Well, I’m one for two. (I’m also standing beneath Jon Lester in that picture.)
The Wild Card games were dominant pitching affairs, and consequently, we bid farewell to the New York Yankees and to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s time to turn to the next round, the best of five League Divisional Series. These are usually quick affairs, settled in decisive order as the best/hotter team wreaks havoc on the lesser/less-hot team.
But first, a few thoughts on the National League Wild Card Game…
In the seventh inning, Jake Arrieta was pitching a shutout. His stuff wasn’t as sharp as usual, which would fell a more mortal pitcher – for Arrieta, all it meant was that his defense bailed him out several times and that he had the misfortune to strike two Pittsburgh batters – Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison. Neither were outright plunkings, and in the postseason (in a winner-take-all game, no less), it somewhat boggles the mind to think that a team would put pride and defense of its hitters.
Let’s get this right out in front – plunking the pitcher because two of your teammates were struck by errant pitches is bush league. It’s a thing that I feel has no place in much of baseball, and especially not the postseason. It smacks of desperation and sore losing. I get that three years of wild card games in a row leads to tension that boils over, and that bad blood might have built up over the season, but this has no place in the game. As soon as this happened, it was effectively game over for the Bucs.
And now, onto the actual baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays vs Texas Rangers, Game 1 Thursday, 3:30 EST
Baseball hasn’t been played in the postseason in Canada since the original Jurassic Park came out. Twenty plus years of nada. And here come the Jays with the best offensive team in baseball, a potential MVP in Josh Donaldson, and a potential Cy Young winner in David Price. They’re set against the Texas Rangers, a team that pulled their way from the basement after what felt like fifteen years (I exaggerate) of injury hell.
There are a few players with legacies on the line in this matchup – the Rangers didn’t get quite the impact from acquiring Cole Hamels that they wanted, but the ex-Phillie has been serviceable. And let us not forget that he’s already got one ring and several years of postseason play under his belt. That kind of experience can come in handy when facing young newcomers like these Jays – Jose Bautista, one of the best hitters in the game, has never played a single inning of playoff baseball. Meanwhile, the Rangers are no offensive slouches themselves, featuring hitters like Prince Fielder, Shin Soo Choo, and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, not to mention former Rangers star Josh Hamilton.
If the Rangers move on, it adds another starry ledger to Beltre’s magnificent career and will probably lead to Hamilton getting that statue out front of the Ballpark in Arlington that Rangers fans always wanted. However, they’ve got to get past Price and the Jays offense, and I don’t think that Texas has enough pitching to do so.
Prediction: Rangers in Four
Kansas City Royals vs Houston Astros, Game 1 Thursday, 7:30 EST
Meanwhile, the Royals are back, winners of five straight, and loaded. Johnny Cueto hasn’t been the saving grace he was intended to be – he’s been fairly mediocre, actually – but he wasn’t acquired to dominate the regular season. He was brought in to face up against the Prices and Keuchels of the world, and it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to dominate like the Royals intended.
He may not have to – that Royals defense is borderline historical. The outfield is where hits go to die. Their offense won’t launch a ton of homers, but is balanced and evenly spread out – they’re sort of the anti-Astros, not reliant on home runs but instead on a team effort.
The Astros made it past the Yankees on the strength of home runs, but that won’t fly in spacious Kaufmann Stadium against a Royals pitching squad designed to get punch outs and ground balls. Yordano Ventura seems to have turned things around, and the bullpen is still as terrifying as ever. Greg Holland is out, but Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have been joined by Ryan Madsen to create the latest criminally unfair relief squad.
This one should be quick.
Prediction: Royals in Three
St. Louis Cardinals vs Chicago Cubs, Game 1 Friday, 6:30 EST
The Cardinals racked up the best record in the majors this year, winning exactly 100 games. They’ve piled on cluster luck, solid pitching, and a reliable offense led by Matt Carpenter to get there, but they’re hurting. Yadier Molina has been lost for the offseason, and when you lost a borderline Hall of Fame catcher who is the leader of your team, that’s a hard blow to overcome. Matt Holliday has been hobbled or out for much of the year, and erstwhile ace Adam Wainwright is still recovering from an Achilles injury as he toils in the bullpen. (Then again, the last time he was in the bullpen, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006…)
Meanwhile, the Cubs have won nine straight, and while they won’t get to pitch Arrieta until at least Game 3, they still have Jon Lester throwing in Game One, and like Hamels, he knows a thing about October. That line up is deep, and a win like the one they experienced on Wednesday night can have a certain galvanizing effect on a team’s overall spirit.
Oh, and while Cubs-Cardinals is one of the two best rivalries in the sport of baseball, these two teams have never met in the postseason. Chew on that for a while.
The teams are much closer than they look, and the Cubs are surging while St. Louis is on a form of autopilot. One or two quick innings, and we get…
Prediction: Cubs in five
Los Angeles Dodgers vs New York Mets, Game 1 Friday, 9:30 EST
And then there’s this series, which can go two ways. (Yes, all the series can go two ways, but this is the most bipolar of the four.) If the Mets young pitching dominates a Dodgers lineup prone to strikeouts, if their offense clicks, and if Yoenis Cespides and David Wright (himself a player in need of postseason credentials to help round out a borderline-Hall-of-Fame career) can lead this team past the $300 million juggernaut that is the Dodgers, then there will be celebration in Flushing and half of a potential rematch of Mets-Cardinals from the 2006 NLCS.
On the other hand, if Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke do Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke things, this series will be over very quickly. After watching Arrieta dispatch the Pirates in short order, I feel like the latter is far more likely.
Prediction: Dodgers in four