MLB Championship Series Preview

Postseason baseball can be unpredictable, and it has shown as such so far. The divisional playoff rounds brought some expected finishes, but also some exciting results. With the smoke clearing, the final four teams are decided and with it the Championship Series in both the National League and American League. Here are the matchups and predictions for both. 

AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Location: Minute Maid Park (At Houston for first two games)

Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 4-3 Houston

Analysis: Anyone remembers 2017? This could be the sequel. Between the two series, this one was the one most expected. On the other hand, this could be a more classic matchup between the two teams. Starting with the hitting, both teams are formidable. Houston ranked first in all of baseball during the regular season in batting average (.274) walks (645), OBP (.352), SLG (.495) and OPS (.848). They possess an MVP candidate in Alex Bregman, have one of the best offseason acquisitions last winter in Michael Brantley, and accomplished veterans in Jose Altuve, George Springer and Yuli Gurriel, all chief factors to their World Series victory two years ago. The Yankees, offensively, are no slouch either. They were one of only two teams to hit over 300 home runs during the regular season (306) and were first in all of baseball in runs scored (943) and averaged close to six runs a game. Big sluggers in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, supplemented with secondary power threats in Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres, is an intimidating bunch. This is without even mentioning Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorious and DJ LeMahieu, who are all solid table-setters for the big boppers mentioned already. 

And, of course, the pitching. Houston has a potent and legitimate three-headed monster, sported by the likes of two eventual Hall of Famers in Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, along with Gerrit Cole, who is likely to garner $200+ million dollars this winter after striking out 326 batters during the regular season, the most in a regular-season since Randy Johnson in 2001 (372). The Yankees starting pitching is more inconsistent, with their top three starters being Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka, with their ace in Severino only starting pitching in September. Meanwhile, both bullpens ranked in the top ten in all of MLB in ERA, strikeouts per nine and walks per nine. 

This series will be reminiscent of the 2017 series in many ways. The games will be close, but there could be some more runs in this series when compared to the series two years ago. Expect both offenses to come out early and aggressively against both starting staffs. Should this series become a shootout, the Astros immense depth on all sides of the ball will put them ahead. The home games for both squads will be key. Grab your popcorn, this will be a series to remember. 

Prediction: Astros in Seven

NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Location: Busch Stadium (At St. Louis for first two games)

Regular Season Head-to-Head Record: 5-2 St. Louis

Analysis: Here is the series no one expected, but everyone needed. Both teams come back from a 2-1 Division Series deficit to have an opportunity to win the National League Pennant, a feat St. Louis has not done since 2013, and Washington has never done, including during their time in Montreal before the relocation. Offensively speaking, Washington during the regular season was superior to St. Louis in runs (873 to 764), batting average (.265 to .245), home runs (231 to 210), OBP (.342 to .322), SLG (.454 to .415) and OPS (.796 to .737). The offensive barrage for the Nationals was spearheaded by an MVP-caliber season from Anthony Rendon, along with a strong sophomore performance from 20-year-old Juan Soto, who posted a .949 OPS. Additional performances from speedster Trea Turner (who stole 35 stolen bases, second in the National League and fifth in all of baseball) and Adam Eaton supplemented the above-average offense. The Cardinals, meanwhile, relied on a grittier team-oriented method on offense, led by offseason acquisition Paul Goldschmidt, prime veterans in Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong, and Marcell Ozuna, with Ozuna, set to hit free agency at the conclusion of the season. Perhaps not eye-popping offensive performances from the Cardinals when compared to the Nationals, but they get the job done. 

How about the pitching? On paper, this again looks like a strength in Washington’s favor. In regard to starting pitching, the Nationals ranked second in all of baseball in ERA (3.53), fourth in strikeouts per nine (9.68) and second in home runs per nine (1.11). Additionally, Washington ranked a solid 12th in all of baseball in walks per nine (2.86). Alas, the Cardinals were not far behind in these departments in regard to starting pitching either. St. Louis starters ranked fifth in all of baseball in ERA (3.78) and eighth in home runs per nine (1.26). Serviceable, but not spectacular numbers in the strikeout per nine (8.07, 23rd in all of baseball) and walks per nine (3.16, 21st in all of baseball) department rounds out the gritty mantra of the starting pitching, led by young star Jack Flaherty, who pitched to a 0.91 ERA in the second half of the season. In regard to the bullpen, the Nationals rank next to last in all of baseball in ERA (5.68) and rank sixth worse in home runs per nine (1.55). Furthermore, the Nationals bullpen ranks 10th and 11th worst in baseball in strikeouts per nine (9.01) and walks per nine (3.94). St. Louis, even without high-powered sinker-thrower Jordan Hicks, has been much more consistent in the later innings. Their ERA ranks sixth-best (3.88), while their home runs per nine rank second best (1.07). Additionally, their strikeouts per nine (9.74) and walks per nine (3.77) ranks seventh and fourteenth best, respectively. The “what have you done for me lately” mantra is important, as in the second half the Cardinals bullpen was top 10 in ERA, while the Nationals was bottom 10. While starting pitching is important, keeping and maintaining a lead is as well, and the bullpen provides that. These bullpens are reminiscent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in regard to being volatile. 

This is a tough series to predict. On paper, this looks like it’s the Nationals series to lose. However, as the Dodgers series indicated, having a bullpen is important. Even if Washington brings in their talented starters in the late innings, will it work? It is a dangerous game to play. While the Nationals are playing with house money, along with the momentum from beating Los Angeles running in their favor, the overall experience and veteran leadership of St. Louis, along with their ability to find a way to win, will put them on top. 

Prediction: Cardinals in 6

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