Cincinnati Reds:

Strengths: Nothing like starting with the weakest team from the weakest division.

It’s pretty simple with the Reds this year. They added a couple of veterans in Scott Rolen and Orlando Cabrera, got an MVP-caliber season from Joey Votto, and did just enough pitching to walk away with the NL Central crown.

The Reds’ regular season success came from being the best offense in the National League. Playing in the Great American Launching Pad is always nice, but the offense is well-balanced, and there really isn’t much of a soft spot in the order.

With Drew Stubbs at the top of the lineup, the Reds will be able to get a running game going if Stubbs can get on base. Combine that with the forces that are Joey Votto and Scott Rolen, and the Reds could get on the board against any pitcher in a hurry.

The Reds are a strikeout-prone offense, but they also make a lot of contact and draw a decent number of walks.

Weaknesses:  Pitching is going to be the biggest concern for the Reds in the postseason.

They don’t really have an ace at the front of their rotation, and the only reliable innings eater they have is Bronson Arroyo. The Reds do, however, have a solid bullpen, so if they can get solid outings from their starters, they stand a fighting chance against Philadelphia.

Key Note: The Reds struggled big time with good teams this season.

They lost the season series with the Giants, Braves, and Phillies, and were outscored 110-88 in 19 games against those three teams. A rather soft schedule got them to the postseason, so they’ll have to learn quickly to play with the big boys if they want to win anything.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

Philadelphia Phillies:

Strengths: The Phillies have the best playoff rotation of any team in the league.

Roy Halladay, as the ace of the staff, is probably the NL Cy Young winner, and Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels both have experience in the postseason and in the World Series. With three veteran arms at the front of the rotation, the Phillies should feel confident in their abilities to win any game.

They’re no slouch at the rest of the game, either. Their offense was second in runs scored behind the Reds, and has even more speed. Defensively, their infield is great, and Carlos Ruiz is solid behind the plate.

Weaknesses: It’s damn hard to find anything wrong with this team. They have the starting pitching, a solid back end of the bullpen, good team speed, solid team defense, and an offense that can put runs up on the board.

Key Note:  The Phillies have home-field throughout the playoffs, and probably have the best roster of any team.

Prediction: World Series appearance 

Atlanta Braves:

Strengths: The Braves do not have a regular bullpen arm with an ERA over 3. Billy Wagner has an ERA of 1.43 and Venters has an ERA of 1.95.

The Braves have to feel very comfortable with the back end of the bullpen.

The other part of the Braves’ roster that they can feel comfortable in is the middle of the order. Prado/McCann/Heyward/Lee is a solid core in an offense with plenty of pop.

Weaknesses: After the duo of Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson, the Braves really don’t have an arm that can step in and be a legitimate force in the rotation. Kris Medlen and Derek Lowe are the two best options for the 3 and 4 spots, but if the Braves are looking to stop a sweep, they can’t feel terribly great about their chances.

Key Note: The Braves play exceptionally well at home. If they can steal a win on the road, I think they can take just about anyone in a short series.

Prediction:  Out in the first round.


San Francisco Giants:

Strengths: Cain/Lincecum/Sanchez/Bumgarner. Four guys that deliver quality starts against good offenses.

I think this is the deepest rotation and pitching staff in the postseason. The Giants finished with a 3.36 team ERA, which is just absurd over 1,461 innings.

I feel bad for any offense that has to go into San Francisco and try to score runs against the Giants.

Weakness: The Giants don’t really have a lot of pop in their lineup. It helps that they are used to “manufacturing runs,” but I don’t think they will have a great time trying to score runs against playoff-caliber rotations without being able to consistently hit the long ball.

Also, the Giants have almost no team speed. Andres Torres is the only player on the team with double-digits in stolen bases (with 26), and the next highest total on the team is Aubrey Huff with seven.

Key Note: The Giants are built to their ballpark. If somehow Cincinnati beats Philly, I really like the Giants’ chances to get to the World Series.

Prediction: Advance to the National League Championship Series.

Texas Rangers:

Strengths: The Rangers’ biggest strength is their ability to make contact with the ball. They had the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the American League, and were first in batting average while being sixth in slugging percentage.

The Rangers will make other teams play solid defense to beat them, which seems to be harder to do under the pressure of the postseason. The Rangers may not have a great starting rotation (Lee/Wilson/Lewis is OK), but the back end of the bullpen with Feliz and O’Day can be nasty at times.

Weaknesses: The Rangers simply stink at hitting the ball on the road.

Their BA drops 23 points, the OBP drops 28 points, and the SLG drops 56 points when the Rangers go on the road. They also scored 73 fewer runs in 56 MORE PA as a team on the road when compared to being at home.

Key Note: Last year, Cliff Lee was phenomenal in the postseason for the Phillies. He hasn’t been as good in Texas, but with his great control and experience in the postseason, Lee could definitely be a force in the postseason and is playing for a contract.

Prediction: Out in first round after a five-game series with Tampa.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Strengths: The Rays are definitely what I would consider to be a “small ball” team. They play great defense, and will look to get the running game going.

Both B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford stole more than 40 bases this season, and were caught a total of 19 times. Ben Zobrist stole 24, and three other players were in double digits.

The Rays aren’t afraid to steal bases against anyone.

As far as pitching, the Rays have a young ace in David Price and a solid No. 2 in Matt Garza, and have one of the most reliable closers in the game in 2010, Rafael Soriano, along with Joaquin Benoit, who was lights-out this season.

Weaknesses: The Rays swung and missed more than any team in the American League.

They had a terrible team batting average because of this, and against strikeout pitchers like Francisco Liriano, CC Sabathia, and others, the Rays will likely struggle. Also, the Rays really don’t have much depth in the starting rotation or on their offensive bench.

Key Note: The Rays won the season series with New York, Minnesota, and Texas. They also played very well on the road, winning 58 percent of their road games. They won’t be easy to beat anywhere.

Prediction: Advance to ALCS.

New York Yankees:

Strengths: The Yankees have the deepest lineup in the majors.

They don’t make a ton of contact, but they draw a ton of walks and hit the living tar out of the ball when they do make contact (third in the AL in slugging). If the Yankees win in the postseason, it is going to be because they have a great offense.

Weaknesses: PitchingThe Yankees have a problem with their pitching staff.

The only reliable arm in the rotation is Sabathia, and getting to Mariano Rivera will be an issue. Kerry Wood is going to have to show up big time if the Yankees are going anywhere.

Key Note: The Yankees are the defending champs and have a ton of postseason experience on their roster. Even though they aren’t the most talented team in the field, they will be the hardest to beat in the American League, IMO.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

Minnesota Twins:

Strengths: The Twins don’t strike out often, make tons of contact, draw a bunch of walks, and hit for a lot of power (fourth in the AL in SLG in Target Field without Justin Morneau for half a year).

The lineup is insanely deep, with the weakest part of it being the leadoff hitter (Denard Span). If Span gets on base, watch out, because the Twins will score a ton of runs on just about anyone.

Weaknesses: The Twins have a major decision to make as to who is going to start in a Games 3 or 4 in any given series.

After Pavano and Liriano, the Twins don’t have a solid option in the rotation. Brian Deunsing has been very good, so he will most likely start as the No. 3 guy, but the Twins will have to expose the weaker AL postseason rotations if they want to win.

The Twins also do not have much team speed. They only stole 68 bases as a team (good for 12th in the league).

Key Note: The Twins are playing their first home playoff games outdoors in a long time. They defended their home turf very well, and if they can get past the Evil Empire, I think they have a great shot at winning it all.

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