With Major League Baseball Wild Card round completed, I will look ahead to the Divisional round. The only Wild Card game that went all three games was the New York Mets against the San Diego Padres, with the Padres advancing after picking up a 6-0 shutout win on October 10. Three of the MLB Wild Card Series winners were on the road team.
The Cleveland Guardians and Seattle Mariners were part of Major League Baseball history in Game 2 of their Wild Card series as they swept the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, respectively. The Guardians defeated the Rays 2-1 in a 4-hour and 57 minute, 15-inning MLB marathon, which is the postseason game in history. Meanwhile, the Mariners overcame the largest deficit in MLB playoff history in their 10-9 win over the Blue Jays after trailing 8-1 thru five innings.
Later Saturday night, the Philadelphia Phillies became the first sixth seed in baseball’s new playoff format to advance to the divisional series on Saturday night. The Phillies defeated the Cardinals 2-0 as Bryce Harper’s second-inning home run was all the offense they needed, and closer Zach Eflin successfully worked out of a ninth-inning jam to secure the win.
All Four Divisional Series begins on Tuesday and is a best-of-five-game series. In the American League, Cleveland hits the road to face the New York Yankees, while the Seattle Mariners are at the Houston Astros. The National League matchups are Philadelphia at the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego at the Atlanta Braves.
Guardians vs. Yankees
Cleveland has been one of the best teams in the majors over the last two months. The Guardians also have one of the top pitching staffs in the league, and they proved that during their WC series, though the Guardians did struggle at the dish.
The Guardians’ bullpen is the strength of the pitching staff. However, starters Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie have been fabulous lately – including against the Rays over the weekend.
Cleveland held a weak-hitting Rays’ squad to just one run along with nine hits (.115 average) over 24 innings while recording 29 strikeouts and six walks. The Guardians staff struck out 20 Rays in their 15-inning marathon. Their bullpen held Tampa Bay to no runs, four hits in 10.1 innings, and recorded a 13/3 strikeout-walk ratio.
The Guardians didn’t fare much better offensively. They scored three runs on 13 hits and posted a slash line of .171/ .222/.250, with the big difference being the two MLB home runs. Oscar Gonzalez, who had an excellent rookie campaign, led the squad with three hits (1 MLB HR), while the always-dangerous Jose Ramirez (1 MLB HR) was among four players with a pair of hits.
New York won 99 games this year though they struggled down the stretch as they finished the last two months one game over. 500 (30-29). The Yankees were inconsistent at the plate, struggling mightily in the second half of the season, with Aaron Judge being the only regular who demonstrated any consistency. But, they could be getting Matt Carpenter and Andrew Benintendi back from the injured list for the series.
The Yankees have one of the top three pitching staffs in the majors. But their relievers struggled a little bit in the second half, and their rotation is not elite. Closer Clay Holmes is expected to return from the IL for the series, but Aroldis Chapman won’t be part of the roster.
Prediction: I expect the Yankees to win the series, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes five games, as New York has the more explosive lineup. The Yanks took five of the six regular-season meetings against the Guardians.
Mariners vs. Astros
Seattle is in the postseason for the first time since 2001. While the Mariners have had a great year, becoming the first team to win a postseason game after trailing by seven runs (Game 2), I believe their run will end here.
The Mariners outscored the Blue Jays 14-9 in the MLB Wild Card round and held an advantage in hits 20-19. Nine of the M’s extra-base hits, with seven of them being doubles, while their hitters have struck out five more times than the Jays (20-15). Cal Raleigh, Adam Frazier, and Eugenio Suarez all collected four hits in the series.
Houston has a lot of postseason experience, and they have been one of the three best MLB teams, winning an MLB AL-best 105 games in baseball all season. The Astros have one of the top pitching staff in the majors. Their top 3 starters, Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers Jr., are elite.
While the ‘Stros lineup may not be as dangerous as they were the past couple of years, Houston still has some big boppers – Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Yuli Gurriel. The Astros ranked eighth in runs, fourth in homers, and seventh in OPS during the regular season.
Prediction: Houston could sweep the series, but I will go with them to win in four. The Astros won 12 of 19 games during the regular season, including 7 of 10 in Houston. The ‘Stros have the better offense, and I am not sure about the Mariners’ rotation after Luis Castillo.
The Blue Jays rocked Seattle veteran Robbie Ray, and fifth-starter Marco Gonzalez is shaky at best. The Mariners’ other two starters are youngsters George Kirby and Logan Gilbert.
Phillies vs. Braves
Philadelphia had its best regular season campaign in a decade, winning 87 games, and has now won its first playoff series since 2010 with the series sweep over St. Louis. Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler pitched well in the two-game series against the Cardinals, allowing no runs and just six hits over 13 innings. However, their bullpen was shaky, like during the regular season, as they gave up three runs on six hits while walking three and striking out five.
The Phillies, which ranked in the top 10 offensively, struggled at the dish as they produced a slash line of .158/.286/.263. They did draw nine walks and struck out just 14 times, which was a round low. Harper, Alec Brohm, and Brandon Marsh each had a pair of hits.
Atlanta is in the playoffs for the fifth straight year though their 101 regular season victories are the Braves’ most since 2001. The Braves joined the Astros, Dodgers, and Yankees as teams with a top-four offense and a top-four pitching staff during the regular season.
Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, and Charlie Morton form a playoff-formable rotation. Fried is one of the best lefthanders in the game while Wright had an outstanding season, winning a major-league-high 21 games. However, Strider’s availability is questionable as he is still recovering from an oblique injury, and Morton didn’t have a great season.
Prediction: Atlanta in four games. The Braves took 11 of 19 games, which includes winning five of their last seven matchups, from the Phillies during the regular season, and they have been fantastic at home. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has struggled to win on the road as they are 42-41, which includes the two victories over St. Louis.
Atlanta has the superior starting rotation (No.3-5) and a better bullpen, while their lineup is more balanced. The Braves hit .265 with a .762 OPS against the Phils during the regular season. On the other hand, the Phillies posted one of their worst-hitting numbers of the season against the Braves, with a .230 average and .687 OPS.
Padres vs. Dodgers
San Diego semi-easily dispatched the New York Mets in the Wild Card series, outscoring the Mets 16-8 as Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove outpitched Max Scherzer along with Chris Bassitt. The Padres won Game 1 7-1 and took Game 6-0 while losing Game 2 7-3. The Padres hit five home runs with Trenton Grisham (2), Josh Bell, Jurickson Purifor, and Manny Machado going deep.
Los Angeles recorded a MLB franchise-best 111 MLB victories, marking the third time in the last six seasons that the Dodgers have reached the century mark. The Dodgers own the top hitting and pitching squad in the majors. They also are expected to have Dustin May, Blake Treinen, and Chris Taylor back from the IL for the series, while Kevin Pillar and Victor Gonzalez could also be available.
Prediction: Dodgers Sweep. The Dodgers are the superior team, and they took 14 of the 19 games against their Southern California foes this season.
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