Editor-in-Chief Justin Guglielmetti discusses his picks for the first round of the 2018 Major League Baseball playoffs.
What’s that? It’s finally not 90 degrees outside? October is here, and you know what that means: the baseball playoffs are upon us. It’s been a bizarre year lacking in baseball’s characteristic parity, full of more juggernauts and tankers than any season in recent memory. But this isn’t the NBA, and in what’s gearing up to be an epic postseason, the champ is far from a sure thing.
American League Division Series:
Houston vs. Cleveland: Though this first-round matchup represents a meeting of the last two AL pennant winners, it doesn’t look at first like a contest between equals. The reigning champ Astros have followed up their first-ever World Series victory with a campaign nearly as dominant, winning 100 games and ranking first and second in all of baseball in ERA+ and OPS+ respectively. The Indians, on the other hand, may have run roughshod over a historically terrible Central division, but could finish with only the sixth-best record in the American League and have struggled all year with inconsistent offense and a leaky bullpen. Don’t be fooled though — this series could go either way.
Houston’s Justin Verlander is probably the best individual pitcher between the two clubs, but Cleveland will counter with four starters who could be the ace for most teams: Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger. That quartet became the first ever group of teammates to each top 200 strikeouts, and crucially, they’re all righties. Houston’s lineup contains seven right-handers, including all of their heavy hitters like Jose Altuve and MVP candidate Alex Bregman.
That said, you’re thinking way too hard about this thing if you’re picking a winner based on batter matchups. Cleveland will still need to score runs to win this thing, and that is not going to be easy given Houston’s own impressive rotation and flamethrowing pen. If Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor’s recent struggles continue, the climb will be almost insurmountable. Astros in four.
Boston vs. New York: Oh, you thought I needed to justify the Yankees making it through the Wild Card game to the ALDS? You must be one of my new readers. The Yanks’ faceoff with Oakland is certainly going to be an interesting one, especially if the A’s opt for an all-reliever game, but New York is a 100-win team that just set the major league record for home runs in a season, and they’re playing at home with a matchup against the Red Sox on the line. Please, huh?
Once we get to that juicy rivalry in the division series, it will have the makings of an all-time classic. Even if you disregard the storied enmity between these two franchises, it will be the highest combined win total of any two teams in a first round series in MLB history. The Sox have been the story of the season and should be the favorites after a team-record 108-win season, but giants are slain every year.
Boston is going to score plenty of runs with their league-best offense, led by probable MVP Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, that’s almost made fans forget about the glory days of Manny and Papi. And they have one of the most raucous and passionate home crowds in all of sports behind them. The only problem is: who are they putting out there on the mound?
Chris Sale isn’t fully healthy, no matter what manager Alex Cora says, while Rick Porcello is aggressively mediocre and David Price looks like a JV pitcher called up to the big leagues when he faces New York. Against the New Age Murderer’s Row that the Yankees are fielding in their starting lineup, you can expect a shellacking. To be fair, the Bronx Bombers have had their own difficulties on the mound with ace Luis Severino only recently rediscovering a semblance of his first-half form and Masahiro Tanaka’s continuing maddening inconsistency, but the tale of the tape for the bullpens favors the Yanks by a considerable margin. Yankees in five.
National League Division Series:
So here’s the thing about the Senior Circuit. While the American League’s playoff teams, and even most of its seeding, have largely been decided since late August, the NL’s entire bracket is up for grabs going into the season’s final day. As such, I won’t be able to provide any specific series predictions, but I will run through all five teams briefly.
Chicago Cubs: The 2016 World Series champs look like the National League equivalent of the Indians, armed with an excellent pitching staff, top-of-the-line defense and mediocre bats behind superstar utility infielder Javy Baez. After leading the Central division for most of the second half of the season, the surging Brewers could knock the Cubbies into the Wild Card game, but the experienced trio of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels (any one of whom could start the elimination game) should make the team favorites to advance into the second round regardless.
Milwaukee Brewers: Pulling into a Central Division tie on the season’s final day, the Brew Crew has been one of the biggest surprises of the year. Their dynamic offense led by MVP favorite Christian Yelich is one of NL’s best and most viewer-friendly, ranking first in stolen bases in an increasingly power-driven game. Milwaukee has a bullpen with absolutely filthy stuff, but their starting rotation leaves a lot to be desired. Who is starting in a one-game playoff if that’s what it comes to? Does anyone trust Jhoulys Chacin, who even in a career year has just a 3.53 ERA and 1.18 WHIP? Milwaukee may be better off emulating the Athletics and going for an all-reliever game to give themselves the best chance to move on.
Atlanta Braves: This exciting group of youngsters has arrived on the biggest stage a couple of years earlier than anticipated, and they look primed to make a lot of noise. If you’re a casual fan and don’t yet know the names Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, get ready to watch two of the brightest faces in baseball’s future. Another relatively unknown name, Mike Foltynewicz, leads a decent staff that did an excellent job at suppressing the long ball, allowing the second-fewest home runs in the majors. This could be a crucial advantage if they face Los Angeles or Milwaukee in the first round (both of which rank top-five in the majors in home runs) or if they end up traveling to the thin air of Coors Field.
Colorado Rockies: Colorado loomed on the outskirts of the playoff race for most of the year before surging past the Diamondbacks and pulling even with the Dodgers in the final month. Their advantage in the season series with LA means that they control their own destiny going into the season’s final day, which would tend to favor the offense-heavy teams of the franchise’s past. But these aren’t your grandfather’s Rockies, as they boast one of their all-time deepest pitching staffs. This team can beat you in a lot of ways, and their core, an even mix between youngsters and veterans will be hungry to bring the World Series trophy to Denver for the first time.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Even though LA will likely find itself in the Wild Card game, you can count this team out at your own peril. Amidst all the noise about Clayton Kershaw’s demise, he still finished the year with a 2.73 ERA, and the Dodgers have a bevy of other options behind him. In addition, the midseason acquisition of Manny Machado to stars Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner, as well as the unexpected breakout of Max Muncy, have given Los Angeles the best offense in the National League. Most in the Dodgers organization feel the team has vastly underachieved with six consecutive division crowns and nothing to show for it; perhaps this is the year they finally break through.
Too-early World Series pick: Astros over Cubs