Ah, it is finally that time of year. The leaves are turning colors, the air is becoming crisper and the days are becoming shorter. That can only mean one thing: Playoff baseball is around the corner. Forget what Andy Williams said. This is the most wonderful time of the year because this is postseason baseball. Here is a preview of all of the matchups, including a prediction on who will win the World Series.
American League Wild Card Game (winner plays KC)
Houston Astros (86-75) at New York Yankees (87-74)
Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA ) vs Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA)
Both the Houston Astros and New York Yankees are ending playoff droughts when they face off Tuesday night for the American League Wild Card game in the Bronx.
It has been a longer time for the Astros, as this is their first taste of the postseason since making a run to the World Series in 2005, compared to the Yankees’ two year drought.
Tuesday night will definitely be a treat for baseball fans. American League Cy Young contender and 20 game winner Dallas Keuchel takes the hill for Houston and is going up against the Yankees’ ace, Masahiro Tanaka.
Only one game separates the records of the two teams, and that one game could play a deciding factor into who ends up advancing to the Divisional Round. The Astros boasted one of baseball’s best home records in all of baseball at 53-28. Unfortunately for them, the game isn’t being played in Houston – it’s on the road, a place where the Astros haven’t played well this year, with a record of 33-48.
The most wide spoken matchup in any playoff duel is the two starting pitchers, and it’s no difference here. The Astros’ Dallas Keuchel ranks among one of baseball’s best pitchers in the game and comes in as a strong choice of taking home the AL’s Cy Young award.
Keuchel has shined against the Yankees in his two starts against them, one being a stellar performance. On June 25 in Houston, Keuchel hurled a complete game shutout six hitter in which he struck out twelve. Keuchel kept a clean slate against New York in his second and final performance against the Bombers in late August as well, when he tossed seven innings of scoreless ball.
His counterpart in Masahiro Tanaka failed to replicate any similar success in his one start against the Astros. In a game at Houston on June 27, the former Japanese All-Star lasted only five innings while surrendering a whopping 6 runs.
As for the season series between the two clubs, the Astros took two out of three in games played at Yankee Stadium, including a 15-1 rout that took place on August 25.
THINGS TO KNOW / WATCH FOR
– The Yankees were 7-5 and had a .253 batting average with 14 home runs and 45 RBI’s against pitchers they were facing for a third time this season, according to STATS. Tuesday night will be their third appearance against Dallas Keuchel.
– Keep an eye out for aggressive base running. The Astros were at the top of the American League in the stolen base category this season and will most certainly use their speed to generate runners in scoring position. Jose Altuve is a strong threat to do so, as he finished fifth in the A.L. with 38 stolen bases.
– Both Keuchel and Tanaka are known for their signature pitches. Keuchel is known for his nasty slider that comes in on righties, while Tanaka has the weapon of his splitter, which drops right off the table on opposing hitters. If one of the two pitchers struggles with command and accuracy with their go-to pitch, they may find themselves in trouble.
PREDICTION: Astros 4, Yankees 2.
Keuchel: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 8 K, 2 ER
Tanaka: 6 1/3 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 3 ER
National League Wild Card Game (winner plays St. Louis)
Chicago Cubs (97-65) at Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64)
Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA) vs Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60 ERA)
Perhaps the most anticipated game in recent Wild Card history is the pairing of the Chicago Cubs against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The two teams, which find themselves as the second and third best teams in the league, are set for a duel that could go down as one of the greatest games in recent history.
The Cubs are lead by N.L. Cy Young frontrunner Jake Arrieta. The twenty-nine year-old right hander boasts an incredible 22 win season, the most in the National League.
Arrieta has been dominant against nearly every team he has faced this season, and that list includes the Pittsburgh Pirates. In five games started against Pittsburgh, Arrieta put up a 3-1 record, including one no decision. In those five starts, Arrieta gave up only three earned runs. If Pittsburgh is looking to move on to the next round, their bats are going to need to heat up.
Pittsburgh is also putting out its ace on the hill in Gerrit Cole. Though he isn’t as dangerous as Arrieta, Cole still put up solid numbers this year, winning nineteen games. Cole has faced the Cubs twice this year, beating them once with a seven-inning one run performance. However, the Cubs did come alive against him recently in Pittsburgh on September 15 when they tallied six runs.
Jake Arrieta isn’t the only thing that is on fire in the Cubs organization. The Cubs offense has been potent against Pittsburgh pitching this season. Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs power slugging first baseman, is hitting .352 against the Pirates and also holds a .986 OPS. Rizzo isn’t the only Cubs hitter troubling the Pirates either, as Kris Bryant has put up solid offensive numbers. He’s hitting .400 and has a .494 on base percentage and a .577 slugging percentage.
Pittsburgh’s sluggers have lacked similar success against the Cubs this year. All-Star Andrew McCutchen has an average of only .222 against the Cubs. If McCutchen is off his game Wednesday night, the Bucs are going to need other members of the offense to step up.
THINGS TO KNOW/ WATCH FOR
– Defense is going to play a key role in this game. Two players to keep an eye on are Starlin Castro and Pedro Alvarez. Castro was tied third for most errors in the majors this year with 24 and Alvarez was only one behind him with 23. If one of these players makes a mistake, it could easily prove disastrous for their team.
– The bullpens of both teams are going to provide an interesting addition to this game. Both the Cubs and Pirates boast well rounded out relief staff. If either of the two starters in the game struggle early and the team has to make a call to the bullpen, it may not be as disastrous as it seems on paper.
– As previously said, Andrew McCutchen has only batted .222 against the Pirates this year, while Rizzo and Bryant have both shined for the Cubs. If the Cubs are able to get men on base with the middle of their order up, it may be a long night for Pittsburgh.
PREDICTION: Cubs 6, Pirates 2
Arrieta: 7 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 ER
Cole: 6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 4 ER
American League Division Series
Texas Rangers (88-74) vs Toronto Blue Jays (93-69)
Playoff baseball is returning north of the border for the first time since 1993, as the Toronto Blue Jays won the American League East this year and will face off against the Texas Rangers.
One thing that is definitive about this matchup is that there will be offense, and lots of it. Toronto has an extremely potent offense, with AL MVP frontrunner Josh Donaldson leading the way with 41 homers. Jose Bautista is next with 40 and Edwin Encarnacion has 39.
In terms of team batting, Toronto and Texas are right at the top. Toronto blows every team out of the water when it comes to runs scored with 891. The next closest is the Yankees, who have 764.
Key additions are prime to the success of these two teams. Both were trailing in their divisions before they made acquisitions that pushed them to the top. The Blue Jays brought in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki who immediately provided a spark and pushed the Jays to a win streak during the summer months.
The Jays also got starter Marcus Stroman back into the rotation, providing another arm in the playoff run, which is always essential. When Stroman went down with a torn ACL prior to the season, it immediately seemed as if any chance of the Jays making it to the playoffs were shot. However, they survived and now have Stroman back for the ride.
The Rangers most important acquisition was the pickup of Cole Hamels from Philadelphia. Hamels has gone 7-1 since being acquired, and will be the Rangers ace during their playoff run. It will be fun to see if he can slow down the high-powered Blue Jays offense.
THINGS TO KNOW / WATCH FOR
-Toronto has one of the best outfields in all of baseball. A combination of speed between Kevin Pillar and trade deadline acquisition Ben Revere make it difficult for any ball to land in left center. In fact, only Tampa Bay’s Kevin Keirmaier has a higher DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) than Pillar.
– Texas has been using its bullpen a lot recently in order to lock down the AL West from being taken away by the Astros or Angels. Manager Jeff Banister has also made some questionable decisions in late game situations. If those same mistakes are made against Toronto, it’s going to be a hard hole to climb out of.
– Marco Estrada, who was acquired prior to the season from the Brewers, has provided a nice piece in the rotation for Toronto. Estrada has posted 13 wins and an ERA of 3.31. If needed in a Game 4, it is imperative for him to get ahead of batters early and often.
PREDICTION: Blue Jays win series, 3-0.
National League Division Series
New York Mets (90-72) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
The Mets shocked many fans across the baseball spectrum this year by winning the National League East this year over the favored Washington Nationals and will begin their quest of a World Series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
If there was one word to describe this matchup, it would be pitching. The Mets unveiled their three headed monster of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey to pitch the first three games of the NLDS. Los Angeles will go to Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, followed by Zack Greinke.
Although he has been absolutely dominant, Clayton Kershaw has struggled to find his normal self in the postseason. The southpaw is only 1-5 in six career starts with a 5.12 ERA. The Cardinals jumped on him last year, hitting three home runs and driving in 11 during the NLDS. One threat that may develop for Kershaw on New York is Yoenis Cespedes, who has absolutely been tearing it apart for the Mets since being acquired from Detroit.
Plain and simple, if the Dodgers hope to win this series, it is imperative for them to win at least one game at home. If they fall down 2-0, they have to travel cross-country and will be greeted by Matt Harvey. That’s not exactly too pleasant of an encounter. Given the fact that the Dodgers are also 37-44 on the road, that does not sound like a combination that bodes well for advancing out of the Divisional Series.
THINGS TO KNOW / WATCH FOR
-Clean fielding is always a must if a team is going to advance in the playoffs, and that’s just what the Dodgers have. Their 75 errors are the fewest in the league. That could prove to be vital if Kershaw or Greinke find themselves with runners on base.
– Yasiel Puig just got reactivated to the Dodgers’ roster following a hamstring injury. Watch for his presence not only at the plate, but out in right field as well. His arm could end up saving a few runs by gunning out players at the plate. However, if he finds himself even a little bit rusty, both the Dodgers offense and defense may deteriorate.
– Rookie Noah Syndergaard will be making his first career playoff performance in the bright lights. It is imperative for him to stave off any nerves that may become apparent, as the Dodgers could easily use that as fuel to their fire. If the rookie is as dominant as he was this year, he could pose a large threat to L.A.’s lineup.
PREDICTION: Mets win series, 3-1.
Those are the matchups that are set to happen. Now, here are the projected matchups based on the wild-card predictions.
American League Division Series
(Houston Astros vs Kansas City Royals)
After using Keuchel in the Wild Card game, Houston falls apart. Their awful road record proves to be true, as they lose the first two games in Kansas City. The Royals have a scare in Game 3 when Houston wins on a walk off hit by Jose Altuve, but they bounce back the next game and advance to the ALCS.
Prediction: Royals advance, 3-1.
National League Division Series
(Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals)
After using Jake Arrieta in Pittsburgh, the Cubs look to Jon Lester for a quality start, but things don’t go accordingly. The Cardinals strike early and end up taking Game 1. The Cubs steal Game 2 in St. Louis, only for the Cardinals to steal Game 3 in Chicago. The Cubs even the series all up at Wrigley, and we head to St. Louis for Game 7. Jake Arrieta pitches on three days rest but his magic fails to continue as the Cardinals advance to the NLCS for the fifth consecutive year.
Prediction: Cardinals advance, 3-2.
American League Championship Series
(Toronto Blue Jays vs Kansas City Royals)
This series will be one of the greatest Championship League series ever to be played. The Blue Jays narrowly pull it out and Josh Donaldson continues his postseason run, something similar to David Freese’s run in 2011. The Blue Jays advance to their first World Series since 1993.
Prediction: Blue Jays advance, 4-3.
National League Championship Series
(New York Mets vs St. Louis Cardinals)
After barely escaping the wrath of the Cubs, the Cardinals must face the dynamic juggernaut that is the New York Mets’ rotation. However, because they are the Cardinals, they pull off some magical comebacks and a few walk-off hits and end up advancing to their third Fall Classic since 2011.
Prediction: Cardinals advance, 4-2.
2015 World Series
(St. Louis Cardinals vs Toronto Blue Jays)
THE BACKYARD BIRD FEEDER BATTLE
In a series that resembles a David vs Goliath matchup, it is one to remember for the ages. The high-powered Toronto Blue Jays offense is taking on the traditional playoff magic of the St. Louis Cardinals. Something has to give. The Blue Jays haven’t been in the Fall Classic since 1993 and the Cardinals are always in contention. Though the Blue Jays are from Canada, they ironically become America’s team, solely because America has grown weary of seeing the Cardinals in the World Series.
Josh Donaldson continues his postseason magic and proves to be the Cardinals’ kryptonite, as he powers the Blue Jays to their first World Championship since 1993. The World Series trophy is headed north of the border as the Toronto Blue Jays defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games (it may not because this is only my prediction).
Prediction: Blue Jays win the World Series, 4-3.