The divisional round has conconcluded and the best of seven semi finals have begun. Despite a volatile format, the matchups were about what people expected back in February when the season was still 162 games.
Recapping the Division Series
The Marlins failed to find consistent hitting and failed to win a game despite strong young pitching. The Braves looked sharp. The storybook run of Donny Baseball ends in the NLDS, but he took a team considered a joke to the playoffs.
The Dodgers and Padres played an interesting series despite the Dodgers sweeping the best of five. The series began with Padres ace Mike Clevinger unable to fight through his injury and being yanked early. This deflated the Padres and they lost Game 1. Game 2 was a slugfest that looked as though the Padres were heating up and coming into their own. The climax of their comeback was spoiled by Dodgers CF Cody Bellinger, who made an insane catch to rob a homer. The shocking and spectacular nature of play rattled the young Padres to the core. The Padres are the youngest team in baseball and their highest paid player and veteran “leader” Manny Machado is one of the most hated players in baseball.
The Padres’ immaturity was put on display after Bellinger’s robbery. Machado set the example for the young players by letting the moment visibly shake him. Machado started screaming obscenities at the Dodgers for being happy at the sensational play. Machado is one of the most sensitive players in the league. Machado, who looks like he is on the verge of tears more often than not, had a full-fledged meltdown that emotionally gutted his young teammates. Machado’s meltdown proves he is undeserving of his contract and the sort of player that can never captain a team. A captain cannot rattle in front of his troops.
The Padres were completely deflated after this moment and went through the motions for the rest of the series. The Bellinger play was sensational. When contextualized, the play is one of the greatest plays of the last 10 years. The catch saved the lead, stopped a team with surging momentum, and completely deflated the playoff inexperienced Padres.
The Oakland A’s really did not deserve to be in the ALDS. They faced an inexperienced Chicago team in the first round that played them very close in all three games. Chicago got very unlucky throughout the series and this series would have been an exciting best of five. The White Sox essentially ran out of gas just before the finish line, suffering multiple key injuries in the series against Billy Beane’s Boys.
Oakland had a decent offense but next to no starting pitching. Oakland planned to augment this lack of quality SP with a plethora of bullpen arms. This has been their go to strategy for the last few years and it does not work in the playoffs. This is a lesson the New York Yankees learned as well. The increased variance of relievers in playoff games makes bullpen-centric strategies less effective. For every inning an ace eats up, that is one less chance a skipper has to take.
The Astros bats looked in prime postseason form as they clobbered the A’s in Games 1 and 4. The Game 4 loss was particularly humiliating for Oakland. One vaunted Oakland reliever after another was sent into the firing line of Astros bats. Again and again the Houston sluggers cut them down. By the end of the game, the corpses of Billy Beane’s heralded relief pitchers lay strewn across the diamond along with any chance Billy had of legitimizing his legacy. The narrow win over the White Sox in a jokish best of three series should not be seen as an accomplishment at all. The A’s won their division and the White Sox had not been to the playoffs since 2008. The White Sox were the heavy underdogs, got unlucky in the games, were riddled with injuries, and still almost won. The A’s were thumped severely by a Houston team who finished the season with a losing record. The Astros still have thunder in the lineup, but lack the pitching they did in the previous three playoff runs. This Astros team is decidedly weaker than previous iterations of this core and they pummeled the Chokeland A’s like it was 2017 with the trashcans banging.
The New York Yankees suffered the exact fate I predicted, losing in five due to a lineup that strikes out too much and a tactical over-reliance on the bullpen. The Rays are one of the best coached teams in baseball. Their offense is decent. Their bullpen is insanely underrated. The deafening hype over the Bronx Bombers has been silenced. This strident screed had been occurring non-stop since Spring Training. The Yanks will have to wait another year for a pennant. They have not won one since 2009.
The Division Series Preview article that preceded this article went into great detail about the strengths and weaknesses of each team. It also went into great detail about the stylistic weakness of the Yanks that made them vulnerable to the Rays. The article also contains information about bullpen tactics and their risks. It is a massive article and there is no reason to rehash the points made in it, make sure you check it out here if you have not already. It will give you a more in depth view into each team.
Rays vs Astros
The Rays have the better pitching, the Astros have the better lineup. The Rays have three very good SP options. The Astros have unproven kids and a couple above average vets. Because of the new format, pitching matchups have basically been announced right before the game starts, so it is impossible to shadowbox the matchups game by game. Regardless, Tampa’s starters would be the favorite in any matchup possibility. The Rays also have a lethal bullpen. The Astros lost their biggest names from their starting rotation and bullpen. They simply do not have the pitching to win a World Series. Their pitching is good enough to stop the average, grinding Tampa offense for a couple games. But it is not good enough to beat LA or Atlanta.
Ultimately it will not come to that. The Rays should be able to scrap out a victory considering how many nasty pitchers they have. The Astros bats looked significantly better than they did during the regular season. The Rays lineup does not really inspire terror, and they strike out too much as a team. This series will come down to Houston’s ability to hold leads in the late innings.
Both of these teams are very well coached. Both are famous for using technology to help pitchers increase their spin rate. Both organizations understand the concept of acquiring a middling pitcher who is struggling in another organization despite having a good breaking pitch with a high spin rate. Both take these middling players and get the most out of them by helping them perfect their breaking pitches. A perfect example of this is how Tampa acquired Pete Fairbanks from the Texas Rangers and turned him into an elite reliever.
The Rays will ride their pitching to the World Series after a close ALCS. Rays 4-3.
Braves vs Dodgers
Both of these teams are consistent division winners. The crux of the issue in this series is the fact that Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels are hurt. That means the Braves lack their 1st and 3rd starters. The Braves have a great bullpen but lack the starting pitching to compete with the Dodgers. Both offenses are stacked. The Dodgers lineup is slightly better. The Atlanta lineup is pretty top heavy. The Dodgers have better starters. This series will come down to LA’s late game bullpen management. The Dodgers should make it to the World Series and be favored. It would be interesting to see them play the Astros. Dodgers 4-2.