The 2018 MLB season has been filled with great moments, players having career seasons, and 4 teams who had to play 163 games. We saw playoff scenarios play out until the final days of the season and surprise teams who exceeded everyone's expectations. Both Wild Card games were thrilling, as the Rockies defeated the Cubs in 13 innings and the Yankees brushed off a surprising Athletics team. October baseball gives us some of the most thrilling moments in sports, and last year's World Series between the Astros and Dodgers was one of the best we've seen in years. We're now left with 8 teams playing and 4 divisional series' to watch play out, so let's take a look at the 4 upcoming match-ups.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
The Los Angeles Dodgers enjoyed another 90-win season in 2018, even though they got off to a rocky start. They didn't really pick up the pace until mid-season, and they lost franchise cornerstone Corey Seager in the beginning of the season. Luckily they made a couple of mid-season moves that helped boost their team, acquiring Manny Machado and Brian Dozier near the trade deadline. However, there were also players who had very surprising seasons, including Max Muncy, a no-name player before the season who batted .263 with 35 homers and 79 RBI's. Matt Kemp also had a very nice bounce-back and all-star season, and he should be in the running for NL Comeback Player of the Year. Other contributors include Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, and Yasiel Puig. The only gripe with the Dodgers' offense is their base-running, as no player has more than 20 stolen bases this year and only Puig and Bellinger cracked double-digits. As far as pitching goes, they've had a flurry of different starting pitchers this year, and only one pitcher (Rich Hill), has reached double-digit wins. When healthy, this is one of the best staffs in the league, but Julio Urias had Tommy John Surgery to begin the year, and Clayton Kershaw hasn't been healthy for most of the year as well. He has still been great on the mound, as well as other starters like Ross Stripling, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and mid-season call-up Walker Buehler. Kenley Jansen has spearheaded the bullpen once again, but other relievers such as Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, and Scott Alexander have been very efficient for Los Angeles this year.
The Atlanta Braves, on the other hand, were not expected to be in playoff contention this year and were expected to be a .500 team at best. Instead, the Braves started the season on a tear and kept it rolling from there, recording a 90-72 record. Freddie Freeman enjoyed another successful season sporting another .300+ average and 98 RBI's, and Nick Markakis made his first all-star team. The big story of the Braves was the young guns, as Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna led the team in home runs and are going to be big pieces of the franchise going forward. The pitching staff is led by Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and mid-season acquisition Kevin Gausman, and while no one on the pitching staff really sports eye-popping numbers, they have been key in their path to the playoffs. Arodys Viscaino has been lethal ever since he was promoted to the closer role and other relievers like Dan Winkler and Jesse Biddle have been key in late-game situations.
When comparing these two teams, they are really similar in their skill sets. The Dodgers bested the Braves 5-2 in their season series, and the Dodgers have much more playoff experience than the Braves, who have a lot of younger studs that are getting their first glimpses of the postseason. I think that a major factor in this series will be the Braves' starting pitching, as if they can keep players like Machado and Bellinger in check then Atlanta has a great shot at winning the series. But, Los Angeles has Ryu and Kershaw on the mound for the first two games of the series, which will be tough for Atlanta to combat. I'm predicting a very close series, but the team with more experience and star-power will ultimately advance.
Prediction: Dodgers in 5
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Colorado Rockies
If you are looking for a match-up full of pitcher's duels, look somewhere else.
Milwaukee came into this year as a playoff contender for the first time since Prince Fielder was in town, as they made some key off-season transactions. They turned their top prospects into key major league contributors such as Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Yelich had a monster second half, almost winning the exclusive Triple Crown, and is a heavy favorite to win the NL MVP after posting a .326 batting average to go along with 36 home runs, 110 RBI's and 22 stolen bases. Another surprise contributor was first baseman Jesus Aguilar, a first time all star who belted 35 homers and 108 RBI's for the Brew Crew. The flurry of moves didn't stop, as they traded for Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop right before the trade deadline, and both have helped play a part in Milwaukee's postseason chase. Everyone on this offense has contributed one way or another, whether it be Cain's base-running prowess, Ryan Braun's veteran leadership, or Orlando Arcia's clutch Game 163 against the Cubs. Their starting pitching isn't really much to brag about, as they are led by Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson, who aren't your typical #1 and #2 pitchers. A name that has performed well as of late is Wade Miley, and he should be a big part of the Brewers' postseason rotation. Where the starting pitching lacks is where the bullpen excels, and Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader are two of the best relievers in baseball this year. Jeffress stepped in as a mid-season closer after excelling in a set-up role and has an impressive ERA of 1.29, while Hader is primarily a long reliever but has closed a good portion of games so far this year, and was a first-time all-star as well.
When you think of the Rockies, you think of offense, home runs, and more home runs. Colorado finished top-10 in home runs and batting average during the regular season, and playing half of their season at Coors Field certainly helps those numbers. Nolan Arenado was once again the leader of this ball club, posting a .297 average with 38 home runs and 110 RBI's, continuing his annual tear upon pitchers. Trevor Story finally had his breakout year, with 37 homers and 27 stolen bases along with a .291 average, and Charlie Blackmon continued to show why he is one of the most underrated players in the league with another strong season. Carlos Gonzalez had another effective season, as well as players like D.J. LeMahieu and Gerardo Parra. It's also worth mentioning the play of catcher Tony Wolters, as he surprised everyone with stellar defensive play and the game-winning RBI single in the Wild Card game against the Cubs. The Rockies even brought back Matt Holliday, a long-time Rockie who will hopefully used off the bench as an offensive spark. As with the Brewers, the Rockies don't have a household-name of a starting pitcher and are primarily carried by their offense. The difference between these teams is that the Rockies have a pitcher who has been consistently been great all season for them. That's Kyle Freeland, who went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA in 2018 and had an incredible outing against the Cubs in the Wild Card game. The bullpen has been a weird situation for the Rox this year, as bigger-name guys like Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw have struggled this year, but lesser-known relievers like Adam Ottavino and Scott Oberg have shined. The one constant in the bullpen is Wade Davis, who sported 43 saves in another excellent season as the Rockies' closer.
These are two offensive powerhouses with not a whole lot of pitching to their names. The headline match-up during this series may as well be between the two NL MVP candidates, Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado. The one worry I have about Colorado is their batting away from Coors, are they criminally worse hitters on the road than they are at home. The Brewers hold the seasons series 5-2, and while I think it will be a close series, the Brew Crew will eventually prevail and advance.
Prediction: Brewers in 5
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
The Red Sox were (record-wise) the best team in baseball, amounting a whopping 108 wins. They are led by 2 MVP candidates, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Betts hit .346 with 32 homers, 80 RBI's and 30 stolen bases as the leadoff hitter for the Sox, further cementing his status as one of the best players in baseball. Martinez shined in his inaugural season for the Red Sox, hitting .330 with 43 home runs and 130 RBI's, adapting perfectly to Fenway Park. This team can kill you on all aspects of offense, with 6 players batting .275 or higher, 3 players in double digits for stolen bases (Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr.) and 4 players with over 20 home runs (Martinez, Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers). They are an extremely impressive defensive team, led by the Triple B outfield of Bradley Jr., Betts and Benintendi, and infield components such as Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland. The Sox also have players like Eduardo Nunez, Brock Holt, and Steve Pearce who can play a variety of different positions and can give opposing teams nightmares with their play. Boston's pitching staff has had an up and down year, but this is still the best staff they have had in a while. Chris Sale was dominant this year, although he was hurt a couple of times this year and hasn't had much playoff experience. If he wasn't hurt, he would probably be the Cy Young winner in the American League. David Price had a rough start to the season, but he picked it up and finished with a 16-7 record, and showed flashes of his former self. Rick Porcello had 17 wins and Eduardo Rodriguez had 13 as the #3 and #4 pitchers in the rotation. Nathan Eovaldi will likely finish out the rotation for the playoffs. Craig Kimbrel was once again one of the best closers in the league, and other relievers like Ryan Brasier and Bobby Poyner helped Boston throughout the year.
The Yankees easily had the the most high-powered offense in baseball, as they set the major league record for most home runs hit by a team in a single season. Playing in Yankee Stadium helps with this, but having players like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton makes a big difference as well. Stanton had a good first season with the Yanks, as he belted 38 homers, and Aaron Judge had 27 in just over 110 games played. The Yankees' rookies had very impressive seasons as Miguel Andujar posted a .297, 27 HR, 97 RBI statline and is the heavy favorite for AL Rookie of the Year, and star prospect Gleyber Torres had an impressive rookie campaign as well. Luke Voit is one of the names to watch in this series, as he has been red-hot as of late as a low-key trade deadline pick-up. Other key offensive contributors include Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius. It has been a weird pitching year for the Yankees, as their ace, Luis Severino, has had an up and down year but finished with a 19-7 record. C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka have both been good for the Yankees, and Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Dellin Betances have all been very effective in the bullpen. J.A. Happ, a mid-season trade acquisition, has proved to be a great addition and will play a big role in this series. Through all of this, the Yankees were able to manage a 100-win season and a secure spot in the playoffs after besting Oakland in the Wild Card game.
It's great to see this rivalry back in the postseason, it's the first time we've seen it since the infamous 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox narrowly took the season series 10-9, and there this is likely going to be the most intense series out of all of the first round's match-ups. I see the Red Sox as the better team and look more powerful heading into October, and while the Bronx Bombers will put up a fight, the Red Sox will advance.
Prediction: Red Sox in 4
Houston Astros vs. Cleveland Indians
The Astros are the reigning World Series champions, and they continued their dominant play into 2018 with another 100+ win season. The duo of Jose Altuve and George Springer both enjoyed great seasons, and while Carlos Correa had a down year, Alex Bregman was the Astros' MVP, recording a .286 batting average with 31 homers and 103 RBI's and some stellar defensive play. Yuli Gurriel also performed well at the plate with a .291 average and other players like Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez were key contributors as well. The starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. might be the best in all of baseball, as all of them have double-digit wins and have ERA's below 4.00. Verlander and Cole were the stars, both recording ERA's below 3.00 and amassing 15 wins or more each. The closer role was the shakiest part of this team throughout the season, but the late-season addition of Roberto Osuna looks to have been a steal, as he has been lights-out over the last 2 months. Collin McHugh, Tony Sipp, and Hector Rondon have all been key contributors in the Stros' bullpen.
The Indians play in the worst division in baseball, which made their path to the postseason much easier. They still have plenty of star talent on their roster, as Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley all enjoyed incredible 2018 campaigns. The real offensive star was Jose Ramirez, who in my opinion is very underrated, as he batted .270 with 39 home runs, 105 RBI's, 34 stolen bases and 106 walks. He should definitely receive some votes for MVP, especially if the Indians make a deep run in the playoffs. A player to keep an eye on this series: Josh Donaldson, who was acquired in August from Toronto and hasn't played a whole lot this year. Corey Kluber was a machine once again for the Indians, posting a 20-7 record, and other pitchers like Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer enjoyed tremendous seasons. Outside of Oliver Perez, who has been fantastic for the Tribe, no other reliever has an ERA below 4.00 besides Brad Hand, which is very concerning for Cleveland entering the postseason, as they will need players like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to step up.
The Astros are seeking to defend their title, the first in franchise history, while the Indians are looking to capture their first World Series trophy since 1948. The Astros narrowly defeated Cleveland in the season series, 4-3, but the key to this series will be the pitching, and aces like Verlander and Kluber in general. Whichever team's bats can strike more often will definitely win this Series, and I'm predicting the Astros will do just that.
Prediction: Astros in 4