2017 Baseball Playoffs

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby flipp525 » Thu Oct 12, 2017 12:33 pm

I work about a block away from Washington Nationals Stadium and there is major Nats fever in the air. People are everywhere pre-gaming at the surrounding bars. I love game days because we usually knock off early to avoid the crowds and Metro rush.
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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Sonic Youth » Thu Oct 12, 2017 8:11 am

Look Out Cleveland the storm is comin' through
And it's runnin' right up on you.
Look out Houston, there'll be thunder on the hill
Bye-bye baby don't cha lie so still.

Holy Nostradamus, Batman. Robbie Robertson wrote that song, "Look Out Cleveland", in 1969. But The Band could have been singing about the 2017 Yankees.
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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Oct 12, 2017 1:42 am

Two games were played today. I’m going to show super-human restraint and talk about the NL game first.

I can’t claim to have followed the whole Dusty Baker/Strasburg/hotel mold/disease story as closely as some. But I’ll say this: year before last, I was in Chicago for my nephew’s wedding, and stayed at a hotel. Somehow, I left town sick as a dog, was down for a week; a cousin of mine had the same experience -- and both of us had the strange feeling that the hotel air had been what made us sick. So when people were mocking Dusty for the whole thing, I was, eh, maybe he’s onto something.

It became irrelevant, since Strasburg took the ball in the end, and was pretty brilliant – 7 innings, 3 hits, 12 strikeouts, 0 runs. However, since the Nationals were, as during most of the series, offensively impotent, the lead was a mere 1-0 (that one unearned, thanks to a Cub misplay), and it looked like Strasburg might come out for the 8th despite being over 100 pitches. His club, however, finally came through in the top of the 8th, with outfielder Taylor squeaking a grand slam just into the netting, and the Nats’ bullpen took it from there.

So, there’ll be a Game 5, back in DC. Neither team is hitting much – the Nationals have had two big 8th innings, in Games 2 and 4, but only 3 runs total in all their others; the Cubs have 8 runs over the four games, and are damn lucky to be even. Toss-up.

Okay, that said, on to the ALDS. May I say….

YEE-HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Totally unexpected – both from pre-series prognosis, and more especially from the sense they’d never come back after the Game 2 implosion. The team is so far beyond what I needed to call it a successful season that I feel like I’ve beaten a one-armed bandit in Vegas. Anything after this is well beyond gravy.

Tonight’s game was the proverbial roller-coaster. Thanks to two home runs from Didi Greglorious (sic), the Yanks led from the start, with Cory Kluber once again failing to match Cy Young form in post-season. C.C. Sabathia was firecracker hot in the first four innings – 9 strikeouts – and fans could be forgiven for dreaming the two together would lead to an easy win. (At one point, when Edwin Encarnacion struck out, someone on Twitter noted that C.C.+Didi was better than E.E.) But 1) the Indians are too good a team to go down quietly and 2) C.C. this year has generally fallen off a cliff after 75 pitches (which is why my only quarrel with Girardi after the Game 2 debacle was the non-challenge – people who got on him for pulling C.C. haven’t watched the team closely this year). The stutter-step actually happened a bit earlier, about the 60-pitch mark, and Joe might have left the old guy in there a batter too long this time. But Robertson came in and got a crucial double-play ball, keeping the Yankees in the lead – though a narrow 3-2 lead with four innings to go, which was excruciating for fans.

Both teams got great bullpen performances over the 6th-8th innings, meaning the score stayed right there. Girardi had gone to Chapman to start the 8th, and, while he did beautifully, there was the possibility he might be less crisp in the 9th, especially if he had to sit for a while. As it turned out, he sat a LONG time, as first Todd Frazier and then Brett Gardner grinded out lengthy at-bats. Gardner’s at-bat was just amazing (it was his second such in the game; he’d had one against Andrew Miller that helped shorten Miller’s evening) – 12 pitches, fouling off one after another, finally nailing one to right that ended up scoring two insurance runs, as Cleveland misplayed the relay, enabling Frazier to score all the way from first. (It reminded me a bit of the winning rally against Al Leiter in the 2000 series, where Luis Sojo battled and finally hit a ball up the middle; an error led to an extra run there, too.)

The time-consuming inning might have hurt Chapman had he still needed to protect the 3-2 lead, but the extra runs made the bottom of the 9th almost tension-free. The final out was on a called strike which Sanchez couldn’t hold onto; oddly, Sanchez didn’t tag Austin Jackson or throw to first, but nobody seemed to mind. (I actually realized that most mishandled third strikes I’ve seen come on swinging strikes, and found myself wondering: are the rules different on called strikes? Assurance on that issue will be appreciated.)

It’s late at night, so I’ll cut it off here. More to say tomorrow, I’m sure. But, boy, this is exciting.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Oct 10, 2017 1:33 am

Thanks, FilmFan. I'm glad to know I'm not just shouting into the void.

Today was our last day of four-games-in-12-hours for the year. In fact, we're down to a precious few LDS games -- three more, max -- at which point only the two sets of 7 LCS and the World Series remain. It happens all at once and seems to go so quickly.

As you can imagine, I'm itching to get to the one series dear to my heart, but one more time I'll defer and deal with the other series first.

Start with what just ended: the Dodgers became the only "nailed-it-in-3" team, as the Diamondbacks barely turned up for Game 3 -- scoring 1 run on a solo homer, and not even threatening otherwise, making the Dodgers 3 runs seem like 100 by comparison. Maybe Arizona just felt the task of coming back from 0-2 was too onerous, and they collapsed beneath the weight. It's hardly a shock that the team with baseball's best record advances, but this was a disappointing series for those of us who thought the gap between LA & Arizona wasn't insuperable. And a poor reward for an impressive-on-its-own season for the D-backs.

The Red Sox thought for so much of the afternoon that they were going to send their series back to Houston. They'd gone all in early -- bringing in expected Game 5 starter Chris Sale in the 4th to hold down the fort. A. J. Hinch countered by bringing in his big gun, Verlander, in the 5th, and it looked like Boston might get the better of that when Benintendi hit one of Verlander's first pitches for a 2-run shot that gave Boston a 3-2 lead. That lead held until the 8th -- deep enough in the game for Boston to taste it -- when Bregman tied it with a home run off Sale, and several Houston hitters, the last of them yesterday's goat Reddick, scratched across the go-ahead run. There was more in the 9th -- Carlos Beltran extended the lead to 5-3 for Houston, necessary insurance since Devers hit an improbable inside-the-park-er to lead off the 9th (well, really something like a three-base error, as with many inside-the-park-ers) -- but the game and series were pretty much over after that 8th inning sequence. Boston is going home early for the second straight year...and I have to admit my Yankee-loving heart takes great schadenfreude in knowing my guys have officially lasted longer than they.

Meanwhile, in Wrigleyville, the Nationals demonstrated that maybe at this point they've inherited the "we'll fuck it up somehow" karma that dogged the Cubs for over a century. The Cubs made four errors and Scherzer took a no-hitter into the 7th -- yet somehow the Nats were only up 1-0 at that point. When Scherzer allowed his first hit, a double, Dusty Baker panicked and pulled him for a reliever (to be fair, he was at the 98 pitch mark), who promptly served up the hit that tied it. The Cubs scored the go-ahead run an inning later, and the Nats went down quietly in the 9th. After Saturday's game, I won't write off Washington yet, but they have a ways to go to convince most of us that this year is any different from their previous playoff appearances.

So, finally to Yankee Stadium, where the Indians also made 4 errors, which the Yankees cashed in on, early and ruthlessly -- even Aaron Judge took a break from his strikeout funk to contribute a stinging two-run double. Luis Severino gave up three runs on two homers, but apart from that had almost no base runners (plus 9 strikeouts vs. 1 walk), so I guess you can say he rebounded from his Wild Card disaster. The bullpen was gassed from Friday/Sunday, and Dellin Betances had one of his off nights, walking his first two batters (with Dellin, you never know if you'll get squelching or walk-the-ballpark). So, Tommy Kahnle -- about 4th or 5th on the bullpen depth chart -- came in and retired 6 in a row, 5 on strikeout. A comfortable win, in the end (even though the Yanks stranded 11 runners -- it could have been a total blowout).

So, we'll have the decisive Game 5 in Cleveland Wednesday. I've already got everything I wanted from this post-season -- I said I wanted to get to a full series (i.e., past the Wild Card game), and make a showing there. I think I can confidently say no one will look at the team the way they look at the Diamondbacks -- especially given the way the Yanks have rebounded from the grueling loss on Friday. (It may be that the prevailing wisdom from Saturday, that Girardi had lost the players, was mistaken; it's possible the team has pulled together in support of him.) So: what's my feeling going into Wednesday? I genuinely would consider the season a roaring success even if they get sent home. In fact, there's a part of me that thinks this team is going to be so competitive for the foreseeable future that it would almost be greedy to want it all in one year. I'd also have some sympathy for Cleveland fans, who got so close last year, and for whom falling short in the first round this year, when they've so excelled in the regular season, would be devastating. I like to think I'd be generous enough to prefer them to take their best shot this year, since who knows how many more they'll get?

However, I reserve the right to alter this opinion sometime during early innings Wednesday, when jeering Cleveland fans will no doubt piss me off, and the immutable "it's my team and I can't root for them to lose" law of fandom kicks in. A fuller report when it's over, one way or another.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby FilmFan720 » Mon Oct 09, 2017 9:59 am

Mister Tee, I just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on these games this week. Please keep them coming!
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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Oct 08, 2017 11:20 pm

As they say...whew!

A game that close, facing elimination, is (to bring back the Giants' 2010 slogan) torture. The Yankees did the same thing -- won 1-0, down 0-2 -- in the 2001 ALDS against Oakland. That was the game with the legendary Jeter flip play. Tonight's equivalent was the Judge leap to rob Lindor of a 2-run homer. Judge ain't hitting at all these three games, but he makes his contribution. Making more than a contribution was Masahiro Tanaka -- who looked like he did when he first came over in 2014 -- and Greg Bird, who has been plagued by injures the past two seasons (to the point there was a whisper campaign suggesting he was short in the grit department). He deserved that home run. (And what a home run it was -- not that many go to the upper decks like that.)

So...the Yankees live, at least till tomorrow, when Severino gets a chance to wipe out memories of his Wild Card flop.

The Red Sox also live, though it didn't look that way at the start. The Astros scored 3 in the first, and looked like they were going to score 3 more, but Mookie Betts caught a fly ball before it could go over the short wall in right. The catch was hugely consequential, though I think some sports pundits are overstating the difficulty of it -- Betts wasn't on the run or anything; most competent right fielders wold have caught it, no problem. But it certainly seemed to change the game's momentum: Houston, who looked to be running away with the entire series, didn't score again after that (David Price a good part of the reason), while Boston feasted on the Houston bullpen.

Whether the Red Sox can make more of this is another matter; they still have a pitching disadvantage unless they get to Game 5. We'll find out more tomorrow.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Oct 08, 2017 12:31 pm

Sometime around 8PM Saturday, I found myself thinking that, despite what had seemed an open-ended set of possible playoff outcomes, we were likely to end up with a rematch of last year's Series, with only the Astros offering much hope of something new. This was because the Dodgers, though they'd won the previous night, looked unimpressive doing it, and the Nationals appeared to be in their traditional post-season coma. Meanwhile, the Cubs, after a sharp second half of the season, were now plowing through the NLDS, and it was easy to believe their first-half sluggishness was simply World Series hangover, and they were back to their 2016 Championship level.

These instincts may yet be borne out, but the Nationals' lightning-strike rally in the 8th last night offered at least the possibility their team isn't just the same old set of Dusty-led chokers. Harper's bomb was gone from the crack of the bat. Zimmerman's follow-up game-winner was closer, but they count the same in the box score. And the Cubs' aura of invincibility is gone, at least till we see what happens at Wrigley. This series is officially interesting to watch.

Having seen at least part of both Dodger/Diamondback games, I don't know what to think of the 2-0 Dodgers. I'm so used to thinking of Dodger Stadium as a pitcher's paradise (Bill James made a strong case that Sandy Koufax turning into a Hall of Fame pitcher had less to do with mastering his curveball than moving from the LA Coliseum to Chavez Ravine for half his games), it's hard for me to be impressed by the team winning games 8 or 9 to 5. In fact, both games so far felt a bit like the Rockies/D'backs Wild Card game, with one team running well out in front, and only holding onto their lead because neither team's bullpen could do a squelching job. There's no reason to expect the Dodgers to blow this lead, but I'd be dubious about how well they'll do in the next round.

Toady we'll see if the AL contest is whittled down to the two teams we fully expected would fight for the pennant. Boston may get some juice from playing at Fenway, though their starting pitcher in this game (or a hypothetical next one) doesn't inspire confidence. The Yankees have Tanaka going, which can mean a 3-hit shutout or 7 runs -- rarely in-between. More significant to watch might be the performance of the Yankee hitters: how in the dumps are they after Friday's debacle, which (thanks to the Girardi controversy) seems to have wounded them on a personal level? Contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to regroup after a crushing loss -- remember 2008, when the Rays blew a 7-0 lead over the Red Sox in a potential clinching Game 5, but came back to win the series? However, if parts of the team are at war with their manager, it may not be possible to sack it up in time.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Oct 07, 2017 12:21 am

I'm a lucky guy.

How can I say that on a night like this? A friend of mine is performing in The Honeymooners out at the Paper Mill Playhouse and had a free ticket for me tonight. So, I left the apartment at 6:30, and didn't get back till around midnight; didn't have to experience any of it live and raw.

Though it looks as if I'll have plenty of chances to review it, as it's being treated as roughly equivalent to the fall of Troy -- it might end up being the most remembered post-season game of the year. To judge by the Internets, Girardi could be in serious job trouble, not just for the insanity of not making the challenge, but for disregarding the vehement protests of his catcher (for those unaware, there's been friction between Girardi and Sanchez earlier in the season, as Girardi -- former defense-only catcher -- has never got on well with offensive stars at the position) and for making what even the YES Network people dismissed as a bullshit excuse of not wanting to break his pitcher's rhythm. Lots of Yankee fans have questioned Joe's managerial decisions in the past -- I can think of 2-3 games this year I felt he blew -- but I always figured he had enough support in the Steinbrenner family that it wouldn't become an issue. But now, people are openly tagging this as a legendary blunder -- in the Grady Little/Pedro category -- and I'm not sure he can survive that. Plus the fact he might have lost the clubhouse on this one -- Chase Headley was also loudly calling on him to challenge. One simple algorithm: in a battle between a franchise-level catcher and a manager, the manager is the one who can be easily replaced.

ADDENDUM: A friend sent me an email with a terrific point. In those ancient times before video replay, the mis-call of the hit batsman would have been all on the umpire. It would have gone into the Don Denkinger Hall of Fame of huge bad calls that changed a game/season. (You might have even seen Girardi out there throwing a Billy Martin/Earl Weaver-worthy tantrum.) This way, though, the umpire who got it wrong escapes all scrutiny. After all...Girardi could have challenged.

In other news of the day: Boston continues to barely show up in its series with Houston, losing by a wide margin. Maybe they'll revive at Fenway, but so far my instinct that they're one of the worst of the surviving teams has been vindicated... The Nats had a no-hitter broken up in exactly the wrong way -- with an error -- and lost the playoffs' first pitchers' duel to the Cubs... The Dodgers scored some runs for Kershaw, but Kershaw and now relievers are currently giving some back. It's amazing how un-Cy Young Kershaw continues to be when October strikes... And, to go back to earlier today, when things looked brighter for Yankee fans: Kluber's very early exit meant the three top ERA guys in the AL -- Kluber/Sale/Severino -- all shit the bed utterly in their first starts. You still can't predict baseball.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Sonic Youth » Fri Oct 06, 2017 9:44 pm

Brutal, that's all I have to say.
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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Oct 06, 2017 12:22 pm

Before today's marathon gets underway, a few words about yesterday's action:

So, a pitcher finally shines in post-season, and it has to be the guy pitching against my guys.

Well, that's a bit unfair to Verlander, who got through 6 innings earlier in the day while surrendering only 2 runs. But I doubt he'd claim to have been especially sharp, and may have had a rougher day had not his team scored him all those runs by mid-innings. Altuve's three home runs help boost baseball's favorite narrative, that even the smaller guys can have huge days. And Sale does nothing to dispel his reputation of being the greatest pitcher in the world through uly and then a spotty one after.

To our game: Bauer obviously had a great night (continuing the trend of his down-the-stretch run), though many Yankee fans I know thought he got a number of generous strike calls (more than one third-called-strikes that we thought were ball fours). Didn't matter, because Sonny Gray was tentative from the start, and seemed inordinately lucky to escape with only 3 runs charged. Except for 1 puny run that scored on a wild pitch/sac fly combo, the Yankee bullpen was once again stellar, but the Indians of course have MIller & Allen, so late inning comeback chances were negligible. The game felt like a blowout, even though it was technically quite close (Yankee fans who moan they only had 3 hits don't seem aware that Cleveland only had 5). We'll find out today if this means the Yanks are hopelessly overmatched, or if any kind of showing is possible.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Oct 05, 2017 12:50 am

Tonight's game seemed to be over after 2-3 innings, and it was, I guess -- the Rockies never actually caught all the way up -- but it got closer and closer, then stretched out again, then tightened again...mostly proving that neither team had anyone reliable in the bullpen. A huge contrast, as danfrank notes, to the Yankees last night. Anyway, it was a less boring game than it appeared it might be after those initial frames, and the Diamondbacks do seem the better team, so it feels right they're the ones moving on.

dan, we're all in awe of Judge (well, except for those people who got cold feet during the August slump and -- really, no kidding -- wanted him sent back to the minors). I said to a Chicago friend after the Home Run Derby that it was time to accept that Judge had been sent from Krypton to teach us mortals what things were possible in baseball. I've watched a few sluggers close up in my years of following the Yanks -- unfortunately only the last years of Mantle (I was too young to truly appreciate him), but also Reggie Jackson, and, in recent years, ARod and Jason Giambi. But, since those last three were imports who arrived in NY with their reputations already established, it was hard to really form personal attachments to them. The exciting thing about Judge (and Gary Sanchez, who a year ago was our golden hope but now seems an afterthought) is that they're ours from the get-go, and seem almost unlimited in potential.

To answer your "did we see him coming?" question -- yes and no. He was certainly touted as a guy who was extremely tall and could hit a ball a long way. But you have to understand, it's been a while now since the Yankee system developed a truly franchise player (even those from the 90s dynasty --and god knows I loved them -- weren't quite at this level), and we've had such a long line of didn't-measure-up prospects over the years that we instinctively prepare ourselves for the next one to just be another Hensley Meulens (who was coaching your team, last I looked). Judge's first at bat last season was memorable -- the sort of moon-shot for which he's now become known -- but he followed it up with just 3 more home runs along with over 40 strikeouts in 85 at bats before he succumbed to injury. I had a great many friends who swore (from observing him over those weeks) he'd never get over a weakness for swinging at the low outside pitch. Even though he had a minor-league history of struggling at first at each level and then breaking through, these people thought his issues were insurmountable. The team brain trust must have had similar misgivings: He wasn't even assured the starting outfield job till the last days of Spring training this year. It's worth noting, though, that two of those old-time sluggers I mentioned, Reggie and ARod, were consistently in his corner -- ARod supposedly said, Just give him the everyday job, and he'll put up numbers like you've never seen, which turned out to be the most prescient forecast.

Of course, we've all seen players who started out like a house afire and fell short -- I remember when Dwight Gooden looked like the greatest pitcher of his generation. So, there's no telling if this is going to last. But it sure feels like the beginning of an extremely special career, and I feel blessed to be able to watch it day by day.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby danfrank » Wed Oct 04, 2017 11:22 pm

Well, so much for pitching as the be-all and end-all in these wild card games. How many triples were there in this NL game? I suppose any game where a relief pitcher hits a 2-run triple has some entertainment value, but definitely not my type of game. The Yankees bullpen was the only pitching unit to do its job so far, and they were outstanding.

I only caught the last three innings of the Yankees-Twins. The Twins looked a bit overwhelmed by the situation, while the Yankees looked relaxed and poised. That includes Mr. Judge, who looked completely non-phased. Talk about poise! Tee, I'm curious to hear from you as a Yankee diehard how much Judge was on your radar as a prospect the last few years. I don't remember hearing about him as one of the top-tier of prospects, so I'm guessing his level of success has come as a surprise to everybody. He grew up less than 90 miles due East of where I live, and went to Fresno State, in the town where my husband grew up. I've jumped on the Judge bandwagon with the excuse that he's a semi-local boy made good, but honestly I'm just in awe of him.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Oct 04, 2017 12:19 am

Well, that didn't go according to plan, but all's well that ends well.

I'd thought my guys had the edge in starting pitching, but had underestimated how discombobulated Severino might get. When I think about it, the Wild Card/elimination game puts a huge amount of pressure on an inexperienced player: starting the first game of a 5 or 7 game series isn't nearly as intimidating. This is like having your first post-season start being Game 7 of the Series.

Of course, not all youngsters react the same. Those who thought August Aaron Judge was The Real Aaron Judge were evidently mistaken. This kid looks like he was born to do this.

Props also to Didi -- for waking the place up -- and Gardner and Bird...but, above all, the bullpen, which just shut the door. Infinite thanks to the White Sox for trading Robertson and Kahnle, who really saved the team's bacon. Amazing geek stat: according to Statcast, Berrios threw the Twin's hardest pitch of the evening, 97 MPH. The Yankees threw 60 pitches harder than that.

The season is officially a success for me. I don't expect them to get past Cleveland, but of course I'm willing to be surprised. Just glad they're going to be able to play in a real series.

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Re: 2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby danfrank » Mon Oct 02, 2017 11:06 pm

Great write-up, Tee. I confess that with my Giants in the tank this year and all the other distractions of late I've probably watched less baseball this year than I have in many years. I woke up at the end of the season in order to savor the farewell performance of one of my all-time favorite players, Matt Cain. It was certainly a compelling year for baseball, though, what with two of the great streaks of all time (the Dodgers' 43 of 50 and the Indians' 22 in a row), the emergence of rookie superstar Judge, and the juiced-up balls flying out of the park in record numbers (not a positive development, in my opinion).

I've watched very little American League ball so can only say that an Astros-Indians LCS seems the most likely. But "most likely" has a way of not holding sway in baseball, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Yankees overperform with Judge cementing his reputation as one of the greatest rookies ever.

As for the NL, when I've watched the Cubs this year they seem to be missing the spark that took them all the way last year. The Nationals have been solid all year, and as long as Scherzer's injury isn't worse than he's letting on I'll predict them in that part of the draw. I would love to see Dusty Baker get a ring, so just might pull for them. I've been quite impressed with the Diamondbacks, and assuming they get past the Rockies in the one-game decider Wednesday, I think they have a good chance of beating the Dodgers. The Dodgers are a total question mark for me. Will the can't-lose team of earlier in the season or the losing streak team show up? My guess is that if they face significant adversity at any point they'll likely collapse. I for one won't be shedding any tears if they do.

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2017 Baseball Playoffs

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Oct 02, 2017 12:39 am

The match-ups are firmly set – they were done a full day early, in fact – so we can speculate about the major league post-season that will begin, with the Wild Card games, on Tuesday/Wednesday.

As you might imagine, my interest this year is considerably heightened, but, to show I can delay gratification, let’s begin with the National League.

The Arizona Diamondbacks must be insanely grateful to the Baseball Powers That Be for adding the Wild Card a quarter century ago; they’d otherwise have spent much of the season agonizing that their quite-excellent-on-its-own record had them barely within sighting, let alone overtaking, distance of the Dodgers, who ran away with the division by ten games (despite an almost surreal late-season losing streak). As it is, the D-backs leisurely secured the first Wild Card, and will face off this week against the Colorado Rockies – a team that ran pretty strongly most of the season, but faded quite a bit toward the end, and needed a Brewers’ loss on Saturday to clinch the second spot. The Pythagorean/run differential system suggests the D-backs are pretty clearly superior to the Rockies (and, in fact, not as far behind the Dodgers as the standings suggest). But, as we know, “anything can happen in one game”, so I’m looking forward to the face-off, largely as a chance to see two teams an AL/East Coast fan such as myself doesn’t often run across.

Whoever wins the encounter will face the Dodgers, who had 2017’s best record, and the most freakishly streaky season in memory. At some point in July, the Dodgers forgot how to lose, running off about a month of so many victories that the all-time win record, 116, seemed in sight. Then, equally inexplicably, they forgot how to win -- forging a scary double-digit losing streak, before finally righting the ship. Attempting to forecast the post-season journey of THAT team feels like a fool’s errand. I will say, given the team’s many strong showings in recent seasons, and the particular heights they’ve reached this year, the whole thing has the feel of “if they don’t make it to the Series this year, they maybe never will.” I’ve been anything but a Dodger fan over the years, but I can’t begrudge them if they make it back to the Series after so many years.

The other NL match-up will feature the Cubs and Nationals. I reckon we’re all pretty familiar with that first team, after their memorable ride through last October. By the finish of that Series, many of us felt they were the clear best team in the league, and a repeat appearance seemed certain. However, they stumbled all over the re-entry ballroom: not taking a clear lead over the Brewers/Cards until a few weeks ago, and racking up a record well short of the East and West division winners. This doesn’t mean they can’t repeat in the end – as long as you stay in the round-robin, you’ve got your shot. The sturdy line-up will be in evidence again, but the pitching seems a bit shakier (especially if Arrieta is unavailable). Plus, of course, they let Chapman go back to the Yankees, so he won’t be there for Maddon to abuse this time around.

In a way, the Nationals seem just as familiar, because they’ve been in so many recent post-seasons, even if they’ve never gone especially far. The team got a bit of a scare yesterday when Scherzer came up slightly lame; his condition should be key, since pitching is a major Nationals asset (give or take a Bryce Harper, who apparently IS in good health). I guess I feel about the Nationals much as I do about the Dodgers: it’s really time the team started showing it can win something in post-season. Fortunes can change: the ‘76/’77/’78 Phillies wilted in the playoffs every Fall, then the ’80 team won it all. But you can only blow so many chances before the wheel spins toward someone else.

Best guesses? The Diamondbacks face and fall to the Dodgers, the Nationals finally advance, at the expense of the no-longer-America’s-darling Cubs.

Okay, I’ve held back long enough. A few (well, more than a few, but I’ll try to be brief by my standards) words about my guys.

Close to 100% of Yankee fans came into the season thinking it was a bridge-year. There was optimism about the high farm system (especially the fruits of last year’s Chapman and Miller trades), but little expectation the team would contend before ’18 or even ’19. Certainly no one expected them to come out of the gate as fast as they did, or for so many of the players to wildly exceed projections. By mid-June, the team had run up a super-high run differential, thanks to the first seven guys in the batting order all reaching an OPS over .830 (one guy – who I’ll get to in a bit – WAY over), and the team was easily at the top of the division.

At which point, reality bit. Within the space of a week, Hicks, Castro and Holliday – three of those 830-plus guys – hit the DL, along with CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Chapman. Most were gone for two months (Pineda for the season), and, unsurprisingly, the injuries led the team into a bad skid -- they lost 19-of-25, sinking to just three games over .500. At this point, many (including fans) figured, this was the team we thought we had this year, it just came late. But Brian Cashman saw different. He noted that a ton of those losses (10 of the 19, in fact) were by one run, often at the hands of a bullpen, which, in Chapman’s absence, was basically Betances-and-say-a-prayer. Cashman, like the rest of us, had come into the year thinking it was transitional, and hadn’t bothered to bolster the bullpen to championship calibre. By this point, though, he’d changed his view: this team seemed for real, and needed reinforcement, not patience. So, Kahnle and Robertson were acquired (plus Sonny Gray to replace Pineda), an almost-unhittable Chad Green became a key cog, and, backed by this far sturdier bullpen, the injured-crowd, when it finally returned, was able to ignite a hot streak that brought the team to within two games of winning the division, and easy possession of the first Wild Card. (The run-differential, remaining insane, says the team was in fact 9 games BETTER than its record – the biggest discrepancy for any team this year.)

All of this came as great surprise, given our at-the-start expectations, but I don’t think it’s a fluke. Didi Gregorius has had two straight seasons as a solid-power-hitting shortstop; Gary Sanchez suffered no sophomore jinx, and is as strong a catcher as any in franchise history; Luis Severino is a full-on ace (whatever he does Tuesday night). And then there’s the guy I assume you’re all sick of hearing about, Mr. Judge, who had as great a three-month start as anyone in baseball history, hit the dirt for a two-month slump (causing many to dismiss him as a morning glory), then rebounded for a September that echoed his April-through-June. If that slump was something he’ll go through every year, he’ll be a perennial all-star if not first ballot Hall of Famer. If it was, instead, either pitchers adjusting to him followed by him adjusting back, or injury-related (something many suspect), he could be Mickey Mantle reborn. Either way, I like the chances he (and Sanchez/Severino, plus Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres-to-come) brings this team to many Octobers in the years ahead.

That said (I hope at not too-great length), what do I think they’ll do this year? They’re well ahead of the Twins by record, and much further in front by run-differential (a 17-game gap!). But, as noted earlier, one game is the chanciest gamble in baseball. And, even should they get past them, they’ll face the Indians, the one team in the league I think is clearly superior to them this year. So, no, I don’t think this is their year. But it could be, to a degree, their decade.

The Twins of course make a great story: so down in the dumps at the trade deadline that they sold off parts (including their closer), following which they went on a hot streak that won them the second Wild Card. (Though it should be noted: every AL team behind them failed to even reach .500 on the year.) They’re a strong home-run-hitting team, with a couple of fine pitchers (one of whom will be on the mound Tuesday). And, given all their experiences in the playoffs vs. the Yankees this millennium, they’re probably due to pull an upset. I definitely don’t take the game for granted. But, given the huge gap between the two teams, you have to make NY the favorite.

As I said, whoever wins the Wild Card game will go up against Cleveland, whose 22-game winning streak put them in another league. This is another team we remember well from last year – though this time around they’re fortified by having a full pitching rotation (Kluber still atop it), and Jay Bruce in their line-up along with Lindor and the rest. Given how close the team came last year, it’s impossible to root against their making it over the line this year.

Of course, it’s also hard not to pull for the Astros, because of both their long history without a championship, and the grueling times the city went through thanks to Hurricane Harvey. Houston players, in fact, might feel a bit miffed that Cleveland has come along to steal the home-field advantage/top spot, after they’d held it almost the whole season. Houston has a great line-up – Altuve and Correa notable among them – and, in Keuchel/Verlander, an imposing short rotation. I think they have a more than decent shot at the Series.

Boston must feel a bit miffed, as well. Many (including me) thought that, till the Yankee reinforcements came along, the Red Sox could pretty much own the division for a year or three. Instead, they had to fight like hell to hold on this year, and exposed some shortcomings in their line-up. The young guys Devers and Benintendi showed promise, but didn’t reach the instant heights hoped for, and most of the rest of the hitters fell short of hopes; last I looked, they didn’t have a single guy OPS-ing over .800, and their lack of power pointed up how much they’d relied on Oritz in the past. They somewhat compensated for this by having Sale at the top of the rotation and Kimbrel closing – though Porcello/Price were huge disappointments (offset a bit by Pomeranz’ unexpectedly good year). I’m not saying the Red Sox were a bad team – they won 93 games, and beat out my team. But my nagging feeling is that they’re nearer the bottom of this year’s finalists than the top.

So, my cavalier predictions: (fingers crossed) Yanks win the Wild Card game, and perform adequately but lose to Cleveland. Houston knocks out Boston. Cleveland and Houston play an exciting, seven-game series that goes in the end to…Cleveland (but I could change my mind there).

World Series? Hey, let’s save something for later. Just rooting, as always, for a close and long one.


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