Now that we’re finally into October, its time for the annual Fall Classic: the Major League Baseball Postseason. Tonight, the American League Wild Card Game kicks things off with the Toronto Blue Jays hosting the Baltimore Orioles. Those are two of three American League East teams in the playoffs, however, MLB will crown new World Champs this year with the defending Kansas City Royals missing the playoffs.
Also, it should be pointed out that its an even-numbered year and the San Francisco Giants have once again snuck into the playoffs. More on that later …
But first, we’re going to look at some storylines headed into this postseason as the Division Series kicks off Thursday. And here we go …
The Cubs Curse Broken?
Before we get started, we all remember when the Cubs were still the laughable Cubs, the same Cubs that were more prone to lose 103 games in a season than win that many? Well, two years ago, those same Cubs showed now White Sox manager Rick Renteria the door when former Rays manager Joe Maddon opted out of his contract. Since then, the Cubs meteoric rise thanks to big free agent signings and new culture under Maddon has been nothing short of miraculous. Once considered a re-building project with a talented farm system, the Cubs went from pretender to contender overnight.
The Cubs may be the team to beat behind a Jake Arrieta (18-8)-led rotation that includes four more pitches with double-digit wins, including Jon Lester (19-5). The Cubs bullpen has been nearly lights out and the midseason acquisition of Aroldis Chapman to shut the door has proven to be an immeasurable addition.
The Cubs power hitting offense is led by two of the best young bats in the league right now: Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, while other offseason acquisitions such as Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward are part of lineup that has driven in 808 runs, second most of the postseason teams (Boston, 878).
Before the season started, the Cubs were the trendy pick to win it all, but Joe Maddon and company have backed it up with a dominant regular season. However, we all know the postseason — for all we can figure is a cosmic reason — treats the Cubs differently. But as long as there are no goats on W. Addison Street nor any fans reaching for foul balls, this could be the year the Cubs reach the World Series for the first time since 1945.
Standing in the Way: The Nationals
Another trendy World Series pick was the Washington Nationals with their stellar rotation and the always-exciting Bryce Harper storming out the gate with a MVP-like season, even though he eventually cooled off while battling injuries. While Harper finished with 24 homers, the Nationals were led by former Mets hero Daniel Murphy, who had 29 and a .347 batting average.
If it weren’t for the Cubs, the Nationals would have the best rotation in baseball. Behind 20 wins from Max Scherzer, three more starters have double-digit wins, while Jonathan Papelbon and Mark Melancon have anchored the back end of the bullpen.
Let’s Not Forget The Dodgers
What is wrong with the Los Angeles Dodgers? Are the Dodgers pretenders? These questions and more were asked at the All-Star Break as the Dodgers were trailing well behind their rivals, the Giants, who had one of the best records in baseball in July. Fast forward to now as the Dodgers went on a tear and won the NL West, while the Giants were the last NL team in the playoffs.
The Dodgers begin with Clayton Kershaw, who returned to even better form following a long DL stint due to a herniated disc. Rookie Corey Seager and Joc Pederson are leading the a youth movement for the Dodgers, while veterans Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick round up a lineup that is seeing the likes of Justin Turner having a career season.
Every Other Time For the Giants
Now this is the 2016 postseason. Does that mean San Francisco will be the champs, having won three previous World Series titles on even-numbered years (2010, ’12, ’14)? While in 2010 and 2012 the Giants won the NL West, these past two postseasons berths have come through the Wild Card. And just like in 2014, the Giants were the last team in for the NL. Is this script starting to sound familiar? With no home-field advantage through the entire playoffs, the Giants ran through some of the best teams, including an incredible series with the Royals.
While its referred to the “Odd-Year” Curse, the Giants also seem to play much better in the even years. They even finished off the season on a four-game winning streak and won five of their last six games. With the Giants sending their ace and postseason hero Madison Bumgarner to the mound Wednesday, they are the epitome of a wild card team.
From Worst to First. Again
Three years ago, the Red Sox were Boston Strong. During the farewell tour for David Ortiz, the Red Sox have gotten improved pitching, but also a high-scoring offense. After winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox spent the past two season in the AL East cellar, but thanks to free-agent signings such Cy Young frontrunner Rick Porcello and former Rays ace David Price and breakout seasons from Xander Bogaerts and MVP candidate Mookie Betts, Boston is easily a World Series contender. Also, Big Papi’s swan song season, in which he had a team-high 38 home runs, has dominated the headlines.
The new-an-improved Cleveland Indians, which are led by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, making for a briefly fun reunion.
A few additional thoughts before the postseason starts.
- The Texas Rangers hold home-field advantage through the whole playoffs. Which is great for them and bad for everyone else. Probably about the only stadium likely to get livelier is in Toronto, where those crazy Canadian fans love the dramatic bat flips.
- Tonight’s Toronto and Orioles game isn’t just for the birds. This has the potential to be a real slug fest.
- This is the Mets first Wild Card berth since 2000, but second-straight postseason berth. If they can even make it back to the NLCS with that depleted rotation, then these Mets really are amazing.
- The Nationals need Harper to have a great postseason. Washington, as well as baseball fans across the country, are ready to see one of the game’s most exciting players on the big stage.
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