Well those were two amazing Wild Card Games, weren’t they? My oh my. First we had a bunch of homers, a shot to the nards, a guy missing first base, and the return of the Evil Empire. Then we were blessed with many triples, more homers, bullpen shenanigans, and the inevitable crushing of Rockies fans’ hearts everywhere. It was cute while it lasted.
Now it’s time to get down to business. Or as my friends Jemaine and Brett might say, it’s business time.
ALDS – Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Red Sox: Chris Sale is a monstah. He struck out 36% of the men he faced this year – 308 out of 851 batters. He will be starting games 1 and 5 for the Sox, which is really good news for them. Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez are below average, yet serviceable #2 and #3 starters. Whoever makes it out of the Rick Porcello-Doug Fister not-suck-off will be a super untrustworthy option. If this series goes 5, Boston has to like their chances with Sale going again. The question is, can they win when he’s not on the mound? And if they find themselves down 2-1 heading into Game 4, will they pull the ripcord early and start Sale on short rest?
Astros: The Astros were tied to basically every potentially available starting pitcher at the trade deadline this year – Chris Archer, Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray, etc. They finally made their move at the eleventh hour, trading three prospects for Justin Verlander (and cash) late on the evening of August 31st. All he did was go 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA for Houston in September. He pushes Dallas Keuchel to the #2 spot, where the sinkerballing southpaw is a very qualified option (he was a stretch at #1). Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton give the ‘Stros a fighting chance in Games 3 and 4, as both have demonstrated the ability to deliver five solid innings whenever called upon. If Verlander can match Chris Sale in Game 1, we could be in for one of the great playoff pitcher’s duels in recent memory, but that’s a big if.
Advantage: Astros, just barely. Their depth means a much smaller chance of blowups, and Verlander’s ceiling allows me to dream on him going tit for tat with Stretchpaw.
Red Sox: Craig Kimbrel had one of the all-time great reliever seasons in 2017. He struck out 49.6% of batters – YES HE STRUCK OUT HALF THE HITTERS HE FACED. He also allowed a 0.68 WHIP. He’s as lights-out as they come. Addison Reed is his setup man, who has been great except for a pesky home run problem (11 in 76 innings). That has to make John Farrell nervous, facing an Astros team that can pop one from any spot in the lineup. But the great question here is how David Price will fare back in a relief role. It’s impossible to forget his 14.1 innings of 1.88 ERA ball as Tampa Bay’s fireman in September and October of 2008. If he can rekindle that sensual bullpen flame, that will make a huge difference for Boston. Joe Kelly and Carson Smith have loads of talent, but are worrisome due to control issues and health, respectively.
Astros: The Dragon is the story here. Chris “The Dragon” Devenski, that is, to those among you unaware of his glory. Devenski has been the OxiClean in Astros manager A.J. Hinch’s cabinet: always on hand to mop up a mess. He’s a bullpen nontraditionalist’s dream, and you can bet your biscuit Hinch will be using him often. At the other end of the spectrum is the excellent Ken Giles, who was used as a pretty typical closer, coming in to lock down wins. Will Harris, Joe Musgrove, and Luke Gregerson round out a very good relief corps. Francisco Liriano makes the pen as the lone left-hander, a small weakness for the team.
Advantage: I’m going to give the nod to the Astros again here. And again, it’s very narrow. Like Sale, Kimbrel is the clear best reliever in the series, but good bullpens are deep, and I just don’t trust what the Sox have in front of Kimbrel.
Red Sox: Coming into 2017 I thought this lineup would be great. But I was factoring in a fair amount of growth from guys like Bogaerts, and a lack of regression from guys like Betts. Well, neither of those things happened, and the offense overall is just meh. There’s at least power at most spots in the lineup – Han-Ram (does he still deserve this nickname?) and Mitch Moreland (yawn) can pop a homer, but are more likely to strike out three times. It’s worth mentioning that this is one of the best outfield defenses possibly in history, which could prove very valuable roaming the giant centerfields of Enron—erm Minute Maid Park and Fenway.
Astros: What an astounding group of thumpers these Astros are. Their slow crescendo of a rebuild has finally hit the part where the horn section lights your eardrums on fire. It’s such a cool lineup made of homegrown stars (Altuve, Correa, Springer), veteran grit-n-grinders (McCann, Beltran, Reddick), a legendary Cuban (Yuli Gurriel), and one of my favorite late bloomers (Marwin Gonzalez). Yes, erstwhile utilityman Marwin Gonzalez slashed .303/.377/.530 during a 4+ WAR season in which he played at least 19 games at five different positions. What a boss. The top of the order is as good as it gets – good luck getting out of the first inning without yielding a run to the Springer-Altuve-Correa punch. But it’s really the depth that separates, with talent stacked up even on the bench.
Advantage: Astros, handily.
Prediction: Astros in 3
It’s probably silly to pick against Sale, but I just don’t see him getting through Game 1 unscathed. Houston will rock a righty-dominant lineup, and the Crawford Boxes just beckon for a towering Marwin fly ball to scrape its way over the wall. And if the Astros get Game 1, you can be damn sure they’ll be sweepin’.
ALDS – New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians
Yankees: Well Luis Severino sucks. Right? Right?!? Eh, not so fast. It does seem tough for Yankee fans to trust the young hurler after his Wild Card Game showing, however. And maybe tough for Girardi as well, who appears to be going with Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia for Games 1 and 2. That’s hardly a fearsome duo, though they’ve been through the wars. Tanaka will get Game 3, meaning we won’t see Severino until Game 4, if he goes at all. CC has certainly been in his share of big spots, but is simply a different pitcher at his advanced age. Gray is kind of perfect for this team, because he’s likely to give you 4-5 good innings, just be sure to pull him before it gets ugly. Tanaka is the real wild card – a guy with equal potential for domination and implosion.
Indians: The Indians have the best pitching staff in the history of baseball, according to some. And it all starts up front with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. That’s a lot of hard K sounds for two guys about to produce a lot of Ks. I’m befuddled as to why Terry Francona is going with drone-enthusiast Trevor Bauer in Game 1, but far be it from me to question Tito’s decision-making. After those three the Tribe can choose from Josh Tomlin or Mike Clevinger, two very solid options. The key is obviously Kluber, who should win the AL Cy Young Award over the previously-lauded Chris Sale. Kluber gets two starts if the series goes the full five games, giving Cleveland fans a LeBron’s-forehead-sized helping of confidence.
Advantage: Cleveland, obviously. Girardi should pull his starters after facing 18 hitters, no matter what. It’s his only shot, because …
Yankees: …because Yankees bullpen! Brian “Show Me Da” Cashman created a freakin’ bullpen Hydra of death and dominance. Or at least that’s what Homer would have called it. Well, maybe not a Hydra, because that would mean I’m counting Chasen Shreve as a head, and is Chasen Shreve really the head of a Hydra? Doubtful. And – let’s be honest – is Dellin Betances really the head of a fully functioning Hydra either? Okay, I’ve probably milked that joke long enough. The point is, this bullpen is damn good, as anyone who watched the Wild Card Game can attest. The only problem? Chad Green and David Robertson will be unavailable in Game 1 due to their extended outings against Minnesota. Can’t wait to see how Girardi navigates those turbulent waters. What an odyssey that’ll be.
Indians: The Indians have a good bullpen. But basically every playoff team has a good bullpen. Is this one amazing? No. But it doesn’t have to be. And really, a bullpen is only as good as its last few games, meaning that inevitably one of these supercharged stables of slider-slinging sumbitches will falter. And when it does, it will seem like a bad bullpen. Bullpens are like kickers in that way. We expect them to do the thing, and when they don’t do the thing, we get mad. I’m not saying it will be the Indians bullpen that won’t do the thing, but it certainly might be.
Advantage: Yankees, but you knew that, didn’t you?
Yankees: Aaron Judge is like the best cheeseburger you’ve ever had – but you get to eat four in one sitting. Every time he’s at the plate it’s goddamn go time. It’s super fun. It’s even fun to watch him foul off a pitch, or swing and miss, or stoically take ball two. And then when his at-bat inevitably ends, you feel sated yet also empty inside, like when that last morsel of delicious burger is swallowed, leaving a plate bare of meat. You’re hungry for the next one. If you’re vegan, just mentally substitute bespoke chia seed-okra sheath fakesodillas – yeah that’s the ticket. There are probably some other good hitters in this lineup, but do any of them really matter next to Aaron James Judge? No, the answer is no. I just told you.
Indians: If an ice-cold popsicle on a hot summer day could take human form, it would be Jose Ramirez. He’s the word yes, personified. He’s every single thing that Michael Bublé is singing about. He’s like the love child of Whoopi Goldberg and Gene Wilder with Vlad Guerrero’s DNA in all the right places. But while I’d like to go on and on about Ramirez, I also want to point out all the other talent in this lineup: Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, etc. You’re probably shouting at your iPhone that, no Asa, Lindor is actually the player you should be loving on, and I don’t disagree. But I needed to give Jose the extra love because the world must know his name.
Advantage: it’s very, very, very, very close. I’m going to give this to the Indians by a nosehair, because I like their top 3 of Lindor-Ramirez-Encarnacion slightly better than NY’s Judge-Sanchez-Didi triumvirate.
Prediction: Indians in 5
Is picking a five-game series a cop-out? Of course not, why would I throw myself under the bus like that? Plus, I truly believe it will go the distance. According to ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, these are the two best teams in the AL. And I’m inclined to trust that old fogey. But enough about him, let me take things a step further. I think Cleveland takes Games 1 and 2 (NY feels lack of pen depth in 1, Kluber eats souls in 2), then New York takes 3 and 4 back home (homer-happy, Severino redemption song), and finally Cleveland wins a classic Game 5 at home after Kluber gets chased early and Mike Clevinger takes over to throw 3.2 scoreless relief innings. Book it.
NLDS – Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals
Cubs: I’m not big on this group, despite the talent. Kyle Hendricks is starting Game 1, which is just absolute crap if you ask me. This feels like Joe Maddon overthinking everything. Jon Lester, who’s been downright bad of late, gets Game 2, before Quintana and Arrieta round it out. On paper these guys might look great, but there’s not a single consistent performer in the bunch. High ceiling but low floor. Among these four guys there will definitely be one disaster start, one quality outing, and two very average games. Not a good recipe.
Nationals: This is what a rotation should be. Classic stuff. A #1 starter with heterochromia and a competitive streak so outrageous it’s almost comical. A #2 who is really a #1 in disguise, but whose beta personality has always held him back (working theory). A funky lefty #3 with a curveball that can bend the very fabric of our swiftly tilting planet. It doesn’t even matter who goes in Game 4, honestly. This top three is so good they made me temporarily forget about auto-play video ads.
Advantage: Washington. We all deserve to see a Max Scherzer-Corey Kluber World Series game, and I’ll be damned if the first step on that road doesn’t start on Friday.
Cubs: Wade Davis’s career is really cool. He’s the Rays third round pick in 2004. He then spends five years in the minors, cracking the top 100 prospect lists for four years running. Then he comes to the majors and sucks as a starter. Then he gets traded to the Royals, sucks a little more as a starter, and then shifts to the bullpen. At that point he becomes God, and proceed to throw 241.1 innings of 1.45 ERA, 0.95 WHIP baseball, to go along with 23 wins and 79 saves. Cool life, bro. The rest of the Cubs’ pen is lacking in luster (or lustre, if you prefer), which is why I spent this whole segment on Wade Allen Davis from Lake Wales, Florida. Wait a second, there aren’t any lake whales, are there? Someone slap me.
Nationals: Nats GM Mike Rizzo got funky, dirty, nasty at the trade deadline. Why is that? Because he failed to build a bullpen in the offseason. Why is that? Dunno, just laziness I guess. Either way, Washington has a sweet-ass group of shutdown reliever dudes now. So I guess the real message here is, procrastinating is okay. Get stoned, have a beer, you can cram for that test the night before. Or pick your kid up from school a couple hours late. Whatever, don’t stress. But real talk, Sean Doolittle is amazing, and not just on Twitter. This is a good-not-great group managed by a not-very-good manager. Should go great. Or maybe just good.
Advantage: Eh? This one’s going to come down to whichever side pitches better. When you step out between those white chalk lines, you see what men are really made of. I’ll give a nod to the Cubs, who employ both the afore-lionized Davis, and Carl Edwards, Jr., who is apparently nicknamed The String Bean Slinger, which is fantastic.
Cubs: The Cubs have really good hitters. It’s just, are they really that good? They sure strike out a lot. Or wait, is that just baseball players in general nowadays? These Cubs have power bats, but not a ton of well-rounded guys. They put up a bunch of double-digit run totals in the second half, which is encouraging. Kyle Schwarber’s second half was also encouraging. Plus Javy Baez hit .273. Okay I’m talking myself back into liking this lineup. Fly the W. But that’s Washington’s logo… or is it Walgreens’? Can I start this paragraph over?
Nationals: Is Bryce Harper back to being Bryce Harper? Or is Bryce Harper the same Bryce Harper he always was? Could this Bryce Harper out-Bryce all the other Harpers? Or will he just haunt the Nats’ dugout, a frustrated, rhythmless ghost, unable to find his peace? Here’s the weird thing: even if Harper sucks, this lineup is still bonkers. And I don’t use bonkers lightly. Eternally underrated, goatee-rocking Anthony Rendon is bopping in the middle. Trea Turner is setting tables like a particularly effective busboy (are busboys the ones who set the tables? Would Busboy be a good nickname for Turner? Can someone please re-explain why the Padres traded Turner away?). Daniel Murphy is using his sublime bat-to-ball skills to brainwash us all into forgetting that he’s a public homophobe. And Wilmer Difo has an amazing name.
Advantage: Nats. I won’t even spell their team name with a “G” at the front any more because I have so much respect for this squad. Rake on.
Prediction: Nats in 3
Better lineup, better rotation. Definitely an imbalance in managerial talent, but those guys don’t get to hit and pitch. I see Harper having a statement game in Game 2 or 3, showing us that his belly is indeed still full of fire.
NLDS – Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Diamondbacks: I was all ready to proclaim the greatness of the D-backs’ rotation, but then Zack Greinke went and imploded in the Wild Card Game. Lame. This is still a very talented group, led by Zack the Wizard and former country star Robbie Ray. Taijuan Walker had a very darling little season, which I quite like, because I love win-win trades and that Mariners-Snakes swap appears somewhat even. I do believe these starters can dominate the Dodger lineup, but I also see at least one game getting ugly early. All in all, high variance from Arizona’s starters leading to a little too much leaning on a less-than-stellar pen.
Dodgers: Well it’s all come together for these trolley dodging, no-good bums. They’re not really bums – that’s an old-timey nickname the team used to have when they played in Brooklyn, which you might know if you’re a student of history. If you’re not, screw it; history’s boring. What’s not boring is Rich Hill, and the all-you-can-eat buffet of curveballs he serves up to opposing hitters who, like a Jewish son truly full and not in need of thirds, is unable to fend off his pushy yet extremely loving mother. That was a run-on sentence, but my point is made. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, and an insanely overqualified fourth starter are all in relatively good health and ready to do battle with a very good Snakes lineup.
Advantage: LA, no question. The Darvish acquisition was either the perfect trade, or a theoretically really good trade that worked out badly. Guess we’ll find out!
Diamondbacks: I kinda want to just paste in my analysis of their bullpen I wrote up for my Wild Card Game preview right here and wash my hands of this whole mess. But I have something more pressing to address – Archie Bradley was not good against the Rockies. I saw him as Arizona’s rock, their hard place, their bearded batter-beater. But perhaps he isn’t that. Or perhaps he is, and that Wild Card Game deke was just to throw me off the scent. The scent of his beard. Rich with oil. Heavy with musk. Elon Musk? No, regular musk. Bad bullpen alert. Meltdowns a-comin’.
Dodgers: Kenley Jansen used to be a catcher, isn’t that rad? Now he’s like the best pitcher, so I guess I can grow up and become a journalist, right? Don’t answer that. There’s no room for existentialism in baseball. Or maybe that’s the only thing there’s room for. Hang on I need to call Crash Davis. Back at the ranch, I think Dave Roberts should stick Alex Wood in the bullpen to do crazy, herky-jerky Alex Wood things in the middle innings. The rest of this pen isn’t awful, but it just isn’t inspiring in any way. Tony Watson sounds like a bad jazz pianist whose records are always the only ones they have at the Goodwill. Pedro Baez is the most aesthetically repulsive baseball player to watch, which is why I really hope he makes the roster.
Advantage: Dodgers by default. If the Dodgers make a run to the World Series (spoiler: they won’t), I think it will be in large part because Kenley Jansen has the best playoff reliever performance ever.
Diamondbacks: Damn fine group of bat-men in this outfit. John Wayne would have understood that sentence. And without The Duke around, there ain’t many cowpokes who can wrangle these Snakes. Everything starts with Paul Goldschmidt, whose swing mixes the finesse of a samurai’s katana stroke with the power of a Bowser backhand in Mario Tennis (NOT Wii tennis). After Goldy, Daniel Descalso’s name surely is second off the tongue if you’re naming remarkable D-backs hitters. Mix in a little J.D. Martinez, some A.J. Pollock, other assorted initials, and you’re cooking with gas. Or charcoal. Just not electric, because electric stoves are awful. Talk about technology overstepping its bounds.
Dodgers: I have no idea what to say about this lineup. They have the capacity to be both amazing and terrible, and we’ve seen them both. They are relying on a lot of young players, who classical baseball logic tells us might be running out of steam. I’m not sure I buy that, but there was a precipitous drop in Bellinger boom-times in the latter part of the season. Corey Seager’s a bit of a mystery too – we know his right arm is ailing him, which apparently only affects his throwing. But color me skeptical that such an injury could have zero effect on his bat. And that, my friends, are two sterling examples of the proper use of affect and effect, in consecutive sentences. Final note – if Yasiel Puig goes off in this series, no one will be happier than me. If that occurs, please invalidate my below prediction, because that shit will be moot.
Advantage: D-backs. I just don’t feel confident in the Dodger lineup right now. I believe lots of their success was fool’s gold – or perhaps, more fittingly, fool’s ginger.
Prediction: Diamondbacks in 4
Yeah, I did it! Come at me, bro. @ me, bro. The day of reckoning is here, and LA is in trouble. It’s quite possible that Arizona tragically blows the series thanks to Fernando Rodney, but I believe Torey Lovullo is too smart to let that happen. Or maybe I’m just overcompensating for the fact that I didn’t know who Torey Lovullo was three weeks ago. Truth is, I think Arizona’s forced pitching musical chairs will help them, as they will surge back in Games 2 and 3 to take a series lead after Kershaw wins Game 1. That will leave Dave Roberts in a VERY sticky situation – does he bring back Kersh on short rest? Or hand the ball to Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, or some other such goon? Stay tuned!
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