The MLB Playoffs are upon us. Now, for the ones who have consistently followed our site for the past few years (I’m obviously being facetious because our old site never worked), you’ll know that every year I make my playoff baseball predictions. It’s true, check the archives if you don’t believe me! I always omitted the two wild card games and fast-forwarded to the division series in each league because, frankly, I’m not a fan of the second Wild Card. All it does is decrease the value of a postseason berth even more. And don’t give me this “it makes the pennant race more exciting” crap, MLB. It’s all about money. Having said all of that, I’m legitimately intrigued by both matchups so I decided to write a brief, short and sweet piece about my views on the games. I’ll do a more in-depth version for the Division Series, LCS, and World Series, but here are your winners Tuesday and Wednesday night:
American League- Houston Astros (86-76) @ New York Yankees (87-75)
There’s no question which team I’m rooting for in this one. Let me give you a couple of hints: I’m from Boston, and I always root for the underdog when my team is not involved. Has there been a better story in baseball this year than the Houston Astros? After being a doormat for years and switching over to the American League, they got hot early, cooled off, REALLY cooled off, but hung on to clinch their first postseason berth in a decade. Their lineup is decent with some pop (230 homers on the season) and a respectable .250 batting average, and they have perhaps the best young middle infield in the league in Jose Altuve (.313/15/66, 38 steals) and Rookie of the Year Candidate Carlos Correa (.279/22/68). Their pitching was surprisingly good this year and finished tops in the AL with a 3.57 team ERA. This Yankees team isn’t the powerhouse that we’re used to seeing in the Bronx, but after two years on the outside looking in, their fans will take it. The Yankees didn’t bludgeon the ball like Toronto did, but they still finished fourth in the American League in homers and hit .251 as a team. Their starting pitching this year was very suspect (4.36 ERA), but the bullpen was superb with Dellin Betances in the 8th (1.50 ERA) and Andrew Miller in the 9th (2.04 ERA, 36 saves). The elephant in the room here is Yanks starter Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA) who gets the ball Tuesday night. He needs to prove to the Yankees and their fans that he was worthy of the hefty contract they gave him two years ago. If he lays an egg, it’s Hideki Irabu all over again. One thing that’s in Houston’s favor is they have their ace Dallas Keuchel on the mound to extend their season. It’s a shame that the Astros couldn’t sew up home field for this one because Keuchel is ridiculous at home (15-0, ERA under 1.00), and he’s just ‘meh’ on the road (5-8, ERA just under 4.00). Still, if you’re Houston, there’s nobody else you’d want on the hill, and the Yankees have a ton of lefties in their lineup. That gives Houston at least a puncher’s chance. Credit the ‘Stros for getting this far, especially after suffering through 90+ losses the previous four seasons, but this is as far as they’ll go. They played lousy down the stretch (11-16 in September) and were even worse on the road (6-10). That doesn’t bode well for them going into the Bronx, even if it’s the Faux Yankee Stadium. I disagree when people say that experience in October doesn’t matter. It matters, and the Yankees have it in spades. Kansas City and the Yankees in the playoffs- it’s the 1970s all over again.
National League- Chicago Cubs (97-65) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64)
Can you even begin to imagine being a fan of the Cubs or Pirates right now? Both teams have depth and have had remarkable seasons, both finishing just shy of 100 wins, and one of them will be teeing off on Thursday morning. That’s hard to swallow. The Pittsburgh Pirates are making their third consecutive appearance in the NL Wild Card Game; all of them at home in PNC Park. Two years ago they battered the Reds to move on to St. Louis, and last year they were blanked 8-0 by Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Champs. The middle of the lineup remains the same with Neil Walker (.269/16/71), Andrew McCutchen (.292/23/96), Pedro Alvarez (.243/27/77), and Starling Marte (.287/19/81). The Pirates can score runs, but will miss the production of Korean import Jung Ho Kang (.287/15/58) who was having a monster rookie year before a takeout slide at second base resulted in a season-ending leg injury. Pittsburgh’s bullpen is still nails, led by NL saves leader Mark Melancon (51 saves, 2.23 ERA), and the starting rotation is solid but not lights out. How does Joe Maddon do it? Forget Manager of the Year in the National League, he’s the best manager in the game. For years he made chicken salad out of chicken sh*t in Tampa Bay with NO financial resources to speak of. Now he’s in a legitimate baseball town managing a club that has deep pockets and will spend whatever is necessary to compete. They’re printing money at Wrigley, which is a far cry from Tropicana Field. The ironic thing is that aside from the Jon Lester acquisition last winter, the Cubs’ talent is mostly home-grown. Anthony Rizzo (.278/31/101) and Kris Bryant (.275/26/99) are in their early/mid 20s and haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what they’re going to be. Shortstop Addison Russell (.242/13/54) was acquired last year in the Jeff Samardzija trade and has been everything they could have hoped for. The most fascinating storyline Wednesday night is the pitching matchup, Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole. Ace vs. Ace. I’m going to throw out two stats:
Arrieta this year against Pittsburgh: 3-1, 0.77 ERA
Cole this year against Chicago: 2-1, 2.13 ERA
Something’s gatta give.
It’s frustrating that one of these two teams is going home because I think they’re the two best teams in the National League. They easily have the most depth, and I kind of feel like we got screwed out of an epic seven game series with these two clubs. It looks like we’ll have to settle for one game, and the Cubs will move on to St. Louis, searching for their first pennant in 70 years, and their first World Championship since 1908. When the Model-T wasn’t yet invented the last time you won a World Series, yyyyeahh…..you’re due…