By: Daniel Multz
Somehow, we’re already at the end of the 2018 MLB season! While we grapple that concept, the postseason is coming up this week and the excitement could not be higher. From the three 100-win teams in the AL to the two different 163rd games set to be played in the NL, this postseason is shaping up to be incredibly exciting.
Here’s what you need to know about each postseason-bound team to have that inside edge as the 2018 MLB playoffs get underway.
Two of the Three NL Divisions are STILL UNCLINCHED
Entering play on the final day of the regular season, only one of the five NL playoff spots were secured: The NL East champion Atlanta Braves. Both the NL Central and West divisions had the top two teams tied for division leads and are now set for a 163rd game. The loser of each game becomes one of the two wild card teams, with the losing NL Central team being the host team, and then the NL Central winner will face the wild card game winner and the NL West winner will face the Braves.
Atlanta was probably the most surprising postseason team for the 2018 season. The youthful squad, led by Ozzie Albies, Nick Markakis, Freddie Freeman, rookie sensation Ronald Acuna Jr. and young starters like Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman, will look to carry them deep into October with many more playoff berths in store for the future for this team. But they have an experienced and equally talented group of NL teams they’ll have to beat.
The NL Central Features the NL’s Two Best Teams
The Brewers capped a 19-7 September with an 11-0 blanking of the Tigers while the Cubs finished strong, taking two of three from St. Louis, highlighted by a 10-5 victory on Sunday. Game 163 will feature MVP candidates Christian Yelich and Javy Baez, other big bats like Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw, Jesus Aguilar, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, a loaded Brewers pen, and a veteran-packed Cubs rotation. This 163rd game will be a back and forth battle that either team can win.
The NL West Matchup is Two Teams Full of Youth, Power and Looking for Redemption
In the West, both the Rockies and Dodgers finished September with blowout victories over the Nationals and Giants respectively. Both are ready for another October run as Colorado looks to make it past the wild card game and L.A hopes to make it back to the World Series.
Both teams have very deep lineups: L.A will put the likes of Justin Turner, Matt Kemp, Manny Machado, Max Muncy and Yasiel Puig against the Rockies’ core of Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, CarGo and David Dahl. Similarly, both teams will likely start young pitchers who are having incredible breakout campaigns.
Walker Buhler was held back from pitching today in order to pitch game 163 for L.A and the dangerous German Marquez, who has recorded double digit Ks in five of his last six outings is the pegged starter for Colorado. Tomorrow’s game could either be a duel of two rising young pitchers or an all-out slugfest.
The AL is Filled with Juggernauts that can ALL Take Each Other On
While the whole AL postseason picture is completely figured out: Yankees vs A’s at Yankee Stadium for the wild card game where the winner faces the Red Sox, and Astros vs Indians (the only team with less than 97 wins), that by no means should suggest that the AL playoff will be any less exciting
The AL Wild Card Matchup is 100% Stacked
The Yankees battled some key injuries with unexpectedly incredible rookie campaigns, slugging their way to a new team-HR record and a 100-win season. The homer-happy lineup combined with the stacked and dominant bullpen will give the Yankees many weapons and choices for how to play the AL wild card game. Rookie manager Aaron Boone has many options for this game. He will either start 2017 Postseason hero Masahiro Tanaka, fireballer Luis Severino, or darkhorse mid-season acquisition J.A Happ.
The Yanks opponent, the Oakland A’s, are an equally formidable foe. Led by AL homer leader Khris Davis, defensive wizard Matt Chapman, and Reliever of the Year candidate Blake Treinen, the A’s rode a 42-22 second half to assert their position as a contender for this season and more.
Oakland will likely start their own clutch deadline acquisition in Mike Fiers, but may choose to start Trevor Cahill or even pitch a bullpen game in order to upset the bombers in their home park
Boston has the best Record, the Most Pressure and the Biggest Expectations
The Red Sox won 108 games en-route to the best performance ever by a Sox team and a rookie manager. With the two leading AL-MVP candidates: Mookie Betts and J.D Martinez, an incredible supporting cast in the lineup, a perennial ace in Chris Sale and a lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel, the Sox are looking to make it past the ALDS for the first time since their championship 2013 season.
This Red Sox team has the best chances to win the pennant and the World Series, but may also be vulnerable to an equally shocking upset. With Chris Sale’s health in question, bullpen issues and a potential David Price vs the Yankees matchup, Boston could be very boom or bust in the playoffs. If everything clicks, they’ll be unstoppable, but if some or all of those issues come to light, the ALDS and beyond will be a lot more interesting and nerve-wrecking for the Red Sox
Cleveland Will Look to Prove that an Easy Division Title Doesn’t Sell Them Short
One could argue that going as far back as June or May, the Indians already had their division clinched, and as a result they coasted to a 91-win season. With the Royals tanking, the White Sox and Tigers beginning a rebuild and the Twins taking a major step back from their 2017 wild card campaign, no one was going to challenge Cleveland for that AL Central title.
Despite the ease with which they clinched, Cleveland is definitely a force to be wrecking with this postseason. With the dominant 200 strikeout quartet of ace Corey Kluber, veteran Carlos Carrasco, and breakout starters Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, combined with a lineup that features sluggers Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley, Cleveland will not go down quietly against Houston or anyone else this postseason.
The Astros Followed up a WS-Winning Season With an Equally Strong 2018
The reigning World Champs got a full season out of the reborn dominant Justin Verlander, a return-to-form season from Gerrit Cole, an equally strong campaign from Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel, a dominant bullpen campaign (minus the Ken Giles antics) and a breakout season from Alex Bregman and Tyler White. A.J Hinch led his squad down an incredible 22-5 run in September to put his squad in prime position to defend their Title. Houston will need its bats to step up even more as their lights-out rotation will lead them down a hopefully deep October run.
2018 has been an incredible ride and the postseason will feature many key questions that some of which will be answered. Will Milwaukee or Colorado win their first? Will Cleveland or L.A end their decades-long droughts? Will Houston repeat as champions? Will the chase for 28 end for the Bombers? All of these questions and many more will be answered over the next four weeks as the MLB playoffs unfold and the 10 teams set out for that shiny gold trophy and those diamond-studded rings.