Some argue baseball’s regular season is too long, but the playoffs are well worth the wait.
This year’s matchups are fascinating, rife with intriguing storylines.
Here’s a preview of what to expect.
NEW YORK VS. CLEVELAND
The Indians’ 22-game winning streak — an American League record — across August and September propelled the club up the standings and helped them secure the AL’s top postseason seed.
…When the cameras are not fixed on Yanks rookie sensation Aaron Judge, pitching will certainly dominate the storylines for this intriguing ALDS.
On Cleveland’s side, manager Terry Francona boasts baseball’s best rotation, which is led by AL Cy Young Award favorite Corey Kluber, and an elite bullpen anchored by relief ace Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen. While the Tribe’s relief corps paced the Majors in ERA (2.89), Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s bullpen ranked first in the Majors in WAR (9.2, per Fangraphs), strikeouts per nine innings (10.9), strikeout percentage (29.1) and opponents’ average (.201).
Against New York, chasing the starter early is not as advantageous as it might be with other teams.
The Indians are planning on sending Trevor Bauer to the mound for Game 1 on Thursday, followed by Kluber in Game 2 on Friday and Carlos Carrasco in Game 3 on Sunday in New York. If Cleveland has a mid-game lead, expect Francona to once again lean hard on his bullpen, as he did during the team’s run to the World Series a year ago. Beyond Miller and Allen, the Indians will have multi-inning options in Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger.
Bauer went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his two outings against the Yankees this season.
This season, the Yanks ranked second in the AL in runs scored (858) and home runs (241) with Judge — an AL MVP Award candidate and the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award — leading the charge with 52 homers, plus one in Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game win. In seven games against the Indians this season, though, Cleveland outscored New York, 31-20, and went 5-2 overall.
The Indians’ pitching staff set single-season MLB records in strikeouts (1,614) and strikeout rate (10.1 per nine innings). The Yankees’ lineup, meanwhile, struck out at a 21.8-percent clip and had the sixth-most punchouts (1,386) as an offense in the AL.
“The Yankees, you have the danger factor,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “They might strike out a little bit more, but there’s guys from top to bottom that can hit the ball out of the park, and do some special things that way. The key against them is not to allow three baserunners. Make sure you don’t walk guys, and limit the damage. If they’re going to hit one, which they are, make sure it’s a solo.”
While the Yankees have a powerful lineup, pitching is king in the post-season, and the Indians still have the stellar rotation and bullpen that propelled them to a near-World Series victory last year.
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BOSTON VS. HOUSTON
If Astros right-hander Justin Verlander had put together these kind of second-half numbers in the first half of the season, he’d likely be in the American League Cy Young Award conversation. Verlander’s second half has been nearly as good as Indians ace Corey Kluber and better than Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale. Verlander will be the starter when the Astros take on Sale the Red Sox on Thursday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series presented by Doosan.
In his final 16 starts of the regular season, Verlander went 10-3 with a 1.92 ERA, 127 strikeouts and 26 walks in 108 innings. That includes a terrific five-start run since being traded from the Tigers to the Astros in which he’s 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA with 43 strikeouts and five walks in 34 innings
…Having postseason experience doesn’t hurt. Verlander has pitched in five postseasons, including two World Series.
There have been 91 wins, 1,324 1/3 innings, 1,552 strikeouts and six All-Star appearances that Chris Sale put on his resume in dominant fashion over the past eight seasons.
But for the Red Sox’s ace, nothing will match the thrill of Thursday, when he takes the mound for Game 1 of the American League Division Series…
“A lot of hard work goes into this, ups and downs of the season, battling the travel and all this other stuff,” said Sale. “So to be sitting here right now is pretty fulfilling.”
The challenge will be stiff, as Sale goes against a potent Houston offense that won 101 games and finished the season red hot. And the opposing pitcher will be Justin Verlander, the power righty who Sale had many battles against during their years together in the AL Central. These are the challenges the lanky left-hander longed to be a part of for all those years he watched the postseason on television.
The Red Sox have a balanced team and a wealth of recent post-season success, but Boston has to lose some of its magic with retired legend David Ortiz no longer part of the lineup. The Astros have been consistent all year, and the re-emergence of Justin Verlander gives them the edge.
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CHICAGO VS. WASHINGTON
Nationals ace Max Scherzer did not throw his expected bullpen session during the Nationals’ workout Wednesday afternoon, which was supposed to be the latest test of his right hamstring injury. He did play catch in the outfield, however, in addition to throwing off flat ground for about 10 minutes, but he never made it to a mound.
The Nationals still have yet to reveal their rotation to face the Cubs for the National League Division Series…At this point that will almost certainly be right-hander Stephen Strasburg considering Scherzer has still yet to throw a bullpen.
…The possibility is increasing that Scherzer might not be ready to start until Game 3.
…The Nats have the luxury of turning instead to Strasburg, who was named the NL Pitcher of the Month in September. He finished the second half with the lowest ERA in the Majors at 0.86.
Kyle Hendricks, the Game 7 starter in the World Series last year, will open the National League Division Series…when the Cubs right-hander takes the mound in Game 1 against the Nationals. He has the perfect temperament for the job…
Hendricks is definitely not your typical big league pitcher. You can ignore the radar gun readings at the ballpark; they don’t define him.
“He’s doing it in a different method,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday. “He’s not that guy who lights up the gun; he knows how to pitch. I talk to a lot of different pitching coaches, a lot of different managers and some [general managers], and he’s their favorite…
“He’s a technician. Coming from Dartmouth to here, what he’s done for himself and his career, almost winning a Cy Young last year, is really impressive.”
The defending-champion Cubs got off to a slow start, but got stronger as the season went on. Their talented roster and playoff confidence should serve them well against a stacked Nationals team. While Washington has one of the most talented rosters in baseball, it hasn’t translated into post-season success, and they certainly weren’t tested in the NL East, by far the worst division in baseball this year.
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ARIZONA VS. LOS ANGELES
Archie Bradley has made his mark this year on the mound, but it was his work with the bat that made the difference in the D-backs’ 11-8 win over the Rockies in the National League Wild Card Game…
With the D-backs clinging to a 6-5 lead Wednesday, Bradley came to the plate in the 235 ybottom of the seventh with runners at first and second. Not wanting to take his setup man out of the game, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo let Bradley hit, and the right-hander rewarded his manager’s faith with a triple to left-center that scored a pair of runs and put Arizona up three runs.
Those runs were crucial after the Rockies scored a pair of runs off Bradley in the eighth…
Arizona now heads to Los Angeles for Game 1 of the NLDS…The D-backs went 11-8 this season against the Dodgers, who finished with 104 wins, tops in Major League Baseball.
For veteran Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, it’s World Series or bust.
That was the takeaway from Ethier’s comments Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, where the National League West champions held a workout in preparation for Game 1…
“It’s a thing where it doesn’t matter how many games you win,” Ethier said of the Dodgers’ 104 regular-season victories. “It’s getting to the playoffs and winning the World Series. There’s no banners hanging up that say we’re the NL West champions five years in a row. The only banners you see out there are World Series championships.
The club set a Los Angeles franchise record with 104 wins, but Ethier says the “biggest thing” this year is winning the World Series, something the Dodgers haven’t done since 1988.
“I feel like winning the NL West five years in a row leads to complacency,” Ethier said. “Especially for this team, this organization, even for the fans you get used to winning five NL West [titles], but you really haven’t achieved anything.”
“You look across and it’s a 60-win Giants team, how many guys in this clubhouse, how many fans would — it’s tough to say this, but how many fans would love to be in the Giants’ situation and have three World Series under their belt in the last five years where we won these NL West championships?”
Despite an improbable 11-game losing streak, the Dodgers righted the ship at the end of the season and still finished with the best record in baseball. The roster is loaded from top to bottom and they’ll have a huge chip on their shoulder. If the pressure doesn’t get to them, they should get past Arizona and make it to the NLCS.