By Brady Kas
The time has finally arrived. After six months and 162 games of regular season baseball, the playoffs are finally here! To begin with, I want to recap a little bit on how we got to this point in the season, so if you haven’t watched a single game all year, don’t worry, I got you covered.
In the beginning, teams across the country were still dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic, and not all ballparks were given 100% capacity by the local governments. Heck, one team, the Toronto Blue Jays, weren’t even allowed to play in their own country as Canada still had very strict travel bans for entry and exit into and out of their country. But soon things would change. By July 20, every team in the US had been given clearance for 100% capacity, a great sign for baseball, sports, and the world. Soon on July 30 after two years away from the city of Toronto, the Jays were able to move back into their stadium, with limited capacity, as well. I myself went to multiple games this year, and to hear the crowd, and be in the crowd was special. You forget the meaning of actually going to a sporting event, and I was glad I could do that again this summer with my family.
For individual performances this year, in the American League some guy from the Angles is going to win the MVP award. However, it’s not Mike Trout, who sadly suffered a season-ending injury in May, but rather Shohei Ohtani. The 27-year-old pitcher and hitter (yes you read that right) has dominated baseball this year. He finished this year with 46 home runs, 100 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases. On the mound, he finished with a 3.18 ERA, to go along with 10.77 K/9, and a 9-2 record on the year in 130.1 IP. Many have called this the greatest single season performance in history, and it’s hard to argue it. I feel bad for guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who put up monster numbers all year, but never really had a shot at winning this award.
In the National League, Jacob DeGrom looked like the front-runner for not only the Cy Young, but the MVP award early on. However, injuries cut his season short, and we haven’t seen him pitch since July 7th. Next up, Fernando Tatis Jr. seemed to have it wrapped up, but then shoulder injuries and inconsistent play by the Padres led to him dropping in the race. Tatis still put-up monster numbers this year, but the Padres fell too far behind in the standings, and he missed too many games due to lingering injuries. So really, it left us with two candidates. Juan Soto had arguably the greatest second-half of any hitter in baseball history, but nobody seemed to notice or talk about it. The reason being, the Nationals finished 30 games below .500. His games simply did not have the same impact as the next guy on the list, and therefore will probably cost him the award.
The person most likely to win this award is former National Bryce Harper. Harper, while he wasn’t voted an all-star this year (big mistake by everyone involved), had his best season since he won this award back in 2015. Harper was destroying the baseball all year, but really picked it up in the second half and had his team battling for a playoff spot late in the year. He slashed an impressive .308/.427/.612, and had 35 homers, 84 RBIs, and 100 runs on the year. Simply put, he was a stud all year, and earned every penny of his massive salary for this year.
For team performances this year, we definitely got some surprises. There were some teams who were out of contention before the season started, like the Orioles, Pirates, and Diamondbacks. There were other teams who we thought were going to be good but struggled all year. The Twins are prime example of a team like this. Then there were teams who were just good enough to get your hopes up as a fan but faltered down the stretch. For Padres and Mets fans, they know what I’m talking about. Both teams looked primed for a playoff push, but injuries and inconsistency plagued their season. Look for some major changes, either in the front office, coaching staff, and/or with personnel for both teams this offseason.
However, I think two teams and their fanbases may have had the hardest year out of anyone. The Cubs and Nationals tore down their roster at the trade deadline, shipping off all-stars, World Series champions, and future hall-of-famers left and right. As a Cubs fan myself, I can tell you that July 30th was not a good day for me. Both teams came into the year expecting to battle for a playoff spot, but once that never happened, it was time for the stars to go. In the end, both teams really struggled down the stretch, and began the process of rebuilding their farm systems in hopes of competing here in a few years.
On the flip side, most of the teams in the playoffs this year, got at least one player from either the Cubs or Nationals at the deadline. Of the teams in the playoffs this year, only the Rays, Brewers, and Astros did not acquire at least one player from either of the two teams. The other seven, all acquired players from either team, and every one of the new guys really had an impact on their new ball club. Kris Bryant really added a ton of versatility and depth to that Giants lineup, Kyle Schwarber provides that left-handed power the Red Sox needed so badly, and Joc Pederson provides the Braves with more outfield depth, which is something they needed after losing Ronald Acuna Jr. for the season early this year. I could go on-and-on, but these moves are the reasons why these teams made the playoffs. So, without any further delay, let’s talk about each playoff matchup.
New York Yankees (92-70) vs. Boston Red Sox (92-70)
The greatest rivalry in sports is back for one more game this season. The Red Sox host the Yankees on Tuesday night, and boy should it be exciting. For the Yankees if there is one word to describe their season it would be inconsistent. At times, they have looked like a serious contender, but other times, they’ve looked like one of the worst teams in baseball. Just take a look below at the table to see how inconsistent they have been this year.
|First 25 Games
|Next 25 Games
|Next 48 Games
|Next 30 Games
|Next 15 Games
|Last 19 Games
However, there’s no denying that if this team is hot, they can beat anybody. Giancarlo Stanton may be the hottest hitter in baseball and has been absolutely destroying the baseball the last two months of the season. Since August 1, he’s hit 19 bombs, and knocked in 51 RBIs for the Bronx Bombers. Stanton, who had been playing mostly DH since being acquired by the Yankees a couple of years back, is now playing more outfield with the addition of Joey Gallo to the lineup, and he has seemed to embrace this change.
As for the Red Sox, they got off to such a strong start, but have cooled off as of late. The Red Sox have surprised a lot of people this year after having a down year last year, and the reason for that has to be pitching. Not to take anything away from the season that Rafel Devers and Xander Bogarts are having, but I think we knew this offense was going to score runs, so that was never really a concern. As for the pitching, the starters last year was not very good, and we thought this might hold them back again this year too. Take a look at some of the numbers below.
While these are just a few stats I decided to highlight, the Sox have virtually had this type of improvement with all of their stats this year. I understand that last year was a weird year with COVID, their manager being fired right before the season started because of the Astros cheating scandal, and injuries, but the turn around this year has to be a happy sight for Boston fans this year.
For this matchup, it looks like we’ll get to see the two aces go against each other in Gerrit Cole and Nathan Eovaldi. Cole went 2-2 this year against the Red Sox, and Boston seems to have him figured out. Boston has garnered the highest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging of any team Cole faced more than once this year. For Eovaldi, a lot of the same can be said for him. The Yankees have hit him hard all year, and after starting 2-0 against them this year, he’s lost his last four starts to them. Because of this, give me the Yankees in a 4-2 win over the Red Sox.
(1) Tampa Bay Rays (100-62) vs. (4) Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees
The Tampa Bay Rays were definitely the most consistent team this year in the division, and they were rewarded for their efforts by cruising to a 100-win season, and their second consecutive division title. While Boston got off to the hot start, and New York was up-and-down all year, take a look at the consistency the Rays had. Look at how consistent the team was each month compared to the other teams. This was a huge factor in them winning their division.
The key to the Rays success is, and always has been their bullpen. This year, Tampa Bay led the league with a 7.9 WAR from relievers, and had the lowest ERA by a bullpen in the AL. The offense and starters have done just enough to give them a lead late in games, and in October good bullpens win championships.
For season matchups, the Rays went 11-8 against both teams, but the pitching staff had way more success facing the Yankees than the Red Sox. In 19 games, the Yankees scored 50 runs, while the Boston scored 104 runs in their matchups this year. I think the Rays are better than either team here, but this will be a close series regardless of who wins. Tampa wins this hard-fought series in five games.
(2) Houston Astros (95-67) vs. (3) Chicago White Sox (93-69)
The Astros just keep winning. With the loss of George Springer in free agency, and Justin Verlander who missed the entire year due to injury, the Astros success may have come as a surprise to some. I myself expected them to battle for a Wild Card spot but did not see them winning the division. I was wrong about that. When comparing this team to the Rays, they really are opposites of each other. The Astros stack good at-bats together every game, and manufacturer a lot of runs by just putting the ball in play. Houston scored the most runs this year in baseball with 863 but hit the ninth most home runs in baseball with 221. Yes, this still puts them in the top third in the entire league in terms of home runs, but just for comparison, the Twins, who finished 15 games below .500, had the fifth most home runs in baseball with 228, but scored only 729 runs on the year as their offense relied largely on the deep ball. That’s the difference between the two teams and it shows that Astros are good enough to score without hitting a home run.
The White Sox have been an interesting team all year for me. They clearly have a lot of talent on their team, and the addition of Craig Kimbrel only bolstered their already good bullpen. But for me, I can’t tell how good this team really is. It sounds weird saying that about a team who finished 24 games above .500, and won their division by 13 games, but that’s just it. Nobody else in their division this year had a winning record. Since 2000, this exact scenario where only one team in a division finishes above .500 has now happened eight times. Of the previous seven times, five of the teams lost in the divisional series, one lost in the championship series, and the Astros won it all in 2017. Generally speaking, these teams just haven’t fared well in October. Give me the Astros in four games.
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56)
Just imagine being the Dodgers and Dodger fans for a second. You have the second-best record in baseball, and have consistently been listed as a top two team by experts all year. The only problem is the best team plays in your division, and now you’re stuck in a one game, win-or-go home scenario. It gets worse for Dodgers fans too, as the Cardinals are the hottest team in baseball winning 21 of 25 games to close out the year.
Overall, in the second half the Redbirds are 20 games above .500, and of course, this was in large part due to their 17-game win streak. The veterans Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina have been really good for them this year, and Tyler O’Neil has provided some new, young energy to the lineup. They have a good team, and seem to be peaking at the right time, which can make them a tricky opponent for anybody in the playoffs.
However, the Dodgers have one man that I’m not sure any team can beat in a one game series. I mentioned this in my previous blog post, but Max Scherzer has been the best acquisition by any team at the trade deadline. Since coming over to LA, Scherzer has lowered every statistic possible, and has put himself in the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award. He has a record of 7-0 in his 11 starts with the Dodgers, but Los Angeles is 11-0 overall in games he has started for them. He has literally been unbeatable in Dodger Blue. Give me the Dodgers in a 6-1 victory.
(1). San Francisco Giants (107-55) vs. (4) Los Angeles Dodgers/St. Louis Cardinals
This will be my favorite matchup of the postseason if it happens. Dodgers and Giants. West coast baseball at its finest. Now, this may not happen as the Cardinals are very capable of winning their game against the Dodgers, but I’m hoping LA can pull out a “W” on Wednesday night. As for the Giants, they have easily been the most surprising team in baseball this year. In preseason predictions, experts across the country had them finishing in fourth place in their division, and a losing record was predicted by many. Instead, the Giants are the best team in baseball, and have won 100 games for the first time since 2003. I recently saw a crazy stat where the Dodgers went 50-21 in the second half of the season. This number should easily lead a team to a division title, but the Dodgers were able to gain just a game on the Giants in the standings as San Francisco went 50-23 in the second half. What a season both teams had, and it’s a shame at least one will go home before the NLCS.
Since 2012 when the new Wild Card was inputted into both leagues, there have been six matchups where the Division champ faces another opponent from the same division. With both teams coming from the NL West, this is now the seventh occurrence. Of the previous six meetings, the Division champ won the series 5/6 times, with the only exception being in 2015 when the Cubs beat the Pirates in the Wild Card game and would go on to beat the Cardinals in the NLDS.
San Francisco went just 2-4 against St. Louis this year and went 10-9 against the Dodgers. But if you were to ask them, they would probably rather face the Cardinals, even with a losing record against them this year. I don’t see this happening though. I expect a big series from former Cub Kris Bryant and Brandon Crawford, and the Giants eliminate the Dodgers in five games.
Milwaukee Brewers (95-67) vs. (3.) Atlanta Braves (88-73)
This is another interesting series between the Brewers and Braves. For the Braves, prior to the injury to superstar Ronald Acuna Jr., they sat at just 44-44 on the year and seemed to be stuck in neutral. They could not get anything going consistently and were never really able to get in a groove. Since the injury, the lineup and pitching staff has come together, and really been solid. The Braves are 44-29 since the injury, and eventually overtook the Mets for the division lead. The real key to success for the Braves this year has been the infield. This is one of the most consistent, and best infields we’ve seen in recent memory. Together, the Braves infield of Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, and Dansby Swanson started 148 of the 162 games this year which is absurd to think about. The foursome has been vital to the success of not only the offense as all four of those guys have put up big numbers this year, but also to the pitching staff. This type of stability gains trusts from pitchers and creates a comfort level that is needed to be successful. It’s going to be hard without Acuna, but this team is deep, and has the talent to beat the Brewers.
Finally, last but not least, let’s talk about the Brewers. Similarly, to the Rays in their division, the Brew Crew has been the best team in the division all year, even early on when they weren’t leading you always knew they would make a run. Here’s another graph below that highlights the steady rise the Brewers had to take the division crown, and how they’ve been able to hold onto it here down the stretch.
As far as individual players, this team might have the best starting rotation in all baseball. Corbin Burnes is clearly in the Cy Young race and would shock nobody if he actually won the award. Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta are both studs and will make it hard for any team to beat them in a series with these three horses leading the way. However, things are not all perfect for the Brewers. Devin Williams, one of the best relievers in baseball, broke his hand punching a wall last week, and will likely miss the rest of postseason. This is a good bullpen the Brewers have, but this loss hurts them.
One solution the Brewers might have is putting Peralta into the bullpen. There is no doubt he’s been special this year starting games and has earned the right to start in big playoff games, but with Williams out, they need someone else to get those outs. MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac was the first person I heard mention this possibility, and it’s something I could totally get behind. In October, the bullpen and the nine-plus outs they are asked to get every night are the most important outs of the game. Take a look at Peralta’s career splits as a starter and a reliever.
Clearly Peralta is able to do this, and I would love to see this happen this postseason. While this could certainly be an issue for the Brewers, I still have the Brewers winning the series. I’ll give the Braves a game, but Brewers win in four.
This concludes my blog for the MLB Playoffs! My next blog post will probably come out after the postseason detailing the offseason for each team, but until then, kick back, relax, and hopefully your favorite team will be hoisting the World Series Trophy in the end!