October is here, and with it comes the MLB playoffs, one of the most exciting times of the year. Last year saw an instant classic play out in the World Series as the Cubs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series in extra innings in Game 7 and shattered a 108-year streak without a World Series title, the longest in history. Will the Cubs repeat as World Series champions? Will the Red Sox win for the fourth time since 2000? Will the Indians snap their 68-year streak without a title, the current longest active streak?
The American League:
The Indians, last year’s AL pennant winners, come surging into the postseason possessing the second best record in baseball, and tops in the American League. In one of the best storylines of this season, the Indians won a record 22 games in a row between August and September, cementing their spot atop the AL Central and all of baseball in the eyes of many. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor led an offense that ranked in the top 10 in the MLB in most hitting stats (second in On Base Percentage and Slugging). The Cleveland pitching rotation was buoyed by breakout performances from Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco as they posted the best Earned Run Average and strikeouts of any team, along with the ever dominant trio of starter Corey Kluber, reliever Andrew Miller, and closer Cody Allen. With a pitching staff that deep, Cleveland looks poised to make a deep run in October, and they stand only 11 wins away from breaking that 68-year title drought.
Jose Altuve has been the one of two or three of the best players in baseball this year. The leading candidate for American League MVP has led a team that until two years ago no one thought anything of, a team that only a few years ago had a payroll less than Alex Rodriguez’s salary, to an AL West top finish and a second seed in the playoffs. Dallas Keuchel, whose workload has been carefully managed all year, has put in a fantastic season a year removed from a wholly mediocre one (admittedly, he won the Cy Young Award the season before). It could be the year for the Astros to win their first-ever World Series title. They face off against the Red Sox in the AL Divisional Series, beginning today.
Boston Red Sox:
There were high hopes placed on the Red Sox coming into this season as they traded for Chris Sale to bolster their rotation that already contained $217 million man David Price, now pitching out of the bullpen, and 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. And while Sale has been masterful all season, leading the MLB in strikeouts, Price has struggled through injury while Porcello had a performance similar to, and maybe worse than, Dallas Keuchel’s last season. However, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Doug Fister have all emerged as solid members of the rotation, and that has helped to carry the Red Sox into the postseason as they’ve struggled with inconsistent hitting. They lost David Ortiz to retirement, and Mookie Betts has regressed from last year’s MVP-caliber season, but Andrew Benintendi has become a young star in left field, and the Red Sox will hope to get hot as they face off as against the Astros.
New York Yankees:
No one thought the “Baby Bombers” would be this good this soon. But Aaron Judge has looked incredible at times, shattering the rookie record for home runs in a season. Luis Severino posted a sub-3.00 ERA in his first full season in the majors. Gary Sanchez posted a solid year after tearing up the majors with 20 home runs in 53 games last season. The Yankees have one of the best farm systems in baseball. They have star power coming out of the bullpen in Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, maybe the best closer since Mariano Rivera. They’re poised to win now and win later, and they look to get that started off against the Indians after beating the Twins Tuesday night.
The National League:
Los Angeles Dodgers:
When the Dodgers were 91-36, all anyone could talk about was whether or not they’d break the all-time record for wins. Those folks who said no were surely in for a treat as the Dodgers went 1-16 over their next few games before a 12-6 “rebound” to finish the season 104-58, well below the record. Clayton Kershaw looks as good as ever, and they picked up Yu Darvish, the former Rangers ace, midseason. Alex Wood has been a breakout star in the rotation while Cody Bellinger has lit up opposing pitchers almost as well as Aaron Judge. The Dodgers have the roster to advance to the World Series. But do they have the composure to go all the way?
Max Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s the kind of guy you wish you could start everyday. He’s also the guy who could potentially make no starts as he deals with an injured hamstring. The Nationals do still have Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, who have put up stellar numbers this season in the rotation. Add to that the hitting abilities of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman, and you’ve got yourself a potential juggernaut in this postseason. Can they come together to win Dusty Baker his first title as a manager?
The reigning World Series champs got off to a rough start. The roster put together by wunderkind Theo Epstein was still intact, but they just couldn’t find their spark. Kyle Schwarber had a rough year after his World Series heroics. Jake Arrieta struggled with his command and velocity through the first few months before turning it around in spectacular fashion after the All-Star break. Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, and reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant still combined to hit 90+ home runs. This is a team with a very high ceiling, but also a pretty low floor. Their chances to repeat as world champions all depends on which of those teams takes the field against the Nationals come Friday.
Greinke rebounded for a 17-win season with a 3.20 ERA to help propel the Diamondbacks to the first wildcard spot in the National League. Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen should be applauded for his midseason acquisition of J.D. Martinez, who hit 29 home runs in only 62 games in the desert. Paul Goldschmidt remains a perennial MVP candidate with a .297/.404/.563 slash line to go along with 36 home runs and 120 RBIs. Robbie Ray looks like he might just be the next Randy Johnson (just a tad bit shorter). The Diamondbacks have great depth which might just give them an edge in the playoffs.
It’s rare for a team to have two legitimate MVP candidates in the way the Rockies have Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, though if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’ll happen in Colorado (the high altitude has notoriously helped hitters pad their stats). And it’s even rarer for a Rockies team to have a top 10 ERA as a staff when they spend 81 games at Coors Field. But manager Bud Black has done an exceptional job managing his pitching staff to do just that. The Rockies had only one pitcher, German Marquez, throw more than 150 innings, but they made it work with no real ace. They’ll have to travel to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks Wednesday night.
The Indians advance out of the American League after beating the Yankees and the Red Sox in the Championship Series. The Nationals beat the Cubs and then use their hitting prowess to overpower the Dodgers in the Championship Series. The Indians beat the Nationals in six games to claim their first World Series title in 68 years after last year’s heartbreaking loss.