“Sweet Jesus! What Happened?”: An MLB First Round Playoff Preview

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With the playoffs approaching, we asked retired MLB players Mark DeRosa and Sean Casey to sit down and just talk baseball. The result was not your usual MLB first round playoff preview.

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Sean Casey

’SUP, D-RO!

Mark DeRosa

CASE! I love you, brother. Thanks for tagging me in your last tweet. Now people think I do nice things.

 

Casey

Haha. Oh, I had to give you some love there. You ready for this to get started?

DeRosa

Are you talking about our preview or the playoffs? I’m ready for both. I got lunch plans after this. But I love October baseball, man.

Casey

I still miss playing in the postseason. In ’99, my second full season in the majors, I was on the Reds and we won 96 games, but we lost a one-game tiebreaker playoff to the Mets. I was only 24 at the time, and even though I was upset, I still thought, Oh, we’ll be back here next year. Well, we didn’t make it back the next year … and then the following year we lost 96 games. At that point I was like, Sweet Jesus! What happened? It made me appreciate all the things that need to go right just in order to make it this far. It’s just so difficult to get to October. With all that said, it’s pretty crazy that you played for six of the franchises that made it to the playoffs this year.

DeRosa

I just call it smart. My father told me a long time ago that if you follow the pitching you’ll always win. So whenever I got to pick where I played, that’s what I tried to do. San Francisco had Lincecum and Cain when I signed. The Nats had Strasburg. Follow the young horses and it’ll get you to the postseason. They’ll probably take you pretty far once you get there, too.

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Casey

How do you feel about the current wild-card format?

DeRosa

Well … if it were up to me, it would be best-of-three. After 162 games, it’s kind of tough to decide a team’s fate with one winner-take-all just because baseball doesn’t lend itself well to that. I mean, you look at Pittsburgh. They walked into a pitching buzz saw two years in a row in the wild-card game.

Casey

That’s true. There’s a huge difference between winner take all and best of three when you’re playing a team with an unhittable ace.

DeRosa

I know you’re not supposed to make excuses, but I’ll make one for Pittsburgh. Nobody was beating Jake Arrieta last year. And the year before that, nobody was touching Bumgarner. I think a two out of three would more effectively determine the better team, but also I like best of three because the two wild-card teams should have to beat up on each other before the Division Series. I don’t think they should be able to be at full strength. If I win my division and have the best record in my league, I should have a big advantage going into the playoffs. I don’t think that’s the case right now.

Casey

I agree on all that, but what I love about the two-team wild-card format as it exists now is that it makes the end of the season a lot more exciting. Coming into game 162, Seattle had a chance, Detroit was still in there. I found myself looking up six or seven scores. There was a lot of action. And now just as the playoffs begin, we have a couple of must-watch, do-or-die games to kind of set the tone for everything. I dig it.

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Wild Card game: Baltimore @ Toronto

Casey

Who do you like between Orioles and Blue Jays?

DeRosa

In my view, this is a manager’s game to either win or lose. Showalter is going with Tillman, who has had some horror stories in Toronto, while Gibbons chose a well-rested Stroman over Liriano or Marco Estrada, who’s been dominant against Baltimore but is on three days rest. Those were tough calls, and you could make arguments either way. But it will be fascinating to see who got it right.

Casey

I think the fact that the Jays and the Orioles know each other so well will add to the intensity of this one. They’ve been beating up on each other all year long. But I think the Jays will find a way. They were solid throughout the season, then stumbled down the stretch, but they found a way to get it done against Boston at the end of the year. Donaldson and Bautista are getting hot, and the home field advantage will loom large in Toronto.

DeRosa

Yeah, I agree that it’s going to be tough for Baltimore to come into the Rogers Centre and win this one game. That being said, everybody — myself included — has doubted the Baltimore Orioles since Day One of spring training. We have tried to think of reasons why they won’t win all throughout the year. And all they’ve done is continue to win despite every person thinking they were going to finish behind the Rays in the East. I put nothing past them at this point. If I had to bet the farm and pick a winner, I’d go with Toronto. But I really do think this comes down to who manages the better game between Showalter and Gibbons.

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Wild Card game: New York @ San Francisco

Casey

I said this to you on-set and you gave me this unbelievable stare: I think Jay Bruce could be this year’s Daniel Murphy in the playoffs. He’s getting hot! If the Mets can get by the Giants, I could see him going off.

DeRosa

The Mets getting by the Giants is going to be tough, though. Unless he’s tired — which would be understandable, honestly — I don’t see how Madison Bumgarner doesn’t have success against the Mets. Thor’s going to get his pitches, but still, Bum in the playoffs is another thing entirely. I don’t know how the Mets will do facing a lefty like him. Céspedes is really the only righthanded bat that scares you in that lineup, which I think is in San Francisco’s favor.

Casey

I kept saying down the stretch that I couldn’t believe how badly the Giants were playing. But, especially when it comes to these experienced teams, all that matters is finding a way into the postseason. A couple of years ago, San Fran won that wild-card game against the Buccos and then went on to win the whole thing. This is a team that nobody wants to see because if they do get you in a series, they find a way to win.

DeRosa

A lot of people blow me up on Twitter saying that I’m biased toward the Giants because I won a World Series with them, but it’s more that I respect their organization because I saw how it runs from the inside. This is the time of year when they’re always at their best.

Casey

They’re built for October and they’ve already won high-pressure games against good teams. They swept the Dodgers just to get in this year — they just know how to win these games. I have a feeling every other team in the playoffs was hoping San Fran’s luck would run out and the Giants wouldn’t get in.

DeRosa

I’ll say this: The Giants we know are not the same as the Giants that Bruce Bochy has been trotting out on the field this season. There have been a lot of guys banged up. He’s patchworked that offense together. But now none of that matters. He did what was necessary to get it to one game, and now the season all comes down to one matchup: Bum vs. Thor. Period. The end. I don’t care who’s playing in the field. I think the game will be decided by which pitching staff falters first.

Casey

That really can make all the difference. Back in ’99 we had to face Al Leiter in that playoff tiebreaker. Of course we were all pumped for the game, but then in the top of the first, Edgardo Alfonso went deep and it kind of knocked the wind out of us and the crowd immediately, especially knowing how nasty Leiter was. In a game like this, especially in a matchup between pitchers like this, being able to strike first will be gigantic.

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AL Division Series: Boston vs. Cleveland

DeRosa

This is a series where I just think the injury bug will be too much for Cleveland to overcome — unless Andrew Miller goes into Terry Francona’s office and says, “You can start me Game 2, close me Game 3 and start me Game 4.” It’ll be tough for the Tribe.

Casey

I think this will be a great series, but the Sox just have too much going for them. The Indians have had a fantastic year. I do think it’s cool to have Tito managing Cleveland in this series, with all the great stuff he did for Boston.

DeRosa

Yeah, no matter how I look at it, it comes down to the fact that the Red Sox have weapons, man. They can beat you so many ways: on the mound, offensively, their bullpen, they can run the bags. I just don’t know how Cleveland can hang with them with all of its injuries.

Casey

And Boston is playing great baseball right when it needs to. Not to mention that it’s Big Papi’s last run.

DeRosa

Yeah, man.

Casey

If you asked Pedroia or any of the other guys in that locker room, I’m sure they’d tell you that all the guys are going to be dialed in for every game. But this particular year in the back of their minds they’re thinking, Hey man, this is the last hurrah with Papi. We gotta go. They’re a talented team with a sense of urgency, which is a good thing in October.

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NL Division Series: Washington vs. LA

Derosa

A lot of cool story lines in this one, but I think this is a huge series for Bryce Harper. Huge series. Because a lot of his teammates have carried him throughout the year as he’s underperformed. Daniel Murphy covered him up in April and May. Wilson Ramos covered him up at other points during the season. Jayson Werth got hot. Trea Turner came up and got hot. Bryce hasn’t really been the Bryce we know — the unanimous MVP. If the Nats want to have any chance, he has to run into a few this series.

Casey

A hot Bryce Harper could change this whole series. It could change the entire playoffs.

DeRosa

I just think the lefties can negate what Washington is trying to do offensively. The Nats not having Strasburg doesn’t totally kill them, but it certainly doesn’t help. At the same time, I think not having Strasburg could be galvanizing for that team. Something to rally around, like how they didn’t have him in 2012 but still managed to win a lot. I think the difference this year is that they’re also going at it with an injured Wilson Ramos and an injured Murphy. That’s a lot to overcome.

Casey

I think the staff for the Dodgers definitely makes them the favorite. Not having Ramos is tough. I think the big question mark for me is Murphy, because he’s carried that club. Is he going to be healthy?

DeRosa

I mean, Case, how would you feel? You were one of the best hitters of my generation, how would you feel stepping into the intensity of the postseason after sitting out two and a half weeks? Going from zero to Kershaw like that.

Casey

It would be tough.

DeRosa

How would you do it?

Casey

This is such a timing sport. To sit out a few weeks and then try to come back against Kershaw and Hill right out of the gate, that’s a tall order, man. Seeing the ball against those guys is tough when you’re completely dialed in. At the same time, obviously Murphy’s a great player, so maybe this is something he’ll pull off. All year long, anytime something went right for the Nationals, who was in the middle of it? Daniel Murphy.

DeRosa

That’s true. I think if the Nats are going to have a chance both he and Trea Turner will need to go off. I could see Turner really putting himself on the map with a big postseason.

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Texas Rangers

Casey

If it plays out like we think and Texas gets Toronto, that would be so fun. Last year’s series was nuts and I think Texas might be even better this time around.

DeRosa

Let’s not sugarcoat it: Texas does not like José Bautista. Period. The end. They don’t like him. They’d like nothing more than to get in a five-game set with him. It would be epic. I hope it happens.

Casey

Who would you like in that series?

DeRosa

Hold up now, I don’t take these things lightly, bro. I’d have to sit down and really iron this one out. I’m not about to bury Baltimore before the first pitch.

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The Chicago Cubs

DeRosa

Case, quick question: How much longer will this be? I’m hungry.

Casey

Almost done, man — just got to get through the Cubbies.

DeRosa

Let’s do it.

Case

I think the Cubs would like to avoid the Giants. San Fran has a great pitching staff, but they also have some great, experienced hitters in that lineup. Guys like Pence and Posey. Those guys are battle-tested and know how to win in the postseason.

DeRosa

I agree. I go back to my experience with the Giants, and I know that if they get by the Mets (and mind you, that’s a really big if given that they have to fly across the country and beat Syndergaard at Citi Field) and Bruce Bochy can take some time to regroup knowing that one loss isn’t sending his team home — well, I don’t think the Cubs want to see that.

Casey

Yeah, if I’m the Cubs I’d prefer to play the Mets rather than San Fran. But at the same time, Chicago is really good, so they’re going to be confident against anybody. Last postseason was huge for them. Nobody on that team is heading into October wide-eyed this year.

DeRosa

I agree. They’re dialed in. I think the Cubs will pound any team in the Division Series.

Casey

O.K., D-Ro, go eat lunch.

DeRosa

Thank God.

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MLB Network will exclusively televise NLDS Game Two between the NL Wild Card winner and the Cubs this Saturday, October 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET, and NLDS Game Three between the Nationals and Dodgers on Monday, October 10. Casey and DeRosa can be seen on “MLB Tonight” throughout the Postseason.

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