The league championship round of the 2017 MLB Playoffs kicks off today after what was a great divisional round. The final four teams each fought tooth and nail to get an opportunity to play in the World Series and looking at the remaining field, it is truly anybody's game.
The New York Yankees went from mere AL Wild Card team to true contender in fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to knock out the dangerous Cleveland Indians, while the Houston Astros just dominated the Boston Red Sox in such a fashion that seeing them fall to New York seems impossible.
On the National League side, the defending champion Chicago Cubs got past a hungry Washington Nationals squad in a major come from behind victory in Game 5. They cemented themselves as a team to take seriously in spite of a bumpy regular season, but they now have to face a Los Angeles Dodgers team that quickly humbled the high-scoring Arizona Diamondbacks.
Make no mistake, the ALCS and NLCS will both provide great baseball for the fans to enjoy.
New York Yankees vs Houston Astros
***Updated October 21, 2017***
The Yankees are playing the rare role of the underdog after stunning the defending AL Champion Cleveland Indians, and the Bronx Bombers will continue to be underdogs against a Houston Astros squad that practically made mincemeat out of the Boston Red Sox. Houston won the season series 5-3 and has the superior roster on paper, and the Astros should be favored to take ALCS handily.
Except, the Yankees team the Astros faced in May and June has drastically changed for the better since then. New York's struggles in the first half can be attributed to a weak and struggling bullpen, not to mention an inconsistent starting rotation that just looked overmatched against a powerful Houston lineup and put up an ERA north of 7.00. Not only that, but Houston only outscored the Yankees 43-41, so it's not as though New York's bats were completely silenced by the AL West champs.
Either way, in a series that features the likes of AL MVP candidates Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, veteran ace Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, and way too many other names to count, each game has the potential to become a classic.
Game 7 Recap - Momentum continued in Houston's favor as Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. tossed a combined gem as the Astros won the game 4-0 and took the AL Pennant. Solo home runs by Evan Gattis and Jose Altuve set the tone and Houston never looked back, whereas the Yankees just looked lost at the plate. Houston now moves on to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series in what should be an intriguing Fall Classic.
Game 6 Recap - Houston needed Justin Verlander to turn in a great performance in Game 6 and the hard-throwing righty did just that, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out eight as the Astros chased Luis Severino in the fifth inning en route to a 7-1 victory. Jose Altuve was 2 for 4 with three RBI and though Aaron Judge added a long home run for the Yankees, all eyes are now on tomorrow's deciding Game 7.
Game 5 Recap - Another win down, one more to go for the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers were patient and solved Dallas Keuchel by playing small ball. Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez each had RBI singles, and Aaron Judge had an RBI double down the left field line as Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven shutout innings and allowed just three hits in New York's 5-0 victory. Sanchez also added a solo home run measured at 416 feet, and the Yankees will look to punch their ticket to the World Series against Justin Verlander on Saturday.
Game 4 Recap - Down 4-0 in the seventh inning? No problem! The Yankees rallied behind another Aaron Judge home run and clutch hitting all around to score two runs in the seventh followed by four in the eighth. Judge tied the game with a double off the wall and after he advanced to third on Didi Gregorius' single, Gary Sanchez got his first hit of the series in the form of a two-run double. Aroldis Chapman then worked a scoreless ninth, and now Houston will look to ace Dallas Keuchel to be great once again in Game 5 while the Yankees counter with Masahiro Tanaka.
Game 3 Recap - The Yankees got a much-needed win tonight thanks to multiple efforts. Todd Frazier's awkward swing in the second inning led to a three-run home run. Aaron Judge added a three-run shot of his own in a five-run fifth inning and made great plays in the field too. The real star, however, was Yankees starter CC Sabathia and his six shutout innings in New York's 8-1 victory. Momentum has shifted, so Game 4 should be a great one!
Game 2 Recap - New York's bat's remained largely silent save for an RBI double from Todd Frazier, but Carlos Correa took care of Houston with a solo home run and a game-winning RBI double in the ninth to give Houston a 2-0 lead in the series. The real hero, however, was Justin Verlander and his 13 strikeouts in a complete game. New York had no answer for him and now must head back to New York down 2-0, not to mention with concern about Luis Severino leaving with an injury after four innings today.
Game 1 Recap - RBI singles from Jose Altuve and Yuri Gurriel were all the Astros needed as the AL West champs cruised to a 2-1 victory in Game 1. Dallas Keuchel tossed seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and Ken Giles got five outs for the save. The real hero, however, was Marwin Gonzalez. His throwing out Greg Bird at home following an Aaron Judge single in the fifth inning was the difference maker in this game, and New York needs to bounce back in a big way in Game 2.
Who's Hot - It's looking like no team can neutralize Altuve, who slugged three home runs against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS and is batting .533 in the postseason. The same can be said for Verlander, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers at the end of August and went 5-0 with a stunning 1.06 ERA in an Astros uniform. Verlander is also 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA in this year's playoffs, so expect a lot from him and the rest of Houston's roster in the ALCS.
Who's Not - Sorry, Yankees fans, but Didi Gregorius (.250/.444/.700, three home runs, six RBI) cannot carry the lineup by himself, especially against Houston. Aaron Judge had a single hit in 20 at-bats in the ALDS and star catcher Gary Sanchez is batting only .222 in the playoffs without drawing a single walk. New York will need to score early and often just to have a chance in this series, and the lineup won't do that until it produces at a higher level.
Prediction - New York has matured a great deal since last facing Houston, but that will do little more than equal them putting up a greater fight in the ALCS. The Astros' lineup is just too stacked and the Yankees' pitching, though improved, just won't be able to keep up with Houston's staff when it counts. That said, though some games will be close, expect the Astros to win the series 4-2 and punch a ticket to the World Series.
Schedule & TV Info:
- Game 1 - Astros 2, Yankees 1
- Game 2 - Astros 2, Yankees 1
- Game 3 - Yankees 8, Astros 1
- Game 4 - Yankees 6, Astros 4
- Game 5 - Yankees 5, Astros 0
- Game 6 - Astros 7, Yankees 1
- Game 7 - Astros 4, Yankees 0
***Astros win series, 4-3***
Chicago Cubs vs Los Angeles Dodgers
***Updated October 20, 2017***
It's a 2016 NLCS rematch as, once again, the Cubs will take on the Dodgers for the NL Pennant. The difference this time is that unlike last year, Los Angeles has home-field advantage and plenty of reason to feel confident.
That is because the Cubs were just 2-4 against the Dodgers during the regular season and were swept by the team at Dodger Stadium in May. Chicago was outscored 22-11 in the season series and was shut out twice.
It's hard to say who has the advantage in terms of talent. Chicago has a great young core that already has won a World Series ring, and the Cubs' pitching staff is also looking strong in the postseason, so strong that Nationals slugger Bryce Harper hit just .210 in the NLDS. That kind of success will be hard to replicate against a Dodgers team that outscored the hot-hitting Diamondbacks 20-11 in a three-game sweep in the NLDS.
And let's not forget that Los Angeles has perennial Cy Young contender Clayton Kershaw ready to not only take the mound in Game 1 but to fight off his postseason demons once and for all and finally play for a World Series ring. Kershaw has great pitchers in Yu Darvish and closer Kenley Jansen behind him, not to mention a talented lineup that can win games in multiple ways. This series could be a classic in the making, so buckle up.
Game 5 Recap - The Dodgers came out swinging early and never looked back as they beat the Cubs 11-1 and won their first NL Pennant since 1988! Enrique "Kike" Hernandez led the way with three home runs, including a grand slam that blew the game open in the third inning, and drove in seven of Los Angeles' eleven runs. Cody Bellinger added an RBI double and ace Clayton Kershaw officially put his playoff demons behind him with six strong innings, and the Dodgers will have a serious upper hand against their eventual AL opponent in the World Series.
Game 4 Recap - The defending champs prevented a knockout blow in Game 4 courtesy of three solo home runs, two from the long-slumping Javier Baez and a moonshot from Willson Contreras. Jake Arrieta struck out nine over 6.2 innings and Wade Davis labored for a six-out save, and Chicago isn't down yet despite being on the ropes.
Game 3 Recap - Kyle Schwarber's solo shot in the bottom of the first inning was all the Cubs would get on the board tonight as the Dodgers once again proved why they are the team to beat in the National League this year. Chris Taylor and Andre Ethier each had solo home runs of their own, with Taylor also adding an RBI triple. Yu Darvish struck out seven over 6.1 innings, and Los Angeles will give the ball to lefty Alex Wood tomorrow night hoping to complete the sweep.
Game 2 Recap - Addison Russell's solo shot in the fifth inning was quickly countered by a Justin Turner RBI single, and Turner was the hero again in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off three-run home run off of John Lackey. The home run was the first such home run in Dodgers postseason history since Kirk Gibson's fateful blast in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, and Los Angeles now heads to Wrigley Field with a commanding lead in the series. The Cubs, on the other hand, are on the ropes and need to find the magic that led them to break their World Series curse last year.
Game 1 Recap - Clayton Kershaw's postseason demons showed up courtesy of a two-run home run by Albert Almora in the fourth inning, but fortune smiled on the Dodgers this evening. Los Angeles tied the game in the fifth inning and right fielder Yasiel Puig added both a solo home run and RBI double on the evening, continuing his epic postseason performance as the Dodgers look to exact revenge on losing to Chicago in last year's NLCS.
Who's Hot - Chicago had a hard time hitting the Nationals, but shortstop Addison Russell raised his postseason batting average to .222 with two hits and four RBI in Game 5. Still, he has a long way to go before catching up with LA's Yasiel Puig and his .455 average. Oh, and don't forget a Dodgers pitching staff that has posted a 3.33 ERA in the playoffs.
Who's Not - If the Cubs plan to make the World Series again, their bats need to wake up. Chicago is batting just .180 as a team and that is an unacceptable mark even though they beat Washington. Last year's NL MVP, Kris Bryant, is only batting .200, as is first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger is also batting just .214, so he must be better if Los Angeles wants to make its first Fall Classic in 30 years.
Prediction - This series is definitely a tough call, especially because the Cubs woke up in Game 5 and now look like the scrappy squad that won it all last year. However, the Dodgers' depth is just oh so slightly better than that of the Cubs and the team is playing with a chip on its shoulder this postseason. Thus, in an NLCS that will be discussed for generations, Los Angeles will take full advantage of its standing and win the NL Pennant in a hard-fought seven games.
Schedule and TV Info:
- Game 1 - Dodgers 5, Cubs 2
- Game 2 - Dodgers 4, Cubs 1
- Game 3 - Dodgers 6, Cubs 1
- Game 4 - Cubs 3, Dodgers 2
- Game 5 - Dodgers 11, Cubs 1
***Dodgers win series, 4-1***