2015 ALDS & NLDS
Royals in 4
Last year after a long playoff drought the Kansas City Royals came out of the Wild Card Game and made an incredible run all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. This year the Houston Astros are looking to take the same journey. To do so they have to get past those same Royals who are a year wiser and may be even better than the team that came oh so close to winning the World Series. The Astros have a load of young talent and the Royals are pesky and strong, good at building runs in any way possible. The Royals ran away with the American League Central Division this season and finished with the top record in the junior circuit at 95-67. The Astros won the season series, taking four of six meetings, helped by a sweep at Minute Maid Park in June, though the Royals answered back taking two of three in Kansas City just after the All-Star Break. The biggest break for Kansas City is that they will only face Astros ace Dallas Keuchel once, after he blanked the Yankees in the Wild Card Game. It is situations just like this which makes winning the division so important. Had Keuchel been able to roll out and pitch Game 1, with 19-game winner Colin McHugh in Game 2 it could have certainly swung the edge toward Houston. Without Keuchel making two starts the starting pitching edge goes to the Royals. The bullpen edge also belongs to Kansas City, though the loss of Greg Holland can hurt and eliminates the lockdown three innings that made the Royals run last October possible. The Royals are able to build runs with their speed have a better defense and more experience, while the Astros lineup has more raw power, ranking among the top home run hitting teams in baseball. In the playoffs teams that are over reliant on the long ball usually don’t stay around too long. It is teams like the Royals that scratch out runs that tend to be more successful and that is what will happen in this year’s ALDS.
Blue Jays in 3
For the first time in two decades O Canada will be heard before the start of MLB Postseason game as the Toronto Blue Jays ended a 22 year drought and won the American League East. The Jays won the Eastern Division, by abusing as many baseballs as they could with a lineup that in a year where pitching dominated scored more than 100 runs than any other team in baseball with 891. Josh Donaldson leads the Blue Jays powerful lineup with 41 homers and 123 RBI. If you get past Donaldson the likely American League MVP you still have to face Jose Bautista and his 40 homer and 114 RBI and Edwin Encarnacion and his 39 home runs and 111 RBI. Oh My!!! Toronto also got a nice boost with the return of Troy Tulowitzki in the final week after suffering a shoulder injury. If Tulo is hitting the Jays have no weak spots what so ever and will be a nightmare for even the best pitcher. What makes the Jays look even more like a juggernaut is their pitching David Price has been right on the money since being picked up at the trade deadline, posting a record of 9-1 as he led the American League in ERA at 2.45. In addition Marcus Stroman has been nearly unhittable since returning from a knee injury posting a record of 4-0 with an ERA of 1.67 with a 0.97 WHIP. If the Rangers can’t score off the Jays starting pitching this series will be off in a flash. The Blue Jays one week spot is their bullpen, though it is not as bad as it was early in the season, as the ageless LaTroy Hawkins, a throw in from Colorado in the deal that sent Jose Reyes to the Rockies for Tulowitzki has been terrific with a 2.76 ERA in 18 games with Toronto. The Rangers with Prince Fielder do have a strong offense, and could score some runs themselves, but the Rangers don’t have the pitching to suppress the Blue Jays bats, and unless they can win every game 8-7 it does not bode well for Texas. This series has the look of a sweep.
Cubs in 5
Forget Yankees-Red Sox or Giants-Dodgers for a moment, baseball’s other long historic rivalry is Cubs-Cardinals with bad blood going back over a century. While the St. Louis Cardinals have been the model of consistence with 28 playoff appearances and 11 World Championships and 19 World Series appearances since 1926, the Chicago Cubs have well anyone can have a bad century. However, make no mistake the dream is alive in Wrigleyville as the Cubs have been the best team in baseball in the second half led by the inhuman pitching of Jake Arrieta that continued with a complete game shutout of the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game. Of course with Arrieta pitching at PNC Park he will be limited to one appearance in the Division Series, and that will likely be Game 3 at Wrigley Field, which may be the hottest ticket ever for the old ballpark on Chicago’s Northside. The Cardinals were baseball’s only 100 win team and won 11 of 19 meetings with the Cubs in the regular season, though most of their wins were earlier in the season, as the Cubs took four of six games against the Redbirds in September. The biggest concern for the Cardinals has to be health. Yadier Molina will attempt to play with torn thumb ligaments, using a splint. Molina is one of the Cardinals most valuable hitters and is a leader behind the plate. Adam Wainwright is a big question mark as well trying to return from an Achilles’ injury add Stephen Piscotty’s collision in the final week of the season and the Cardinals look like they are limping into the postseason. The Cubs meanwhile are just hitting their stride, the lineup is hitting well with Kyle Schwarber suddenly being a valuable source of power with his Wild Card blast that made the Pirates walk the plank. The big concern for the Cubs has to be the experience factor as most of their players have never been to October, while the Cardinals have been there every year since 2011. However with the Cardinals banged up it is hard to bet against the Cubs at this moment.
Mets in 4
If you love great pitching this is the series for you. The Los Angeles Dodgers have the two headed monster of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, while the New York Mets have the young guns Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndegaard and Steven Matz. The experience edge goes to the Dodgers, who have won the National League West in each of the last three seasons. While the Mets have the best stock futures thanks to their young pitching. Anything the Mets do from here on is gravy, as they ended six years of losing and won the Eastern Division. Not many expected the Mets to be here, but now they have arrived you can expect them to soon become regulars in the postseason party, with the best young staff in baseball. The Mets also have an edge in the bullpen with Jeurys Familia being nearly perfect in the closer role. The Dodgers to have a chance in this series will need Kershaw to get over his October struggles, because opposing deGrom will leave no room for error. The Mets took four of seven games from the Dodgers during the regular season and most games were played before they got their reinforcements at the trade deadline. In fact the Mets hitting was going through some of its worst stretches when the found a way to win two of three in LA. The Dodgers never faced a Mets line up with Yoenis Cespedes. They never even had to get David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud out as both were on the disabled list for all seven games. While the Mets lineup struggled a bit over the final week, I believe their five day break only benefits them. I see the Mets getting to Kershaw in Game 1, and Matt Harvey dealing in Game 3 after Greinke wins a pitcher’s duel against Syndegaard in Game 2. Than with all the pressure on the Dodgers, and all the pressure is on the Dodgers in the NLDS who are likely playing for Manager Don Mattingly’s job leads to Kershaw on short rest in Game 4, and for the third straight years he gets hammered on short rest with the Mets winning in four.