his first game."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us right back to where this conversation began: Pitching, pitching and pitching.
"My criteria in picking the winner," said one AL GM, "is all about who would project to line up in [the rotation in] Game 5-6-7 scenarios. And that's where the Tigers separate themselves a bit for me."
Hey, for me, too. If you have to go through Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez, in any order, to win it all, um, good luck to you.
So remember, you heard it here first: Tigers in six.
And you know what that means: Obviously, the Indians are a lock.