Game number 163 came and went for four playoff teams today, and none of the things I wanted to see happen happened. Actually, that’s not correct. I was happy with both outcomes, as I’m more intrigued by the Brewers the more I watch them, and I am least enamored with the Rockies in the National League, so I am happy to see them with a chance of going home for good tomorrow.
That being said, I didn’t get to see Christian Yelich utilize an extra game on the schedule to take the Triple Crown (what an awesome story that would have made). He came up with two on in the 8th, and I was certain that was it, but no dice. Even though my vote (if I had one that counted) would still go to Javier Baez, it’s hard not to tip the cap to what Yelich has done in leading the Brewers to home field advantage for the remainder of the NL Playoffs.
I also didn’t get to see Dave Roberts sweat any big decisions that could have cost the Dodgers the division. And that’s another reason I’m glad the boys in blue won today. Now I’ll have the entire NLDS to enjoy Roberts’ foibles and see if he can manage to keep the Braves in a series they enter completely overmatched.
However, now the playoffs begin for real, and with them come lots of questions to be answered. Let’s start with 20 of them:
- Can the Cubs really drop two straight big games at home and go from presumptive favorite to also ran in the span of 72 hours? Yup, for sure they can. But I’m guessing the bats wake up tomorrow and that troubling bullpen won’t cost them the season against the Rockies, who’s magic ride appears about over.
- Why is Aaron Boone protecting the identity of his Wild Card starting pitcher like it is some sort of state secret? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m guessing it’s for one of two reasons. First, it’s highly possible Boone hasn’t been told who to start yet by GM Brian Cashman, who must be cringing thinking about Boonie at the helm for a one and done contest Wednesday night. Or second, Boonie’s kind of enjoying the speculation and extra media attention his stalling sends his way. The man loves a camera and a tape recorder. My bet is they go with Tanaka, because for all the talk about “no tomorrow,” I don’t think the Yanks ever really stop thinking about, and planning for, Boston. Look for J.A. Happ to start that series (assuming Boone doesn’t manage the Bombers out of it on Wednesday).
- Is Bob Melvin versus Aaron Boone really that big a mismatch? You bet your ass it is. Melvin coaxed 97 (repeat ninety-seven) wins out of this squad of not-ready-for-primetime players. Any one of the Yankees starting pitchers would be the ace of the A’s staff (in fact, C.C. Sabathia would make a great Oakland Athletic in 2019, should he decide to come back). Boone got 100 wins out of his loaded Bombers, but does anyone really believe Joe Girardi (or heck, David Cone) wouldn’t have done at least that? Boone is questionable (at best) on strategy, mismanages his pen regularly and has a team that has spent the past twenty years writing the book on fundamentals looking impatient at the plate and sloppy in the field. That’s on the manager. The A’s? They play great defense, Melvin pulls the right strings out of his pen of castoffs all having career years, and they come at you with fire every game. No wonder Yankee fans seem super nervous about this one.
- How seriously must we take the Red Sox? Well, they did win 108 games this year. But here’s a fun fact for ya (credit to Pasadena Craig for passing this one along) — if the Sawx had dropped the season’s final contest to the Yankees on Sunday, they’d be entering the playoffs with a losing record against every AL playoff team. Hmmm… And I thought the Indians were the ones that parlayed a pillow soft schedule into the number three seed. I’m sticking with the conviction I’ve had since the All Star break that the Sawx aren’t long for this world.
- Do the Cubs have a chance to emerge out of the Wild Card game to run the NL table? The easy answer here is “no,” since there’s still another 106 years to go before their next scheduled World Series victory. But then you look at that lineup and see Baez and Rizzo and Bryant and Murphy and Zobrist and and and…but I’m just not feeling it here either. And as we saw last year, a tired, or worse ineffective, pen is a death knell in the playoffs. Here’s hoping they win tomorrow, simply because an NLDS against Milwaukee would be a lot of fun to watch.
- Are the Brewers really that good? It’s starting to look like they are. That lineup is no joke, and they even have more hitting off the bench if needed, but I still wonder if they have the starting pitching to go deep? I mean, Jhoulys Chacin was today’s do or die starter? Funny how every NL team has extreme flaws.
- Is anyone outside of Atlanta picking the Braves to make the World Series? They may not even be picking that to happen in Atlanta. But then again, for as much talent as there is in L.A., the Dodgers have been missing that “It Factor” all year (and you know how important that is in Hollywood). Can a Braves team that’s too young to feel pressure and playing with house money sneak away with the NLDS? Yeah, they actually could. But barring Freddie Freeman turning into a combination of Babe Ruth and 2004 Carlos Beltran, it should be one and done for the Bravos.
- Does Justin Verlander swing every series in favor of the Astros? That’s not doing justice to just how loaded the champions are. And remember, a standing champion’s still the champion. Verlander was so dominant a year ago that it’s hard to imagine him replicating that kind of performance again in the 2018 postseason. But he may not need to, as the rest of this squad may be even better than the 2017 World Series Champion version. I still wonder about that pen, though.
- Why is nobody talking about the Indians? Well, ahem, SportsAttic has been talking about Cleveland all year. They remain my choice to win it all, and I’m sticking with that one until someone sends them packing. Veteran lineup, starting pitchers capable of going deep into games, and a strong pen behind them, even if they have wobbled off and on this summer. And their hitting can go toe-to-toe with the ‘Stros, Yanks (A’s?) and Sawx any day of the week. Nobody’s talking about them because they are the sleeper, but they’ve been on the doorstep each of the last two years and know what to expect. Look out for the Tribe.
- Why isn’t Khris Davis mentioned in MVP discussions? Good question, since he only went for 48 and 123 this year. By the way, the “V” in MVP does stand for “Valuable,” does it not? Hard for me to imagine a player more valuable than Davis was to the A’s this year. Betts had Maritnez, Bregman had like five guys flanking him, Trout had…well, he wins every year, so let’s leave him out of this. Some in the Bay Area are pressing hard for Blake Treinen as MVP, and that could take votes away from Khrush, but I don’t think it matters, because the A’s are simply too far off the radar of the mainstream AL Superpowers. But he sure did have a helluva year.
- Who will win the AL Wild Card game? As much as it pains to me to admit, I still see the Yanks coming away with this one, in spite of Aaron Boone’s best efforts to foul it up from the dugout. If I had to guess, the guy that gives up the Aaron Judge bomb to decide it will be none other than old Mets friend Jeurys Familia. I still see this one being a hard fought, entertaining game, but the Bombers really are that strong.
- Who will win the NL Wild Card game? Can you say blowout? The Rockies got super hot to insert themselves into the tournament, but have lost two out of their last three, and have to travel four hours in the air tonight to take on the Cubbies at Wrigley. Lester and a lot of long balls will send the Rockies home for the winter and SportsAttic can resume calling for a merger of the Colorado and Arizona franchises.
- What about Dodgers-Braves? The combination of the Dodgers being off-kilter all year and Dave Roberts still being way over his skis as manager of this club will allow the Bravos to take it to the full five games. But too much Kershaw and Machado will send Atlanta home with high hopes for 2019.
- So SportsAttic is really sticking with the Indians over the Astros?? Yes, yes we are. Another five-game series with something for everyone. Big stars, terrific starting pitching, but in the end it will be the Astros pen that blinks and Cleveland move on.
- And Milwaukee-Chicago? I can’t wait for the five-game rematch of today’s division tie-breaker. I see two really evenly matched teams, one with solid, veteran starting pitching handing off to a suspect bullpen, and the other with a terrific pen trying to rescue so-so starters. In the end, this is MLB 2018, and the strong pen ends up being the more important strength. Another one that goes the full five.
- Who will win the battle of AL East blood-rivals? This one only goes four, because Chris Sale still isn’t Sale and the Yanks will steal Game 1 behind Happ. Look for Boone to wallow in the postgame credit for his brilliant decisions on aligning his starters in such a fortuitous way, as Brian Cashman smirks in the background. In spite of Boone, the Yanks are built for 2018 playoff success with tons of power arms in the pen, competent starters and lots and lots of long ball. Sawx fans will have to struggle through watching the Bombers celebrate in the Bronx night after at least two Kimbrel blown saves relegate them to 2001 Mariners status.
- Brewers-Dodgers in the NLCS? It’s been clear for months that 2018 just isn’t the Dodgers year, and despite loads of talent and more Manny Machado fireworks (he’ll probably rake in an extra $50 million in free agency from his blockbuster postseason), the ride ends here for the Los Angelenos. The Yelich train moves on, with a big assist from Lorenzo Cain, who knows a little about winning postseason baseball. The Counsell-Roberts matchup from opposite dugouts is a plus for the Brew Crew and Milwaukee advances to its first World Series since 1982.
- Will an Indians-Yankees ALCS be the real World Series? Yes and no. Yes, only because the Junior Circuit has been so far superior to the NL all year long, and these two powerhouses surviving a field that included Houston and Boston will make it feel that way. No, because the Brewers will await the winner, and they play like an AL team — power hitting, deep pen and they still seem like they are in the American League, even though they switched leagues 20 years ago. However, I’m sticking to my theme of the Tribe being this year’s Team of Destiny after coming so close each of the past two seasons. Add in that they have the longest MLB title dry spell going, and there is a heck of a lot of karma on their side. And finally, Tito against Boonie? I think we’ve beaten that one to death. Indians in six.
- Will the NL keep it close in the Fall Classic? I don’t see it. The Indians have too much to throw at the Brewers, who will be on fumes by the time the Series rolls around. Let’s go with Michael Brantley as MVP for sentimental reasons, and Francona announces his retirement as the bubbly sprays in the Indians postgame clubhouse. Cleveland in five.
- Where do Manny Machado and Bryce Harper land in the offseason? Manny surprises everyone by signing with the Braves on the first day of free agency. Let’s call it eight years and $300 millions. He gets to stay at shortstop in the short run and give a little veteran presence to the upstart Bravos. Atlanta immediately becomes the team to beat in the NL in 2019, because…Harper pulls the even bigger surprise and signs with the Angels! This shocker sets up a two-three-four in the order of Trout, Harper and Ohtani that breaks the bank at 10 years and $375 million, but makes the Angels the most intriguing AL club heading into 2019 (even though they still won’t be able to get anyone out).
- And yes, I realize that last one wasn’t about the MLB Playoffs, but I only had 19 questions after all, and had already committed to 20 in the headline. PLAY BALL!