Out of the eight teams that made it to the division series this year, five of them took part in the playoffs last year, including the American League and National League champions, the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, respectively.
So far this year, the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have advanced to the Championship Series of their respective leagues. While the Dodgers and Astros won decisively, the Yankees shocked much of the baseball world by beating the hottest team in baseball heading into the playoffs.
In addition to the Indians’ hot streak coming into the playoffs, the Yankees also had to overcome a 2-0 deficit to make it to the Championship Series. To top it all off, the Yankees had a heartbreaking loss in game two, in which they led 8-3 before blowing their lead.
With so many powerhouse teams in the playoffs, there are a lot of fireworks still to go off. That being said, here are my predictions for the remainder of the playoffs.
National League: The National League Championship Series will pit the Dodgers against either the Cubs or the Washington Nationals. No matter the matchup, it will be a star-studded affair that will either be a rematch of last year’s National League Division Series or the Championship series.
The Dodgers have had one of the best streaks in MLB history this season from June to August. At 43-7, the Dodgers marked the best record over a 50-game stretch since the 1912 New York Giants.
The team was on pace to win 115 games on the season, but then as quickly as they got red hot, they crashed back down to icy cold, losing 16 of 17 games from the end of August into the beginning of September. They still ended the regular season with the best record in baseball, but they did not have the historic season they expected.
Similarly, the Cubs played two very different ways this year. In the first half of the season, they battled a World Series hangover after the team won its first World Series in 108 years last season. They had a 43-45 record in the first half. It was a deep hole to dig out of if they wanted to even have a chance to defend their title.
But the Cubs put the effort in and then some, as they caught fire in the second half of the 2017 season, playing to a 49-25 record and securing first place in the National League Central division for the second straight year.
The last team still alive in the National League playoffs is the Washington Nationals, who were considered by many to be the preseason favorite to win the National League. While they have not been as dominant as many teams expected them to be, it may not end up impacting their playoff hopes.
In one of the biggest moves of the offseason, the Nationals traded for Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox, a star outfielder to complete an already star-studded team.
The addition seemed to push the Nationals over the edge, as there was no weak spot to be found in a lineup with arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball (Max Scherzer) and arguably the best hitter as well (Bryce Harper).
Things did not exactly go according to plan, however, as they were hit hard by the injury bug. Adam Eaton tore his ACL early in the year and has been out the entire season since. Likewise, both Bryce Harper and Trea Turner missed significant time due to injuries. Despite all the injuries, the Nationals still won the NL East decisively and have most of their offensive pieces back in time for the playoffs.
With the strengths and weaknesses of all these teams taken into consideration, there are bound to be some great games in the National League Championship Series. When all is said and done, however, I cannot see any team triumphing over the Dodgers’ star power.
The Dodgers lineup is loaded from top to bottom, with young stars Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger anchoring the middle and energetic players like Yasiel Puig anchoring the bottom of the lineup. Even with a lineup this star studded, the Dodgers’ strongest asset is their pitching. I would never bet against Clayton Kershaw, and in the playoffs, a future Hall-of-Famer like him makes even more of an impact.
The difference between this Dodgers team and ones of years past are the pitchers backing up Kershaw. They have three other pitchers who have had ace-type seasons this year in Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood. Even if one falters, another can come in and continue the game, because in the playoffs, teams usually only use three starting pitchers.
No other team can boast the talent throughout the entire roster that the Dodgers can, and that is why they will be your National League Champions.
American League: The Houston Astros punched their tickets to the American League Championship Series, beating the Boston Red Sox in four games in the Division Series. They are serious contenders now that they have Justin Verlander.
No one can question the Astros’ prolific lineup. With a list of powerful hitters, opposing pitchers will find it hard to rest. Throw José Altuve into the mix, who is most likely going to win the AL MVP award, and you have one of the top offenses in the league.
Pitching has always been the Astros’ Achilles Heel, as they seem to always skate by with mediocre pitchers who outperform what is expected of them in order to let the offense do all the work. With the addition of Justin Verlander, however, they have a bona fide ace who could potentially lead them to the World Series for the first time since 2005.
The New York Yankees are not the Yankees of old. They are loaded with established, overpaid power-hitters. They also have rookie sensation Aaron Judge, as well as numerous other young studs, like Gary Sánchez and Greg Bird.
The team only has two players from the 2009 World Series remaining on the roster: CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner. These Baby Bombers are also backed up by solid starting pitching and an outstanding bullpen that can keep them in any game and always give them a chance to hit their way out of any hole.
The matchup between the Astros and the Yankees will be full of fireworks from the bats, especially when you consider the mediocre pitching for both teams. The matchup is fitting in a year that broke the record for the most home runs in a season.
Because both teams can hit from the top of their lineup to the bottom, the matchup will come down to pitching. While Luis Severino has thrown a Cy Young caliber season, he does not have the same playoff experience that Justin Verlander has.
The Yankees may have a better back end of the rotation, but many of these series boil down to the aces because of how extensively they’re used in playoff series. For that reason, the Astros will win their first ever American League Championship.
If the Dodgers and Astros do meet in the World Series, one long World Series drought will be ended. The Astros have never won a World Series in the 55-year history of the franchise, while the Dodgers have not even made it to the World Series since their last win in 1988.
Playoff baseball is back in full swing, so get ready for a wild ride.