By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
After nearly seven months of walk-offs, endless video reviews, pitching changes, defensive shifts, and so many other things too tedious to talk about, we baseball fans finally get the payoff.
Say hello to the REAL season. Or as Foghorn Leghorn would say, “Postseason, that is!!”
You grind through days and nights of watching the defending champion Astros hold off the upstart A’s in the AL West. You endure months of watching the Cubs, Cards, and Brewers exchange time atop the NL Central.
You wonder why in God’s name that Tampa would start someone who’s not even good enough to close a game, let alone start it. You also marvel at the emergence of young stars in the NL East like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies in Atlanta or Washington’s Juan Soto and Victor Robles.
You do all that knowing that in the long run, you’ll be rewarded in October. Last year, we saw those aforementioned Astros bring home their first World Series crown following a great seven-game series.
Houston — as well as their vanquished foes from L.A. — are back to this year’s party. Not to mention the usual suspects, like those mother@#%&*!$ from the Bronx, the Northsiders from Chi-Town, the fellas from Believeland, and the Mile High Club in Colorado.
While D.C., Arizona, and Minny couldn’t earn their invites to this year’s gala, they’ve been gainfully replaced by Atlanta’s Chop Shop, the True Blue Brew Crew, and the latest “Tower of Power” from Oakland.
We’ve already seen history this year with a pair of division tiebreakers in the NL. Now that the wildcards have been dealt, today’s focus is on the Division Series. Here’s our modest take on all four best-of-five matchups.
ROCKIES vs. BREWERS
How’d they get here: After just missing the postseason last year, Milwaukee (96-67) beat Chicago in the division tiebreaker to win the Central. Colorado (91-72) lost the NL West tiebreaker but nipped the Cubs 2-1 in an epic 13-inning Wild Card game.
Season series: Brewers won 5-2.
Skinny: While both bullpens have been outstanding all season, look further up the middle as to how this series plays out. Yes, Mr. Yelich and Mr. Arenado are atop the marquee, but centerfielders Charlie Blackman and Lorenzo Cain are the true table setters for each lineup. Also, don’t be surprised if a couple of grizzled vets — Matt Holiday and Curtis Granderson — are key factors as well.
Did you know: The Brewers tied their all-time record with 96 wins by winning 28 of their final 38 games, 10 of 11 and eight in a row, including consecutive three-game sweeps of the Cardinals — to clinch a postseason spot for the first time since 2011 — and of the Tigers.
X-Factor: Rest vs. momentum. This year’s version of “Rocktober” has seen Colorado play three straight days in three different time zones. We’ve already mentioned how the Brew Crew has been dealin’ down the stretch to gain the division and home-field throughout the playoffs. This matchup has all the makings of being a real knockdown, drag-out series.
Prediction: Brewers in five. But the Rockies will push them to the absolute limit.
BRAVES vs. DODGERS
How’d they get here: The defending NL champs (92-71) outlasted Colorado (91-72) in their division tiebreaker to win their sixth straight West crown. As for Atlanta, the upstart Braves (90-72) beat out Washington (82-80) and Philly (80-82) to win the East for the first time since 2013.
Season series: Dodgers won 5-2.
Skinny: Way back in an alternative universe, the Dodgers and Braves would routinely fight it out for the NL West supremacy before realignment. However, it’s the third time these franchises have met in the NLDS. Atlanta swept L.A. (3-0) in 1996 while the Dodgers returned the favor (3-1) in 2013. Also, L.A. defeated the then Milwaukee Braves 2-0 in the 1959 NL pennant tiebreaker (best-of-three) en route to a World Series title.
Did you know: The Dodgers’ six-year reign in the NL West is the third longest streak since divisional play began in 1969, trailing only the 11 straight by the Braves (1995-2005) and nine consecutive by the Yankees (1998-2006).
X-Factor: Experience vs. youth. Atlanta’s breakthrough season came after three straight 90-loss campaigns while the Dodgers’ division reign has been well chronicled. That being said, the Braves will enter Thursday’s opener just a bit more rested than L.A. due to Monday’s tiebreaker. The Foltynewicz vs. Ryu matchup in Game One will definitely set the tone for this series.
Prediction: Braves in five. Just a hunch that there’s still some magic left in Dixie.
YANKEES vs. RED SOX
How’d they get here: An historic regular season saw Boston set a franchise record for wins (108-54) and give them the AL East crown. As for New York, their rollercoaster season (100-62) still put them in the Wild Card for the second straight season. They also advanced to the ALDS again following a 7-2 thumping of the upstart A’s.
Season series: Red Sox won 10-9
Skinny: Just when you thought it was safe to avoid another New York and Boston vs. everybody matchup, huh? Get ready for another week of the baseball intelligencia shoving “the greatest rivalry in sports” down everyone’s collective throats. You can either watch the game on mute or have a least a pair of shovels at your disposal listening to the hype.
Did you know: The Red Sox are one of seven American League teams ever to win as many as 108 games in a season, and the fourth AL East club to do so (Orioles in 1969 — 109; Orioles in 1970 — 108; Yankees in 1998 — 114). All three clubs reached the World Series.
X-Factor: Postseason angst in Beantown. Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello are a combined 0-11 with a 6.18 ERA as postseason starters. Also, the Red Sox have gone a collective 1-6 in the ALDS against the Indians and Astros the past two postseasons. They must defend this house and then some.
Prediction: Yankees in five. I can hear Dad going “Heh, heh, heh” in the background.
INDIANS vs. ASTROS
How’d they get here: For the third straight season, Cleveland (91-71) took home another AL Central crown despite some injuries down the stretch. As for Houston, the defending World Series champs (103-59) held off a strong challenge from Oakland (97-65) to repeat as AL West champs
Season series: Astros won 4-3.
Skinny: Pitching, pitching, and did I mention pitching? While both lineups are potent, this series will likely be won on the bump. Cleveland boasts a staff that has four starters with at least 200 K’s this season. Houston counters with a pair of Cy Young Award winners (Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel) sandwiched around Gerrit Cole throwing in the first three games. Cole’s 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings led the Majors.
Did you know: No team has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.
X-Factor: The Curse of Chief Wahoo?? Two years ago, Cleveland pushed the Cubs to an epic seven-game World Series before falling short. Last year, they blew a 2-0 ALDS lead to the Yankees before losing a deciding Game Five — again at home. Not to say that Terry Francona will get the ax if Cleveland falls again — but needless to say — something’s gotta give for the tortured souls in Believeland.
Prediction: Astros in four. Unlike the candy commercial, we’re kinda sorry, Cleveland.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.