2018 Wild Cards: COL vs. CHC & OAK vs. NYY — October baseball, a little wild

If the Wild Card games are any indication of how the 2018 postseason is going to be, it’s going to be one wild ride this October. The National League Wild Card reflected how tight the NL has been and ended up going down to the wire before the postseason began. And the American League Wild Card showed off the Yankees.

NL Wild Card: Rockies vs. Cubs (Tuesday)
This game was one of those super dramatic, tight games that makes these one-off games worth the effort. Both teams sent in their ace pitchers, Freeland and Lester, who both pitched deep into the game. Both only gave up 4 hits and a walk. But the Rockies got one run early in the game.

In the 1st, a lead-off walk moved to 3rd on a ground-rule double and then scored on a sacrifice fly. But then the Cubs held off the Rockies for the rest of the regular game. The Rockies pretty much matched them in offense and defense, which resulted in this insane, edge-of-your-seat kind of game.

But then, in the bottom of the 8th, with 2 outs, a Cubs’ batter singled, stole 2nd, and then scored on a double to finally tie up the game. And the hometown crowd went wild. And the game eventually went into extra innings. 13 of them.

In the 13th, with 2 outs (again), the Rockies’ batter singled, moved to 3rd on a single, and then scored on a single to break the tie. The small contingent of Colorado fans were suddenly excited. Their wish came true when their pitcher breezed his way through 3 strikeouts in the bottom of the 13th to send the Cubs back to their clubhouse to watch the rest of the postseason from their couches.

Final score: 2-1 Rockies, in 13 innings

AL Wild Card: Athletics vs. Yankees (Wednesday)
The next night, the AL Wild Card teams were ready for their own dramatic one-off game. And while the Yankees certainly outshone the Athletics in the end, the A’s weren’t exactly sitting on their hands. They are a good team. The Yankees are just better.

The A’s decided to piece together their bullpen to see if that could stop the Yankees. Yeah, it didn’t. Andrew McCutchen led-off the 1st with a walk and then scored when Aaron Judge hit a nice 2-run home run into the left field seats. But then the A’s pitchers did a good job of keeping the Yankees to those early runs.

Then in the 6th, Judge led-off with a double and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ double. After a new reliever came into the game, a wild pitch moved Hicks to 3rd and Stanton worked a walk. Stanton then stole 2nd putting both runners in scoring position. Then they did so on Luke Voit’s big triple, just inches shy of a 3-run homer in right field.

A sacrifice fly by Didi Gregorius then found Voit hustling home, barely touching home plate before being tagged. The A’s challenged the tag, but it was upheld. It wasn’t quite clear if he was tagged just before he touched the plate, but there was no proof he wasn’t either. So, the run stood. Not that it mattered. The Yankees kept rolling. And Giancarlo Stanton led-off the 8th inning with a monster solo home run into the corner of the left field seats.

Luis Severino was tapped for the start, which based on his second half showing, had many in Yankee Universe nervous. But they made it clear that if he fell apart like last year’s Wild Card game, there was a enough power in the bullpen to cover him. He didn’t really need it much because he was off to a stellar start, mostly breezing his way through the first 4 innings, including 7 sharp strikeouts.

Then in the 5th, he gave up 2 singles, his first allowed hits of the night, and instead of waiting to see if Severino could pull it together, they the Yankees went to the bullpen and called in Dellin Betances, who worked his way out of Severino’s trouble in the 5th and then sailed his way through the 6th. David Robertson followed this momentum with a clean 12-pitch 7th inning.

Zach Britton came in for the 8th and became the first Yankees pitcher to really struggle this game. He gave up a lead-off single. The next batter hit into what was originally called a double play, but the Athletics challenged and it was clear that the runner beat out the ball at 1st. So it ended up overturned as just 1 out. But then the next batter hit a 2-run home run to finally get the Athletics on the board. But then Britton tamped down and got himself out of the inning.

And Aroldis Chapman, postseason veteran, came out for the 9th and came out clean, even fielding the final out himself, helping seal the win for the Yankees to advance.

Final score: 7-2 Yankees

This means that the Division Series are set. Thursday, the NLDS games start. The Brewers host the Rockies, and the Dodgers host the Braves. The ALDS starts Friday — the Astros host the Indians, and the Red Sox host the Yankees. The Divsion Series games run 2 games, travel day, 2 games, travel day, 1 game. The first team to 3 wins win the series and advance to the Championship Series that begin on Friday, October 12.

Postseason Predictions:

  • Wild Card
    • Predictions: Rockies over Cubs, Yankees over Athletics
    • Results: Rockies over Cubs, Yankees over Athletics
    • Success (in batting average): 1.000
  • Division Series:
    • NLDS 1: Brewers over Rockies in 4 games
    • NLDS 2: Dodgers over Braves in 4 games
    • ALDS 1: Astros over Indians in 3 games
    • ALDS 2: Yankees over Red Sox in 5 games

This means I am hoping for an NLCS between the Brewers and Dodgers, and an ALCS between the Astros and Yankees. And with my track record, chances are at least 1 or 2 of my predictions will be wrong. I’m ready for it. But fingers crossed that it won’t be the Yankees-Red Sox one.

Go Yankees!

2018 Postseason Preview

And with the finishing of the tie-breaker games in the National League, we now have a postseason set and ready to go.

In the National League, the Wild Card game on Tuesday will be the Cubs hosting the Rockies. The winner of that game will face the team with the highest number of game wins the Brewers for the NLDS. The other NLDS will be between the Braves and Dodgers, starting at Dodger Stadium.

Over in the American League, Yankee Universe will be watching expectantly as the Athletics play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The winner of that game will face the game leaders of MLB, the Red Sox, for the ALDS. The other ALDS game will be the Indians and Astros in Houston.

The NLDS begins on Thursday, the ALDS on Friday. The pattern once again is 2 games (at the higher seed’s stadium), travel day, 2 games (at the lower seed’s stadium), travel day, 1 game (back at the higher seed). The first team to 3 wins takes the Division Series and advances to the Championship Series. That is a 7-game series, pattern of 2-3-2, first to 4 wins. The winners of those advance to the World Series.

And we’re at that time of year that I start making foolish predictions. I’ve learned my lesson, and I will only take this one step at a time.

So, for the Wild Card games:

  • NL Wild Card (on Tuesday) — Rockies over Cubs
  • AL Wild Card (on Wednesday) — Yankees over Athletics

This means that I think the Rockies will end up facing the Brewers in the NLDS and the Yankees will face the Red Sox in the ALDS. But then I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again. And I’ll be wrong this postseason.

Go Yankees!

Home Run Derby 2018 — Hometown Heroics at Workout Day

At the end of the first half of the season, the leading players in home runs were dominantly in the American League, but many opted out of the special event tonight either in favor of the rest that comes with the All-Star Break or to focus on the big exhibition game tomorrow night.

Instead, 43,698 fans crowded into Nationals Park in anticipation of seeing the star slugger they see at every home game hit his way into victory. Nationals’ outfielder Harper was the only veteran of the Home Run Derby, having lost in the final round in 2013 to Cespedes. The seven other batters in tonight’s event were news and all but one from National League teams.

The All-Star players had their Workout Day earlier in the day, running drills, seeing where they land on the roster, connecting with former teammates and friends, meeting the media and fans, and then congregating for the Home Run Derby. The Derby is set-up like in a bracket system, where the player with the highest number of home runs (Seed #1) faces off against the player with the fewest homers (Seed #8) and other similar pairings for the first round for four pairings, a sort of “homer-off”, in just 4 minutes.

The player with the most homers of the pair advance to the next round. So, the winners of that first round meet up with another winner for two more pairings for another round of “homer-off”. And the 2 winners of those pairings meet in the final round to see who hits the most homers in just 4 minutes. An extra 30 seconds is awarded if the batter hits 2+ homers at least 440 feet.

The first round kept close for the most part, with a strong start by the first pairing. The Phillies’ Hoskins kicked off the evening with 17 home runs that beat his opponent, Aguilar (Brewers), who hit just 12 despite being the furthest apart in regular season homers. Then it was close — Schwarber (Cubs) beat Bregman (Astros) 16-15, Muncy (Dodgers) over Baez (Cubs) 17-16, and Harper (Nationals) over Freeman (Braves) 13-12.

The next round continued the trend, with Schwarber powering 21 runs, edging out Hoskins (20). Muncy had a good start but faltered in the end to be surpassed by Harper (13-12). For the final round, Schwarber again kicked things off with a big show at 18 runs, and despite some momentum loss, Harper came back and tied it up at 18 in the final second. But he had those 30 extra seconds due to some pretty monster homers. He just needed 1, and he got it. And the hometown crowd went crazy, waving giant Harper faces and making the stadium nearly shake.

{Media note: Still waiting on a recap video of the Derby, will add shortly.}

And if you’re wondering, at the All-Star Futures Game, Team USA out-powered Team World 10-6 yesterday, though each team got 4 solid home runs in the process. Yankees prospect pitcher Justus Sheffield got time on the mound and really had a less-than-ideal outing. Pitching for Team USA, Sheffield came out in the 2nd and promptly gave up a solo home run to allow Team World on the board. After allowing a 1-out single in the 3rd, they went to another pitcher, but that runner scored on a 2-run home run that gave Sheffield a second earned run. But in the end, it was Team USA to power through and come out victorious.

Tomorrow, the All-Stars(often with their families) will walk down the eed carpet to meet their fans, chat with media, and take pictures just outside Nationals Park for the annual Red Carpet Parade before they take batting practice inside the park before the big game. Torres and Chapman will not be playing due to injuries. Severino is slotted as a reserves pitcher, which means he’ll pitch an inning somewhere in the middle of the game. And upon revealing the starting rosters, the AL coaching team has Judge batting 6th and playing left field. Because clearly they’ve never seen the right fielder and the Yankees’ #2 hitter play baseball.

Can’t wait to see Judge and Severino in the game tomorrow night!

Go Yankees!

NLDS 5: LAD vs. CHC — Halfway to a World Series

Well, we have half of a World Series now. The Dodgers have obliterated the Cubs’ chances and hopes and dreams of making it to the Series in consecutive years.  Tonight, the Cubs just fell incredibly short in every area — starting pitching, hitting, bullpen, and defense. I’d say base-running too, but they barely had anyone on base to figure out whether they were lacking here. The pitching was especially bat tonight, with the pitching staff giving up a total of 16 hits; that is never a good statistic. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were just dominate from start to finish; by the way, their pitchers only gave up 4 total hits.

The Cubs’ starter threw 50 pitches into the 3rd inning, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 6 runs, striking out just a single batter. The Dodgers began the game by working a lead-off walk that scored on a 1-out double. They doubled their scored with a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd. But then they really hit big in the 3rd, starting with a lead-off ground-rule double that scored on a single. Two singles later, the bases were loaded with no outs, and the Cubs’ starter clearly wasn’t having a great night and got the hook.

A new reliever got a strikeout, but then gave up a big grand slam to just solidify the Dodgers’ lead. It certainly silenced Wrigley from that point on. In the 4th, the Dodgers kept charging forward. With 1 out and runners in scoring position, a batter hit into a fielder’s choice out, getting the runner out at home. Then a double scored 2 runs.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers sent in their ace starter to command tonight’s game. He threw 89 pitches through his 6 inning, giving up just 3 hits, a walk, and a run and striking out 5 Cubs’ batters. But he was running a no-hitter through the first third of the game. His first allowed hit was a 1-out solo home run in the 4th, the lone allowed run to the Cubs all game. The final 3 relievers each took an inning and kept the Cubs from even dreaming of a possibility of ever catching up to the dominating Dodgers.

And just when you think it was over, the Dodgers came back in the 9th to add just a bit more. A 1-out single scored on a 2-out 2-run home run, the 3rd home run hit by this particular player tonight. That stat means he’s in the company of greats like Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth, who hit 3-runs in a single postseason game.

Final score: 11-1 Dodgers, Dodgers win series 4-1

Now, the Dodgers await their next opponent as the Yankees and Astros play on back in Houston. The Yankees need just a single win, which they could do tomorrow night to make it back to the World Series. And wouldn’t it be kind of fun to have a New York-Los Angeles World Series?

Fun trivia: we all know the last time the Yankees were in the World Series was when they won it all in 2009 over the Phillies (4-2). The Dodgers’ last appearance was 1988 when they won over the Athletics (4-1). The last (and only) time the Astros were in the Series was 2005; they were still in the National League and they got swept by the White Sox (4-0). So, the Astros have never won a World Series. By the way, neither have the Padres, Rockies, Rangers, Rays, Brewers, Mariners, and Nationals. But the Mariners and Nationals (and their former incarnation, the Expos) have also never made it to the World Series to even compete for the title.

But there’s always next year, right? Not for the Yankees… they’re in it to win it all again! (Here’s to #28!)

Go Yankees!

ALCS 5: HOU vs. NYY, NLCS 4: LAD vs. CHC — #TanakaTime dominates, Cubs beat the sweep

One coast is very happy tonight, one coast is not, the city by the lake is ecstatic, and the city on the gulf is not. Basically, we’ve got four parts of the country covered during this Championship Series, and there will always be a two that will go home unhappy.

Game 1: ALCS — Astros at Yankees
The Yankees were up against the Astros’ ace pitcher tonight, and fortunately, he wasn’t so ace-like tonight, despite still getting 8 strikeouts in just 5 innings. But the Yankees seemed to have his number. In the 2nd, with 2 outs, Castro doubled and then scored on Greg Bird’s single to get the Yankees on the board early. With 1 out and Gardner on 1st, Aaron Judge hit a big double that scored Gardner all the way from 1st.

And in the 5th, Headley hit a 1-out single and ended up at 2nd on a throwing error, and then Judge worked a 2-out walk. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius hit consecutive RBI singles to score Headley and Judge. That was the end of the Astros’ ace starter’s night. And the bullpen had a bit of a better time against the Yankees. Until the 7th inning, when Gary Sanchez capped off the scoring with a 1-out solo home run into the left field seats.

Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka just dominated the Astros lineup today. He threw 103 pitches in his 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits and a walk and striking out 8 batters of his own. Tommy Kahnle also gave a great out, breezing through his 2 innings in just 20 pitches and keeping those Astros totally shutout of the game.

Final score: 5-0 Yankees, Yankees lead series 3-2

Game 2: NLCS — Dodgers at Cubs
The Cubs knew it was now or never if they wanted a shot at the World Series for the second year at a row. So, they sent in their ace. And unlike the earlier game, their ace actually came through for them. He threw 111 pitches into the 7th inning, only giving up 3 hits, but walking 5 batters, and striking out 9 Dodgers. But the Dodgers’ pitcher, who’s been pretty good through most of the season, certainly didn’t come through for them in this game, only pitching into the 5th inning. The Cubs relied on just 2 relievers, their final one going having a bit of struggles through his 2 innings. But the Dodgers’ bullpen was much stronger and was pieced together.

It was a bit of give and take all game. The Cubs got on the board first in the 2nd — a 1-out solo homer and a 2-out solo homer. The Dodgers answered back with a 1-out solo home run in the 3rd to get themselves on the board. The Cubs got another run in the 5th with a 1-out solo shot. And the Dodgers got a lead-off solo shot in the 8th.

And then the Dodgers just ran out of outs. Sweep denied. The Cubs are still alive and kicking.

Final score: 3-2 Cubs, Dodgers lead series 3-1

So, now the Cubs are still in that all-or-nothing mode because if the Dodgers have one good night, the Chicago team is done this year. And now, with the Yankees in the lead, the Astros are in the same position. That series is headed back to Houston (starting Friday) to battle it out in front of the Houston hometown crowd, including a former Yankee (and an Astro briefly) Andy Pettitte. Pettitte actually threw out the first pitch before today’s game and has been at several of the games this series. He and his family live outside of Houston, but based on his sonssocial media accounts, they’re pretty much still solidly Yankee fans.

Both the Yankees and Dodgers are simply one win away from facing each other in the World Series. The Astros are still at 2 wins, and the Cubs are sitting at needing all 3 remaining games for their shot. The odds are clearly in favor of the first scenario, but this is the postseason. And weird things happen in the postseason.

Go Yankees!

ALCS 4: HOU vs. NYY, NLCS 3: LAD vs. CHC — The 6’s have it today

One series is now all tied up, and another is just one win away from being over. The Yankee were looking to eventually send the series back to Houston, now hopefully in the lead after a successful campaign at home. The Dodgers are on the way to sweeping their series, despite the rabid Wrigley crowd.

Game 1: ALCS — Astros at Yankees
Sonny Gray got the start in today’s game, and kept the Astros scoreless through 5 innings, matching the Astros’ starter for much of the game. Both gave up just 2 hits, 2 walks, and an earned run during their outings. Gray got into a bit of trouble once he came on for the 6th giving up 2 runners due to a walk and catcher’s interference (and it wasn’t Ellsbury!). And despite no runs allowed at this point, the Yankees went to their bullpen, calling on David Robertson.

Robertson promptly loaded up the bases with a walk before getting the first out of the inning, a great strikeout. But then he allowed a bases-clearing double. And in a great teamwork, the Yankees got the runner out trying to stretch it to a triple. Chad Green came on for the 7th inning and gave up a 1-out double that scored on fielding error. Green kept the Astros scoreless in the 8th before Aroldis Chapman breezed through the 9th in just 10 pitches. Overall, Yankee pitchers only gave up 3 hits to the Astros’ batters, which certainly helped their own offensive cause.

But their offense didn’t really make a dent until the 7th inning themselves. After the Astros’ starter gave up a lead-off solo home run to Aaron Judge, the Astros went to their own bullpen, and it certainly worked out in favor for the Yankees once again. Gregorius tripled and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s sacrifice fly.

It would be the 8th inning that would really make all the difference. Frazier led-off with a single, ended up at 3rd on Headley’s single, and then scored on a ground out. Ellsbury then pinch-ran for Headley and scored rather easily on Aaron Judge’s double. After Gregorius’ single put runners on the corners, both he and Judge scored on Gary Sanchez’s double. An intentional walk and walk loaded the bases with just 1 out and the Stadium was alive and electric. But a ground out snapped the Astros’ defense into action and get the out at home.

Final score: 6-4 Yankees, series split 2-2

Game 2: NLCS — Dodgers at Cubs
Once again, the Dodgers dominated the Cubs in nearly every aspect of the game. In fact, the only score the Cubs got all night was a 1-out solo home run far too early in the 1st inning. The Cubs just weren’t really hitting much off the Dodgers’ pitching staff after that, at least nothing that they could convert into runs. So when the Dodgers tied it up in the 2nd with a lead-off homer, they just kept going, adding another run in the 3rd with a 1-out solo home run.

In the 5th, the Dodgers led-off with a double that scored on a long triple. The lead-off batter in the 6th reached on a fielding error, moved to 2nd on a single, and after the Cubs’ starter left the game, ended up at 3rd on a ground out. A walk loaded the bases, and after another out, the Cubs walked the Dodgers’ pitcher in just 4 pitches, scoring yet another Dodgers’ run. And to cap off the night, a lead-off walk, moved to 2nd on a single, made it to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then scored on a passed-ball strikeout. A sacrifice fly scored a final run.

Final score: 6-1 Dodgers, Dodgers lead series 3-0

So, tomorrow, the Yankees are looking for a win to take the series back to Houston with just a single win left. Of course, the Astros are doing the same thing. Either way, the winner of this series will be determined in Houston either in Game 6 or 7 depending on the next 2 games go. And over in the NL, the Dodgers need just one more win to seal their ticket to the World Series, so the Cubs are looking to win their next 4 games so they can return to the series. And in the postseason, anything is possible, so who knows?

Go Yankees!

NLCS 2: CHC vs. LAD — Another walk-off wonder

Look, the fact that this game was tied for most of the game says a lot for the tenacity of the Cubs because the Dodgers clearly outplayed them in every turn. Dodgers’ pitchers were almost perfect and quite efficient, while the Cubs’ staff racked up their pitch counts and gave up a total of 9 walks.

Okay, the Cubs’ starter threw 103 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 3 hits, 5 walks, and a run, and striking out just 2 batters. His bullpen had a bit of a better time trying to keep the game under wraps, thanks mostly to the defense. On the other side, the Dodgers’ starter threw just 79 pitches in his full 5 innings, giving up 3 hits, a walk, and a run, and striking out 8 Cubs’ batters. Then his bullpen was flawless and efficient, adding 4 more strikeouts.

The Cubs actually got on the board first in the 5th inning with a lead-off solo home run, but the Dodgers immediately answered back in the bottom of the 5th. A lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a 2-out single to tie up the game. So, leading up to the 5th, the game was tied at 0-0, and after the 5th, it was 1-1.

And then came the bottom of the 9th where the Dodgers were looking for just a single run to win the game in walk-off fashion. They didn’t get that. They worked a lead-off walk, and 2 outs and a new reliever on the mound, they worked another one to put 2 runners on base. Again, with 2 outs, the Dodgers needed just one run. They would get three when the next batter hit a big homer up the middle to score a 3-run home run for the walk-off victory.

As you can imagine, the crowd (and Dodgers fans everywhere) went crazy.

Final score: 4-1 Dodgers, Dodgers lead series 2-0

Now, those teams are headed to Chicago for next 3 potential games. Again, being the best-of-7, it’s the first one to win 4 games, and the Dodgers are halfway there. As are the Astros, if we’re being frank tonight. So both the Cubs and the Yankees have quite a bit of work ahead of them, but they’re both headed to their hometowns which means about 40,000 screaming fans (a little less in Wrigley, a little more in the Bronx) are behind them in person, and millions more from their couches or bar stools.

The Yankees have certainly done it before — the come from behind to go on and win it all. Take the 1996 Championships. The Yankees actually lost the first 2 games of the World Series in the Bronx (if you can believe it) against the Braves. Then they went down to Atlanta and won all 3 games there, much to the disappointment of that hometown crowd, then they came back on their momentum and won Game 6 in the Bronx and began their championship dynasty of the late 90’s.

Fun random fact: the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was the home of the Braves for that season as Turner Field (located pretty much next door) was currently being converted to a baseball stadium after serving as the city’s Olympic stadium just a few months early. The last game the Braves played there was Thursday, October 24, 1996, losing to the Yankees 1-0, and after the lights went out that night, the stadium was permanently closed and later became a parking lot. In 2016, with the Braves moving uptown to their new field, Georgia State University purchased the former stadium site (the parking lot) and Turner Field and will build a new baseball park for its baseball team on the now-former parking lot and Turner Field is being transformed into a football stadium for the college team.

Anyway, all that to say, the Yankees can totally pull this off. (As can the Cubs, by the way, sorry, Dodger fans!) But literally, it’s game-by-game. Take it a day at a time. Remember what happened when the Yankees were up 3-0 over the Red Sox in the ALCS in 2004? Yeah, literally, anything is possible. Sorry, for that mournful trip down memory lane, Yankee Universe, but it totally fits and you know it.

Go Yankees!