Looks like I was 1-for-2 in my Wild Card predictions, so I’ll settle for a .500 batting average. Give it up for the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs for going on the road and winning huge ballgames to move on the Division Series. Dallas Keuchel graduated from ‘boy’ to ‘MAN’ in New York, throwing six scoreless innings on three days rest…that rebuild in the Space City appears to be well ahead of schedule. And Jake Arrieta? Okay, who the hell kidnapped the Jake Arrieta from Baltimore and replaced him with Tom Seaver? My God, what a difference a change of scenery (and league) can make. I still hate the one game playoff for the Wild Card, but at least that’s over with. Here we go….my predictions for the American and National League Division Series.
Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Don’t expect much pitching in this series. This is going to be like watching an NFL game: offense, offense, offense. For Toronto, the addition of David Price definitely helps, but the rest of their rotation is average. Marco Estrada has been good (13-8, 3.13 ERA, 181.0 IP, 131 Ks) and Mark Buehrle turned in an okay season (15-8, 3.81 ERA, 198.2 IP), and that’s about it. This crew isn’t Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. Pitching weaknesses aside, when you have a lineup with Tulowitzki (.280/17/70 with Colorado and the Jays), Bautista (.250/40/114), Encarnacion (.277/39/111), and Donaldson (.297/41/123), you’re never out of a game. The Rangers lost Yu Darvish for the year, Prince Fielder was coming off of neck surgery, and nobody knew what to expect. Texas traded for Cole Hamels at the deadline, a move that was made for 2016. Despite what they say, nobody expected this trade to pay dividends in 2015. Hamels went 7-1 for Texas after the trade and, despite being 8 games back on August 1st, contributed to their 38-22 tear through the last two months to win the AL West. This one is a close one to call. The staffs and bullpens are basically even, Price and Hamels at the top of each rotation is a wash, Toronto had the best second half in baseball (48-23) with Texas not far behind (46-28), so it comes down to whose lineup do you like better? I’ll go with Toronto in a slugfest.
Prediction: Blue Jays in 5.
Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
Well, the Astros shut me the hell up. Houston grew up a lot the other night in the Bronx, knocking off the Yankees and moving on to the ALDS. Their rotation is already behind the 8-ball with Keuchel going in the playoff game, so Collin McHugh (19-7, 3.89 ERA) will likely get the Game 1 start opposite Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08 ERA) who hasn’t lived up to his stuff in 2015. One good sign for Ventura and KC is that after a 4-7 start to his season he rebounded nicely, finishing with a 9-1 record over his final 15 starts. The Royals stumbled a little bit in September and Johnny Cueto has been a bit of a disappointment (4-7, 4.76 ERA- 7-6, 2.62 ERA while with the Reds), but I still think that Kansas City is the class of the American League. They don’t have the best lineup, they don’t have the best starting rotation, but they have a little bit of everything- they can hit, their power is much better this year than last season (95 homers last year as a team, 139 this year), they can run the bases, the defense is top-notch, the rotation still gets desired results, and the bullpen is still unhittable in the late innings. It’s the same formula this season as it was a year ago: get on base, create havoc on the base paths, get to the 6th inning with a lead, turn it over to the bullpen, ballgame. Expect this series to be more of the same, as the Royals go for back to back AL pennants. The Rangers won back to back AL crowns in 2010 and 2011, but fell short in the Fall Classic twice. This Royals team can finish the job.
Prediction: Royals in 4.
New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
I’m confused about something. The Mets stressed for weeks that they wanted home field (shouldn’t you always want home field?) because they didn’t want to face Kershaw and Greinke in LA in the shadows. It obviously makes sense; you’d like to avoid facing guys who throw 100 miles per hour in a sun field. But…the Mets will have Noah Syndergard (9-7, 3.24 ERA, 166Ks in 150.0 IP) and Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA, 205 Ks in 190.0 IP) going in the first two games, and they’ll provide the exact same problem for the Dodgers’ lineup, no? Kershaw had an off year by his impossible standards (16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 Ks…terrible, huh?), but Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66 ERA, 200 Ks) responded with the best season of his career. The starting pitching is close, and with Matt Harvey’s status a mystery I’m tempted to make the safe pick and go with the Dodgers. But….I can’t overlook how hot the Mets have been since the break, especially after the addition of Yoenis Cespedes (17 HRs, 44 RBI since the trade). And I like how the Mets round out their rotation, with Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese, better than LA does. The Amazins are going to advance to their first NLCS since 2006, and the Dodgers and Magic Johnson will be languishing in yet another offseason shaking their heads, wondering what went wrong.
Prediction: Mets in 5.
Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals will never admit it, but I doubt that they wanted to play the Cubs in the NLDS. I know that St. Louis won 11 of their 19 meetings this year, but 9 of those 11 wins came in the first half. See what I’m getting at? The Cubs have handled the Cardinals recently, and with the roll that Jake Arrieta is on, and with Jon Lester’s postseason track record, I think their success is going to continue. Despite losing Adam Wainwright for nearly the entire season, Carlos Martinez to the 60-day DL, and starting catcher Yadier Molina to a busted thumb, the St. Louis Cardinals still managed to win 100 ball games in the best division in baseball. That’s saying something, and they still have John Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA) and Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38 ERA) to fall back on, but not much else. The Cardinals scored 647 runs this season, which is WAY down from the 783 runs they scored two years ago when they won the NL pennant. In fact, only one regular in their lineup, Matt Carpenter, hit 20 home runs (28). That doesn’t bode well for the Red Birds considering the buzz saw that they’re about to play next week. So having said all of this, I like the Cardinals in a sweep. (Kidding). Every year, a team enters the playoffs with that ‘look.’ That ‘it’ factor. You saw it with the Giants and the Royals last year. You saw it with the Red Sox two years ago. I see that look in the Cubs, and it’s scary….scary good.
Prediction: Cubs in 4.