2008 MLB Playoff Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2008 MLB Playoff Preview

BtB looks at the results of 10,000 simulations of the MLB Playoffs
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
September 30th, 2008

With its super computer on a roll after correctly picking the NCAA tournament champion (before the tournament), the Stanley Cup champion (before the playoffs) and the Celtics over the Lakers (in six), WhatIfSports.com now focuses on baseball. Just as we did with those playoff previews, we have used our free SimMatchup technology to simulate the MLB Playoffs 10,000 times in order to determine the exact likelihood of each of the eight teams making it to any level. Here is what we found:

MLB Playoffs (Winning Percentages from 10,000 simulations)

TeamLDS Win%LCS Win%WS Win%
Tampa Bay Rays724125
Boston Red Sox643421
Chicago Cubs633717
Philadelphia Phillies512310
Milwaukee Brewers492410
Los Angeles Angels36156
Los Angeles Dodgers37166
Chicago White Sox28115

The American League wins 56% of the simulated World Series with Tampa Bay (25%) and Boston (21%) accounting for almost all of those wins. The NL is a little more even with the Cubs winning it all 17% of the time, followed by Philadelphia and Milwaukee at 10%. The Angels and Dodgers both come in at 6%, giving LA a 12% chance of claiming the World Series (there is a 31% chance that either LA team makes it and a 2.4% chance that they play each other). All of that work nets the Chicago White Sox the toughest road to the championship, winning just 5% of the time.

As it stands, the most likely outcome of the first round is the Cubs over the Dodgers in four games, the Phillies over the Brewers in five games, the Red Sox upsetting the Angels in four games and Tampa Bay sweeping either the White Sox. Then, in the LCS round, the Cubs oust the Phillies in five and the Rays go seven with Boston. Tampa Bay goes seven again with the Cubs in the World Series to prolong 100 years of misery for Chicago.

Fortunately, for baseball fans, it should be a great, competitive post-season. With no team given a greater than 25% chance of winning the World Series and five teams at 10% or higher, the title is up for grabs and anything is possible. Unfortunately, for fans who want to see a fair game, Michael Young's sacrifice fly off of Brad Lidge in the bottom of the 15th of the All-Star game may have a lot to do with the final outcome. With so many teams of equal-caliber (on paper), yet with AL teams that play drastically different at home (four of the five possible AL teams won at least 15 more games at home than away), homefield advantage in the World Series may be vital. If a rule were in place to give the team with the best record homefield advantage, the Chicago Cubs would be even with Boston at 20% to win it all and just behind Tampa Bay at 22%. (This is why I was advocating all Cubs fans try to vote Jason Bartlett or Jose Vidro into th All-Star game instead of players like Michael Young.)

The Red Sox taking out the Angels in the first round is our only predicted upset by record. Despite having the league's best record, the Angels are an average-to-below-average offensive team that played an easy schedule and lucked into more close victories than they should have. The Angels also lose the advantage of having five solid starters when they enter the playoffs against teams that will rely on three (or four) starters. Boston is almost the opposite. The Red Sox won 95 games and still slightly underachieved. Josh Beckett's first start will be delayed, but he'll still pitch Game Three. Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka give the Red Sox a formidable rotation that bests any three starters the Angels could choose. Homefield advantage has been negligible for the Angels this season, yet significant for Boston. LA may win Game One at home against Jon Lester, but look for Boston to take the rest in the series.

The Philadelphia/Brewers series is the other opening series of note because it is so close. Milwaukee is the slightly better team, yet with games this close, Brad Lidge and Citizen's Bank Park will play big roles. In fact, in five games, it may come down to a Brad Lidge save opportunity against a big bat like Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder to advance (Albert Pujols anyone?). We'll see if the 2008 playoff Lidge is closer to the 2008 regular season Lidge or the guy we have seen in the playoffs before and recently saw in the aforementioned All-Star Game.

You still may be wondering: "Why the Tampa Bay Rays?" The biggest reason is that they have the easiest first round matchup of any team. Getting to the second round almost 10% more often than anyone else will go a long way to ensuring the best odds of winning it all. In other words, if we rerun this after the first round, there is no guarantee that we will still be picking the Rays - even if Tampa Bay, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia are the teams remaining. After that, as has been alluded to, homefield matters. Say what you will about Tropicana, but the Rays are 33 games above .500 at home this year. That being said, this is a great young team that, as the roster stands now, lacks an obvious, quantifiable weakness. The Rays cover ground and play defense where it counts. They can hit for power, get on-base and steal bases, while holding opponents to just 1.29 base runners per inning pitched. Besides being generally overrated and ignored by the sim (explicitly at least, experience appears implicitly through the numbers), I would not cite experience as much of a concern for the Rays. In some cases, they are almost too young for their own good (and their manager embraces that fact); and in other ways, like in the bullpen, they have several veterans. Either way, young or old, this team is hungry and clearly out to prove that it can do what so many doubted (and still do).

We hope that you enjoy our Beyond the Boxscore feature. As with all of our products, we are always willing to listen to feedback and improve this page and content to make it as interesting and user-friendly as possible. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, please contact BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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