On to the next one. After one anticlimactic victory in the Bronx and an absolute heartbreak at Wrigley, we have narrowed the field to eight. I do feel for Chicago. One day they’re one big hit away from the best record in the National League, and 24 hours later they find themselves out of the playoffs just as it gets started. After a grueling 163 games, their season is as over as the Orioles’ season is… but the validity of the Wild Card game is a discussion for another day. Let’s take a look at the best-of-five Division Series.
Cleveland Indians vs. Houston Astros
The Astros’ journey to repeat as World Champions makes its first stop against Cleveland. One of the first teams to clinch their spot in the postseason, Houston nearly gave up the division lead before ultimately finishing off the final two weeks with a commanding six-game difference. For the Indians, there was hardly any doubt that they would finish at the top of the AL Central. As weak as every other team in that division was, it’s hard to figure why the Indians have the worst record of all playoff teams besides Atlanta… perhaps we are about to find out.
The Astros are the same powerhouse that they were last year, but they are missing one thing: hunger. They have a convincing 103 wins on their resume, but they don’t have the feel of a dominant win-at-all-costs mentality when it counts. A.J. Hinch has proven that he is one of the best managers in the MLB, but he has not instilled the same drive as he did when the Astros claimed their first title in franchise history last year.
The talent is there at the plate with perennial superstars Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman. Arguably more impressive is their starting pitching staff, as my AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander takes the hill in Game 1 following one of the best seasons of his long career. His 2017 playoff exploits are well-documented and he should be a force in 2018 as well. The rotation rounds out with aces Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel along with all-star Charlie Morton. They have all the pieces, but do they want it enough?
The Indians have been surprisingly lackadaisical in their own right…basically the Patriots of the MLB. There isn’t any reason the Indians shouldn’t have run away with their division, and granted, they did by 13 games, but staying under 100 wins worries me. Preseason, I had the Tribe just behind the Astros for the best record in the MLB, so this match-up is very high-profile, and will be very difficult for the Indians to take on without home field advantage.
Cleveland boasts some big bats too. Of course there’s Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Edwin Encarnacion, but now there is the controversial addition of former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Donaldson was on the DL for the Blue Jays when he was reinstated to the MLB roster before being immediately traded and put back on the DL by the Indians. It’s against MLB trade rules to deal an injured player, so this was met with some ire around the MLB. In any case, the man is here now, and we are yet to see what he truly brings to the table for the Indians.
The key for this series is starting pitching. The Astros have the better all-around lineup, and the Indians can control the game beyond the 7th inning. That gives Houston 5 or 6 innings to take a lead and try to hold it. Houston can definitely be confident in their rotation, but Cleveland’s is a question mark. Sure Corey Kluber is one of the best pitchers in the game, but he has yet to play great postseason baseball. Carlos Carrasco is the obvious number two, and he famously missed out on the 2016 World Series run with an injury, so his playoff experience is limited. Beyond that, injuries have left the Indians scrambling for innings, and that will ultimately cost them.
Game 1- Corey Kluber at Justin Verlander, Astros win 4-2
Game 2 – Carlos Carrasco at Gerrit Cole, Astros win 6-5
Game 3 – Dallas Keuchel at Mike Clevinger, Indians win 5-1
Game 4 – Justin Verlander at Corey Kluber, Astros win 2-1
Astros in 4.
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
This is what baseball is all about. The best rivalry in sports in an abbreviated best-of-five playoff series. It’s hard to believe the last time these two giants met in October was the infamous 2004 ALCS that saw the Red Sox come back from an 0-3 hole to win the pennant. The Sox and the Yankees have had two of the best seasons in the MLB this year, and neither wants to have their work undone by their bitter rival. Let’s get into it.
The Red Sox haven’t played a game in five days, and that could be a huge factor in Game 1. Too much rest is definitely a bad thing, especially when they face a Yankees team that has maintained some hot bats as the season came to an end. However, new manager Alex Cora has led Boston to their best regular season in their long franchise history, and there are countless factors to explain it.
First, they have a nearly unstoppable lineup. From top to bottom, Boston has a deadly combination of contact, power, and an ability to get the important hit. I could single guys out like my AL MVP Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but truthfully there isn’t a single guy on that roster that I wouldn’t trust with the bat in his hand. The Yankees pitchers will have to do their homework.
The likes of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and even Eduardo Rodriguez have been superb throughout the summer, but their postseason track records tell a different story. We already saw one of the greatest pitchers of all time get benched in Game 1 for his lack of postseason success, but by the looks of it, the Red Sox are going to try to power through. Either these guys find their form in some of the most heated ALDS action in years, or their legacy is already written in stone, and they crumble under the playoff lights.
This is great news for the Yankees, as their biggest weakness is easily starting pitching. They’re down an ace after Luis Severino started the Wild Card game and spun a gem through four innings before Aaron Boone quickly pulled him from the game. I initially questioned the move, but it worked out in the end as Dellin Betances eliminated the threat and the Yanks cruised into this matchup.
J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka aren’t major steps down, though on paper they are inferior to the Red Sox’s rotation. So, with a small advantage going to Boston’s bats and the pressure on the ace pitchers to play like it in the playoffs, the pressure is on the Red Sox to win. This is sure to be another exciting chapter in this great rivalry, and we are all lucky to see it unfold starting tonight.
Game 1 – J.A. Happ at Chris Sale, Red Sox win 5-3
Game 2 – Masahiro Tanaka at David Price, Yankees win 7-1
Game 3 – Rick Porcello at Luis Severino, Yankees win 6-3
Game 4 – Chris Sale at C.C. Sabathia, Red Sox win 8-5
Game 5 – Masahiro Tanaka at David Price, Yankees win 4-2
Yankees in 5. (I have to go with my preseason World Series Champions)
Colorado Rockies vs. Milwaukee Brewers
I’ll be honest, I never really thought I’d be making a playoff prediction between the NL regular-season champion Milwaukee Brewers and the Colorado Rockies. Both of these clubs have had absolute fairy-tale seasons and it’s going to be a shame to watch one of them bow out now. Before going any further, I know Game 1 happened yesterday, but it hasn’t influenced my overall series prediction.
An advantage that the Brewers have, unlike the Red Sox, is that they haven’t had to wait quite as long for their next game. However, the Rockies haven’t gotten much time to breathe and take in the moment having to play in some extremely important baseball games over the past week. Well, now Colorado made it. How do they respond?
Ironically, it’s been stellar pitching. They are known for the hitter-friendly Coors Field and dangerous bats of Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story, but they have failed to truly produce so far this week. Luckily, the Rockies have played great defense and kept their dreams alive by silencing their opponents’ bats as well. I don’t really expect that to continue, as last night was proof that the Rockies will need to string runs together to win ball games at this level.
The Brewers lucked out last night as they were virtually shut out but for a Christian Yelich two-run homer to give them some comfort. With a pitching staff like Milwaukee’s, who didn’t even have a true starter for Game 1, it’s probably only a matter of time before the Rockies wake up at the plate.
I love the style of the Brew Crew. Yes, Yelich is probably the NL MVP, but even he isn’t truly a “big name”. You have the Bryants, the Altuves, and the Trouts, but the Brewers don’t really have a true star. Across the board they do their job and contribute. Cain, Yelich, Moustakas, Shaw, Aguilar… they do what they’re good at, and they do it well. That wins you an even-matched playoff series.
*Game 1 – Antonio Senzatela at Brandon Woodruff, Brewers won 3-2
Game 2 – Tyler Anderson at Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers win 4-3
Game 3 – Wade Miley at Kyle Freeland, Rockies win 9-2
Game 4 – Gio Gonzalez at German Marquez, Rockies win 4-1
Game 5 – Antonio Senzatela at Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers win 3-2
Brewers in 5
Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
I saw the score for Game 1 here too, but it only reaffirmed my belief that the NL is the Dodgers’ to lose. They have by far the best and most experienced batters, pitchers, and coaches. It really is that simple. The Braves are young and have had a tremendous season out of nowhere, but they have the worst record among playoff teams, and they just aren’t ready for baseball like this. The nothing-to-lose attitude is great, and maybe they can steal a game from L.A. with that mentality, but it isn’t sustainable in a must-win format.
I don’t really have much more to say on the matter. The Dodgers held out Kershaw from Game 1 due to his postseason miscues, and they were still all over Atlanta from the first batter… literally. This should be quick and painless for the Dodger faithful, and at least Atlanta can say they made it this far. Congrats to the NL East Division Champions, it was well deserved and it’s only the beginning with guys like Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman sticking around for the long haul.
*Game 1 – Mike Foltynewicz at Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers won 6-0
Game 2 – Anibal Sanchez at Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers win 2-1
Game 3 – Rich Hill at Julio Teheran, Dodgers win 4-3
Dodgers in 3