2017 ALDS & NLDS
Indians in 3
The New York Yankees got past the Twins as expected in the Wild Card Game, but they had to stretch out their bullpen more than expected as Luis Severino only managed to retire one batter in the first inning. David Robertson was key to the Yankees win, pitching three and a third innings to earn the win, as the Yankees overcame Severino’s awful start by bashing Ervin Santana. Santana has always struggled against the Yankees, especially in the Bronx. The Cleveland Indians, who have a 33-4 record since August 24th has a much deeper starting staff and a solid bullpen, with playoff experience looking to erase the heartbreak they felt after losing Game 7 to the Cubs last year. Early on in their historic 22-game winning streak, the Indians went into Yankee Stadium and won three straight, including a doubleheader by a combined score of 17-7. Overall the Tribe won five of seven games against the Yankees, as the Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer each won a pair of games. If the Yankees are to have a chance they will need to steal one of the first two games at Progressive Field because if they get down 0-2, a team that young and inexperienced will likely fold under the pressure. The future is no doubt bright for the Yankees as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will thrill fans for years to come. In Cleveland, the future is now, as players like Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Edwin Encarnacion provide a potent and powerful heart of the order that is difficult for even the best pitchers to overcome. Meanwhile, at the back end of the game, the Tribe have the combo of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller who dominated in the postseason last October and appeared poised for another run. If the Yankees are lucky they win one game, but the Indians and Manager Terry Francona probably won’t even allow it to get that far as they sweep this one in three straight.
Astros in 5
As the regular season came to an end, the Houston Astros were playing their best baseball, winning 22 of their last 30 games after struggling in August. A big spark for the Astros strong finish was the acquisition of Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers at the 11th hour on the August 31st postseason roster deadline. In five starts with the Astros, Verlander was nearly unhittable, posting a record of 5-0 with a microscopic 1.06 ERA and 43 strikeouts. The Astros late season pick up will face Chris Sale in the opener against the Boston Red Sox. Sale, had a terrific season in his first year in Boston, posting a record of 17-8, with an ERA of 2.90 with 308 strikeouts. However, Sale appeared to be running out of gas late in the season, as he won just three of his last seven decisions over the final six weeks of the regular season. However, in the Division Series Sale will have a tough time getting Houston to go down swinging as they are the best team in the majors at making contact, with players like Jose Altuve, who at .347 posted the best batting average in MLB in 2017. Meanwhile, with players like Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez and George Springer in the middle of the order, the Astros had a .830 OPS against left-handers. The Red Sox all season sorely missed David Ortiz’s bat in the middle of the lineup, come October they will also miss his presence and ability to get clutch hits as nobody stepped up to fill his shoes. The only true matchup advantage held by Boston is their bullpen, with Craig Kimbrel being nearly automatic in the ninth inning. A big addition to the Red Sox pen could be David Price, who after struggling as a starter was solid in relief in the final games of the season. The Red Sox were an incredible 15-2 in extra-inning games, this season, if they can somehow survive the early part of the game, they could win the series using late-inning matchup. In the end, it will come down to hitting and I just don’t see who will get the big hit for Boston this time around as the Astros win in five.
Dodgers in 4
For much of the summer, the Los Angeles Dodgers were the biggest story in baseball, as they had the best stretch in the history of the game posting a record of 55-11 from June 6th until August 25th. This prompted Sports Illustrated to ask if they were the best team ever. That question was quickly answered as they lost 16 of their next 17 games. The Arizona Diamondbacks played a big role in the Dodgers September swoon, winning six games in a pair of sweeps. In one game at Dodger Stadium J.D. Martinez belabored Dodger pitching hitting four runs in a game on Labor Day. That was part of a three-game sweep in Los Angeles in which Arizona outscored the Dodgers 19-3. While the Dodgers posted the best record in MLB at 104-58, earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the World Series, the Diamondbacks were hardly intimidated, as they won the season series 11-8. As the regular season came to an end the Dodgers began to resemble that magical team from June, July, and August, winning eight of their last ten games. The Diamondbacks meanwhile, are coming off a tough battle in the Wild Card game against the Colorado Rockies, as Zack Greinke struggled after being staked to a 6-0 lead and removed in the fourth inning. This forced Manager Toey Lovullo to use Robbie Ray, who would have started Game 1 of the Division Series. This now leaves the Diamondbacks pitching rotation scrambled as they face the frontline Dodgers pitching. For Los Angeles, this is the October that Clayton Kershaw must come up big. For all his greatness in the regular season, winning three Cy Young awards, Kershaw has often struggled in the playoffs. This year Kershaw tied the D-Backs in knots, winning two games with an ERA of 0.56. More than any of the four division round series, Game 1 will likely tell the story of how this series will go. If the Diamondbacks are able to get to Kershaw the Dodgers will be in trouble, but if he shuts them down it will be over quickly. Look for L.A. to win in four games.
Cubs in 5
For the first time in 109 years, the Chicago Cubs are playing games in the postseason as defending World Champions. For the Cubs, the year after the drought ended was at times a battle of attrition as they suffered through a World Series hangover in the first half, as they had a sub .500 record at the All-Star Break. The second half was a different story for the Cubs as they looked like the 2016 version, posting a record of 49-25. The Washington Nationals meanwhile, cruised in the National League East, clinching in the second week in September as the rest of the division was terrible. Without playing an important for three weeks, are the Nats in danger of being caught in a state of complacency as the playoffs begin? Injuries are a concern for Washington as Bryce Harper has only seen limited action over the last six weeks after his scary-looking knee injury, while their top pitcher Max Scherzer had a tender hamstring at the end of the season. The Cubs ironically have the same concern with Jake Arrieta, who won’t pitch until Game 4. The Nationals meanwhile are holding at hope they can use Scherzer in the opener at home, if not they are more than happy to roll out Stephen Strasburg who was nearly as good. A big part of the Cubs second half turnaround was waking up their sleeping bats, as Antony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber were among the NL leaders in OPS after the break. On the mound, the Cubs got a big boost from Jose Quintana who was acquired at the break from the White Sox and posted a 7-3 record with a 3.74 ERA. Each team has deep lineups, with Daniel Murphy in the middle being a notorious Cubs killer. This series has five games written all over it and that could be bad news for Washington, as Manager Dusty Baker has never fared well in those clincher games. Since Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, Baker is 1-12 in games in which his team could advance in the playoffs with four different teams including the 2003 Cubs. Look for the Cubs to continue that frustration and win in five.