Playoff baseball is officially underway and the 2017 October field has the potential to surpass the great action fans got to enjoy last year.
Not only are the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs defending last year's World Series win that broke a 108-year-old curse, but the New York Yankees are back in the playoffs after slugging their way to an 8-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins in the AL Wild Card Game. The Cleveland Indians are also looking to avenge last year's heartbreaking loss to the Cubs and end their own championship drought.
On the NL side, the Los Angeles Dodgers hope that being the best team in baseball means winning their first World Series in almost 30 years, while the Washington Nationals just want to get past the NLDS!
Oh, and the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox will face off in what could be a series for the ages.
New York Yankees vs Cleveland Indians
Cleveland is certainly the favorite in this series, especially after winning the season series over the Bronx Bombers 5-2. The Indians have a fine young lineup that features homegrown prospects in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, with the veteran Edwin Encarnacion adding his own special brand of pop.
Throw in a pitching staff that features Cy Young contender Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25 ERA) and ranked tops in the majors with a staff ERA of 3.30, and one would expect the Tribe to run roughshod over the Yankees in this series, right?
Wrong. The Yankees ended their regular season on a high note and went 21-9 after being swept by Cleveland in late August. A lineup led by certain AL Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate Aaron Judge is producing at full capacity. A vastly underrated pitching staff has a great bullpen backing it up. Team chemistry alone could take this team to the ALCS, though it will be an uphill battle to get there.
Game 5 Recap- Do you believe in miracles? New York sure does as the Yankees took an early 3-0 lead behind two home runs from Didi Gregorius and held a pesky Indians lineup in check before adding a pair of insurance runs on a Brett Gardner single and Cleveland error in the ninth. Corey Kluber was not himself once again and lasted less than four innings, and now the Bronx Bombers will face the powerful Houston Astros for a spot in the World Series.
Game 4 Recap- While Game 3 was a pitcher's duel, Game 4 was the exact opposite. The Yankees chased Trevor Bauer (starting on short rest) in the second inning and Luis Severino tossed seven strong frames while striking out nine. Gary Sanchez added a solo home run and Aaron Judge a two-run double as New York won 7-3, taking full advantage of four Cleveland errors to force a decisive Game 5.
Game 3 Recap- Between seven strong innings from Masahiro Tanaka, a home run robbery by Aaron Judge, a long solo home run by Greg Bird, and a five-out save by Aroldis Chapman, it's no wonder that the Yankees returned home after a devastating Game 2 loss and found a way to stay live. Ace Luis Severino returns to the mound tomorrow in hopes of making his awful Wild Card performance a distant memory, while Cleveland will send Trevor Bauer to the hill on short rest.
Game 2 Recap- Just when you thought the Yankees would cruise to an 8-3 victory after chasing Corey Kluber in the third inning, Cleveland had other ideas. Francisco Lindor made it 8-7 with a grand slam after a mistakenly called hit by pitch instead of a strikeout happened, Jay Bruce tied it in the eighth, and Yan Gomes had the game-winning single in the 13th. New York is now on the ropes thanks to mismanagement by Joe Girardi (CC Sabathia was removed after throwing less than 80 pitches and the aforementioned HBP wasn't challenged) and now must win two at home to force Game 5 in Cleveland.
Game 1 Recap- Trevor Bauer did his best Corey Kluber impression in absolutely shutting down the Yankees in a 4-0 victory. Aaron Judge struck out four times and New York had just three hits on the night, and now need to right the ship in time for facing the real Kluber tomorrow in Game 2.
Who's Hot - Judge continues to swing the hot bat after going 2 for 4 with a home run and three RBI in the Wild Card Game, and this is after batting .311 with 15 home runs and 32 RBI in September. On Cleveland's side, Ramirez hit an eye-popping .406 over the last month of the season and if he stays hot, the Yankees' hopes could be short-lived.
Who's Not - If New York wants to win even one game in this series, Luis Severino has to be better. The New York ace's postseason debut did not go as planned as he gave up two home runs and recorded just one out in the first inning against Minnesota, ultimately getting saved by the bullpen. That won't work against Cleveland, so the young righty needs to get his groove back.
Prediction - Much as I love my Yankees, they're too young and inexperienced to conquer Cleveland even if they steal a game at Progressive Field. The Indians will ride on the back of their strong pitching staff and win the series 3-1
Schedule & TV Info:
- Game 1 - Indians 4, Yankees 0
- Game 2 - Indians 9, Yankees 8 (13 innings)
- Game 3 - Yankees 1, Indians 0
- Game 4 - Yankees 7, Indians 3
- Game 5 - Yankees 5, Indians 2
****Yankees win series, 3-2****
Boston Red Sox vs Houston Astros
These two teams faced off at Fenway Park to close out the regular season and now will face off for a spot in the ALCS, so talk about intense! Houston won the season series 4-3 and has a young and feisty pitching staff known for driving opposing lineups to distraction, and former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90) turned in a great 2017 despite a nagging neck injury. Houston's staff ERA of 4.12 ranked 11th in the majors, but the team ranked sixth in limiting opposing hitters to a .240 average.
And let's not forget the offense. The Astros led all teams with 896 runs scored and were second with 238 home runs, with star outfielder George Springer leading the team with 34. Jose Altuve hit .346 and took home his third career batting title, and everyone else from Carlos Correa to Marwin Gonzalez helped carry the scoring load.
But don't count out Boston either. This team won its second straight AL East title despite losing veteran slugger David Ortiz to retirement and has a lineup that can win games in so many ways. Not only that, a pitching staff led by Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90) and his 308 strikeouts can take control of games and end them just as soon as they begin. Needless to say, this series could have a lot of fireworks and will be a must-watch.
Game 4 Recap- Both Houston and Boston traded runs in the first inning and though starter Rick Porcello looked strong enough despite trailing 2-1, Chris Sale entered the game in relief and looked strong for the most part as Andrew Benintendi's home run put the Red Sox up 3-2. Unfortunately, Sale would get tired in a rain-soaked game and surrender the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning. Boston got a run back on Rafael Devers' inside-the-park home run in the ninth, but the Astros held on and have secured their spot in the ALCS.
Game 3 Recap- Houston looked primed for a sweep after scoring three in the first inning, but Boston had other ideas. Rafael Devers gave the Red Sox the lead with a two-run blast in the third inning, and Boston added six more in the seventh inning combined with four shutout relief innings from David Price. Monday afternoon's tilt pits Charlie Morton against last year's Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, so look for Boston to take advantage of the back end of Houston's rotation and score early to stave off elimination further.
Game 2 Recap- Houston got the ball rolling early again thanks to Carlos Correa's two-run home run in the first inning, and Boston starter Drew Pomeranz lasted just two innings. Correa would later add a two-run double while George Springer added a solo shot of his own, and ace Dallas Keuchel struck out seven over 5.2 innings as Houston will go for the sweep and punch its ticket to the ALCS at Fenway Park on Sunday.
Game 1 Recap- This game was a wake-up call for Boston in that its pitching will not win it the series. Chris Sale surrendered three home runs and gave up seven earned runs in just five innings, and Jose Altuve slugged three home runs in Houston's 8-2 victory. Tomorrow just became a must-win for Boston because there's no way the Astros' hot bats will slow down with this much momentum.
Who's Hot - Houston is giving the ball to Justin Verlander instead of Keuchel in Game 1, and rightfully so. The veteran righty won all five of his starts as an Astro after coming over from the Detroit Tigers at the end of August and also posted a 1.06 ERA. He has a knack for turning it up in the postseason, so Boston hitters should prepare accordingly.
Who's Not - Sorry, Sox fans, but Sale needs to get off the schneid for Boston to even have a shot at advancing. He is just 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA since August and gave up nine home runs in September. Considering how he gave up that many over the season's first three months, there should be concern about him having hit a wall.
Prediction - Boston can keep up with Houston in every area except the one that matters, hitting. The Red Sox just don't have the bangers in the middle of the lineup, something they had last year in Ortiz. Thus, Houston should win this one in a clean sweep as Sale puts up a good fight in his first postseason start but still comes up short.
Schedule & TV Info:
- Game 1 - Astros 8, Red Sox 2
- Game 2 - Astros 8, Red Sox 2
- Game 3 - Red Sox 10, Astros 3
- Game 4- Astros 5, Red Sox 4
****Houston wins series, 3-1****
Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs
Here we have a tale of two teams who have the same goal for different reasons. Chicago wants to advance to the NLCS to improve its chances of winning a second consecutive World Series while Washington wants to just get past the NLDS for the first time in franchise history. Both teams split the season series 4-4, so expect this one to go the distance.
And there is every reason to believe it will. Chicago's championship core is alive and well and the Cubs went 19-10 to close out the season, with Kris Bryant hitting .327 from July and on and rallied the rest of his teammates to the strong finish. The Nationals are running just as hot, having gone 26-16 in star outfielder Bryce Harper's absence as he recovered from a knee injury. Throw in an MVP-caliber and 6.9 WAR year from Anthony Rendon, plus a much-improved bullpen and strong pitching staff, and Washington is ready to take that big step forward this October.
Game 5 Recap- Another NLDS gone, another NLDS where the Washington Nationals failed to advance. Washington gave starter Gio Gonzalez a 4-1 lead early thanks to early home runs from Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor, but the lefty couldn't find the strike zone and was lifted after walking four and allowing three runs in just three innings. Max Scherzer entered in the fifth inning and just crumbled in giving up four runs and the lead. Washington would chip away at Chicago's lead, but it wasn't enough as Wade Davis got seven outs for the save and another Cubs trip to the NLCS.
Game 4 Recap- Stephen Strasburg started on short notice despite feeling sick and did exactly what he needed to do. Washington's star righty tossed seven strong shutout innings and struck out 12 Chicago hitters, and the bullpen did the rest. Michael A. Taylor's clutch grand slam in the eighth iced the game, and the Nationals will look to punch a ticket to their first ever NLCS in a decisive Game 5 tomorrow night.
Game 3 Recap- This was an absolute heartbreaker for the Washington Nationals. Max Scherzer took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but Chicago overcame a terrible error by Kyle Schwarber to tie the game on an Albert Almora Jr. single in the seventh followed by Anthony Rizzo's go-ahead hit in the eighth. This is starting to look all too familiar for Washington, who will look to avoid yet another early exit tomorrow.
Game 2 Recap- The Cubs entered the bottom of the eighth inning thinking they could sit pretty with a 3-2 lead, but the Nationals had other ideas after a tough loss the previous evening. Bryce Harper's game-tying two-run home run followed by a go-ahead three-run blast by Ryan Zimmerman evened the series heading back to Chicago, so fans had best buckle up!
Game 1 Recap- Kyle Hendricks and Stephen Strasburg put on a pitching clinic despite Chicago's victory, as the Nationals righty did not give up an earned run tonight. Singles by Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were enough for the Cubs, who will send Jon Lester to the hill tomorrow in Game 2.
Who's Hot - Kris Bryant has been running hot for months and will be the one to carry this Cubs lineup. The reigning NL MVP is the heart and soul of Chicago's locker room and will rally the team just as he did last year. Also, keep an eye on Ryan Zimmerman, who hit .329 in September and set new career highs in 2017 with 36 home runs and 108 RBI.
Who's Not - Jayson Werth will be on Washington's postseason roster in some capacity and that should concern Nationals fans. A lot. Werth missed nearly three months with a foot injury and did nothing to show he was back in top form upon his return. He hit just .132 in September and is officially washed up at 38 years old. Even if he has hit .258 with 15 home runs and 30 RBI in the postseason for his career, it's hard to imagine Werth suddenly being back to his old self.
Prediction - Call it luck, call it destiny, call it a plain old hunch. This is the year where Washington will finally win the NLDS and move on to the league championship round. The Nationals are so deep and strong and while the Cubs may have the edge in experience, Washington just wants it more this time around. It will take five games and each game will be close, but the fans in DC will finally celebrate their team reaching the next level.
Schedule & TV Info:
- Game 1 - Cubs 3, Nationals 0
- Game 2 - Nationals 6, Cubs 3
- Game 3 - Cubs 2, Nationals 1
- Game 4 - Nationals 5, Cubs 0
- Game 5 - Cubs 9, Nationals 8
****Cubs win series, 3-2****
Arizona Diamondbacks vs Los Angeles Dodgers
This matchup will pit great offense against amazing pitching, and everyone should be excited. Los Angeles won 104 games this year and had the best record in baseball, but was 8-11 against Arizona on the season. Granted, six of those losses came during a rough stretch in which the Dodgers went a measly 1-16, but Arizona's bats will be a challenge for the Dodgers' strong arms.
The Diamondbacks have a high-scoring offense that ranked eighth in baseball with 812 runs, not to mention ten players who had ten or more home runs this season. Of those ten, eight will see regular playing time in the playoffs.
It matters not that the Dodgers ranked second in baseball with a staff ERA of 3.38, nor that Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31) turned in another Cy Young-caliber season, nor that the team has great bats led by Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner. Arizona's lineup will keep this series close and Los Angeles had better be prepared.
Game 3 Recap- Los Angeles may have been on the road, but played like Chase Field was Dodger Stadium. Cody Bellinger dazzled at the plate with a home run and made great plays in the field, and the Dodgers' pitching held the Diamondbacks' bats to just three hits in a 3-1 victory. Next up is the NLCS, and it's looking like this team is primed to go far after shutting down a hot-hitting Arizona lineup.
Game 2 Recap- Paul Goldschmidt's two-run shot in the first inning wasn't enough as Los Angeles rallied behind a combination of Arizona mistakes and three hits from Yasiel Puig en route to a 2-0 lead in the series. Next up is what should be a great matchup between Yu Darvish and Zack Greinke on Monday, a game that should have everyone on the edge of their seat.
Game 1 Recap- As expected, this one was a slugfest. Justin Turner's three-run shot in the first inning was part of the Dodgers putting up four runs in the premier frame as Los Angeles won their playoff opener by a score of 9-5. However, don't sleep on the Diamondbacks just yet. Arizona launched four home runs off of Clayton Kershaw, so the Snakes are far from down and out.
Who's Hot - Picking just one of Arizona's red-hot bats to fill this role would be a disservice to the rest of the guys in the lineup. The Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 11-8 in the NL Wild Card Game and had 17 total hits, so that entire lineup features players who could be the hero.
Who's Not - Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager has been slowed by an elbow injury that could soon require surgery, and it shows. Last year's NL Rookie of the Year saw his home run total dip from 26 to 22 this year and hit just .179 in September. Los Angeles really needs his bat to come alive, especially since the Dodgers will have to keep up with Arizona's great lineup.
Prediction - Sorry, LA, but 2018 won't be your year yet again. Between Kershaw's 4.55 ERA in the postseason and a streaky lineup, the Dodgers will just have too hard a time stopping Arizona's scoring, let alone matching it. Sweet and simple, Snakes in 4.
Schedule & TV Info:
- Game 1 - Dodgers 9, Diamondbacks 5
- Game 2 - Dodgers 8, Diamondbacks 5
- Game 3 - Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 1
****Dodgers win series, 3-0****