Predictions Made October 11, 2019 at 11:50 pm ET
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Yankees in 6
It is almost too easy to declare that the ALCS is the real World Series. That has been said before, only for there to be an upset. However, with the Los Angeles Dodgers getting knocked out in the Division Series, the focus of baseball is on the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros in the ALCS as the main event, with the NLCS feeling more like the October undercard.
The Houston Astros have an advantage with their starting pitching, as Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are going to finish 1-2 in the voting for the Cy Young Award. However, by being pushed to a fifth game in the Division Series by the Rays, the advantage has become somewhat muted as they will have Zack Greinke making the start in Game 1. Greinke has struggled during his career in the playoffs, including a loss to Tampa in the ALDS.
The New York Yankees' most significant advantage comes with their bullpen. Aroldis Champman has been strong at closing games all year, while Adam Ottovino and Zack Britton have been great in the setup roles. This is a major advantage in that it shortens the game, and in modern baseball, that can be more important than a quality start, as those last few of the 27 outs are often the most difficult.
Both teams have strong hitting and deep lineups, both teams have dangerous bats that can light up the scoreboard. From Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and George Springer on the Astros to Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton, this is a series of big stars.
When these met two years ago, all seven games were won by the home team, as the Astros moved on to win their first-ever World Series, while the Yankees made a managerial chance having Aaron Boone replaced Joe Girardi. It is quite possible the same result could happen again, as both teams have significant home-field edges.
Thus far things have played out in the Yankees favor, as they swept the Twins in the NLDS, while the Astros were pushed to a fifth game by the Rays. This little hair could be the deciding factor when the matchup is this close. Gerrit Cole could be the x-factor as nobody pitching better at the moment, but having to wait for Game 3, will blunt that advantage and help the Yankees win in six.
Cardinals in 7
Neither of these teams was expected to reach the NLCS as the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals were both underdogs in their Division Series matchups and needed to win the fifth game on the road. The St. Louis Cardinals are used to this stage, having been a regular in the NLCS over the last ten years, with four straight appearances 2011-2014, winning twice. The Washington Nationals meanwhile are making their first appearance since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos.
With their comeback in Game 5, the Nationals could have some magic going on. They do have an edge in starting pitching just by having Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg able to start. When the game gets to the bullpen is when things get tricky for the Nats, as their bullpen has struggled at times. While the pen pitched well in the division series, there were just too many blown games in the regular season not to be concerned.
Carlos Martinez has struggled in the bullpen during the postseason for the Cardinals, and that has to be a concern. One player who has been important for the Cardinals staff has been Jack Flaherty, who earned the win in Game 5, after being the top pitcher in the National League in the second half of the season.
The Cardinals may have a deeper lineup. Still, the Nationals have more dangerous hitters as Anthony Redon and Juan Soto are capable of turning a game around at any moment, just as Clayton Kershaw. Yadier Molina is the biggest key for St. Louis as he has a history of getting postseason hits, as he tied the game and won Game 4 with a sacrifice fly in the Division Series. The rest of the Cardinals lineup will focus on small ball and getting on base for Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna.
Both teams come into the series with emotion, while there may be some extra pressure on the Cardinals, as the Nats are playing with house money. The Cardinals must hold serve at home as this series gets dangerous if the Nationals can steal any of the first two games in St. Louis without Stephen Strasburg. Ultimately the bullpens will make the difference. In a seven-game series, weaker links in that pen are more likely to be exposed. That is where the Cardinals will make the breakthrough and take the series in seven games.