We got really lucky with these Championship Series’. Both figure to be absolute grudge-matches; not necessarily due to the quality of the teams (That goes for the NL), but because of how even the matchups are. For example, Houston and Boston were the two best teams in the whole MLB this year. The Brewers and Dodgers both lack dominant and trustworthy pitching staffs. Los Angeles and Milwaukee had my doubts all year (Like every team in the NL). Now those doubts will come to a head.
NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers
The Dodgers and Brewers had relative ease in the NLDS. Milwaukee proved me very wrong, sweeping the Rockies in three games thanks to their questionable, limited bullpen holding strong and a clutch Wade Miley outing.
The Dodgers made things easier than I thought they would against the Braves. Atlanta got burned by their starters, putting immense pressure on their young lineup to comeback in practically every game (That didn’t bother Ronald Acuna Jr. too much, though). LA’s rotation experienced the ups and downs it should have. Clayton Kershaw gave them a gem, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill did enough, and the young Walker Buehler struggled.
The question is whether that’s enough in this series. The Brewers are a different monster than the Braves. They’re more talented, more experienced and have more power. The Brewers hit 43 more home runs than the Braves this year, and the Dodgers’ pitching staff allowed the 9th highest home run-to-fly ball rate in the majors. That’s a serious uptick for the Dodgers, and it’s not guaranteed that Ryu, Hill and Buehler are gonna be able to get away with “getting the job done”.
At the same time, the Dodgers are an uptick for the Brewers as well. Milwaukee never saw the Rockies ace in Kyle Freeland and faced a ton of inexperience on the mound. The Dodgers are the opposite of that with Ryu, Hill and Kershaw. Plus, the Dodgers bullpen (though not great itself) can’t be worse than Colorado’s was. Harrison Musgrave, Scott Oberg and Seunghwan Oh were terrible, and Wade Davis provided a mini heart attack every outing. Even Adam Ottavino had his issues, as the slider just wasn’t the same as it was in the regular season.
Milwaukee got a bit of a break. Even if the Dodgers are just a tinge better, it could be a big adjustment for the Brewers. At the same time, LA is experiencing a similar thing. With Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes (Are we sure we can count Jeremy Jeffress??), the Brewers bullpen is more talented and more trustworthy than Atlanta’s.
The advantages each team has against one another cancel out. They both had easy opponents in the Division Series and face a much tougher test now. Neither pitching staff is flaw free.
This series is good because of bad reasons. The ALCS is good because of good reasons. It’s been the story of the NL all year.
This means that we’re gonna have to nit-pick and fall back on some basic, cliche and old-school evaluating methods.
I don’t like previews that take each team position by position, compare who is better and then make the pick based off that. It’s baseball. There’s a lot of other factors. Some pitchers you just can’t feel good about despite their numbers, and some batters are scarier than their home run rate or batting average suggests.
But that’s unfortunately what we have to do here, but only among the pitchers, because offenses are way too unpredictable in October.
- Clayton Kershaw vs. Gio Gonzalez
- Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. Wade Miley
- Walker Buehler vs. Jhoulys Chacin
- Rich Hill vs. ???
Kershaw is one of the best pitchers of all-time, and Wade Miley is asking for it against the Dodgers, who will rake him giving his hard groundball tendencies (The Dodgers finished 4th this season in hard contact percentage at 38.9%). The third matchups is a tough one. Walker Buehler was rocked against the Braves and let the nerves get to him. When Chacin’s firing, his stuff is nasty with the two-seam and slider movement. Buehler’s more talented, but the meltdown potential is exponentially higher.
Game 4 projects as a bullpenning game for Milwaukee, which is concerning. The Brewers are already down 2-1 in the head to head talent matchup, which means a heavy use of their bullpen is likely in Games 1-3. Relying solely on them for Game 4 puts a heavy toll on the staff, which as I mentioned above has 3-4 trustworthy arms in the first place. After that projected loss, the rotation starts over, and the Dodgers have the advantage once again.
Dodgers: Kenley Jansen, Alex Wood, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Ryan Madson, Julio Urias
Brewers: Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Joakim Soria, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Xavier Cedeno
Consider these lists this way… how many guys are there that we can’t pick apart on each staff? Kenley Jansen in any other year would be locked away from this list, but the home run issues he’s had since returning from his heart problem are too scary. Julio Urias, a surprise addition to the roster, is 22, has hardly pitched in the majors this year and has been up and down performance wise in the minors coming off of injury. Alex Wood’s ERA+ is much lower than his other numbers would say it should be. Ferguson is a home run machine, and Dylan Floro can put guys on in a hurry with walks. Ryan Madson has been horrible overall this season, though his experience helps with the pen getting younger due to Urias’ addition.
Practically every single Dodgers reliever has a nit-pick. Hader and Knebel are off limits for the Brewers, but the rest isn’t great either. Jeffress didn’t give us too much confidence from his NLDS performance, and Joakim Soria’s 2014 ALDS outing against Baltimore is one I’ll never forget (that’s meant in the worst way possible). As much as I like Corbin Burnes, he’s 23 and will have high pressure on him. Brandon Woodruff is fine, and Xavier Cedeno gives this bullpen an extra boost. His absence from the DS roster was fascinating.
So, the Dodgers have the better starters, but the Brewers the better bullpen. I’d rely on the Dodgers to get longer outings from their starters, which burns the bullpen less. Dave Roberts has been good about not overusing them so far (i.e. Leaving Walker Buehler in after giving up the grand slam). The Brewers are doing the exact opposite with their bullpen; they have three starters, none of who have long leashes. They’ll pull them in an instant, and let the bullpen take over as soon as the 2nd or 3rd inning. As I wrote in the NLDS preview, the Dodgers learned last year that it comes down to last bullpen standing. They aren’t making the same mistake again. They’re gonna let the Brewers make it, and their superstar lineup will capitalize.
Prediction: Dodgers in 6
ALCS: Houston Astros vs. Boston Red Sox
This is as tight as a matchup can get.
Unlike the NLDS, each component of both teams is equal. The rotations are excellent, the bullpens just as good and the offenses are capable of backing up their pitching staffs if need be.
Houston predictably handled Cleveland, thanks to the Astros offense shellacking any pitcher the Indians threw at them, bullpen arm or not. Boston survived an entertaining Yankees series, which featured blow-outs, horrible calls, tipping pitches and a classic David Price postseason outing!
The Red Sox series against New York might have taught us a lot about them. Though winning in four games, Boston had some things go seriously against them. David Price didn’t turn it around (At the same time, who expected him to?), and Craig Kimbrel almost let the series go five games. The Red Sox might have scored six runs in the series off of tipped pitches. Oh, and the Yankees 3rd best pitcher is as good as Houston’s 4th, who is a No.2 or No.3 on most teams.
When it comes to kicking it up a notch, the Astros are certainly going to make Boston do that.
Cleveland had their issues, but that doesn’t discount the fact that Houston beat up on the probable AL Cy Young winner. Kluber got clobbered in Game 1. Sale’s more equipped to handle these moments, but man, that was an impressive performance.
We waited all year for the Astros switch to come on (I say that as they won 103 games) and it did against Cleveland. The Astros have that swagger about them; they’re the World Series champions and they aren’t going to let Boston forget that. They have the offense, rotation and bullpen to make it there again.
Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton is the league’s best rotation. At the same time, Boston’s offense was their kryptonite this year. The Red Sox offense never cost them a game this season. No pitcher was too overwhelming for this lineup, mostly due to the fact that Boston can score without hitting home runs. They led the MLB in doubles and finished within the 13-16 range in both fly-ball percentage and groundball percentage, creating a very nice balance of contact and power hitting.
But the Astros staff ranked the same way. No one hit too many home runs off of them, and no one got hard groundball contact off of them either.
Boston’s pitching staff isn’t nearly as strong as Houston’s though. No one is trotting out Verlander-Cole-Keuchel like the Astros are, but there were rotations that existed that came close. Not Boston’s. Chris Sale dominated the Yankees and Rick Porcello was fine, but in a series like this ALCS, a poor David Price start is catastrophe. The Astros aren’t giving you bad starts like New York was (CC, Severino in Game 3); there’s no way to make up for your pitchers being crappy, because the opponent doesn’t have any that will pitch crappy.
Plus, the Astros have the superior bullpen. Boston’s relievers were lights out or the opposite of that against the Yankees, a problem I feared in my ALDS preview. Like how Boston’s offense won’t let Houston pitchers get away with their (few) mistakes, the Astros offense won’t either the Red Sox’s staff get away with those mistakes either. George Springer is a terrifying postseason batter, and Alex Bregman is the type of guy whose play backs up his talk.
Brandon Workman and Eduardo Rodriguez can’t be getting shelled like they did against the Yankees, and Craig Kimbrel’s antics at the end of games can’t happen. Houston’s experience will prevail in those tight situations. Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes and Ryan Braiser have to step up and hold down the ship. There’s a lot of holes (We can’t forget about Heath Hembree’s Hole) in this bullpen, and it’s gonna take a lot to keep it afloat.
As we saw above, in a series this tight, the little things matter. My trust in Boston’s pitching staff is much lower than Houston’s, and even though the Red Sox offense was the most dominant position group in baseball this season, I am going to rely on what we know wins the World Series: Pitching. It feels odd to go against this Red Sox team; it really felt like all season that they would coast through the playoffs and just keep getting it done. But the Houston’s demolition of Cleveland sucked me in.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see this go seven. Houston wins when they start Verlander and Cole, and get an extra one from David Price’s start. Boston settles Charlie Morton down, gets the best of Keuchel and has a game where the offense is overwhelming. The Red Sox bullpen falls apart in another game, and that’s the deciding factor.
Prediction: Astros in 7