Tuesday, October 4, 2016

MLB Playoff Preview 2016: The Beauty of October #PostSeason

By Alex Hale, @ThatCLESportGuy

At long last the 6 month marathon of Baseball’s Regular Season has finally come to a close and the Playoffs are about to start.  In a season that was full of surprises, disappointments, close races and sadly tragedy, October Baseball has arrived.  Already numerous writers have made their predictions and it would only be fitting that I chime in.  Going back as early as 2001, I’ve been able to predict multiple World Series winners and surprise runs.  The way I’ve always predicted is simple, which team is the closest unit and which team wants it more.

It’s never been about the talent for me, as we’ve seen that you can have all the talent you want, it won’t necessarily mean you will win a World Series.  It’s not even about which team is hot down the stretch as we’ve seen the Yankees of 2000 have a horrible September, yet won the World Series and the 2013 Indians win their last 10 game to get in, only to lose 4-0 to the Rays in the Wild Card game.  What’s great about the playoff teams we have now is that all of them are so different.  From the nitty gritty teams like the Indians and Giants to the uber talented teams like the Red Sox and Cubs, we’ve got almost every kind of team in the playoffs this year.  So with that said, let’s go into my predictions for the MLB Playoffs.

AL Wild Card Game- Toronto Blue Jays vs. Baltimore Orioles

This is a phenomenal matchup of two divisional foes with fairly similar teams.  Both are led by outstanding offensive lineups and very good bullpens.  The big potential mismatch could be in the starting rotation.  The Blue Jays went with their ace SP Aaron Sanchez in the Regular Season finale against Boston and will probably rely on veteran Francisco Liriano (who was brought over in a shrewd MLB Trade Deadline move).  Baltimore is a different story.  As noted from the beginning of the year, the Orioles have a boom or bust rotation.  The question is who goes in this one game playoff?  I think they’ll go with Ubaldo Jimenez or Chris Tillman.  As long as Baltimore can shut down the Blue Jays bats into the 8th and 9th, Baltimore will go to Cy Young candidate closer Zach Britton to finish them off.  But, the reality is a boom or bust rotation never works in a 1 game playoff.  Toronto was forced to beat Boston in the last series to get here and will have the home field advantage.  With Manager John Gibbons potentially fighting for his job, the Blue Jays will come out ready to go to a loud Toronto crowd.  Jose Bautista comes through in the clutch in the middle innings to put Toronto over the top and advance.

Pick- Toronto Blue Jays

NL Wild Card Game- New York Mets vs. San Francisco Giants

This matchup was made for the NL Wild Card Game.  As it stands, it looks like Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard…WOW.  The Mets a month ago looked to be on the outside looking in, but have played their way into this game.  As for the Giants…well it’s an even year, we all know what that means.  If Bumgarner is going for the Giants, I would give a distinct advantage to the Giants for his previous big game performances.  The Giants don’t have one big time bat like the Mets do with Yoenis Cespedes, but they have a balanced and efficient offensive attack that plays against the Mets.  On top of that, the Giants have a very effective bullpen that seemingly always gets the job done.  As tempting as it is to go with the defending NL Champions, their defense of their pennant ends against the Giants.

Pick- San Francisco Giants

AL Division Series

Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox

So everyone is just pegging the Red Sox and writing off Cleveland?  Doesn’t this sound awfully familiar to Cleveland?  To these “analysts” they forget the one most important thing about Playoff Baseball…THROW REGULAR SEASON STATS OUT THE WINDOW.  All I’ve heard is Rick Porcello and David Price’s career records vs. Indians.  I’m sorry was that in the Playoffs?  The Indians are a team that has faced so much adversity and haters that they’ve become the one team everyone hates to face…the team that won’t die.  When the Indians are on offensively, all the need to do is get into the 7th/8th inning and it’s over. 
We can talk about the Carrasco and Salazar hurt, but we are missing that Josh Tomlin has returned to form ending the year strong, Kluber will be fine and most importantly the Indians Game One starter is Trevor Bauer, a man who lives for the moment.  Do National analysts want to see David Ortiz’s fairytale ending?  Do the Red Sox have more playoff experience and offensive “star power”? Probably, but the Indians are being overlooked by so many, they’re going to shock everyone.  I’ll say it again, throw everything out the window from Regular Season, the most dangerous team is the overlooked team that doesn’t know when to quit.

Pick- Indians in 5

Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays

I’m gonna be honest here, I’m torn who I’d pick for this series.  The offenses are almost evenly matched up and honestly, the Blue Jays may be a very bad matchup once again for the Rangers.  While some may give the Rangers the bullpen edge, I’m giving it to the Blue Jays due to experience and the ability to move others like an Aaron Sanchez into the bullpen if needed.  The main question for the Blue Jays would be if they can crack Cole Hamels or Yu Darvish early in the series.  If they can beat one of them, or even both the Rangers will be in a very bad spot.  The Blue Jays will have Liriano, Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada to choose from.  The key will be whose rotation can go deep enough to let their back end of the bullpen shut the door.  The Rangers would have revenge on their minds for last year, but there was a reason why the Blue Jays prevailed.  If this was Baltimore, I’d give the Rangers a sweep, but the Blue Jays will be a battle, and one that I can see the Blue Jays winning.

Pick- Blue Jays in 4

NL Division Series

Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants

Can we please just have this as the NLCS instead?  This could be a classic 7 game series, but instead will be in the division series.  The Championship pedigree of the Giants really benefits them against what is the early World Series favorite for most.  The rotation matchup would make for some extremely competitive and low scoring games.  The difference would be in the bullpen and offense.  This is where the Cubs talent jumps off the charts.  With Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant clearly trumping the offensive talent that the Giants have, it gives them that advantage.  When it comes to the bullpens, as efficient as the Giants have been over the years, their relievers aren’t guy who aren’t overly dominant.  The Cubs have multiple relievers that can get batters out in a variety of ways.  The Cubs clearly have the advantage in both offense and bullpen over the Giants.  This should go 5 games with some great pitching performances and great moments along the way, but the Cubs survive and go to the NLCS.

Pick- Cubs in 5

Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

A week ago, this looked a potential war between two extremely talented teams and then the Nationals lost Wilson Ramos with a torn ACL.  One of the worst injuries a team can get for the playoffs is losing your catcher.  While Max Scherzer probably won’t need to worry, outside of Scherzer I worry about him.  On top of that the Nationals really don’t have the bullpen to get the job done.  The Dodgers have consistently been bounced out early from the playoffs, especially with Clayton Kershaw struggling.  That ends this year as the offense has come alive and the team has really come together under Dave Roberts.  The Dodgers might hit a roadblock in the series, but I see them moving on to face the Cubs.

Pick- Dodgers in 4

American League Championship Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians

After Terry Francona eliminated his good friend John Farrell in the ALDS, the Indians will face off against former President/GM Mark Shapiro’s Toronto Blue Jays.  While once again, the Blue Jays will have the advantage on the offensive side, the Indians hold the big X-Factor in SP Danny Salazar.  While the Indians are contemplating Salazar coming out of the bullpen in the ALDS, I don’t think they’re going to use him until the ALCS when they return him to the starting rotation.  The Indians rotation will finally be back to it’s almost dominant form and will only need to get to the 7th inning until they hand it over to their outstanding bullpen.  The Indians aggressiveness on the bases will be a major factor for their success scoring runs.  This series will also mark the emergence on the National stage for Francisco Lindor becoming one of baseball’s brightest young stars as he takes home ALCS MVP honors as the Indians advance to the World Series for the first time since 1997.

Pick- Indians in 6

National League Championship Series

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

As much as people may think this could be a potential sweep, I have my doubts on that.  The Dodgers could be a potential threat for the Cubs, especially if Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw are healthy and on their game.  The Dodgers may not have the depth in the rotation, but those two have stuff that baffles all hitters.  The question would be whether or not the Dodgers have the bullpen to finish games?  They got the offense, 2 dominant starters, but do they have the relievers?  That’s where I’m having a problem taking them in a 7 game series.  The Cubs are a complete team that will be battle tested and ready to go as they finally return to the World Series to set up the matchup that will end a Franchise’s World Series drought.

Pick- Cubs in 5

World Series

Cleveland Indians vs. Chicago Cubs

A drought will end…either the Indians end their 68 year drought or the Cubs will finally end their 108 year drought.  Let’s be honest…WHO DOESN’T WANT THIS?  I mean these are two of the most tortured Baseball fanbases and someone is going to end their misery.  On paper, this isn’t a contest the Cubs are by far the superior team in terms of overall talent.  But when it comes to heart and determination, the Indians have that beat.  From the beginning of the playoffs, everyone wrote off the Tribe, yet they get to the World Series.  That’s something that defines a great team.  This World Series would remind me a little bit of the classic 1941 World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals, one the Cardinals would shock the Baseball world and beat Ted Williams and the extremely talented Red Sox because of their mentality of refusing to die.  This is the series where Francisco Lindor cements himself as one of the games most talented players as I see if he gets here, he’ll have a monster offensive series and win the World Series MVP.  I’m trying extremely hard to not pick the Indians, but this team doesn’t quit.  They’ve been scrapping and crawling all year long and that’s something as we’ve seen translate into the playoffs.  All the Indians need is a couple of players offensively to step up and have their starters go 7 innings and they got a chance.  A lot like how the Royals won the World Series last year, against all odds the Indians will be celebrating its first World Championship since 1948.

Pick- Indians in 6

Understand my pick is not one of personal bias, it’s one of the belief of the Indians will want it more than anyone.  Since Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com wrote his article pretty much writing off any chances the Indians have to win anything, this team has taken the mentality to shut the doubters up.  By pure talent, the Cubs are the favorite in the NL and the Red Sox in the AL.  But as we’ve seen so many times in recent years in the playoffs, it’s not about the talent, it’s about the heart.  Whatever your teams record or stats were in the Regular Season, throw that out the window now.  Everyone is back at the same record of 0-0.  This month will be full of twists and turns and moments that we’ll remember for some time.  It’s the beauty of the MLB Playoffs and this playoff season is one we’re going to remember for some time.

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