The postseason picture has finally been set. But, this year is different than others. The race for the crown is wide open without a clear-cut favorite. This should provide baseball fans with extremely competitive divisional match-ups that will keep them on the edge of their seats.
The Red Sox will square off with the Astros and the Yankees will face the Indians. Both Divisional Series matchups pose different questions for each ballclub they continue their quest for the MLB crown.
ALDS: (3) Boston Red Sox vs. (2) Houston Astros
Biggest Question: Will the Red Sox’s offense present itself this time around?
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The ALDS did not go as planned for the 2016 Boston Red Sox. They were swept by the Indians, as their bats fell silent at the most inopportune time one could fathom. This came to be quite a surprise, considering that the Sox led the league in almost every offensive stat during the regular season.
The Red Sox have definitely lost production due to the departure of Big Papi, but they have still been winning enough games to be granted the second seed in the American League. Their pitching has been phenomenal, largely due to the likes of Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, and Craig Kimbrel. The pitching staff has posted a 3.71 team ERA (4th in MLB).
The offense has been hit-or-miss, scoring just enough runs for the pitching to handle. At times, they look to be the most dangerous lineup in the American League, largely due to the production of Mookie Betts. At other times, many fans question whether the Sox are deserving of such a high seed in the postseason. Another point to add is the number of home runs hit this season compared to last. Last season, the Red Sox slugged 208 HR, placing them 9th in the league in that standing. This season, the Sox have dropped 18 spots while only hitting 167 HR. And yet, Boston has still found a way to win ballgames, and that is the true mark of a great team.
The Astros, however, have been remarkably productive this season, seeming to trade places with the 2016 Red Sox. During the regular season, the Astros have led almost every offensive category while hitting 237 HR, placing them second in the MLB behind the Yankees. Statistically, they have been the most productive offense in baseball this season.
On the other hand, their pitching has been average with a team ERA sitting at 4.11 and their BAA at .240. During the first half of the year, they had a team ERA of 3.93 (5th in MLB). But, injuries to Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel caused a spike in their second-half ERA, climbing to 4.35 (16th in MLB). This caused the Astros to trade for six-time All-Star and former MVP, Justin Verlander. Since this acquisition, Verlander has solidified Houston’s rotation while being almost unhittable in his first handful of starts since joining his new club. The Astros can beat you in either facet of the game, and that is was makes them so dangerous.
I expect this series to be extremely competitive one. While the Astros have very little playoff experience, Boston does. The end of their 2016 campaign left them with a bad taste in their mouths heading into the offseason, while Houston was on the couch watching the defeat. Both teams definitely have something to prove this time around.
Prediction: Houston defeats Boston 3-1. Houston simply has too much offensive firepower, and I cannot see Boston keeping up with them. Even though Boston’s rotation is deeper, their offense will not be able to match Houston’s.Embed from Getty Images
ALDS: (4) New York Yankees vs. (1) Cleveland Indians
Biggest Question: Will the Yankees continue to swing hot bats in the postseason?
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What looked to be the first World Series win since 1948 for the Tribe turned into an absolute disaster. They held a 3-1 lead against the Cubs and then lost back-to-back games to set up one of the greatest game 7’s in sports history. Kris Bryant put Cleveland’s dreams to rest retired Michael Martinez to clinch the series victory, breaking the hearts of every Tribe fan out there.
However, the Cleveland Indians look even more dominant this year than last. They rattled off 22 straight victories which helped them clinch the AL’s No.1 seed in the postseason. Jose Ramirez has emerged as one of the best and brightest stars in the game of baseball today, batting .318 with 56 doubles (leads MLB) and 29 HR. Fransisco Lindor continues to get better and better every year, as he leads the entire league in home runs by a shortstop with 33 bombs. Despite injuries to perennial All-Stars such as Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, Cleveland’s offense managed to score 815 runs, which was fifth-best in the entire league.
Starting pitching has been the Indians’ greatest asset throughout the regular season. Predicted Cy-Young winner Corey Kluber has been lights-out, winning 18 games, posting a 2.25 ERA, and striking out 265 batters. The supporting cast has been extremely solid as well. Carlos Carrasco shares the lead on the team with 18 wins while holding a 3.29 ERA. Even Trevor Bauer has racked up 17 wins. In fact, the Indians have 5 different starters with at least 10 wins or more. To say the least, that is truly remarkable.
If New York has any chance at beating the Tribe, they need to score runs early and often. And what better way is there to do that than hitting the long ball. The “Bronx Bombers” are back, cracking a league-leading 240 home runs. Aaron Judge has statistically been one of greatest rookie ballplayers in the history of the game, smashing 52 home runs and collecting 114 RBI. He also led the league with 127 walks, showing outstanding patience for such a young player. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorious have also had fantastic years, combining for 58 home runs and 177 RBI. Starlin Castro, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley have all hit at least 12 home runs as well. Needless to say, this lineup is deep, and it will take a full-team effort to slow down the “Bronx Bombers” in October.
The Yankees yearned for starting pitching as the trade deadline approached. Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM, acquired Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia to solidify the rotation and give this young team a chance at the franchise’s 28th World Series ring. Since the All-Star break, the Yankees have lowered their team ERA from a 4.02 to a 3.40. Even with the acquisition of these two veteran arms, the young Luis Severino has thrown better than any other pitcher in the rotation this season. He holds a 2.98 ERA with 230 strikeouts and 14 wins. I don’t think anyone could have seen this type of success from a young fire-baller who was, to put it frankly, horrendous in 2016 (5.83 ERA in only 71 IP). The success of Luis Severino and the rest of the Yankees’ starting pitching staff is essential if they want to upset the World Series favorites in the ALDS.
If the Yankees can continue to swing the bats at a high rate, they can definitely give Cleveland a scare early this postseason. Each team holds some of the best young talents in baseball, and it will surely be a battle of whose stars shine brightest in this ALDS battle.
Prediction: Cleveland beats New York 3-2. Both teams win their home games to force a game 5. Kluber takes down Severino as Cleveland’s bullpen continues their dominance from the previous postseason, largely due to Andrew Miller. The Yankees’ bullpen, specifically Chapman and Betances, will struggle to throw strikes.Embed from Getty Images
James “Jeep” DiCioccio