With the Major League Baseball regular season having come to an end, and with the postseason starting this week, I have decided to preview the Wild Card and Divisional Rounds of the playoffs and even make a few outlandish predictions as to how they will turn out. Here is a brief analysis of each series the way I see them at the moment:
American League Wild Card: After squeaking into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season thanks to a Rangers defeat of the Angels, the Houston Astros visit the Bronx for a win-or-go-home showdown with the New York Yankees.
There are two teams headed in contrasting directions. The Astros enter the postseason having won six of their final eight regular season games, while the Yankees enter having lost six of their last seven.
My take: I’m picking Houston. This team has been a surprising story all season, so if they pull off an upset and beat the more experienced and, quite frankly, better Yankee ball club, I will not be the least bit shocked. I like Houston’s young core, their enthusiasm for reaching the playoffs for the first time in a decade and their winning momentum. I don’t think they will be overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment in the new Yankee Stadium, where the fans don’t show nearly the same passion they did in the old park.
National League Wild Card: The Chicago Cubs travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates in a matchup of NL Central foes. On Wednesday, two of the best pitchers in baseball, Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole, will toe the rubber in an epic pitchers’ duel on paper.
Both teams are coming into this postseason on sizzling hot streaks, as the Cubs have won fifteen of their nineteen games, including eight in a row, and the Pirates have claimed victories in eleven of their last fifteen.
To make this game even more difficult to predict, these two rival clubs have had extremely similar seasons, with the Cubs finishing with a record of 97-65, and the Pirates 98-64, and have had a relatively level head-to-head record, with the Cubs winning eleven of their nineteen games.
My take: I’m rolling with the Cubs. Although this will be Pittsburgh’s third appearance (1-1 record) in the Wild Card game in the four years since its integration and therefore they have more experience in this situation, I am a believer in this Cubs team. The exciting young players and solid seasoned veterans are a terrific mix, the team is fantastic in divisional games (with a 46-30 record this season) and new manager Joe Maddon has had postseason success before. All aboard the bandwagon.
AL Divisional Series: The Texas Rangers triumphed over the Astros and Los Angeles Angels for the AL West division title, but willrun into the high-powered Toronto Blue Jays in this ALDS showdown.
My take: The Rangers are a very good ball club with a solid pitching staff and proven stars, but the Blue Jays are playing at an elite level this season. Toronto’s pitching staff gets the slight nod over Texas’, and players like Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki have the ability to take over a series and lead the talented cast of characters behind them. The Price is right for the Jays in this series, and I’m picking them to advance to the Championship Series.
Depending on who wins the Wild Card game, the Kansas City Royals will play either the Astros or the Yankees with home-field advantage. As the reigning AL champions, the Royals have both quality postseason experience and a target on their backs as playoff favorites.
My take: The Royals finished with the best record in the American League at 95-67, and are strong in every aspect of the game, with top-notch starting and relief pitching and stars like Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, and Eric Hosmer shining as bright as ever. I’m picking them to take down whoever comes their way in the Divisional Series.
NL Divisional Series: Whatever happens in the Wild Card game, we are guaranteed another duel between NL Central adversaries, as the St. Louis Cardinals await the winner of the Cubs-Pirates Wild Card game.
My take: The Cardinals are so good and hold home-field advantage, having finished the season with the best record in the Major Leagues at 100-62. With a star-studded lineup featuring Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter and more, as well as a rotation and bullpen with the likes of John Lackey, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Adam Wainwright, and Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals are well-rounded and simply great. However, this is one I’m picking with my heart. If the Cardinals play the Pirates, they will advance to the NLCS, but if the Cubs play the Cards in the NLDS, as I predicted, then I’m sticking with them to reach the NLCS. Despite St. Louis having a balance of excellent young and veteran players in all areas, I think the Cubs have what it takes to pull off an upset, and I am pulling for them to do so.
The New York Mets face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS in a matchup of the NL East and West winners. The Mets are in the midst of a tremendous turnaround year after six sub-.500 seasons and are rolling right along behind the outstanding play of acquisitions Yoenis Cespedes, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, as well as leaders Curtis Granderson, David Wright and Lucas Duda. The Dodgers have enjoyed success as a result of superb pitching from NL Cy Young contenders Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, as well as great play from Adrian Gonzalez and company.
My take: My head says Dodgers, but my gut says Mets. Not only can the Mets’ pitching staff, with Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey, match up with the stellar Dodgers counterparts, but the lineup can as well. Above all, the Dodgers just seem like a team that should win but never do. No matter how high their payroll is and no matter how incredibly their stars perform in the regular season, they always seem to underperform – or shall I say, choke – when the lights get brightest and the stakes get highest. I feel another squandered opportunity coming this year from the Dodgers, so I’m picking the Mets.
Book these picks for the next round.