2018 Major League Baseball Preview

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw Photo Courtesy: David Slaughter

By Wiley Singleton

The Division Series matchups have been finalized after four crushing best of one series determined who would make the playoffs.

NLDS

Dodgers vs Braves

The defending NL Champs face off against a plucky young Atlanta Braves team. Many people were expecting the Nationals to win the NL East. Injuries to key players hamstrung the Nationals, and after a great start the Mets faltered heavily. The Phillies looked good for a few months, but fell apart down the stretch. This left the division open for the Braves, who arrived ahead of schedule. This team is led by Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuna. Albies and Acuna are 21 and 20 years old. Freeman is 28, and clearly the star the team is built around.

The Braves had a strong bullpen full of up and coming guys with great ERAs. Shane Carle and Jesse Biddle are two great examples of this. Both of them are 26 and look to make an impact in the NLDS. The Braves best two starters are Mike Foltynewicz and Julio Teheran. Both are good players, but not top tier game one playoff aces. The story of this series will be how the young, unproven Braves players perform against a proven, veteran team like the Dodgers. These teams are polar opposites in many ways. The Dodgers are the big market team, heavily in the luxury tax and desperate to win with a core they have had for years. Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen  anchor the pitching roster the Dodgers are known for. They have Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, and Walker Buehler, a trio of lethal arms. Brandon Morrow is gone, and Dave Roberts heavily relied on him in last seasons playoffs, to a fault even. Roberts bringing out Morrow so frequently to the point where he was ineffective in last years World Series is a trend that needs to be examined, especially considering the evolution of the opener role this season.

The hitters are the same cast of characters you would expect. Justin Turner is the best of them, followed closely by young Cody Bellinger. Corey Seager is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery. This team really loaded up at the deadline. They added Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, two electric bats. They still use the powerful Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig.

The Dodgers made it to game 7 of the World Series last year. Starting pitching dominates the postseason, and the Dodgers have the betters starters by a mile. The Dodgers also have more proven offensive weapons, despite the Braves young power bats. Prediction: Dodgers win in 4.

Brewers vs Rockies

Two powerful offensive teams square off in this exciting brawl. The Brewers are led by likely MVP Christian Yelich. Yelich, who was traded away for prospects by the Marlins at the beginning of the season, is an incredible talent. He hits for power and average. He has speed and patience. He is a lefty that crushes lefties. He plays good defense. Yelich will be the focal point of these games, and if you don’t like hearing about him, then you should watch these games on mute. Yelich is surrounded by other powerful bats. Lorenzo Cain usually bats leadoff and gets on base for Yelich, who frequently bats second. Cain has great speed and defense. 2011 MVP Ryan Braun finally returns to the playoffs after the infamous games against the Cardinals in 2011. Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar round out the potent offensive attack with 30+ homers each. They are both 28. The problem with the Brewers is starting pitching. Their ace is Jhoulys Chacin, who is a good pitcher, but not ace quality. Chase Anderson is their second best starter. Anderson is serviceable, but in a format where pitching dominates, the Brewers have elected to use the opener strategy. Manager Craig Counsell, who had one of the most absurd batting stances when he was a player, said he is not going to have any hard and fast rules when it comes to using his pitchers. Which all makes sense when you consider how lethal the Brewers bullpen is. The Brewers have Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader in their pen, probably the best late inning 1-2 punch in baseball. Hader pitches like a mixture of Jacob deGrom and Randy Johnson. He is filthy. Jeffress has remembered how to pitch since his failed stint in Texas. His ERA is 1.29. Wade Miley has also revitalized his pitching career in Milwaukee, posting a 2.57 ERA. Miley did not pitch over 100 innings though. The point is, the Brewers are going to have to get 9 innings out of their pitchers every night. If they rely on bullpen by committee starts, their bullpen will be exhausted by the time they reach the next round. The A’s already showed the weakness of the bullpen by committee move in the Wild Card game. The strategy contains too much variance. If one of the many pitchers if off, or nervous, he can blow the game. But if you have a consistent starting pitcher, the variance is significantly lower than relying on multiple bullpen arms.

The Rockies are actually a very similar team. Lots of powerful bats. Charlie Blackmon, DJ Lemahieu, Nolan Arenado, and and Carlos Gonzalez lead this attack. Blackmon is usually at the top of the lineup, using speed and contact hitting to get on base. Arenado is known for his gold glove defense and RBI production. “Cargo” Gonzalez, like Ryan Braun, is an aging star that desperately wants to win on the back end of his career. Trevor Story might be the best Shortstop in the entire NL. He posts huge offensive numbers. The Rockies, like the Brewers, have a great bullpen. Wade Davis, Adam Ottavino, Seunghwan Oh, and Scott Oberg lead the solid Rockies bullpen. The Rockies have betters starters than the Brew Crew though. Kyle Freeland and German Marquez have both posted good numbers, which is especially impressive when you consider how Coors Field is. Freeland in particular has been impressive. The young gun posted a 2.85 ERA as a 25 year old. The series will be heavily influenced by Freeland, and his performance will probably dictate how the series goes. Both offenses are very strong, but the Rockies should have more reliable innings. Even if the if the Brewers manage to win the NLDS, their strategy of constantly using their bullpen is not a sustainable one. Rockies in 4.

ALDS

Yankees vs Red Sox

It does not get much better than this. Yanks/Sox. One of the most iconic rivalries in sports. The last time these two teams squared off was the infamous reverse-sweep of 2004. That series could have an entire article dedicated to it. There is an excellent documentary called “Four Days in October” that details this series. But it featured such moments as Curt Schilling’s bloody sock game. It also featured Alex Rodriguez’s infamous glove slapping of Bronson Arroyo to jar the ball loose. That series was one of the best ever, and really exemplifies what playoff baseball is all about.

Luis Severino and CC Sabathia are the anchors for the Yankees. Severino had a poor second half, but looked good in the Wild Card game. CC is old and past his prime, but still has talent and veteran moxie. Masahiro Tanaka is another solid option for the Yanks. He throws lots of sharp pitches with break. Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, and Dellin Betances are the Yanks best bullpen weapons. Jonathan Holder and David Robertson are also great options. The Yanks look pretty solid pitching wise.

They are opposed by one of the most talented pitchers in the league, perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. Sale is known for his incredible strikeout rate and filthy slider. However, Sale has been injured during the tail end of the year, and did not look sharp at the end of the season. This is the linchpin of the series. Chris Sale living up to his ability and turning in a healthy performance is going to be what makes or breaks this series for the Sox. They have David Price and Rick Porcello too, but those two options pale in comparison to the mighty Sale. The Red Sox also have Craig Kimbrel, an elite closer to oppose Chapman. Steven Wright and Hector Velazquez are more solid bullpen arms for the Sox.

The offenses are both potent. For the Yanks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlos Stanton, and Gary Sanchez lead the meat of the lineup. Gleyber Torres is quickly developing into an elite talent. Miguel Andujar led the team in batting average. Aaron Hicks is another developing young star. Sanchez has been hurt this year, but he is still a central part of the Yankees future and intended playoff run this year. Judge and Stanton are the most powerful bats in the lineup and account for one of the most potent 1-2 combos in the game.

The Sox also have a brutally powerful lineup. Led by powerhouse JD Martinez and young superstar Mookie Betts, the Red Sox got out to an incredible start. They remained hot for a long time, but lost a bit a steam at the end after the Sale injury. Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts round out the core of the Sox attack.  Old reliable Mitch Moreland is featured at first base. Brock Holt was also featured throughout the year and is a solid player.

The Red Sox hit for better average, the Yanks for better power. Both teams have solid starting options and great bullpens. If Sale plays, this could be a classic series. Red Sox in 5.

Indians vs Astros

The defending World Champion Astros look like a juggernaut after getting even better. They added Gerrit Cole to their standing rotation of Morton, Verlander, and Keuchel. Cole was the ace of the Pirates, and he was excellent this year. Collin McHugh, Hector Rendon, Brad Peacock, and Will Harris were all great bullpen options. The Astros also boast a rising star in Alex Bregman. Jose Altuve is still batting well over .300 as usual. Marwin Gonzalez is a solid utility man. Evan Gattis is a burly bearded DH with pop. Josh Reddick and Carlos Correa round this lineup out with familiar faces. The Astros are essentially the same team they were last year, but better.

The Indians also have great starting pitching. Corey Kluber is their ace. Mike Clevinger is their second starter. He has long hair and a wicked off speed pitch. Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco complete the deep rotation. The Indians bullpen is weak. Cody Allen,  Dan Otero, and Oliver Perez do their best to hold it down. Andrew Miller is their ace in the hole, but he has had an injury-plagued year. Overall, the Astros have a clear pitching edge.

The Indians have powerful lineup. Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion do most of the damage for The Tribe. Francisco Lindor is the heart and soul of the team though. He has an exceptional year power-wise, especially for a middle infielder. He has 38 homers. Michael Brantley contributes to this lineup with a .309 average. Jason Kipnis has been awful this year posting a .230 average.

All things considered, this series should be the most one-sided. Astros in 3.