What did we learn from the first-ever MLB Wild Card Round?
Well, we learned that whatever has cursed the Minnesota Twins over the last couple of decades is still going strong. Yeesh, I hope I never see this misbegotten franchise in the playoffs again (that is, unless somehow the Mets can draw them in the first round). The Twinkies have been getting swept in the postseason since baseball first went to divisions back in 1969, when Earl Weaver and the Robinson Boys started the postseason ritual of taking the Minnesota lunch money. Enough already!
And we learned that the tax that Cubs fans will pay in return for their long-awaited World Series win back in 2016 is a steep one, and will likely extract extreme payments, in the form of emotional pain, from their fans for generations to come.
And, as impossible as this may seem, we learned that the Cincinnati Reds may have actually been a worse hitting team than their .212 regular season average indicated heading into the playoffs.
Now baseball fans can shift focus back to a playoff format we recognize, the best-of-five Division Series showdowns. Baseball will continue to pare down this postseason field of 16 teams into a more manageable number of combatants, as the four series move to neutral sites.
The problem is, it’s not just the format that’s more recognizable. We also have some familiar franchise names emerging as the prohibitive favorites, and from the lens through which SportsAttic views hardball, that is not good news.
Like a beaten and bloodied serial killer in some straight-to-cable horror movie, the Houston Astros have advanced, and the convicted cheaters may actually be gaining strength as the playoffs hit their stride. Looking equally formidable, the Evil Empire from the Bronx is now mostly healthy and head into their showdown with Tampa with a rested Gerrit Cole ready to give them two starts.
In the Senior Circuit, the Dodgers made the Brewers look like a bye-week vacation in advancing to the NLDS, and it is hard to imagine any club taking them down before what appears to be a predestined date in the 2020 World Series.
Could we really be subjected to these same, hated franchises (and their entitled, obnoxious fans) making up MLB’s Final Four? Well, that is why they play the games, but it sure does feel like the pre-Corona favorites from the first spring training, way back in February, are primed to make the League Championship Series a rerun of seasons past, devoid of fresh faces or new storylines.
Can anything get in the way of such inevitability? SportsAttic is here, fresh off our prescient call of the Marlins taking a broom to the Cubs (you didn’t think we’d miss the chance to blow our own horn over that call, did you?), to handicap the ALDS and NLDS and preview who you should expect to see advance deeper into October baseball. Here we go!
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
Yankees over Rays — Shit. No matter how I try to cut this, I just don’t see the Rays advancing. Everything clicked at the plate for the Yankees in their series against the Indians, and when the Bombers bats heat up, things get ugly for their opposition. And Cleveland has better pitching than Tampa! No team benefits more from the extra travel days than the Bombers, who now can come back with Cole in the opener, and have him available a second time, should the series advance the full five games. It won’t, because the Yankees will take the scrappy Rays out in four (we will give Tampa a meaningless win in Game 3 to avoid the sweep). The only way we can envision the Rays avoiding such a fate would be if they follow through on all their tough talk and engage Cole in a beanball war early in Game 1. Maybe the Yankee ace gets tossed and suspended, and Aaron Judge and a few other Yankees starters get injured in the scrum? Otherwise the Rays have no discernible advantages. This will be so one-sided that even Gary Sanchez will participate in what will become a nonstop Home Run Derby loop for the Evil Empire. Yanks in four.
Astros over A’s — Double-shit. This series will be closer, but ultimately the A’s will fall victim to the same storyline as the Rays, with the favored, more talented (and despised) franchise, who was only so-so during the truncated regular season, sending home the no-name division winners. Look for two wins from Zack Greinke, including one in the decisive Game 5, as all the usual suspects — Altuve, Springer, Bregman (do we need to go on?) — remind us that while they may have known what pitches were coming during their playoff runs of the last few years, they still have a shitload of talent up and down their batting order. Not having Matt Chapman will really hurt the A’s, who will miss both his defense and offense, not to mention his leadership. And while they possess the superior pen, Oakland won’t be able to utilize it enough while falling behind Greinke each time he takes the mound. And don’t think the Astros and their fans won’t appreciate the irony of celebrating another series win on the Dodgers’ home field. Astros in five.
NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
Padres over Dodgers — This one should be a lot of fun. There has to be one unexpected guest in the Championship Series, doesn’t there? And as much as I’d like to ride the Miami bandwagon one more round, it says here it will be the other team from Southern California moving on in Texas this week. A baseball manager can cost his team a game or two over the course of a 162-game season (or even a 60-game season) and get away with it, especially if you have the talent the Dodgers do. But in a short series, where the talent differential is less extreme, and the games more pressure-filled, the misdeeds of a manager can prove to be the tie-breaker. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello once more to Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts. Can the Dodgers skipper really go home empty-handed again this year, despite having the most talented team, by far, in the National League? The Padres play loose, boast their own stable of talented players, and possess the superior manager in first-year leader Jayce Tingler. Prepare to watch the Dodgers tighten up as this one stays close through the first four games, only to have the wheels fall off the L.A. wagon in the finale as Fernando Tatis, Jr. announces he is ready for postseason primetime. Does anyone really feel confident putting their money on Clayton Kershaw to maintain the dominance he displayed against the Brewers a couple of days ago? Didn’t think so. San Diego moves on and exorcises over fifty years of demons in sending their neighbors to the north home for the winter. At least the Dodgers early exit will allow them to get a jump on their offseason manager search. Padres in five.
Braves over Marlins — This is the hardest series of the bunch to handicap. Are the Marlins really as good as they looked in taking out the Cubs? Were we all wrong in believing that the Braves didn’t have the pitching to advance in the postseason? Which team will benefit the most from the familiarity of meeting so often during the regular season? The Marlins won’t be able to sneak up on the Braves the way they did the Cubs, and you can be sure that the Braves won’t be caught by surprise by the young and talented Miami roster. Maybe if the Marlins steal Game One the way they did in Chicago, the demons of past playoff failures will tighten up the Braves enough that Miami never looks back? Yeah, maybe, but more likely the Braves offense, with no easy outs one to nine, proves too much for the Marlins and their young guns. Atlanta moves on in a competitive and entertaining series. Braves in four.
And there you have it, courtesy of the SportsAttic crystal ball.
American League Championship Series:
Yankees versus Astros in a rematch of last year’s ALCS.
National League Championship Series:
Braves versus Padres in a replay of the ’98 NLCS (spoiler alert — it will have the same outcome).