MLB Playoff Preview: What to watch from each teamGuest Analyst: Tim CarrollTim is a freelance Sports Reporter with previous work in the Daily Vidette at Illinois State University.
The Cubs weren’t the only team to arrive ahead of schedule this season, as the young Astros managed to win 86 games, nabbing the final Wild Card spot on the last day of the season. But not before leading the division most of the year. The Astros were 2nd in the AL in home runs (behind Toronto) with 230. But that is a misleading statistic; the Astros had 5 players with 20+ HRs, and another 6 with at least 11. They’ll be hoping that type of depth over the batting order will help carry them to not only a Wild Card victory, but a World Series as well. This is especially true with talk that Carlos Gomez appears to be giving it a go, so the top of their lineup could produce some pop. With that being said, statistically, the Astros also appear to be the most balanced team, with a pitching staff posting an ERA of 3.57 (1st in the AL). Dallas Keuchel will look to get the team into the ALDS, but the rotation after that appears shaky. Veteran Scott Kazmir was acquired with the postseason in mind, but has only had an ERA of 4.17 since being brought in. Collin McHugh has been a nice cog as well since becoming a full-time starter, but his 3.89 ERA leaves you nervous about a potential bad outing.
New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and they are feeling confident despite losing the AL East lead over the last two months. CC Sabathia has announced he will be entering rehab to treat his Alcoholism, so he will miss the postseason. This is a blow, but not impossible to overcome. Sabathia wasn’t on his A-game this year, with just a 4.73 ERA. The starter for the Wild Card game will be Masahiro Tanaka, who has been injured and inconsistent this year, but is nonetheless capable of no-hitter-like stuff. The lineup features veterans who are no strangers to postseason baseball. Even if they all don’t start with the logjam in the outfield, they all figure to see meaningful at bats once relievers and pinch-hitters get involved. Alex Rodriguez is feel-good story this season, but do people remember how much they’ve disliked this man come playoff time? What is this team capable of? We’ll find out Tuesday night.
With the Blue Jays catapult to the top of the AL East, few seem to have noticed the Texas Rangers 46-28 record after the All-Star break. This lineup seemed to hit their stride, batting .270 in the second half (compared to .247 before the break). Prince Fielder had a resurgent year, hitting .305 with 23 HRs and 98 RBIs. Shawn Tolleson leads a confident bullpen into the postseason, with a bullpen-ERA of 2.52 in September/October. The Rangers will have to fend off the dominant bats of the Blue Jays, however, so their series will likely feature more runs than your average playoff series. The Rangers were third in the majors in runs, behind fellow playoff teams Toronto and the New York Yankees. Between Mitch Moreleand, Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and Fielder, there will be plenty of chances for runs. The worries for this team remain in the starting pitching. Behind Gallardo, who are your starting pitchers? Cole Hamels was acquired for this, but after that? Is it Colby Lewis, your resident innings-eater, or Nick Martinez? It’ll be an interesting question to see answered.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Rangers’ opponents are perhaps the hottest team in the majors (at least in the AL) as an early run as an underachieving super-team finally lived up to the hype, nearly overtaking the Royals for the top seed in the AL. The core of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki are a team that you’d put together in a video game. Between Donaldson, Joey Bats, and Encarnacion alone, they produced 120 of the team’s total 232 home runs for the year, and add in Martin with 23, that’s quite a powerful core. The pitching, which was the biggest question heading into the regular season, seemed to work itself out. Acquiring David Price as your ace should be fine, but the emergence of Marco Estrada, and RA Dickey’s consistency this season were pleasant surprises. And Roberto Osuna has been a pretty good closer. With that in mind, this team still has its question marks. Will Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy? He looked fine this weekend coming off his shoulder injury, and the playoffs are more spaced-out, but one hopes he can stay healthy and be effective. And can this team keep it up? They’ve been so hot here that one may be nervous about a flame-out. How can this team respond if things aren’t going their way? Will they be able to scratch out runs with small-ball if they’re in a 1-0 deficit?
Kansas City Royals
No matter how they finish this season, the Royals proved that last season was no fluke, winning 95 games, their first 90 win season 1989. They’ve done it on the strength of a balanced offense, featuring base-stealers, high on-base guys, and some well-spread power up and down the lineup. They started off so hot that at one point we were looking at nearly 7 Royals starting the All-Star game before fans of other teams finally made some moves to get their guys in the lineup. However, the Royals got off to such a great start, people may not seem to realize they only went 15-16 since September 1st. Yordano Ventura has been tabbed as the game 1 starter for whoever faces off with Kansas City, and while he’s got electric stuff, he’s been inconsistent this season. With all this being said, the Royals were here last season, and expected themselves to be here again. They may have simply been waiting this past month for the real baseball to start.
The Chicago Cubs arrived a year earlier than many expected, as most put them down for 80-85 wins, looking to compete for the wild card, while acknowledging the best was yet to come. No one foresaw the impact all these rookies would have this season, as Kyle Schwarber may have been in the real Rookie of the Year conversation had he been around since April. Alas, Kris Bryant is the real favorite for the award. Addison Russell has also done good things with the glove and at the plate. Anthony Rizzo stated before the season that they’d be going for the NL Central title, and he was right about that, the Pirates and Cubs made the NL Central a race in the final few months. Jake Arrieta’s second-half performance has a city buzzing about his consistently dominant stuff. This team still has question marks for their all-too-aware fan base to ponder heading into Wednesday’s do-or-die wild card game. Are the rookie’s ready for primetime? They go into hostile territory against a Pirates team who has been in each of the last two postseasons, and have put up a better record this season. Do they have enough in the bullpen to stay in games?
The Pirates have become quite the staple in the NL playoff picture, making it three straight trips this year. Andrew McCutchen is routinely talked about when discussing the NL MVP race as well, and he’s churned out another fine season with a .292 batting average, .402 OBP, 23 homers and 96 RBIs. He’s also surrounded by plenty of talent in the primes of their careers in Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, and Neil Walker. They are also trying to help get former Pirate and Cub Aramis Ramirez another chance at a championship. Gerrit Cole is a bonafide ace, and will see the mound opposite of Jake Arrieta Wednesday. The Pirates also boast one of baseball’s best bullpen’s, so they’re prepared for a long night if need-be. It’s hard to find a question mark here with this team, as they always seem to have an answer for everything their opponents do. The only knock you could really throw out there is that they lost last season’s Wild Card game at home. Yet that was to the eventual champion Giants, so it’s hard to knock them too much.
New York Mets
The Mets are another upstart team, as no one truly believed they’d be in this situation with a team as talented as the Washington National in their division. They did this all behind a truly dominant starting rotation, which figures to carry them in the postseason. Between Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, they may have the best overall trio of starters of any team in the playoffs. They also feature an underrated lineup behind Yoenis Cespedes, who has been on a tear since coming to New York. Lucas Duda is very underappreciated by the experts of the league. Curtis Granderson also has looked like the Granderson of old with a .259 average and .364 OBP, both his highest since 2011, when he was a Yankee, as well as a WAR of 5.1, his highest since 2011 also. The questions marks are obvious, however, as many wonder if their lineup will truly be enough against the dominant arms team’s see in October. With that being said, teams with more questions have gone on great postseason runs, and everybody needs their postseason experience to start somewhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers make their way to the playoffs once again, with a healthy mix of young guys and veterans who have been here before behind Joc Pederson in the lineup. Corey Seager, a September call-up, has been hot, hitting .337 since then. The consistent cog of Adrian Gonzalez figure to drive in whomever in on base in front of him, and it’s all up to manager Don Mattingly to figure out who goes where and when. Luckily, he may get a buffer before he really needs to figure it out, as Cy Young award hopefuls Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw figure to leave the scores low, so even if Mattingly doesn’t get it completely right, they may still pick up the victories in games 1 and 2 at home. With that being out there, who starts game 3? Brett Anderson figures to get the ball, but can he turn in up for October? Clayton Kershaw again will have to answer the question of whether or not he is a clutch pitcher, as his previous playoff performances have left fans wanting more.
St. Louis Cardinals
There are 3 certainties in life: death, taxes, and the St. Louis Cardinals in the hunt. No team blinks less at the seeming loss of talent than the Cardinals. They kept on rolling after Albert Pujols left, they keep responding when pitchers, like Adam Wainwright this season, go down. They simply cannot be stopped. They truly do things the right way, always having someone on the horizon in their farm system, always picking up the correct free agents. The Cards are at it again, winning 100 games, featuring the lowest ERA in the majors with a ridiculous 2.94. They can hit the ball pretty too though, with Jason Heyward playing very effectively as a high on-base guy, and stealing bases when necessary, and Matt Carpenter has come into his own as a power hitter. This team also boasts a pitching staff in which no one would be bad options to start in the playoffs. However, who is the ace of this staff? Is the 36-year-old John Lackey still an ace? Is anyone on this team truly dominant enough, either pitching or hitting to spark a run? Like the Royals, they were just 15-16 after September 1st? Have they run out of steam? Or are they just saving themselves for the postseason?Who will win it all? Let us know on Facebook or in the Comments below.[mwi-cat-listing cat="94" ppp="4" cols="4" desc="false" type="view" btn_color="black" ]