Yesterday, I ran you through the National League competitors in this year’s edition of baseball’s postseason. Today, we can took a look at the Junior Circuit.
Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros
Game 1 today at 4pm EDT
Do you remember when the Red Sox were the lovable losers, the Daffy Duck to the Yankees’ Bugs Bunny, the Paraguay to the Yankees’ Argentina? Yeah, me neither. This franchise has won three Worlds Series in the last 13 years. Also, the Patriots have won 14 Super Bowls in that time, the Celtics won a championship, and the Bruins did, too. Boston sports fans are now not just insufferably annoying, but they get all the winning, too. That whole city can slide into the sea for all I care.
But dammit, this 2017 Red Sox team is likable. Mookie Betts, the MVP runner-up last season, remains one of the best players in the league. He is also an inner-circle Hall-of-Famer for awesome baseball names. They added Chris Sale last winter, who remains one of the most entertaining and devastating pitchers in the league. I wanted to make a joke here exaggerating his size, because he is tall and skinny. I was gonna say something like “the dude looks like a stiff breeze would blow him over, because he is like 6’6” and weighs like 180 lbs.” But that’s his actual size. That isn’t an exaggeration. So that joke kinda blew up on me, I guess.
Anyway, generations from now when our modern society is just ashes in the dustbin of history, roving bands of hunter-gatherers will circle around campfires and share oral mythologies as bedtime stories. They will murmur breathless entreaties to their pagan gods in desperate attempt to keep Chris Sale’s slider from stealing away their children in the darkness of night.
But aside from that, this is a pretty pedestrian team. There were some who predicted their lineup could score 1000 runs this year. They didn’t do that. Their best hitter by OPS this year is Eduardo Nunez, who hit .892 after coming over from the Giants in July. They have a lot of really good players who had down years. But they won the division, so go figure.
The Houston Astros remain one of the most entertaining teams in baseball. Jose Altuve is the odds-on favorite to win the MVP. He hit .346/.410/.547 and is one of the best keystone doggies in the league. But I’m skirting the obvious here: he is so little he is still legally required in 12 states to use a booster seat in the car. He crushes the ball, he never misses, he runs incredibly well, and he gets to everything in the field. He is the epitome of the complete five-tool player, and he does it all standing on his tippy-toes so he can see over the mound.
If having the best player in the American League this year doesn’t do it for you, they have a lineup that rivals the fabled Yankees’ Murders Row of 1927. After Altuve, they had five other hitters post better than 4 bWAR. Jimminy Gumboes! Marwin Gonzalez is probably my new favorite player in baseball. He played 136 or more innings at 2B, 3B, LF, 1B, and SS. He also OPS’d .907. And he’s a switch-hitter, so he’s basically the coolest.
For all their ball-lasering at the plate, they have more than a few good pitchers, too. Former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander came over from the Tigers at the end of August. He’ll start Game 1. Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel will mount the bump for Game 2. Ken Giles and Chris “wrong spelling dummy” Devenski will shut it down at the end of games.
So all in all, I’m for the Astros here. There is way too much fun going on in Houston to deny the world of that.
New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians
Game 1 today at 7:30 pm EDT
This is pretty easy, but I’mma lay it out for you anyway. We are pretty far removed from the Evil Empire days, but there is still plenty to dislike about the Yankees. This is supposed to be a team on the rebuild, but what the hell they get to make the postseason anyway. Jerks.
They dispatched the Twins the other night in the Wild Card Game, because what the hell of course they did. They are led by Aaron Judge, the kind of player that could only ever happen for the Yankees. This is just his rookie season and he posted 8.1 bWAR and mashed 52 home runs, the new rookie record. Because what the hell of course whatever.
After him though, their lineup is a bit thin. Catcher Gary Sanchez is the only other regular in the lineup who can claim to have had a significantly above-average season a the plate. They also have Didi Gregorius, who has played really well for the last few years as the starting shortstop. They also have Todd Frazier, Ronald Torreyes, and Aroldis Chapman. So the Reds are pretty well represented by some really good guys, and then there’s also Chapman.
Luis Severino is their ace, so they used him in the Wild Card Game. But what the hell of course whatever, he got knocked around by the Twins and only threw 29 pitches and they won anyway and now he is fresh for the series with the Indians.
The Indians are waaaaaaay more fun than the Yankees, so you should be all about the Tribe in this one. They are the most complete team in the postseason. They really don’t have any weaknesses. You might make a case that their outfield defense isn’t great, but if you are drilling all the way down to outfield defense to look for a weakness the team doesn’t have any weaknesses.
Corey Kluber is the odds-on favorite to win the Cy Young Award again this season. He won it back in 2014 and probably had a better season than that this year. He leads the league in ERA, wins, WHIP, and K/BB ratio.
A long time ago, there was a guy. This guy worked at a batting cage and go-cart track in Alabama. One evening, a big storm rolled in and the guy went out to cover one of the pitching machines when lightning struck the pitching machine and the guy at the same time. The guy was strangely fine, but that pitching machine grew up to be Corey Kluber.
They are deep behind Kluber, too. Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevenger all had great seasons in the rotation. Danny Salazar is also incredibly talented, but he dealt with injuries and only threw about 100 innings. It looks like they might use him out of the bullpen, though. Which, I mean, why not? They have a deep and strong rotation without him.
Like I said, they don’t have any weaknesses. The bullpen is also incredible, with Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, Nick Goody, and Zach McAllister all turning in great seasons. They don’t have three great relievers to shorten a game. They have like six. They have the quality rotation to stifle hitters on the front end and the kind of bullpen that can turn every game into a four-inning affair. They came within a hair’s breadth of winning it all last season when they had half their roster on the DL. They are much healthier this time around. It’s probably going to take some big surprises to knock them off.
Also, they have a really great lineup. You know how I said I love Marwin Gonzalez? The Indians have Jose Ramirez, who is actually better. He split time pretty much evenly between 3B and 2B this year, but he can also play in the OF. He led the league doubles with 56.
Francisco Lindor is every bit as fun as Jose Altuve is. He is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball and he hit 33 home runs this year. He is just 23 years old.
They also have Edwin Encarnacion, who signed as a free agent last winter, and Jay Bruce, who came over from the Mets this summer. There are a million reasons to love this Indians team and exactly zero things to dislike. Well, I guess I’m not happy that boring-ass-name Joe Smith pitched in 21 games for them. But that’s about it.
I will be jammin’ pretty hard for the Indians through this whole thing. I’d be happy with the Astros, as well. That would be an amazing ALCS if it comes to pass. But honestly, whatever happens, this is going to be an amazing month of top-quality baseball, and the galaxy will be better off for it.