By Wiley Singleton
The Championship series matchups have been set! Four teams will compete to win a pennant and get a shot at the World Series.
The Astros are facing off against Chris Sale and the Red Sox for the American League title. The Astros are the defending champions. They maintained virtually their entire core. They also added former Pirates’ ace Gerrit Cole. Cole is a hard-thrower and posted excellent numbers this year. Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, and Charlie Morton round out this exceptional rotation. The bullpen got better too. They got rid of Ken Giles and added Roberto Osuna. The offense is pretty much identical to last year. The only real difference is no more Brian McCann. Altuve, Correa, Bregman, and Springer still lead this offensive charge.
The Red Sox have a potent lineup, featuring Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and JD Martinez. Their pitching is worse than the Astros though. Chris Sale can go toe to toe with any starter in the game, but the Astros have three top tier pitchers, not just one. Nathan Eovaldi, Drew Pomeranz, and Rick Porcello round out the Sox less potent but still strong rotation. Craig Kimbrel is a top tier closer. The Astros had the best ERA in the league this year. The Sox had the 8th best.
These teams are both extremely strong and deserve to be in the ALCS. The key to the series will be the Chris Sale starts. Boston will need to win both Chris Sale starts to win the series. Boston scored the most runs in the regular season and had the highest average. This is truly a matchup of best against best. This series should be incredibly entertaining, and close. The teams are very similar and lack weaknesses.
The crux of this series is how the Sox pitchers not named “Sale” perform. The Red Sox and Astros would both make excellent American League Champs. Due to the tremendous pitching of the Astros, they are slightly favored in the series. Astros in 7.
The NLCS is a much more dynamic matchup. The Brewers are facing off against the defending NL Champion Dodgers. The Dodgers, like the Astros, boast an almost identical core from last year. Justin Turner and his ginger beard lead the offense with consistency. Cody Bellinger was solved in last year’s World Series. He is still good, but his numbers dropped off compared to his rookie year. Corey Seager is still injured. Yasiel Puig is still one of the funnest players to watch. Nice power, excellent arm, and a ton of bravado. Matt Kemp had his best season since his 2011 MVP-runner up season. It will be interesting to see the battle between Kemp and the other outfielder who actually won the 2011 MVP: Ryan Braun
The Dodgers also boast two middle infielders they traded for at the deadline: Manny Machado and Brian Dozier. Both are known for their power. The Dodgers have been known for their great pitching for a long time. Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill are both curveball hurling lefties. Kershaw, of course, has won multiple Cy Young awards. They also have Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, and Alex Wood. Kenta Maeda is excellent against righties and pitched a ton of innings. They have a questionable Kenley Jansen, because he missed time with heart issues earlier this year. He has been less effective ever since. Yu Darvish is no longer on the team. Brenden Morrow also left the team to go be a Cub. The Dodgers, like the Astros, have a ton of talented pitchers, especially starters. They have an offense full of proven guys and rising stars.
The Dodgers will be opposed by Craig Counsell’s Brewers. Counsell does not have much to work with as far as starting pitching goes. He used Jhoulys Chacin effectively as a starter, but has been using extremely bullpen-centric strategies. Counsell started a reliever in game one of the NLDS, and consistently pinch hit for his pitchers because they were relievers. This essentially meant Counsell was playing with a DH in his lineup. This strategy works due to Milwaukee’s incredible deep bullpen led by Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress. Hader is probably the best reliever in baseball. Jeffress posted an exceptionally low ERA. Corey Knebel is also very talented. The thing is, The Brewers rely almost exclusively on their bullpen when it comes to pitching. They don’t have an ace. The closest thing is Chacin. This is the main flaw of the Brewers, the only way to minimize it was to sweep the NLDS, which they did. The Brewers will rely heavily on their bullpen to win them games.
Lorenzo Cain and probable MVP Christian Yelich anchor the top of the lineup. Cain is quick and hits for great average. Yelich is a top tier talent. He is a patient, complete player with exceptional power. He is young and still coming into his own. He has been very hot lately. He will be the player to watch, and the commentators will not let you forget it. Ryan Braun continues his redemption arc, usually from the cleanup spot. Travis Shaw provides some pop in the lineup too. Jesus Aguilar and Mike Moustakas help bolster in the lineup with power. Both of the teams have strong offenses.
This series should favor the Dodgers heavily. They have a monsterous starter advantage. The Brewers are a scary team, especially once they get a lead, but the over reliance on the bullpen will come back to bite them. If not in the NLCS, then the World Series. Dodgers in 5.