October is here! With October comes chilly weather, pumpkin spiced everything (if you’re into that sort of thing), fall colors, but most importantly, the Major League Baseball Playoffs. After a grueling 6-month, 162 game season the field has been narrowed to a measly 10 teams, vying for the chance to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy after emerging victorious in the World Series. Only 11 wins stand between these teams and a victory in this year’s Fall Classic. Suddenly, after a season’s worth of seemingly meaningless games, every pitch, every hit, every ground ball, every pop fly, and every out brings each team a little closer to a World Series title.
Over the course of the next month, one team will set itself apart from the rest of the pack and reserve a place in the annals of baseball history. Which team will go the distance? Will the Chicago Cubs repeat history and win back-to-back titles like they did in 1907 and 1908? Will the Cleveland Indians end their 69-year championship drought, one year after the aforementioned Cubs knocked them out of the World Series in a dramatic, extra-inning game 7? Or will one of the Wild Card teams overcome the odds and battle their way through the postseason?
In this column, we will provide our playoff predictions as well as a brief preview of both the American League and National League Wildcard Games. Prior to each round, we will also be posting a series preview for each matchup. Cooper will write for the American League, I (Dan) will be writing for the National League. We will each make our own predictions for both leagues (DISCLAIMER: I am a huge Cubs fan and my hometown bias may come into play, but I will do my best to remain objective).
National League Wild Card Game Preview:
Colorado Rockies (87-75) at Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69)
In a battle of NL West teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks will host the Colorado Rockies in a single do-or-die, winner take all game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks, led by MVP front runner and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, rode an impressive 13 game winning streak through the end of August into September to pull away from the Rockies in the wild card standings and secure home field advantage in this pivotal matchup. Meanwhile, Colorado, who has their own pair of MVP candidates in third baseman Nolan Arenado and center fielder Charlie Blackmon, sputtered their way into the postseason after narrowly holding off the surprisingly surging Milwaukee Brewers.
As it always does in the postseason, this matchup will be decided by the starting pitching. Former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke is slated to start for the D-Backs after posting a very solid regular season campaign with a 17-7 record and a 3.20 Earned Run Average (13-1, 2.87 at home). Greinke’s 3.41 ERA (in 5 starts, 3 at home) against the Rockies this year was also solid, but not great. He will oppose Rockies’ starting pitcher Jon Gray, who put together a 10-4 (in only 20 starts), 3.67 ERA season this year. Gray posted a 3.50 ERA in 3 starts against the D-Backs this year.
The veteran Greinke (9 postseason starts) holds the advantage here over the inexperienced Gray, who has never appeared in the postseason. Greinke’s opponents’ BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .285 on the season will play well in the cavernous outfield of hitter friendly Chase Field (compared to Gray’s BABIP of .336). Gray has an outstanding ERA of 2.44 through the first 3 innings of play this year, but an ugly 5.08 from the 4th inning on. Expect him to have a short leash. If he runs into trouble early, manager Bud Black won’t hesitate to hand the game over to the Rockies’ bullpen.
Both teams feature potent offenses, but the Diamondbacks’ pitching advantage will ultimately propel them to their first visit to the National League Division Series since 2011. However, if Colorado can get the jump on Greinke and knock him out of the game early, they will have a real chance to pull of the upset.
American League Wild Card Game Preview:
Minnesota Twins (85-77) at New York Yankees (91-71)
If you happen to be lucky enough to be a fan of Red Sox, Astros, Indians, Nationals, Dodgers, or even the Cubs, congratulations on having at least a couple of weeks left of cheering for your team as they may rise or fall in the halls of history (or at least 2017). However, if you happen to be a fan of the Twins, Yankees, Diamonbacks, or Rockies, your next 24 to 48 hours will be filled with defeat or victory, but most certainty and unavoidably, stress.
Now many Yankees fans may be sitting comfortably at home waiting for the “real” series to start when they would take on the Indians, (by beating the Twins), I wouldn’t say the game on Tuesday night is as good as won. Albeit, the Yanks do have a commanding history over the twins, 61-23 during the regular season and 6-0 in the playoffs over the last decade, Tuesday’s game could go either way.
Ervin Santana has had a very interesting year, from starting the year looking like a Cy Young candidate to having slightly over a 6 ERA in June, to becoming a consistent and reliable 3 ERA man through the last couple of months of the season. Some of the Yankees sluggers like Sanchez and Judge haven’t seen much of Santana, so they may spend an at bat or two trying to figure him out, which could seriously hinder their team’s offense. Santana backed by the incredible glove of Buxton and the bats of Mauer and Sano, there is room to argue that the Twins can contain the bats of the Yankees, and come out on top sending them onto their inevitable destruction from their AL Central pals, the Indians. Santana does not have much postseason experience under his belt, and what he does have is not very pretty. However most of this was over a decade ago and the righty has a chance to rewrite his history.
Severino received a no decision after giving up 3 runs in 3 innings to the Twins just 2 weeks ago, however the bats had his back, as the Yankees took the game 11 to 3. This is the only game the Twins lineup has seen Severino in, making this a true wild card game. Overall, Severino has had a pretty good year, posting a slightly sub 3 ERA and 14 win season in 31 starts, but not a great year. Severino has also never played postseason baseball, and this inexperience and pressure may prove to the advantage of a veteran like Mauer.
The fate of the game is going to lie in the Yankees bats. Home field advantage is of paramount importance in the game of baseball, and although it is not the same stadium in which Ruth, Gherig, Mantle, Berra, and many others wrote the history of baseball, it is still Yankees baseball and the booming of the crowd will almost definitely play a part in keeping the bats of the pinstripes lively. If Santana can hold the Yanks to a quality start and their bullpen can hold the lead, the Twins have a chance to edge out the Yankees. However, if Judge and Sanchez get ahold of a pitch or two from Santana with runners on base, the game will quickly tip and the Yankees will go on to give the Indians a decent run for their money in the ALDS.
As much as it pains me to write this, I’m going with the Yankees over the Twins with a 4 run differential. However, I would like to see the Twins edge one out and put the Yanks to an early retirement for the 2017 season.
Full Playoff Predicitions:
Written by Dan Shriber and Cooper Tonachel