As another MLB season chock full of storylines and controversy comes to a close, let us first reflect on the season before getting swept up in the rush of playoff baseball. In the beginning of a the new era, the Cubs seem primed to have a shot at a World Series, having not won a championship since 1908. The MLB also implemented new timing rules in an attempt to “Make Baseball Fun Again.” We saw multiple legends end their careers, as sluggers David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez both declared their retirement. It was a season of controversy between the famed Odor-Bautista brawl at second base and the usual never-ending hatred of umpires. Most of all, it was just another MLB season, full of the pleasure and fun that have made baseball America’s pastime.
October baseball has begun, and the pool of contenders for World Series Champion has been narrowed down to eight teams. Before I make any claims or predictions about any of these teams, I should make a caveat: I was born in Maine and have lived in Washington, D.C. most of my life. I have been a lifetime Red Sox fan and a Nationals fan since they came to D.C. in 2005. I will try to keep as much of my personal bias out of this piece, but without further ado, my predictions for the 2016 MLB playoffs are as follows.
The Baltimore Orioles will not win the American League Wild Card game. As much as I love our orange, aviary friends up Interstate-95, I believe that the Orioles cannot survive on their shaky pitching rotation. While Chris Tillman was tremendous in the first half of the season, he has since fallen off track. Dylan Bundy and Ubaldo Jimenez have picked up the slack for him, helping the O’s clinch a spot in the postseason. However, Bundy’s rookie status moved the O’s to shut him down after reaching his inning limit, while Ubaldo has proven to be one of the streakiest pitchers in the MLB since his record year with the Rockies. I will admit the Orioles have a solid lineup and one of the most underrated bullpens in the MLB, but their incredible home record of 50-31 at Camden Yards this season is not encouraging as they’ll have to face the powerhouse Blue Jays at the Roger’s Centre in Toronto .
The Toronto Blue Jays will get KO’d by the Rangers in the AL Divisional Series. While I do believe they will win the Wild Card game, our friends from above the border will unfortunately have to take on the red-hot Texas Rangers. Earlier this year, this matchup resulted in one of the more memorable moments of this MLB season when Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor knocked the helmet and sunglasses off of Blue Jays fielder José Bautista with a vicious right hook to start a bench-clearing team brawl. Animosity aside, this is the best Rangers team we have seen since Ron Washington’s squad lost in the World Series in 2011. While the Rangers certainly had success early in the season on the backs of their pitching rotation, which included players Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, their front office made some key additions. After signing Ian Desmond in the offseason, accurately predicting a big comeback after his devastating season last year, the Rangers continued to make big moves in acquiring Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gomez, and Jonathan Lucroy. Their line-up already consisted of perennial All-Stars Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. Frankly, the Rangers only have a small achilles heel in their bullpen, meaning they have a better shot at winning games early on in any series and will probably be hindered as they get deeper into the postseason.
The Washington Nationals will win their NL Division Series and lose in the NL Championship Series. This season’s Nationals team is quite different from last season’s platoon of players. As devastating as last year’s early exit from the postseason was, this Nationals team will only have so much gas in the tank this year. While you could chalk off the past few year’s losses to poor decisions from manager Matt Williams and poor performance from closer Drew Storen, it would be a tough case to argue that Dusty Baker’s career .421 playoff win percentage would do much to change that. I will say that the Nationals have definitely made some improvements, finding a more youthful pitching staff, led by Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Similarly, Daniel Murphy has proven that he can hit in the postseason just as well as anyone else, but, with Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos out for the postseason because of an ACL injury, I am pained to say that the Cubs stand the best chance of winning the NLCS.
In a previous article, the Phoenix had mentioned that this might finally be the Cubs’ year. As much as I would love the Cubs’ World Series drought to continue, they, nonetheless, have a strong shot at bringing home a trophy. I have to give General Manager Theo Epstein credit as he was the mastermind behind quickly building a powerful team composed of both elderly and youthful talent. The Cubs appear similar to the Orioles in that they both have starters that carry the team for a short streak before the next one picks up. This works in the long-term season, but in a short five or seven game series, premier arms like Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks can only start twice. Ace Jake Arietta has simply fallen off since the All-Star break, posting a 3.69 ERA and a dismal 12.60 ERA in his most recent start. While there’s certainly an argument to be made for the Cinderella story, I’m afraid this is just not the year, Cubbies.
The Boston Red Sox will win the World Series. Yes, I am a Red Sox fan, but I am making this decision based purely on objectivity. The Red Sox, hands down, have had the best offense in the MLB this year. Between Jackie Bradley Jr.’s impressive streak earlier in the season and Mookie Betts’ breakout season, the Red Sox are moving into postseason play with an unforgivingly high level of momentum. The Red Sox were red hot with a stellar 11-game win streak coming into the playoffs. The Red Sox also have one of the most underrated rotations of the year between David Price, Rick Porcello, and Drew Pomeranz. Losing Steven Wright and Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada to injury does not sit well, but considering the Red Sox depth on the bump and in the outfield, they should be fine. Similarly, the return of Koji Uehara, adding onto the already stellar closing battery of Junichi Tazawa and Craig Kimbrel, serves as an impressive boost for the Red Sox playoff run. If all goes well, the Red Sox are destined to bring home a trophy.