Everett: Previewing the American League playoff picture
Joe Everett | Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Following my colleague Tobias Hoonhout’s analysis of the 2018 National League Playoff picture yesterday, let’s take a look at the American League and some fantastic postseason baseball that awaits us there.
Wild Card Game
The New York Yankees (100-62) host the Oakland Athletics (97-65) for the right to face the record-setting Boston Red Sox (108-54) in the divisional round. Should be a great game with runs coming at a premium. Luis Severino will take the bump for the Yankees, while reliever Liam Hendricks will start for the Athletics, but expect both teams to pull their starters at the first sign of trouble and rely on their standout bullpens. Let’s run through each potential ALDS scenario should either team win.
Oakland vs. Boston
The Athletics are a sneaky good team who hit for power and have a great bullpen, giving them a puncher’s chance in the friendly confines of Fenway Park. Designated hitter Khris Davis has walloped 48 home runs this year, while third basemen Matt Chapman led the majors in runs saved at any position with 29. The A’s have a leaky starting rotation, however, so expect quick hooks from manager Bob Melvin to get to their lights-out bullpen anchored by closer Blake Treinen, who recorded 38 saves and an 0.78 ERA in the regular season.
The Red Sox won the most games in franchise history thanks in large part to a high-powered offense led by MVP candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. The Sox put up a dominant 57-24 record at home, and hit .282 with an .829 OPS at Fenway. However, their pitching has question marks. Chris Sale is coming back from injury and his velocity was severely diminished his last start. David Price is 2-8 with a 5.03 ERA in the postseason. In the bullpen, closer Craig Kimbrel blew five saves during the year, and top setup man Matt Barnes recently suffered a sore hip. The talent is top-tier, but it’s vulnerable. Regardless, it’s championship-or-bust for the Red Sox.
New York vs. Boston
Sorry Oakland, but this is the matchup we all want to see. The historic rivals haven’t met in the playoffs since the infamous 2004 ACLS, and both teams would love nothing more than to knock the other out of the playoffs. The season series was very tight, with Boston holding a slim 10-9 advantage. The Yankee offense, which hammered 267 home runs — a MLB single-season record — can keep pace with Boston’s, and the Yankees have a better and deeper bullpen. Everything depends on who’s starting pitching shows up. J.A. Happ went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Yanks after being traded from Toronto, and twice stymied the Red Sox offense in the regular season. Whether the Yankees can get the same production from Masahiro Tanaka and Severino remains to be seen, but they’ll have a short leash with a stacked bullpen that includes Chad Green, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman. The bullpen could carry this team far.
Cleveland vs. Houston
This has the makings of an epic series, and it’s fair to argue that these two teams are actually the best in the American League, or at least the two with the most postseason experience.
Cleveland (91-71) sauntered into the playoffs after wrapping up their first-place finish in the worst division in baseball. MVP-candidates Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez powered the offense by each topping 35 home runs, and the starting rotation posted the second-lowest ERA in the AL. They’re tough to strike out, they hit for power, they’re experienced and Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer can pitch with the best of them. Mike Clevinger is also a great fourth option. The Indians could make some noise.
In many ways, the Astros (103-59) are a similar team to the Indians — but I believe they’re a more talented and complete team. They have a great rotation, a scary lineup, a deep rotation that led the majors in ERA and oh yeah: they’re the defending World Series Champions. Houston will trot out Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel in the ALDS, with Charlie Morton as a viable fourth option. Add a lights-out bullpen and an offense led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman, and I see the Astros as the favorites to make it out of the American League and return to the Fall Classic.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.