Okay, the Wild Card Elimination (or Play-In) games are behind us. Thank goodness. I may be old school (well, there’s really no doubt about that), but I’m not a big Wild Card fan. I’d prefer two leagues of two divisions (eight and seven teams), with the four first-place teams making the post-season. But enough of my ranting, it’s time for BBRT’s second round of post-season predictions. To look back at my Wild Card game predictions, click here. By the way, I missed on the Yankees/Astros contest, but was on target on the Cubs/Pirates. In this post, I’ll provide some detail on the teams within the Division Series predictions, but to avoid being repetitive, will be brief in my League Championship and World Series prognostications.
AL DIVISION SERIES
Rangers versus Blue Jays
BBRT Prediction: Blue Jays
BBRT usually goes for pitching and defense, but it’s hard to pick against a Toronto offense that led all of MLB with 891 runs (127 runs ahead of the second-best Yankees and 140 runs ahead of the Rangers) and outscored their opponents by 221 runs. The Blue Jays – led by the trio of 3B Josh Donaldson (.297-41-123), RF Jose Bautista (.250-40-114) and DH Edwin Encarnacion (.277-39-111) – topped the AL in runs, homers, doubles, walks, on-base percentage and slugging. Further, even with all this power, they finished second in batting average (just .001 behind the Tigers) and had the league’s fifth-fewest strikeouts. You just can’t pitch around this attack. Still, the Rangers offense appears to have gotten “hot” at the right time. Shin-Shoo Choo was the AL Player of the Month for September (.387-6-23 for Sept./Oct.) and 3B Adrian Beltre hit .344, with five home runs and 38 RBI for Sept./Oct. DH/1B Prince Fielder was also a vital piece of the Rangers’ attack, with a steady .305-23-98 comeback season. All that said, Toronto still has a major offensive edge.
Both teams boast deep starting pitching staffs. The Jays likely have the advantage with 1-3 starters David Price (9-1, 2.30 in 11 starts after joining the Blue Jays); Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67 since returning from a torn ACL in mid-September); and Marco Estrada (13-8. 3.13). The Rangers can counter with Cole Hamels (7-1, 4.66 with Texas), Yovani Gallardo (13-11, 3.42) and either Derek Holland (4-3, 4.91) or Colby Lewis (17-9, 4.66). On paper, the Jays also look to have a stronger bull pen, but their rookie closer Roberto Osuna had some problems late in the season.
Ultimately, the Blue Jays just have too much for the Rangers – particularly on offense.
Side note: The Blue Jays are looking to mid-season acquisition David Price (1-5, .4.50 in ten post-season appearances) to step up his post-season game. The Rangers’ mid-season pick-up, Cole Hamels, on the other hand, has a more positive 7-4, 3.09 record in 13 post-season appearances. It will be interesting to see which team gets the biggest post-season dividend on their mid-season investment.
Royals versus Astros
BBRT Prediction: Royals
These teams look evenly matched. The Astros scored the fifth-most runs in the AL at 729, the Royals were one spot and just five runs behind. The Astros led the AL in stolen bases with 121; the Royals were second at 104. The Astros had the AL’s lowest ERA at 3.57; the Royals were third at 3.73. Both teams showed sure-handed athleticism on defense – with the Astros fielding at a .986 clip and the Royals at .985.
Dig just a little deeper, however, and the differences are significant. The Astros are a free-swinging, power-hitting ball club. They finished second in the AL to Toronto in home runs with 230 and first in batters’ strikeouts at 1,392. The Astros, in fact, boast five 20+ HR hitters in their lineup: SS Carlos Correa, C/DH Evan Gattis, LF Colby Rasmus, 3B Luis Valbuena and 1B Chris Carter – along with hit machine 2B Jose Altuve (200 hits, .313 average) to set the table. Just how much the Houston club counts on the long ball is reflected in the fact that Chris Carter got into 129 games – 24 HRs and 64 RBI – despite a .199 average and 151 strikeouts in 391 at bats. The Royals are more of a “put-the-ball-in play” team – tying for second in batting average at .269 (the Astros hit .250 as a team), finishing second to last in home runs (139) and striking out the fewest times in all of MLB (with 973 strikeouts, the Royals were the only team to whiff less than 1,100 times). DH Kendrys Morales provides the offensive power (.290-22-106), but there is plenty of balance (five players with 70 or more RBI and five with 70 or more runs scored). The averages may help tell the Royals’ story: DH Morales – .290; CF Lorenzo Cain – .307; 1B Eric Hosmer – .297; 3B Mike Moustakas – .284. You get the idea.
The pitching match up seems to favor Houston slightly. The Royals lack a true “Ace” – relying on Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08), Johnny Cueto (whom the Royals hope can return to his past Cincinnati form) and Edinson Volquez (13-9. 3.55) to carry the load. Fortunately for Kansas City, the Astros had to use 20-game winner Dallas Keuchel on short rest in the Wild Card game, which means the Royals should only have to face the Houston ace once in the series. Houston still has Collin McHugh (19-7. 3.89) for Game One. In the bull pen, Wade Davis’ hot hand and some late-season struggles for the Astros’ pen give the Royals the edge.
BBRT has to go with the Royals in a closely contested series for several reasons 1) The Royals have home field advantage and Kauffman Stadium will negate some of that Houston power (the Astros were 53-28 at home … 33-48 on the road); 2) the Royals’ 2014 post-season experience should leave them better prepared for the pressure of this series; 3) The Royals put-the-ball-in-play offense will create more opportunities, and more pressure, than the Astros’ free-swinging style.
Side Notes: For the Royals, DH Kendrys Morales has to hit in the clutch and SP Johnny Cueto needs to step up his game. For the Astros, despite all their power, Jose Altuve must be a thorn in KC’s side at the plate and on the base paths if they are going to win this Series.
NL DIVISION SERIES
Mets versus Dodgers
BBRT Prediction: Dodgers in a series of close, low-scoring games.
If I could pick one Division Series match up to attend, this is it. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Brett Anderson versus Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey. With Kershaw and Greinke the new Koufax and Drysdale, the smart money appears to be on the Dodgers. Still, there is Kershaw’s troublesome 1-5, 5.12 post-season record. On the other side of the coin, there is Harvey’s post-injury workload to consider. Still, you have to give the Dodgers the edge in starting pitching. The LA squad also has a slight edge in the bullpen. Both teams have strong closers. The Mets, in fact, may have the better of it with Jeurys Familia (43 saves, 1.84 ERA) over the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen (36 saves and a 2.41 ERA). The Mets, however, lack a reliable left-hander out of the pen, and that works to LA’s advantage. Still, when you look at the staffs as a whole, you can expect a low-scoring series. The Mets’ staff finished with a 3.43 ERA and 1,337 strikeouts – the Dodgers with a nearly identical 3.44 ERA and 1,396 strikeouts. Ultimately, BBRT thinks the pitchers will dominate this series – and the offense that finds a way to scratch out that extra run will carry the day.
Overall, the offenses match up evenly. The Mets finished seventh in the NL in runs scored at 683, the Dodgers just one spot and 16 runs behind. The Dodgers may be more able to generate instant offense – they led the NL in home runs at 187, but only ten more than the Mets. LA will rely heavily on 1B Adrian Gonzalez, who led the team in average (.275), home runs (28) and RBI (90). However, a key may be whether rookie SS Corey Seager (.337-4-17 in just 27 games) is ready for post-season pressure. The Mets have a more balanced attack, but their success may depend on mid-season acquisition Yoenis Cespedes, who hit .287 with 17 home runs in just 57 games for the Mets.
BBRT believes the Dodgers 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Greinke will prevail in a tight series of low-scoring games.
Side Note: This battle could come down to how the Dodgers handle Yeonis Cespedes and David Wright versus how the Mets handle Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager.
Cardinals versus Cubs
BBRT Prediction: Cubs
The Cardinals had the best record in baseball (100-62) and the Cubs had to use their “Ace” Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card game – however, I am still going to go with the Cubs in this series. The fact is, when you look a little deeper, the gap between the Cardinals and Cubs is pretty narrow. The Cardinals did give up the fewest runs in MLB, but they also scored the fewest runs of any playoff team. And, yes, the Cardinals were the only MLB team with 100 wins – but the Cubbies were third with 97. The Cubs hold the edge over the Cardinals in runs scored 689-647, while the Cardinal have the advantage in runs allowed, giving up just 525 to the Cubbies’ 608.
Looking at the starting rotations (although the managers are being pretty tight on this so far), we know Game One will feature John Lackey (13-10, .277) on the mound for the Cardinals. In addition to solid numbers for the 2015 regular season, Lackey brings a 7-5, 3.08 record in 21 post-season appearances – experience that should serve him well. The Redbirds can draw from some strong arms to fill out their NLDS rotation: Lance Lynn (12-11, 1.75), Jaime Garcia (10-6, 2.43), Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38). They also have a strong bull pen, led by closer Trevor Rosenthal (48 saves, 2.10). Overall, in fact, the Redbirds were the only team with an ERA under 3.00 for the season, at 2.94. The Cubs, however, were no slouches – third-best at 3.36. And, the Cubs led all of MLB in pitcher strikeouts (1,431) and batting average against (.233). The Cards finished 11th and 8th in those two categories. Still, the Cub’s rotation – particularly after Arrieta’s 113-pitch outing against the Pirates – is not as deep as the Cardinals. Game One will go to veteran Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34) and Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95) is likely to get a start. In addition to Arrieta (22-6, 1.77), the Cubs can look to veterans Jason Hammel and Dan Haren if needed. Like the Cards, the Cubs have a strong bull pen, and both tams have lights out, experienced closers (the Cardinals’ already noted Trevor Rosenthal with 48 saves and a 2.10 ERA and the Cubs’ Hector Rondon with 30 saves and a 1.67 ERA.).
In the lineup, youth needs to be served if the Cubs are going to win. Consider the leaders of the 25-and-under cadre in their lineup: 1B Anthony Rizzo (.278-31-101, 17 steals); 3B Kris Bryant (.275-26-99, 13 steals); C/OF Kyle Schwarber (.246-16-43 in 69 games). The Cardinals’ attack will be led by a more experienced group of hitters including: 3B Matt Carpenter (.272-28-84); SS Jhonny Peralta (.275-17-71); and CF Jayson Heyward (.293-13-60).
A good indicator of how this veterans versus youth match up is going might be to watch the performance of Cardinals’ veteran Matt Carpenter (.272-28-84 on the season) versus Cubs’ rookie Kris Bryant (.275-26-99).
BBRT is picking the Cubs for a number of reasons: 1) The Cubs appear hungrier and healthier; 2) I like Lester over Lackey in Game One; 3) The Cubs appear to have the momentum, finishing the regular season 22-10 (Sept./Oct.) to the Cardinals 15-17.
Side note: A big question for the Cardinal is how much Yadier Molina (arguably the heart of this team) will play – and how well will he play while nursing a torn ligament in his left thumb.
AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Blue Jays versus Royals
Prediction: Blue Jays
The Blue Jays offense – led by Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and boosted by the return of Troy Tulowitski – coupled with David Price and Marcus Stroman at the top of the rotation – will just be too much for the Royals.
NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Dodgers Versus Cubs
Veterans Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke end the Cubs’ 2015 run – but the youthful Cubbies will be back for another post-season shot in 2016.
Dodgers versus Blue Jays
Home field advantage may decide this seven-game series, as the Jays vaunted offense comes up against the the best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball. This could be a classic battle. BBRT feels that the challenge the Dodger Duo will face up and down the Blue Jays lineup (after a season’s worth of wear and tear) will take its toll. Casey Stengel once said, “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.” That quote is likely to come to life over the 2015 World Series.
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Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.