Assessing the MLB Playoff Picture
Now that the MLB regular season is over, it is time to talk about the MLB playoffs. Which teams have legitimate chances to win the World Series this year?
In the National League, it looks like it is the Chicago Cubs versus the field. Their 101 victories are the most they have had as a franchise since 1935 and they will have home-field advantage until the World Series (the American League won the All-Star game this year). Simply put, General Manager Theo Epstein's Cubs are nearly a perfect team. Their pitching staff leads baseball in ERA and opponent’s batting average, their offense was second in the National League in runs behind the Colorado Rockies, and their defense is fantastic. By default, they are the National League favorites and they will almost certainly defeat the NL wildcard team that they meet in the divisional round. I project them to defeat the Giants, They are the default National League favorites, and will almost certainly defeat the NL Wildcard team that advances, which I suspect will be the Giants.
The Washington Nationals are probably Chicago's biggest threat in the National League, but first they have to get by the Dodgers in the NLDS. For this series, the Nationals will be without number two starter, Stephen Strasburg, who is arguably the third best player on the team, and Wilson Ramos, who is out for the season with a torn ACL after hitting over .300 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs. These injuries will be extremely difficult to overcome, especially when you consider the struggles of two time All-Star Gio Gonzalez and last year’s NL MVP Bryce Harper, who’s batting average is down an abysmal 86 points from last year. They will need a huge series out of MVP candidate Daniel Murphy and at least solid performances by Harper, Jayson Werth, rookie Trea Turner, and Ryan Zimmerman in order to score runs against a very good Dodgers rotation led by Clayon Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Kenta Maeda. Ultimately, I do not think that the Nationals will be able to overcome these injuries, and Dave Roberts’ Dodgers will capitalize on a weakened Nationals roster to advance in five games to the NLCS. But their run will end there, as I suspect that the Cubs will take the series in six games and Jon Lester will take home NLCS MVP by leading the Cubs to two victories.
The American League is tougher to call. However, I, am picking Boston to beat Cleveland in the ALDS. The Indians depleted starting rotation (they lost Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to injuries) and will be unable to deal with the Red Sox offense. The Indians offense will not be able to pick up the slack. Look for the Red Sox to win in four games, beating their former manager Terry Francona in an emotional series.
The wildcards in the American League, Baltimore and Toronto, are much more dangerous than the teams in the National League. Although both teams are very flawed, they also feature extreme strengths. The Orioles have a great bullpen and a dangerous offense. Despite only scoring the seventh most runs in the American League, they lead baseball handily in home runs. Their starting pitching is inconsistent, but I still see potential in Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Dylan Bundy. If the Orioles can get by Toronto's high-powered offense, then watch out.
I assume that the Rangers will get to the ALCS because they are far more complete than any of those teams and they have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This would set the table for a fantastic, high-scoring series between Boston and Texas. This series will really have it all. David Ortiz will undoubtedly have his key at bats and clutch moments, but the Rangers’ have a clutch bat of their own in Carlos Beltran. Both offenses are deep, but the defensive edge and pitching depth will allow the Red Sox to pull off the upset and make their 4th World Series appearance since 2004. Look for the Red Sox dynamic right fielder Mookie Betts to take home the ALCS MVP, stuffing the stat sheet with runs scored, RBIs, stolen bases, and even outfield assists.
A Red Sox versus Cubs World Series would truly be historic. It would feature David Ortiz’s final send-off, the longest curse in the history of professional American sports, and former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein’s Cubs facing the franchise that he reinvigorated out of an 86-year curse. Please, Baseball Gods, let this happen! Obviously it would feature a desperate Cubs team looking for their first World Series win in over 100 years, but it would also include storylines such as David Ortiz's final send-off and Theo Epstein looking for revenge against his old team.
As a Red Sox fan, it pains me to say this, but the Cubs will win the World Series behind World Series MVP Kris Bryant and break their curse at Fenway Park in a Game Seven for the history books. But these are just predictions and I cannot wait to see what actually happens. Sports cannot be scripted; anything can happen, and that is what makes it all so exciting.