Going into last year’s playoffs, it was clear that the Cubs were the team to watch, and to beat. All of the history regarding their stunningly long Championship draught added to a singularly dominant regular season put the focus on their not just potential, but suddenly highly anticipated, post season success. The Melodrama of it coming down to a one run game seven after being down 3-1 in the series only heightened the lasting memory of all of last season up till the final pitch being about Chi Town and nothing else. But this year is completely different. That might not have been true if the Dodgers had stayed on pace for 115 wins, but not only did they fade down the stretch, but they were almost caught by both the Astros and last year’s hard luck World Series loser the Cleveland Indians. That left us with three teams with 100 or more wins for the first time in a while and there’s also more than one other dangerous team with less a few wins but still a packed roster, The Nationals, The Diamondbacks, and of course those Cubs. So, now that we know the matchups in the American League following the Yankees win over the Twins, let’s preview the next round from the league where the only five teams above .500 made the playoffs.
Cleveland Indians (102-60) Vs. New York Yankees (91-71):
Cleveland: The Indians are a better club than the one that could (should?) have won it all last year. The pitching staff led the majors (not just the A.L.) with a stunningly low 3.30ERA in a year where scoring was way up overall, and the strongest part of it was middle relief, the exact thing that let the Twins down in the Wild Card game. And with Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber getting the chance for two starts each, they might not even be that needed, especially for the games in Progressive Field. And it’s not like the Indians are all pitch, no hit: Cleveland was third in the AL in runs (818), second in batting average (.263) and second in OPS (.788). And they have a chip on their shoulder that so far looks much more like
motivation than baggage.
New York: Well, we know the Yanks can hit. Led by Gary Sanchez and Rookie of the Year shoe-in and possible MVP candidate Aaron Judge, they will certainly test Cleveland’s staff. But there
are two huge headwinds against the Yankees in this series, their starting pitching and Cleveland’s home field advantage (The Yankees were under .500 on the road this year). Their
relievers are solid, but with the recently better but still inconsistent Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia as their the top two starters for a five game series, the big question is where the game will be by the time the relievers are needed. And the options for a game 3 starter, their first one at home and possibly a must need are pretty bleak.
Prediction: Indians in 4. Their depth, especially on the mound, and home field advantage will be too much for this year’s Yankees to overcome. The path for N.Y. is there if they can win a
game in Cleveland and then take big advantage of Yankee Stadium’s band box feel and a rocking crowd, and if you tell me now that the series averages over 12 runs a game I’d take them, but Cleveland also has the playoff experience edge as well so that all seems an unlikely
Houston Astros (101-61) Vs. Boston Red Sox (93-69):
Houston: After getting off to as good a start as any Astro fan can remember, they faded a bit down the stretch, though not as much as their long time, though now ex-division rivals the
Dodgers. The slide was stemmed by the late season acquisition of Tiger ace Justin Verlander, who was having a poor season and seemed at the end of his career before having a great month just as Det. Decided to go into Fire Sale Mode, and he’s been even better since the trade, looking as dominant as any time in his multiple Cy Young winning HoF career. And with Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton having great years as well, starting pitching is as solid here as anywhere. Much like Cleveland, their hitting is just as good; The Astros led MLB in batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging percentage (.478), and a league-high 896 runs, well ahead of Boston’s 785. Interestingly, the Astro’s were markedly better on the road this year than at
Boston: First, let’s talk about the Sox’s big weakness, since it is as stunning as it gets. Despite playing in hitter friendly Fenway in a year when the ball was altered for offense and (shockingly)
multiple Home Run records fell, the Sox were last in the A.L. in Home Runs, though they were 6th in runs scored. They also were second in A.L. ERA behind Cleveland. Their fielding is
suspect, but so is Houston’s with both teams in the bottom third of the Majors in fielding percentage. They were solid and steady most all year, played almost as well on the road as home and have a strong fan base, but were not playing their best ball as the season wound down. Except for Cy Young Candidate Chris Sale, they have few recognizable stars, another oddity for a Red Sox team.
Prediction: Astros in 5. Houston had the splashier, and better, year, but their lack of a strong
home field advantage means they most likely would have to sweep in Fenway to win in less.
But it’s hard to see them also losing a game five at home considering the projected pitching
matchup and their overall run scoring differential.
Tomorrow: The National League preview.