Hoonhout: Brewers, Dodgers primed for success in MLB playoffs
Tobias Hoonhout | Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Well, for the first time ever, not one, but two divisions in the same season took an extra tiebreaker to figure out the MLB playoff picture. But after some stellar baseball Monday, the stage is set for the National League playoffs. Let’s take an opening-round look at who will move on in the hunt for the National League pennant.
Wild Card game: Rockies vs. Cubs
Both Colorado and Chicago were on the short end of the tiebreaker stick Monday, and now face off Tuesday night in Wrigley in a winner-take-all showdown.
This game looks incredibly balanced. Jon Lester, who has been rock-solid of late — only giving up five runs over 29.2 innings of work — will take the mound to face off against Kyle Freeland, who finished the year with a 17-7 record and a 2.85 ERA. The two teams split the six games they played, and each scored 33 runs. Lester and Freeland faced each other earlier in the year at Wrigley, in a game the Cubs won 3-2, and don’t be surprised to see another pitcher’s duel. Neither ball club will be in any particular hurry to go home; Chicago didn’t think it would be in this position to start October (Milwaukee had other ideas) and the Rockies don’t want to make it back-to-back Wild Card losses after a wild 11-8 loss to the Diamondbacks last year in Arizona.
But Colorado has had to travel to three time zones in three days, and it’s an especially quick turnaround from Monday’s crushing loss to the Dodgers, who became the only the third franchise ever to win at least six-straight division titles. The Rockies may be road warriors, but I just feel like the Cubs are going to be a bit more desperate and have the postseason experience to boot.
Divisional Round: Dodgers vs. Braves
Atlanta ran away with the NL East this year, despite being picked to finish fourth in the division by Baseball America. With a talented young core including first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Ozzie Albies and left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. — who combined to hit 73 home runs this season — and steady contributions from veterans, including catcher Kurt Suzuki and All-Star right fielder Nick Markakis, the Braves shook things up with a red-hot May and didn’t look back. But the surprise story will need some serious gut-checks with the Dodgers on the cards.
Los Angeles started the season shockingly slow, but righted the ship, once again thanks to an unlikely hero. A year ago it was Chris Taylor and Brandon Morrow. This season, Dave Roberts found an even more unlikely candidate in first baseman Max Muncy, who might have to take the cake for the best feel-good story in baseball this year. Last spring, the 27-year-old was cut by the Athletics after spring training, and he was a non-roster invitee for the Dodgers this year. One-hundred-sixty-three games later, the All Star hit his 35th home run Monday and is a major reason Los Angeles set a franchise record in home runs this year. The Dodgers had the Braves’ number this year, and they have the postseason experience and home-field advantage to boot. Sorry, Atlanta, maybe next year.
Cubs vs. Brewers
In a season marked by tight division races, perhaps none ended in more dramatic fashion than the National League Central. While few thought anyone but the Cubs would walk away with the title, the Brewers — led by likely MVP Christian Yelich, who had the monster year no one noticed — kept hanging around. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 29, the Cubs were in the driver’s seat. But a red-hot finish to the season from Milwaukee and a couple slips by Chicago gave the Brewers a shot at winning their first division since 2011, which they promptly took in a 3-1 victory. If everything falls into place, the two teams could be facing off once again in only a few days.
I have to say it — I like Milwaukee. I’m not Joe Maddon and I haven’t been in the Cubs’ clubhouse, but this has to feel like robbery. And not in a good way. Even with the winning record against the Brewers this year, I can’t help but feel like the loss Monday is a fore bearer of something yet to come. Yelich almost hit for the triple crown, and this lineup has the experience to handle the pressure — you saw what they did this year. The pitching staff is also sneakily good and doesn’t give up a lot of runs. But what I buy the most is the ability to refuse to go down. If you couldn’t tell, this is a hard team to put away, and I can’t see Chicago, even with the season Javier Baez had, finding a way to rediscover the winning formula.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.