Anything is possible this postseason
OK, so we didn’t get chaos, entropy or any other form of Monday madness. There will be no game No. 163, no three-team tie, no pushing back of the postseason schedule. The outcomes of Sunday’s games neatly restored order, with the most deserving teams, the Rangers and Astros, claiming the final two playoff berths.
Here’s what I’m thinking as we wait for the postseason to begin:
The Royals are back.
And yes, I’m basing that on their modest five-game winning streak to end the season.
Sure, the Royals went 11-17 in September, but they entered the month with a 13-game lead and clinched the AL Central with nine days left in the season. One veteran player offered a reasonable explanation for the team’s swoon, saying the team simply was bored.
The Royals lost their mojo when they started resting banged-up players and removed Alcides Escobar from the leadoff spot, but voila! They’re essentially healthy now, except for closer Greg Holland, who recently underwent Tommy John surgery. And even without Holland, their bullpen is the best of any AL qualifier, and maybe as good as the Pirates’.
As for Escobar, his .293 on-base percentage makes him less than ideal in the leadoff spot, but the Royals are 103-59 (.636) over the past two seasons, including playoffs, when he bats first. Manager Ned Yost, as perplexed as the rest of us, told the FOX broadcasters Saturday, “Find one of those sabermetric dudes and figure this one out. I don’t understand it. It’s a mystery to me.”
The Royals are no mystery. They’re just good.
Watch out for the Rangers.
Will I pick them to upset the Blue Jays? Probably not. But I would not be surprised if the series goes five games.
What I like about the Rangers right now is that their stars are performing at elite levels. Start with left-hander Cole Hamels, who threw a three-hitter Sunday to help clinch the AL West title. Hamels, thanks to the Rangers’ collapse on Saturday, will be available for Games 2 and 5 rather than 1 and 4 (the latter on short rest).
The Rangers have won the last 10 games that Hamels has started, not that it will necessarily matter against the Jays, whose .815 OPS against lefties led the majors. Both of the Rangers’ top starters, Hamels and Derek Holland, are left-handed, and uh, the Jays treat right-handers no better. Their .791 OPS against righties also led the majors, though Rangers righty Yovani Gallardo has pitched 13 2/3 scoreless innings against them this season.
The only way for the Rangers to stay with the Jays might be to slug with them, and suddenly that appears possible — Texas led the majors in runs per game after Sept. 1. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is dealing with a jammed index finger and sprained thumb on his left hand, has 38 RBI since that date. Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and even Josh Hamilton all look like forces again.
The Astros need not be afraid of Yankee Stadium.
First off, the Astros won two of three in New York from Aug. 24 to 26, with their ace lefty, Dallas Keuchel, pitching seven scoreless innings in the middle game (Keuchel also threw a six-hit shutout against the Yankees in Houston on June 25).
The equalizer in the Wild Card Game might be that Keuchel will be working on three days’ rest following a start for the first time. Most of the Astros’ best hitters are right-handed, leaving them potentially vulnerable against Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka. Still, they scored six runs in five innings against Tanaka in Houston on June 27, with three of their right-handed hitters — Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Chris Carter — hitting home runs.
I’m not sure what to make of the Yankees’ recent slide — they ended the regular season by losing six of their last seven games. The Astros, though, showed impressive resiliency when their postseason berth was in jeopardy, winning six of their last eight.
Oh, and one other thing: Opponents find playing in the new Yankee Stadium as comfortable as playing in their living room. The crowd is not the least bit intimidating. Let’s see if the place is even full on Tuesday.
Yes, it’s fair to worry about the Mets.
History shows that there is no correlation between late-September performance and October success, and the Mets’ starting pitching certainly is good enough for the team to make a strong run. Still, those starters are young, and the Mets are making their first postseason appearance since 2006. So, I’m a little alarmed that their offense shut down in the final week, scoring two runs in the last four games and 10 in the last six.
Maybe it’s nothing — the Mets still led the NL in scoring after Sept. 1 — but there is another side of this: Aren’t the Dodgers, and specifically Clayton Kershaw, due for a big October?
Kershaw’s career ERA in the postseason is 5.12, but give a great player enough opportunities in the playoffs, and he’ll eventually produce. We saw it with Barry Bonds. We’ve seen it with others. We’ll see it with Kershaw, too.
The Mets’ late-season slide cost them home-field advantage, so they’ll draw Kershaw and Zack Greinke in some order in Games 1 and 2 at Dodger Stadium. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are fully capable of matching the Dodgers’ duo — the LA offense isn’t exactly electric. The Mets seemingly hold the bullpen edge as well.
A fascinating chess match lies ahead.
The Cubs are a menace.
I know, I know — if I’m concerned that the Mets lack postseason experience, shouldn’t I be just as concerned — or even more concerned — about the Cubs?
Fair question. But Cubs righty Jake Arrieta is the hottest pitcher on Planet Earth. Lefty Jon Lester has a career 2.57 ERA in 84 postseason innings. And the Cubs project a more dangerous vibe — they won 15 of their last 19 games, including eight straight to end the season with their starting pitchers producing a 0.35 ERA.
I know, I know — no correlation to the postseason! And the final six games were against the Reds and Brewers! Still, if we’re going to rave about the Mets’ pitching, shouldn’t we note that the Cubs’ staff set a National League single-season record with 1,431 strikeouts — and set a modern franchise record with a 3.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio?
For all I know, the Pirates will find a way to vanquish Arrieta, then roar to their first World Series title since 1979 — Pittsburgh is good enough to pull that off. But if the Cubs win the Wild Card Game, then face the Cardinals with a compromised or absent Yadier Molina …
All things are possible. It’s the postseason.
- Adrián Béltre
- Alcides Escobar
- Carlos Correa
- Chicago Cubs
- Clayton Kershaw
- Cole Hamels
- Dallas Keuchel
- Derek Holland
- Greg Holland
- Houston Astros
- Jake Arrieta
- Jose Altuve
- Josh Hamilton
- Just A Bit Outside
- Kansas City Royals
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- New York Mets
- New York Yankees
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Prince Fielder
- Shin-Soo Choo
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Texas Rangers
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Yovani Gallardo