Baseball? Huh? Yeah, I'm a huge baseball guy. I'm that guy who watches a 12:10 Royals vs. Orioles game if it's on TV. This season has been very intriguing. We saw big names like Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger dominate and put up ridiculous numbers. We saw young guys like Pete Alonso, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Yordan Alvarez light the league on fire. Additionally, we witnessed two powerhouses in the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox miss the playoffs after being mainstays for the back half of the decade. The playoffs are sure to exceed the excitement and intensity of the regular season. There's the usual suspects, the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, who all won over 100 games. There's also some new blood this year, with the Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays. Let's get into some of my predictions for the playoff. (Note: I'm probably going to be wrong, don't yell at me, but feel free to laugh at me).
AL Wild Card Game: Rays Vs. Athletics
The Tampa Bay Rays finished the season with a 96-66 record, good enough to earn themselves the second wild card spot in the A.L. This team is pitching oriented, with a one of the strongest starting pitching staffs in baseball. It includes Charlie Morton, a 35 year old who's pitching the best he ever has in his career. Blake Snell won the Cy Young award last year, but struggled with injury this year. He's still a great pitcher and someone you don't want to see as a batter. The breakout this year was Tyler Glasnow. Although he missed a majority of the season, he was incredible when he was healthy. Glasnow went 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA. He's healthy now, and arguably is the X-factor for the Rays. Tampa Bay's lineup is underwhelming for playoffs standards, but are led by a playoff experienced guy in Tommy Pham, as well as another breakout star in Austin Meadows.
The Oakland Athletics will be hosting the wild card game this year, after falling to the Yankees in the last years contest. Oakland's memo is hitting the long ball and good pitching. The lineup is filled with crazy pop, with six guys who hit over 20 home runs, led by Matt Olson and Matt Chapman who both hit 36. The pitching staff is filled with savvy veterans, like Mike Fiers and Brett Anderson who put up career statistical seasons. They do have an ace in Sean Manaea, who came back despite reports that he was going to miss the entire season. Manaea returned and absolutely shredded, pitching to the tune of a 1.21 ERA in five starts. The bullpen was hit or miss, as 2018 Cy young candidate Blake Treinen came back down to earth this year after having a historic 2018 campaign. However, Liam Hendriks took over for him and he took the closer role and ran with it. He finished the season with a 1.80 ERA and 25 saves and will surely be a factor in this game.
If you like offense, this isn't the game for you. This is going to be a low scoring game. I expect it to be Charlie Morton vs. Sean Manaea. Morton has the playoff experience as a key bullpen piece for the World Series winning Astros in 2017. Because of this, and the fact that Manaea hasn't pitched much this season, I'm rolling with the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 over the Oakland Athletics.
NL Wild Card Game: Brewers Vs. Nationals
After Christian Yelich went down, many put the Milwaukee Brewers playoff chances to bed. As the great Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friends. They were helped out by an easy schedule, but it's still an impressive feat. Milwaukee got back to their bread and butter, timely hitting and strong pitching to propel themselves into the playoffs. Keston Huira and Yasmni Grandal lead a short handed lineup missing Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. (He's banged up, and is questionable to play in the wild card game.) Starting pitching was decent, led by soft throwing righty Zach Davies and the return of Chase Anderson. The best pitcher for the Brewers though is Josh Hader. Hader struggled this year as opposed to last year, but still put up ridiculous strikeout numbers. He's the key for Milwaukee. Hader will surely pitch in the Wild card game. If they get a lead, he can shut down the Nationals and carry the Brewers to the win.
What a year for the Washington Nationals. Everyone counted them out after they lost Bryce Harper in free agency. They started out the season 19-31 and many saw them as a potential seller at the deadline. Not on their watch. The Nationals stormed through the second half and got great contributions from the usual suspects. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto led the charge for the offense, with Rendon likely to to garner MVP consideration after another great year. Of course you can't forget about the three headed monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strausburg and Patrick Corbin. This team is a dark horse World Series pick, as they have the pieces to take down any team.
I think the Nationals win this game and I don't think its going to be close. I think Scherzer and co. will be too much for the under manned Brewers.
AL Division Series
Twins vs. Yankees
The New York Yankees overcame injury after injury this year and despite all the adversity, they were able to finish with over 100 wins. We know what these guys do. They hit the ball far. New York finished second in the league in home runs this year, hitting a whopping 306. They've got a monster lineup, headed by Aaron Judge, Gleybar Torres and newcomer D.J. LeMahieu. They can score runs, but will their pitching staff be able to hold their end of the bargain? The Yankees will likely roll with a four man rotation, led by James Paxton. "Big Maple had a dominant stretch run, going 10-0 with a 2.50 ERA since August 2nd. He will be followed by Luis Severino, who finally made his return at the end of the season, Masahiro Tanaka and either J.A. Happ or C.C. Sabathia. If the Yankees pitching holds up, they can make win the World Series.
The only team to hit more home runs than the New York Yankees this year was the Minnesota Twins. The Twins came out of nowhere this year after a disappointing 2018 campaign to win over 100 games, and take the AL Central crown. Minnesota's lineup is full of pop, led by Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and the resurgent Nelson Cruz. This is another team that needs their pitching staff to step up. They have a clear cut ace in Jose Berrios, but after that it gets shaky. Jake Odorizzi was good this year, but struggled in his two outings against the Yankees. After that it gets really shaky, with the Twins likely to pitch Martin Perez in game three, who ended the season with an above 5.00 ERA.
I think this is a pretty easy series for the Yankees. They're the better team by far and it will show. Give me the Yankees to sweep the Twins and move on to the AL Championship Series.
Prediction: Yankees in 3
Rays vs. Astros
The Houston Astros are the best team in baseball. They're favored to win the World Series again. Houston doesn't really have any holes on their team. Lineup is unreal, MVP candidate Alex Bregman, former MVP Jose Altuve, former World Series MVP George Springer, Carlos Correa, rookie phenom Jordan Alvarez. Sheesh that is one scary group of hitters. The scary thing Is that their pitching might be even better. The Astros are led by the likely Cy Young winner and runner up in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Oh and they messed around and got former Cy Young award winner Zack Grienke at the deadline. That's three aces on one staff. Good luck going against these guys. The bullpen is probably the weakest link, but Roberto Osuna led the American League in saves, and posted a respectable 2.63 ERA.
If there's one team that could rival Houston's pitching, its Tampa Bay. The Rays have their own three headed monster and have to feel pretty confident that they can win any game with those three pitchers on the hill. That being said, I think Houston's lineup is too much for the Rays pitching and I think the Astros handle the Rays with relative ease.
Prediction: Astros in 4
National League Division Series
Braves vs. Cardinals
The Atlanta Braves look like they're going to be a problem for a long Tim. Their roster is rich of young talent, as well as some savvy vets with playoff experience. First, the lineup. Atlanta is led by Ronald Acuna Jr., who was three stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season. This guy is definitely going to win an MVP award or two in the near future. Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Josh Donaldson all made huge contributions this year and make the Braves one of the most feared lineups in all of baseball. The pitching for the Braves was the question going into this year. That question was answered by rookie right hander Mike Soroka. Soroka will likely receive Cy Young votes as he ended 2019 with a 13-4 record with a 2.68 ERA. He is the clear cut ace of the staff. They also have veteran left hander Dallas Keuchel, whose playoff experience will be valuable to the young roster.
The St. Louis Cardinals ended the year on a tear. Once 3.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs for the division lead, they used strong second half pitching to catapult themselves to the NL Central title. Let's give some love to Jack Flaherty real quick. Flaherty had a rough first half, but turned it around with a historic second half performance. His ERA after the All-Star break was a minuscule 0.99, putting himself in elite company. He might've done enough to win the CY Young award in his final start of the year, throwing seven shutout innings in the Cardinals division clinching win. The Cardinals offensively got good production from guys like Kolten Wong, Yadier Molina and rising star Tommy Edman. The key for St. Louis will be the duo of Paul Goldschmidt and Marcella Ozuna. They struggled during the regular season, but still put up decent numbers. If they can find their groove in the playoffs, watch out.
I believe this is going to be the best first round matchup we have. I would give Atlanta the edge on offense, but I would lean towards St. Louis for pitching, due to the dominant second half stretch by Flaherty. I think Flaherty wins the decisive game five in Atlanta, giving the Cardinals another trip to the National League Championship Series.
Prediction: Cardinals in 5
Nationals vs. Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers once again ran away with the NL West. That hasn't translated to any World Series titles. This team is looking to prove all the doubters wrong. It all starts with Cody Bellinger. Bellinger put up MVP type numbers after struggling during his second season. It wasn't all Bellinger though. The Dodgers got great production from future star Alex Verdugo and the steady Justin Turner. They also got good power numbers from Max Muncy and Joe Pederson, who hit a combined 71 long balls. The pitching was even more stellar and guess what? They also have a three headed monster. Future hall of fame Clayton Kershaw had another great statistical season and Walker Buehler looks to be a future all star and potential Cy Young award winner. However, they were overshadowed by one Hyun-Jin Ryu. Ryu had a monster year, pitching to a sub 2.00 ERA for most of the season until a couple of clunkers late. Despite that, he still won the ERA title, with a 2.32 ERA. He is one of the front runners for Cy Young, but innings pitched could become a factor, as he missed a couple of starts.
Yeah, I'm calling for the upset. Last time these two teams played in the playoffs the Dodgers won in five, giving the Bats another disappointing divisional round exit. I believe this will be a different story. I think the three headed monster of Scherzer, Strausburg and Corbin outduels the Dodgers staff and the Nationals finally get over the Division Series hump and make it to the Championship Series.
Prediction: Nationals in 5
American League Championship Series
Yankees vs. Astros
The two best teams in the American League getting a chance to duke it out to see who gets to represent the Junior Circuit in the World Series. I think the Astros win this one pretty handily. This Astros team could go down as one of the greatest dynasties in the history of baseball. They will further their dominance with a significant victory over a strong Yankees squad. The dominant starting pitching will prove to be too much for the Bronx Bombers,