The LDS is in the books, the next round is underway, and all ready my predictions are looking to be half-baked at best.
It’s time to delve into just exactly what these series are all about. October continues, y’all.
ALCS: Kansas City Royals vs Toronto Blue Jays
Current Score: Royals lead two games to zed. (Canada, eh?)
This is exactly the series that everyone predicted all the way back in April. Yes. That’s totally it.
The Blue Jays and Royals are the biggest advocates yet for teams to go all in at the trading deadline. Whether that’s a good idea or not, it’s certainly worked out great for both teams so far. The Jays got two bonafide superstars in Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, a few relievers to build up a bullpen in great need of relief (heh), and a quality lead-off hitter in Ben Revere. Those trades helped to kick start a massive second half run culminating in the first playoff berth for the Great White North since 1993. Meanwhile, the Royals filled in their Omar-Infante shaped hole at second with Ben Zobrist and got Johnny Cueto to win games much like Game 5 of the ALDS.
So, what happens now?
Well, there are two things that we didn’t count on. The first was that Cueto would pitch like vintage Cueto. In his first dozen or so starts for Kansas City, he didn’t pitch great. Like, at all. (4-7, 4.76 ERA, 56 Ks in 81 innings pitched, 11.2 home runs per 9 IP, I could go on…) After a relatively crappy Game 2 of the LDS, it didn’t seem as though Cueto could be trusted in tight situations, let alone a must win situation.
And then, in Game 5, he promptly gave up a two-run home run to Luis Freakin’ Valbuena, of all people. Things didn’t look good.
Following that, though, something clicked. Cueto began to pitch with fire and verve. Having been a Reds fan during the recent Dusty Baker-led resurgence, I can verify that Cueto pitches best when he’s pitching with swagger. It’s easy to tell that Luis Tiant is a big influence upon his style based upon the wind-up alone, but there’s an equal amount of showmanship that can resemble young Pedro Martinez when he’s on. A confident strut when he comes off the mound. A demand for the ball. A fire that erupts whenever an inning has been closed out. After that home run, Cueto retired nineteen straight batters, the longest streak since Don Larsen pitched a perfecto in 1956.
When Cueto has his swagger back, opposing teams should tremble in fear.
Meanwhile, up in Canada, the Jays went down two games to none. The Rangers played competitively for two more full games and most of Game 5. And then, well, things got weird.
The wayward throw off of Shin-Soo Choo’s bat. The three consecutive errors by the Rangers defense. The Bautista home run. That bat flip, though.
Never mind that David Price hasn’t pitched well so far this postseason – he did pitch well for most of Game Two on Saturday, until the Jays defense literally dropped the ball. This team has shown a Royals-like verve for playing their best when the chips are down. There’s no real metric to project how clutch Toronto will play if they’re facing a must win game (as they will be tonight), but it’s probably safe to say that they cannot be counted out until the series is over.
I’m expecting a 2-1 split to happen in Toronto – the Royals play to their strengths better than anyone else in baseball, and haven’t really had to adjust because of it. They hit for contact rather than going for the big home run, which leads to multiple rallies once a pitcher has been rattled. (See Game 2) Their defense wants the ball to be hit to them. They don’t care for strikeouts as much as some other teams, and when they do, it’s in the late innings as a way to completely destroy a team’s morale. I’m feeling big about the Royals in this series. Winning in six might have been an overestimation on my part.
Prediction: Royals in six
NLCS: New York Mets vs Chicago Cubs
The Score So Far: New York Mets lead 1-0
This column was written and finalized before the events of last night, which means that you won’t read anything about the Cubs
completely failing not quite getting enough runs against Syndergaard.
Neither the New York Mets nor the Royals have won the World Series since 1986 and 1985, respectively. There’s a lot of fans on both sides who are feeling the sweet bliss of the return to contention. The Mets lost the Subway Series in 2000, and a heartbreaker of an NLCS in 2006. They feel like this year is their year.
Cubs fans hear those thoughts and be like “LOLOLOLOLOL”.
Cubs fans have good reason to feel positive about what they’ve done, and have possibly their best chance to make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Their young hitters are mashing the ball. Jake Arrieta has been possessed by the wayward soul of Bob Gibson. That bullpen is firing arrows into the crowd of Wrigley Field as though they’re volunteering as tribute for the Hunger Games. There’s a fire and excitement in the city that I’ve never experienced before. I was just beginning to think that Chicago might be a hockey town at heart – I was cruelly mistaken. This is a baseball city, through and through, and it is a beautiful time to live in Chicago.
The Mets are no slumping spring chicken, however – they made it this far for a reason, and that reason is the three headed pitching monster of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob DeGrom. That’s a trio that loves to throw fastballs really really hard. On the surface, that should be a good thing for the power hitting Cubs, who have shown a fairly historic propensity to hit lots and lots of home runs so far in this postseason. Kyle Schwarber in particular seems to have developed some kind of hate for low-orbiting satellites. And yet, the Mets have other pitches besides the fastball, as Harvey showed by mixing in a filthy set of curves, sliders, and change-ups that baffled the Cubs hitters on Saturday.
There are two things that the Cubs will need to do in order to win – the Mets offense is resilient enough to be a neutral factor; this series is going to be won or lost on the backs of the North Side’s offense. First, the Cubs will need to adjust to show that they can hit the breaking stuff – it won’t need to be moonshots, but it will need to be enough. Secondly, they will need to wear down the opposing starters. All of the Mets young pitchers are well pass their previous high for innings pitched, and that’s before getting into the high-pressure at-bats that come in the postseason.
If the Cubs can’t adjust, the Mets will win. If the Cubs do, well…
I believe that they can.
Prediction: Cubs in five.
(Editor’s Note: I wish I could revise my prediction to say Cubs in six, but I really think that once the Cubs bats get rolling, this is over in five games. At the very least, I made my prediction, and I will stick to it. <sees last night’s game score> Welp.)
Travis’s Picks So Far: 3-1 in LDS, 4-2 overall