2017 ALCS & NLCS
Astros in 5
The New York Yankees were not expected to compete this year, but they made the playoffs and won the Wild Card round. They were not expected to beat the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, but after trailing 2-0, won the last three games and now sit four games away from playing in the World Series where once again they will be an underdog against the Houston Astros.
The Houston Astros are right on schedule where they were scuffling with three straight 110 loss seasons at the start of the decade, the plan was to build through the farm system with a series of good drafts to develop a strong nucleus from within. As the young talented prospects began to trickle up to the majors, Sports Illustrated boldly predicted the Astros would win the World Series in 2017. In the season that SI predicated greatness for Houston, the Astros rocketed up to the top of the American League West and won the division going away, with a 101-61 season.
The Astros have a deep lineup that has no easy outs 1-9, with Jose Altuve, put up an MVP type season leading the league in hitting, with a .346 average and displaying sneaky power as displayed with his three-homer game in the opener of the ALDS against the Red Sox. Up and down the lineup the Astros have terrific hitters, with George Springer and Josh Reddick providing big hit at the top, Carlos Correa in the middle, and Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel at the bottom of the order. In the Division Series, they smacked around Boston’s pitching staff from the start as their starters had trouble getting past the first three innings. The Yankees line up can also be strong, but its backed by so many younger players it can often be streaky. Aaron Judge, the likely Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate hit 52 home runs but struck out 15 times in the ALDS. One Yankee who appears to be carrying the load is Didi Gregorius whose three-run blast turned around the Wild Card game and two home runs won Game 5 of the ALDS in Cleveland. If Gregorius can continue his clutch hitting the Yankees will have a fighting chance.
The Yankees may have gotten great pitching in the Division Series, with Masahiro Tanka and Luis Severino’s great start being key to the comeback. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have a tremendous edge in that department. Especially with Keuchel, who has mastered the Yankees in his career. Keuchel has the lowest ERA among all pitchers in MLB history who has made at least six starts against the Yankees (1.41). This does not include his six-shutout innings against New York in the 2015 wild-card game. The Yankees have had some success against Verlander, but to get an edge against Houston they have to figure out Dallas Keuchel who could possibly make three starts in the series goes the distance.
If the game gets into the bullpen the Yankees will have the edge, as Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Khanle and Chad Green have been strong throughout the playoffs. Ken Giles was solid in closing out the Red Sox in Game 4, but the rest of the Astros bullpen has been shaky at times.
In the end, the Yankees have a bright future and could be playing the Astros in the postseason for years to come, but this is Houston’s turn. This was when they were expected to reach new heights and will reach the World Series in five games as Dallas Keuchel continues to confound the team in pinstripes.
Dodgers in 6
It’s the rematch the Los Angeles Dodgers have been waiting an entire year for as they face the Chicago Cubs, in the NLCS for the second consecutive season. Last year, the Cubs won in six games on the way to winning their first World Series in 108 years. Last year the Cubs were the big favorites going into the series as they topped 100 wins and were the best team in baseball. This season it is the Dodgers who won 104 games and had the best record in MLB.
The Dodgers spent most of the summer as the dominant team in baseball as they went 56-11 between June 6th and August 25th. While Los Angeles went on an extended slump at the start of September, they ended the season strong and look to be regaining the dominance of summer as they easily dispatched the Diamondbacks in three straight games during the Division Series. The Cubs, meanwhile after winning the World Series, slept walk through the first half of the season as they went into the All-Star Break under .500. The Cubs played stronger in the second half and won the Central Division. In the NLDS it was a struggle again for the Cubs as they needed five games to slip by the Nationals, surviving a 9-8 slugfest in the finale.
The Cubs can win this series, they still have many of the same pieces that made history last October. They have a strong lineup that came alive in Game 5 in Washington, with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber all providing the ability to deliver the big hit. The Dodgers also have a deep lineup, with likely Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger providing the lightning in the bottle that helped propel the Dodgers magical summer run, breaking the National League record with 39 home runs for a rookie. Justin Turner meanwhile provided a big spark against the Arizona in the Division Series, and could be the key for the Dodgers as the NLCS, with his ability to deliver clutch hits.
Pitching could be the Dodgers biggest edge as Clayton Kershaw again had a Cy Young type season. Last year in Game 2 of the NLCS, Kershaw had his best career postseason start, before losing Game 6 with the Cubs moving on to the World Series. In the Division Series, he allowed four home runs against the Diamondbacks but got the win thanks to the Dodgers bats. This is the biggest key for Los Angeles as Clayton Kershaw has always struggled in the postseason. It the main reason, despite their recent success they have yet to reach the World Series. However, this time around the Dodgers have a deeper rotation, with Yu Darvish, Alex Wood and Rich Hill all having solid seasons. The Cubs pitching is again led by Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester along with Jose Quintana whose midseason acquisition from the White Sox was key to the Northsider’s season half turnaround.
The Dodgers also have an edge in the bullpen as Kenley Jansen was nearly automatic in the ninth inning. Wade Davis had solid year for Chicago, and was key to surviving the NLDS, pitching two and a third inning in the finale for the save.
Last season when the Dodgers began the NLCS, it was their pitching staff that was stretched thin, due to a five-game war with Washington. This time around it is the Cubs pitching staff that is stretched out. While the Cubs are more likely to overcome such an obstacle doing it in the World Series, you have to wonder just how much is in the tank after three straight trips to the NLCS. The Dodgers have the pieces, they have home field edge and they have players to need to win. It is their turn, and that is why they will win in six games.