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!

NL Wild Card: COL vs. ARI — Another messy start, “wild” cards indeed, and postseason is just beginning

So, if one thing watching these last 2 wild card games has taught me, it’s that starters really don’t have it for the 4th and 5th place teams in either league. Tonight in Phoenix, the Diamondbacks faced off against their geographic rivals, the Rockies, for the one-off NL Wild Card title. Despite rather disappointing starts once again, neither team was willing to give up so easy. Neither team had really great bullpens either.

That would explain the 30 total allowed hits and 19 total allowed runs scored tonight. For the playoffs, you want and usually see low scores more like international football) and not like American football type scores. Tonight was definitely not usual.

The Rockies starter was pushed out of the game in the 2nd inning (and 41 pitches), after giving up 7 hits and 4 runs, and striking out just 2 batters; comparatively, the Diamondbacks starter threw 58 pitches into the 4th inning, gave up 6 hits, 4 runs, and struck out a single batter. And then, like last night’s game, both teams had to rely on their bullpens to pick up the game. But neither bullpen was really built for such an event, and both bullpen certainly dropped the ball. One team would rack up the points, and then the other team would catch up, and they basically did this all night long.

The Diamondbacks really commanded the game from the start offensively. In the 1st, with consecutive singles, a big 3-run home run got them on the board before an out was recorded against them. A 1-out single in the 2nd scored on a big triple, that kicked the Rockies’ starter out of the game right there. A new reliever in the 3rd gave up a single that scored as part of a 2-run home run to give the D-Backs a really big lead for the first third of the game.

Down 6-0, the Rockies had quite a bit to catch up. But they did, starting in the 4th inning. With 1 out, and 2 runners on base with singles, another single scored the lead run. A ground out moved both runners to scoring position which they promptly did on an RBI double and RBI single. That would be it for the D-backs starter at that point.

Things settled down somewhat for the middle section of the game until the Rockies found another opportunity in the 7th. A lead-off double moved to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then later scored on a sacrifice bunt. But that reduced gap didn’t last long. In the bottom of the inning, a lead-off Arizona batter singled and another batter worked a 1-out walk. They opted to send up their reliever, despite 2 outs on the board, to save their bench guys for bigger options. Which worked out well, as the reliever hit a big triple that scored both runners. It was his first professional extra-base hit ever.

He then struggled once he got back out on the mound (talk about a rollercoaster of emotion). He gave up consecutive home runs to put the Rockies back within striking distance again. But then the D-backs answered back, almost as if in revenge, in the bottom of the 8th. With 2 outs, 2 runners on base, and the 2nd reliever of the inning on the mound, a wild pitch moved both runners to scoring position before they did just that on yet another solid triple. That batter then later scored on an RBI single.

The D-backs called on their closer, who had his own issues but was able to rein them in just in time. A lead-off single advanced 2 bases on defensive indifference and then scored on a 2-out single. A little dribbler up the middle allowed for an easy force out at 2nd and to hand the Diamondbacks the win after a big battle back-and-forth.

Final score: 11-8 Diamondbacks, they advance to NLDS and will face the Dodgers in LA on Friday.

Okay, so I did well in my predictions for the Wild Card games. So far batting 1.000, but this will definitely change. Now that we know which teams are facing each other in the next stage of the postseason, I have my next phase of predictions:

  • ALDS 1 — Yankees over Indians, in 5 games
  • ALDS 2 — Astros over Red Sox in 4 games
  • NLDS 1 — Dodgers over Diamondbacks in 3 games
  • NLDS 2 — Nationals over Cubs in 5 games

Disclaimer: This doesn’t mean this is who I’m “rooting for” in each game, just which team I think will win each series. In fact, in one series, I’m hoping for the result to be reversed. Full disclosure: it’s not the Yankees-Indians series.

During their warm-up day at Progressive Field in Cleveland, the Yankees took some time to meet with the media, and they announced their starters for the ALDS. Game 1 will be Sonny Gray, followed by Sabathia, Tanaka, and Severino. Tanaka is being saved for when the series moves back to the Bronx as his home record is way better than his road record. And if they hit Game 5, the Yankees will announce their starter then. It could be Montgomery or Garcia, or they could call on Gray on short rest or one of the long-relief guys in the bullpen like Cessa. It really depends on how big of competition the Indians will be in the first few games.

Also, you can now “Vote Gardy” for Brett Gardner to win the Roberto Clemente Award, an honor given to a single player from all across the league who exemplifies excellence on the field and integrity and philanthropy off the field. Gardner is the Yankees nominee this season and deserves the recognition for being an excellent outfielder but also for his generous spirit and compassion in giving back to his home community in South Carolina and his work with the Yankees in the local New York area.

Go Yankees!

 

2017 Postseason Preview

Okay, here’s the annual blog post to wrap up the recent season and give a brief overview of what to expect in the postseason. And you’ll even get to hear my personal hopes (much more than predictions if I’m being honest) for how 2017 will turn out.

First up, the Wild Card games. Yes, the Yankees are back in the postseason again and will face the Twins tomorrow night. If you remember, the Yankees swept the Twins just 2 weeks ago, outscoring them 18-6 over 3 games. The most consistent starter Luis Severino will start for the Yankees. Severino had 14 wins and 6 losses in 31 games (and 193.1 innings), with an ERA of 2.98 and 230 recorded strikeouts just this season. If Severino and the Yankees’ offense work out like they’ve been known to work this season, the Yankees will be ready to face the Indians.

Okay, so here’s how the American League is set to play their Division Series. Boston, ending up 2 games over the Yankees, will face the Astros for their Division Series games. The Astros missed being the AL team with the most wins by a single game, falling short to the Indians who will face the winners of the Wild Card game.

The National League games will start just a day after the AL games. The Wild Card game will be played between the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, who ended up just a game ahead of the Brewers for that spot. Like with the Twins, the second spot for both Wild Card games went to teams that were exactly 6 games behind the first spot teams (Yankees and Diamondbacks).

The Cubs will play the Nationals in the NL Division Series, neither team coming close to the stellar season of 104 game wins the Dodgers had this season. So the Dodgers will face the winner of the NL Wild Card game.

And you know how the season proceeds from there. The winner of the best-of-5-game series of each set will face each other for the best-of-7 championship series to figure out the winner of each league. And those two winners will face each other in the Fall Classic, also known as the World Series.

Now, I don’t want to make my predictions too far in advance, so I’ll follow last year’s model and do a bit at a time. The AL Wild Card game is tomorrow night, and the NL Wild Card is Wednesday night. So we’ll start there.

  • AL Wild Card — Yankees over Twins
  • NL Wild Card — Diamondbacks over Rockies

Once we have winners from each of those categories, it will be easier (or let’s be honest, usually less humiliating) to predict the next set of games beginning Thursday with the ALDS games and Friday with the NLDS games. Those games are of the 2-2-1 layout, so 2 games played, a travel day, 2 games played (if necessary), a travel day, and 1 game played (if necessary). The team that wins 3 games advances to the next round (the ALCS/NLCS).

What’s your predictions? I try to remove my own bias (which is pretty much that the Yankees should be champions every single year), and be as objective as possible. However, this is my 5th year doing this blog, and honestly, this is the first year since 2012 that I’ve had any kind of hope that the Yankees could actually do something. Unfortunately, it’s all down to a game at a time, starting with tomorrow’s winner-take-all Wild Card Game.

Go Yankees!


As a postscript to this post tonight, I am saddened that I must once again express my sympathies after another tragedy. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and the families off all those affected by the terrible tragedy in Las Vegas last night.

The Mets’ AAA team plays in Las Vegas, the Vegas 51s, and several known current MLB players around the league grew up playing ball in its suburbs — Bryce Harper (Nationals), Kris Bryant (Cubs), Joey Gallo (Rangers), and the Yankees’ own Chasen Shreve. With three of those players heading into the postseason, I know their hometown isn’t far from their minds and hearts this October, as it won’t be from any of our own.

We will continue to pray for healing, comfort, and peace for all those injured or affected by last night’s events as both the city and the nation recovers from this latest horror.

And may I never have to write another condolence message like this one for as long as I live.

NL Wild Card: SF vs. NYM — A pitching duel at its finest

Man, I am not doing well at all this postseason for my predictions. Though to be perfectly fair, all 4 Wild Card teams were relatively evenly matched with their opponent, so predicting which team for both wild card games was basically a toss-up anyway. And as is the case with any game, one team always has a 50-50 shot at winning and (oddly enough) a 50-50 shot at losing.

So, the Giants flew across the country to visit the Mets for the NL Wild Card tonight in Queens. And it was a battle of the pitching greats: postseason icon Bumgarner vs. one of New York’s aces Syndergaard, or more commonly “Bum v. Thor”. And boy, was this a pitching duel, if I’ve ever seen one. It was just ridiculous. The first hit of the game wasn’t until the bottom of the 3rd off Bumgarner. But the first hit off Thor wasn’t until the 6th inning.

Now, Thor (Syndergaard) threw 108 pitches through his 7 innings, giving up just 2 hits, 3 walks, and no runs, but what’s most impressive is his wicked 10 strike outs. Mets’ reliever Reed got himself into a bit of a jam in the 8th, precariously loading the bases in his inning, but getting out of it in the end.

But then reliever Familia got into his own set of trouble in the 9th that had more disastrous consequences for the Mets. A lead-off double and a 1-out walk put runners on base so that a big 3-run home run by Gillaspie broke the 0-0 tied game.

Two outs later, and the Giants were looking for their needed 3 outs to grab the win. They turned to the only person who can help them sail through this postseason. Their starter Bumgarner. Yes, Bum threw a beautiful complete game — 119 pitches, 4 allowed hits, 2 walks, 6 strike outs, and no runs for the win. Scary impressive for anyone who doesn’t remember the 2014 postseason.

Final score: 3-0 Giants.

Tomorrow, the ALDS begins as the Wild Card champs Blue Jays face the AL leaders Rangers in the afternoon, and the Red Sox face the Indians for the night game. Friday the NLDS begins with tonight’s Wild Card victors Giants facing the Cubs in Chicago, and the Dodgers against the Nationals.

And here’s my predictions for the Division Series (a best-of-5 game series):

  • ALDS: Rangers over Blue Jays in 5 games, Red Sox over Indians in 4 games.
  • NLDS: Cubs over the Giants in 4 games, Dodgers over the Nationals in 5 games.

And after the start of the postseason, I’m prepared to be really wrong again.

So we have some Yankee news too, Yankee Universe. First, the special committee for the Hall of Fame has nominated 10 players, managers, and executives for a special vote this December during the Winter Meetings. (Nominees: players Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire; managers Davey Johnson and “Sweet” Lou Piniella; and executives John Scherholz, Allan H. “Bud” Selig, and George Steinbrenner.) Yes, Steinbrenner and Piniella are nominated for the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. Nominees who receive at least 75% of the vote will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame next summer.

Also, today, Yankees GM Brian Cashman gave his annual “State of the Yankees” address for the media to give a few updates. CC Sabathia will get some corrective surgery on his knee. It’s been scheduled for some time to clean-up the area that was previously repaired in 2014. Other than Sabathia, Tanaka and Pineda are expected to fill 2 other starter spots next season, leaving 2 more vacancies on the rotation. Cashman expects to look for some arms in the off-season to fill these spots with some fresh talent.

As previously predicted, there will be a few positions during Spring Training that will be a competition of sorts. First base is expected to be between Tyler Austin and the returning Greg Bird. And right field is up for grabs, between Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Rob Refsnyder. There’s always something else that no one expects to happen during Spring Training. It’s what makes March kind of fun — the unexpected. But I do expect a few interesting moves this off-season and a really good Spring. Expect the unexpected? Every day!

Go Yankees!

AL Wild Card: BAL vs. TOR — Extra innings walk-off homer

Okay, so far, batting .000 here at Yankees Life for the postseason. But to be fair, I kind of struggled with my choice for the AL Wild Card prediction because both the Orioles and Blue Jays are fairly even matched. And this was certainly proved correct tonight where they were pretty even in every aspect — hitting, pitching, base-running, defense, relievers, and bench players.

In fact, while some people were quipping this a “pitchers’ duel”, I couldn’t find myself supporting that moniker as it wasn’t about the pitchers for either team, as they relied rather heavily on their defense, which seemed well-versed in the other team’s nearly predictable play. Maybe this is the problem with having division rivals face off for these kinds of games, as they’ve faced each other quite a bit and are used to each other’s tactics.

Anyway, the Baltimore starter Tillman got less out of the game than Toronto’s Stroman, only going into the 5th inning, while the Blue Jays starter threw 6 complete innings. Both managed to give up 4 hits and 2 runs in the process (evenly matched). In the bottom of the 2nd inning, the Blue Jays were the first to get on the board with a 1st pitch solo home run by one of their star hitters Bautista. It was a no-doubter right off the bat as it powered its way to the upper levels of the left field seats, and the nearly 50,000 blue-clad fans at Rogers Centre went crazy.

The Orioles did what they do and came back in the top of the 4th to one up that. Jones led off the inning with a single, and then 2 outs later, Trumbo hit a 2-run home run, also to left field to give the Orioles a slight lead. But the Blue Jays didn’t let that sit long. In the 5th, a 1-out ground-rule double moved to 3rd on a double and then scored on an RBI single. The Orioles, feeling a bit threatened with just 1 out and runners on the corners, took their starter out and in one pitch got the next batter to ground into a double play to end the threat. (Defense.)

And then the bullpens battled it out. And the tied game continued. The O’s cycled through 6 relievers for the rest of the night, while the Jays needed 5, and neither team was willing to go quietly into the night, though it felt like they might as they went into extra innings.

In the bottom of the 11th, the Baltimore specialist reliever Duensing came on to strike out his batter, and then it got messy. The new reliever Jiminez threw just 5 pitches that changed the entire landscape of the game (much to the enjoyment of the Queen City sold-out crowd). The third pitch in an at-bat to Travis became an easy single. The next batter Donaldson turned the first pitch he saw into a single that put runners on the corners. And even a brief visit from the pitching coach could change what happened next. First pitch to the next batter Encarnacion became a 3-run walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays the Wild Card spot.

Final score: 5-2 Blue Jays over Orioles in 11 innings.

Now, even if there hadn’t been a Wild Card play-off game, the Blue Jays and Orioles would still need to have had a tie-breaker game for the Wild Card spot because they finished the season tied. So basically, this game was inevitable. And of the two teams, the Blue Jays are certainly known for their dramatics (can anyone say “bat flip controversy”?), so I guess it really makes sense. If they won it more traditionally, I think I’d almost be disappointed in them.

Toronto’s fans and players have a tendency to bring the stereotypical exuberance of a hockey game to their baseball game, including things like trash-talking and showmanship. I don’t mind either in context, but I do mind when the trash-talking gets mean or at worst racist (as it did tonight when some fans hurled insults at black and Asian Baltimore outfielders, including actually throwing a full can of beer at them). And I do mind when showmanship becomes arrogant and like an 8-year-old taunting a kid on the playground. But you can be excited and cheer and even jeer without lowering yourself to levels beneath you. And that is class and keeps the game clean and fun for everyone.

So, tomorrow is the NL Wild Card one-off game. And the Mets and Giants were really tight too and would’ve needed their own tie-breaker game. It was just this kind of season for most of the league. Okay, and I really hate that everyone keeps talking about how these Wild Card games are “winner take all” games. No, it’s not. That implies the winner of the game wins everything, and they don’t. They just get the chance to face the best team in their respective leagues. It’s a one-off game. And in this season, it’s much more of tie-breaker than it is anything else.

Not that I’m bitter about losing my prediction (or postseason bracket already) or that the Yankees aren’t in it at all…

Go Yankees!

Postseason Preview 2016

Okay, today is the last day before we dive into the postseason. And while the Yankees aren’t in it, baseball continues on, and so must we.

Here’s the basic picture:

Tomorrow, the AL Wild Card game will be the Orioles against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Wednesday, the NL Wild Card game will be the Giants and Mets in New York.

Then Thursday begins the AL Division Series. The winner of the AL Wild Card game will go play 2 games in Arlington against the AL leaders, the Rangers, while the Red Sox and Indians battle their first 2 games in Cleveland. The third game will switch back to the Wild Card winner and Boston, where they will continue until one team in each series wins 3 of the 5 games.

On Friday, the NL Division Series starts following the same 2-3 location pattern, just a day later (mostly for broadcasting reasons). The Dodgers will face the Nationals in D.C. to start their series, and the winner of the NL Wild Card will play the Cubs first in Chicago.

Looking ahead, the winners of the ALDS will play off in the ALCS beginning October 14, and the winners of the NLDS play off in their NLCS starting October 15. And the winners of each of those best-of-7 games will meet in the World Series, which begins October 25.

Now, I’ve been having lots of conversations about my own predictions for this postseason. This is a bit difficult because most of the teams are pretty even in their potential to win this month. But I’m pretty sure I have a predicted winner, begrudgingly, I’ll admit. (But complete honesty here: when it’s not the Yankees, it’s always “begrudgingly”.) Before I jump too far ahead, we’re going to do this a series at a time.

So, for the one-off Wild Card games (which I still have mixed feeling about the concept, though I understand the profitability and transitional emotions between the regular and post seasons), I am making these predictions:

  • AL Wild Card: Orioles over Blue Jays
  • NL Wild Card: Mets over Giants

I say this every year, but these are just my own predictions, based on what kind of team I think these teams are both overall this season and where they are at this point. I’ve been really right, and I’ve been really wrong. And oddly, I’m okay with being wrong. It’s just personal opinion based on my observations (and often my own bias). And baseball is anything but predictable.

So watch out, Chicago! You may have the only 100+ game wins in the league, but there are lot of games between now and that ring. There’s not one team that’s playing October baseball that’s going to let you have it so easily. And isn’t that how it should be anyway?

Go Yankees!