Jimmy Casey ’22
Houston Astros vs. Oakland Athletics
The Astros are back. The Athletics are back. PLAYOFF BASEBALL IS BACK! Okay, sorry, I know I’m getting excited, but it’s hard not to be. The point in time when the season almost didn’t even happen seems like a distant memory now. October baseball is finally here. Let’s get into it.
After an offseason in which Houston found themselves in the midst of a cheating scandal, the 2017 Champions have fought their way into the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. The villains of the MLB didn’t have a smooth path, however. In the shortened regular season, the Astros saw most of their major batting statistics, from batting average to OPS, drop significantly. Many of their stars, including Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, regressed in comparison to 2019.
On the pitching side, their numbers were also down, but that was to be expected following the departure of superstar Gerrit Cole and a season-ending injury to Justin Verlander. Despite these setbacks, the Astros managed to finish with a 29-31 record, earning them a spot in the playoffs. In the Wild Card round, they made quick work of the Minnesota Twins, winning in two games. It was a promising start to the playoffs for a team that’s out to prove that they truly belong.
The Astros may have taken care of the Twins, but this series is a step up. They are now matched up against an Oakland Athletics team that consistently got the best of them during the regular season; Oakland won seven out of ten matchups against Houston. Anchored by a stellar pitching staff, the Athletics had a 36-24 record in the regular season. They were top five in the league in wins and ERA. Chris Bassitt, their ace, was 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA – 6th best in the MLB. After losing game one to the White Sox in the Wild Card series, they won two straight games in order to move on. This was their first series win since 2006, so their momentum could boost them to another series win.
In a recent post-game interview, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said, “I know a lot of people are mad, I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here, but what’re they going to say now?” Well, Carlos and the Astros will be headed back to Houston earlier than they think. Two wins against an inexperienced Twins squad does not exactly convince me that they have what it takes to beat a team that was better than them all season.
My prediction is that the Athletics win the series in four games. Oakland’s superior pitching paired with their surging bats (eleven runs scored in their past two games) will push them past Houston. The Astros don’t have trash cans to bang on anymore, so I don’t trust them to win. I think it’s safe to say it’s a lot harder to hit the ball when you don’t know what pitch is coming. I mean, seriously, nobody likes cheaters – especially cheaters who don’t really even admit they’re cheaters. They’re the worst. Oakland in four.
New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays
The bad blood between the Yankees and the Rays is no secret. Their disdain for each other runs deep, dating back multiple years. This year was no different. In one game, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka nailed Rays third baseman Joey Wendle with a pitch. Normally, this would not have been a big deal.. The next game, though, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman – one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the MLB – hurled a wild fastball over the head of Mike Brosseau, a Rays infielder, and almost hit him. This was no mistake.
The effects of these cheap shots reverberated back to the Rays’ locker room. Manager Kevin Cash even went as far as saying, “We have a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour. Period,” implying that they, too, can scare Yankees batters if they want to. As it turned out, though, the Rays didn’t need to physically harm the Yankees in order to hurt them. They beat up on them during the regular season by winning eight out of ten matchups.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Yankees weren’t the only team the Rays dominated. They finished the season with forty wins, second most in the entire league behind only the Dodgers. A solid batting lineup combined with one of the league’s best pitching staffs made the Rays an extremely good team. Their pitchers ended the regular season with a 3.56 ERA as a team and added 23 saves, which ranked third and first in the league respectively.
Starter Blake Snell is only two years removed from winning the Cy Young, and he certainly still has a lot left in the tank. Look for the Rays to depend on him in big games. Second baseman Brandon Lowe is another name to keep an eye on; He was Tampa Bay’s best and most consistent hitter this year, leading the team in home runs, runs batted in, slugging, OPS, and total bases. The Rays are simply a very well-rounded squad. After beating the Blue Jays in 2 games, they seem poised to make a deep postseason run.
NEW YORK YANKEES
After adding Gerrit Cole, perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, to an already star-studded roster in the offseason, the Yankees were many people’s pick to dominate the league this season. By those expectations, their season was slightly disappointing. Cole was outstanding, as expected, but injuries plagued their squad yet again. Their pitching staff took a hit before the season even started, with Luis Severino requiring Tommy John surgery. James Paxton also sustained an injury that has sidelined him until at least the middle of October. On offense, multiple key players missed a substantial amount of games. Most notably, Aaron Judge only played 28 games and Giancarlo Stanton only played 23.
Nonetheless, their lineup still contained firepower, even with two of their best hitters on the bench. 2019 MVP candidate DJ LeMahieu led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS, while first baseman Luke Voit was first in the MLB in home runs and fourth in runs batted in. With Judge and Stanton now healthy, the Yankees lineup is terrifying for opposing teams. In Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, they hung seven runs on Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians, who many believed was the best pitcher in the MLB during the regular season. They went on to score five more runs that game, winning 12-3. Despite lackluster pitching in Game 2, the Yankees bats saved them again as they won 10-9, moving onto the division series.
Although statistics and head-to-head matchups point to the Rays winning this series, I can’t get myself to pick them. Maybe it’s because of the big names on the Yankees, but my heart tells me to go with the Bronx Bombers. The Rays are an exceptionally good and balanced team, but I believe in the Yankees hitters. As I noted before, they absolutely destroyed one of the best pitchers in the league, and then followed that up with 10 more runs in Game 2. If the regular season showed us anything, it’s the fact that when the Yankees get hot, they get really hot.
They have a surplus of weapons, so a different guy can produce for them each night. Players that I haven’t even mentioned like Gio Urshela, Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Hicks are all capable of catching fire and carrying New York to a few victories. For this reason, I’m choosing the Yankees in 5 games.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres
The Dodgers and the Padres have the potential to create one of the most fun playoff series in recent memory. Both teams are filled with not only great players, but also big personalities. The Dodgers are making their eighth consecutive playoff appearance, while this year marks the first time the Padres have made the postseason since 2006. Although this is only the Divisional series, there is certainly a strong case to be made that these are the two best teams in the National League. This series, depending on a few different factors, could be one for the ages.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS:
The Dodgers can’t stop winning. A year after recording 106 wins in 2019, they once again delivered a fantastic season. In the shortened season, they went 43-17, finishing with the best record in baseball for the second straight year. Their offense was magnificent, leading the league in home runs and finishing second in runs batted in. Plugging Mookie Betts, one of the most dominant hitters in baseball, into an already terrific lineup featuring reigning MVP Cody Bellinger turned out the way pretty much everyone had expected – remarkably.
The pitching wasn’t too bad either, ending the season in first in team ERA. Clayton Kershaw once again thrived with six wins and a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts. In the Wild Card series, he put together a masterpiece against the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 2. He pitched eight shutout innings, leading Los Angeles to a 3-0 win which clinched their spot in the Divisional series. If he can keep pitching like that, with Walker Buehler, Dustin May, and Julio Urias behind him, the Dodgers will be hard to compete with.
SAN DIEGO PADRES:
The Padres have long been considered the inferior team to LA in the NL West. In the past 15 years or so, they’ve posed no real threat to the Dodgers and their Hollywood rosters. In a way, the Padres always seemed like the junior varsity team, while the Dodgers were the varsity squad. But this year is different. The Padres finished the season with the second-best record in the National League at 37-23, behind only the Dodgers. Their lineup features two young superstars in Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, who both had extremely productive seasons at the plate. San Diego has other great hitters as well, with veterans Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, and Jurickson Profar all having batting averages above .278.
On the pitching front, they had three starters with an ERA under 2.85 – Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet, and Mike Clevinger. Those three guys formed a dynamic pitching staff that could compete with the likes of any team in the league. Unfortunately, Lamet is not expected to be able to suit up for this series following an injury, and Clevinger is said to be questionable. Thus, they will likely have to rely heavily on their offense to carry them to an upset, which they did in the Wild Card series. They scored 19 runs in three games, overpowering the St. Louis Cardinals. During the regular season, San Diego went 4-6 against Los Angeles, which proves just how evenly matched these two squads really are when they’re fully healthy.
The Padres are so fun. Everything about them, from Fernando Tatis Jr.’s swagger to Mike Clevinger’s crazy long hair, makes me want to pick them. As I stated above, their lineup is the real deal. Like the Yankees in the American League, San Diego can put up 10 runs on any given night, from a multitude of different people. There is one big problem, though – the Dodgers can do the same thing. Their lineup is devastating and going against a depleted Padres pitching rotation will only enhance their production.
Additionally, Los Angeles’s pitchers are healthy and rolling. Kershaw, Buehler, May, and Urias are all capable of tossing a gem. San Diego, on the other hand, will not have Lamet and may have a limited Clevinger. Therefore, despite my heart telling me otherwise, I’m going to go with the Dodgers in 4 games. They’re the best all-around team in the league, and I don’t see the young Padres knocking them off. It will be a fun series, but Los Angeles will get the better of San Diego yet again.
Marlins vs. Braves
The underdog Miami Marlins, fresh off an upset win over the Chicago Cubs, find themselves going against a highly favored Braves team. In the regular season, aided by a powerful lineup, the Braves won 6 out of 10 of their games against the Marlins. Can Miami keep their magic alive and pull off another upset?
After sweeping the Cubs, the Marlins seem like a legitimate contender. The bigger picture, however, sheds a little bit of doubt on their prospects of contending. In the regular season, their hitting was fairly average. Jesus Aguilar, Miguel Rojas, and Brian Anderson had impressive seasons at the plate, but they did not dominate. Similarly, their pitching was solid, but they weren’t necessarily regarded as one of the premier staffs in the league. Their record portrays that of an average but not great team at 31-29. So, how are they here?
Well, the answer is simple: in the two Wild Card games, their pitching was incredible. Starters Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez turned in amazing performances, and the bullpen held up nicely as well. In total, they gave up one run in 2 games, completely overwhelming a solid Cubs lineup. Miami’s hitters weren’t great, but they produced enough runs to win. Outfielder Starling Marte had an extraordinary series, but he is unfortunately sidelined with an injury for the Divisional Series. The big question for them is this: will the pitching staff regress back to the mean, or continue their scorching hot streak?
The Braves, on the other hand, have a number of big names and proven ball players on their club. Led by sluggers Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta has arguably the most high-powered offense in baseball. They finished the season ranked second in the league in batting average, second in home runs, first in runs batted in, and first in hits. With five guys that hit over 10 home runs, Atlanta can really swing the bat.
Although their pitching rotation is fairly thin, Atlanta has a bonafide ace in Max Fried as well as a reliable starter in Ian Anderson. Both of them posted great performances in the Wild Card Series, giving up zero earned runs in their respective starts against the Cincinnati Reds. The Braves offense struggled to get going, but it’s hard to imagine they will be held down for long.
The Marlins definitely surprised me in the Wild Card Series, and I will admit that they are a good team. They handily beat a respectable Cubs squad. Yet, I think the Braves pose an entirely different challenge for them. Miami controlled Chicago’s hitters with masterful pitching, which, in my opinion, will not continue against the Braves. With so many weapons, Atlanta can produce a lot of runs in a short period of time. They were largely held in check against the Reds, which leads me to believe that they are due for a few big offensive nights. Atlanta’s lack of pitching won’t be a huge downfall against Miami’s average offense. The Marlins’ Wild Card performance, though impressive, was a bit of a fluke in my opinion. For these reasons, I believe the Braves will sweep the Marlins and advance to the NLCS to face off against the Dodgers.