MLB division series: Canadians looking to make impact

Toronto-born Joey Votto, Montreal's Russell Martin and George Kottaras (Scarborough, Ont.) have had disappointing performances in baseball's post-season in recent years. The time for redemption begins Saturday night.

Reds' Votto, Yankees' Russell Martin, Athletics' Kottaras had disappointing 2011 playoffs

With just one hit in 10 NL Division Series at-bats in 2010, Reds first baseman Joey Votto will be striving for better results as Cincinnati begins a best-of-five series with the Giants on Saturday night. (Al Behrman/Associated Press)

Three Canadians will be seeking post-season redemption in Major League Baseball’s post-season, starting Saturday.

Montreal’s Russell Martin, George Kottaras (Scarborough, Ont.) and Toronto-born Joey Votto are all coming off disappointing playoff performances.

Martin collected just three hits in 17 at-bats with the New York Yankees in last year’s American League Division Series. The Canadian catcher will face the Orioles in Game 1 of a best-of-five ALDS on Sunday at Baltimore (6 p.m. ET).

Kottaras, now with the Oakland Athletics, will aim to improve on his 0-for-8 performance with the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 post-season when his upstart club begins its showdown with the hometown Detroit Tigers on Saturday (6 p.m. ET).

And with just one hit in 10 National League Division Series at- bats in 2010, Votto will be striving for better results as his Cincinnati Reds commence their best-of-five battle with the Giants on Saturday at AT&T Park in San Francisco (6:30 p.m. PT).

Also on Sunday, the visiting Washington Nationals face the St. Louis Cardinals in the other NLDS (2 p.m. CT).

Here’s a breakdown of the four division series:

National League Division Series

San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds

  • Home Field Advantage: Reds
  • Regular Season Records: Giants – 94-68 (1st in NL West); Reds – 97-65 (1st in NL Central)
  • Season Series: Reds 4-3
  • Playoff History: none

Analysis: Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA) will start the opener for the Reds, followed by Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74 ERA), Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48 ERA) and Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68 ERA). Aroldis Chapman (122 strikeouts in 71-2/3 innings) anchors an outstanding bullpen, while Jay Bruce (34 homers), Ryan Ludwick (26 homers), Brandon Phillips (18 homers) and Votto headline a dangerous lineup.

Four members of the Giants rotation — Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA), Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37 ERA), Tim Lincecum (10-15, 5.18 ERA) and Barry Zito (15-8, 4.15 ERA) — pitched for their 2010 World Series-winning club. Cain will start the first game, while Bumgarner will pitch Game 2. The Giants have employed a patchwork bullpen and though they finished third in the league in batting average (.269), their offence — outside of catcher Buster Posey — is not intimidating.

Prediction: Reds in five

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals

  • Home Field Advantage: Nationals
  • Regular Season Records: Nationals – 98-64 (1st in NL East); Cardinals – 88-74 (2nd in NL Central, wild card)
  • Season Series: Nationals 4-3
  • Playoff History: none

Analysis: The Nationals will attempt to oust the Cardinals without Stephen Strasburg (15-6, 3.16 ERA) whom they shut down after his Sept. 7 start. But their rotation still boasts Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA) and Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94 ERA) who will start Game 1 and Game 2, respectively. The Nats also possess one of baseball’s best bullpens and their offence ranked fourth in the NL in batting average (.261). Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman all belted at least 20 homers.

The Cardinals used ace Kyle Lohse in Friday’s wild-card contest, so he’ll only be available for one NLDS start. But Chris Carpenter has rejoined the rotation that also includes likely Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94 ERA) and Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78 ERA). Despite Jason Motte’s 42 saves, the bullpen hasn’t been reliable, but strong seasons from Matt Holliday (.295, 27 homers) and Carlos Beltran (32 homers) helped the club overcome first baseman Albert Pujols’s departure. However, David Freese is playing with a sore ankle and Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal are out for the season.

Prediction: Nationals in four

American League Division Series

Athletics catcher George Kottaras will aim to improve on his 0-for-8 performance with Milwaukee in the 2011 post-season when his upstart club begins its showdown with hometown Detroit Tigers on Saturday. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A’s

  • Home Field Advantage: A’s
  • Regular Season Records: Tigers – 88-74 (1st in AL Central); A’s – 94-68 (1st in AL West)
  • Season Series: Tigers 4-3
  • Playoff History: A’s beat Tigers in 1972 ALCS. Tigers defeated A’s in 2006 ALCS

Analysis: An offence that relied on three players — Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson — and a shaky bullpen prohibited the Tigers from running away with their division. Headlined by Justin Verlander, who will start Game 1, the Tigers’ rotation also includes Doug Fister and Max Scherzer (231 strikeouts), who are slated to start the second and fourth games, respectively. Scherzer has been fighting shoulder soreness, which could make Game 3 starter Anibal Sanchez (2.11 ERA in his last eight starts) the most important pitcher of the series.

The A’s are baseball’s hottest team and head into the post-season with five rookies — Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Travis Blackley, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin — in their starting rotation. Parker will start the opener, while Milone will pitch the second game. Strong performances by these youngsters and their relief corps are the reason the A’s posted the AL’s second-best ERA (3.48). Although they hit just .238 as a team, their lineup features three players — Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick — that belted more than 20 homers.

Prediction: A’s in 5

Montreal's Russell Martin collected just three hits in 17 at-bats with the Yankees in last year’s AL Division Series. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees

  • Home Field Advantage: Yankees
  • Regular Season Records: Orioles – 93-69 (2nd in AL East, wild card); Yankees 95-67 (1st in AL East)
  • Season Series: Tied 9-9
  • Playoff History: Yankees defeated Orioles in 1996 ALCS

Analysis: Showcasing Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees lineup is intimidating. Game 1 starter CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA) has battled elbow issues and Hiroki Kuroda posted a 4.71 ERA in September. The veteran Yankees will need solid performances from starters Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87 ERA) and Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23 ERA) and relievers Rafael Soriano (42 saves) and David Robertson (2.67 ERA, 81 strikeouts).

When you look at the Orioles rotation, which features just one pitcher with more than 10 wins (Wei-Yin Chen), you wonder how this team has remained competitive. But right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA) and Chris Tillman (9-3, 2.93 ERA) pitched well down the stretch and Joe Saunders has been a nice addition. But the club’s strength is the bullpen, headlined by AL saves leader Jim Johnson. Brandishing five players with 20 or more homers — Chris Davis (33), Adam Jones (32), Matt Wieters (23), Mark Reynolds (23) and J.J. Hardy (22) — the O’s offence lives and dies by the home run ball. 

Prediction: Yankees in 5