Baseball Breakdown: NL race heats up as postseason draws near
At long last, the final week of the MLB’s regular season and the playoff picture is being set up. All of the American League playoff spots are filled, but the Atlanta Braves are the only National League team to clinch in a tight race.
The American League division winners are the Boston Red Sox coming out of the AL East — the top seed in the American League — the Cleveland Indians from the AL Central and the defending World Series Champions, the Houston Astros from the AL West. The two wild-card spots are held by the New York Yankees and the Oakland Athletics, who are still hashing it out for homefield advantage.
The Red Sox clinched their playoff berth by beating their rivals the Yankees in the face of Yankee fans at the team’s home stadium.
This makes it the third straight year the Red Sox have come out on top of the AL East. The Red Sox were able to clinch the best record in baseball, giving them home field advantage throughout the entire postseason, which will definitely come in handy.
Although this is currently the top team, they still have their questions, especially concerning their pitching. Even with Chris Sale’s spectacular season, he is having his usual end of the season shoulder issues. This year is worse than previous years. Sale has only thrown 12.1 innings since the all-star break and was placed on the disabled list twice. This, topped with his very poor playoffs from a year ago, could lead to an early exit for the Red Sox in the postseason.
The Indians and the Astros are just as dangerous as the Red Sox and shouldn’t be overlooked. The Indians were one game away from winning the World Series two seasons ago and a game from advancing to the ALCS last season. This year, they reloaded their lineup with Josh Donaldson and have potential AL MVP José Ramirez leading the way.
The strongest part of their team, however, is their starting rotation, as they have four starters with more than 200 strikeouts. The rotation, led by Corey Kluber, could be the strongest out of all playoff teams. The Astros are right with the Indians in terms of their rotation, which includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole, but their strongest point is their lineup. The lineup of José Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa is one that can easily put up runs at a quick rate, which is exactly what they did last postseason.
The Astros have a real chance of repeating as World Series Champions.
The Yankees and Athletics are still fighting for the No. 1 wild-card spot and home field advantage, and it is assumed that whichever team hosts will be the team moving on. The Yankees have a legitimate question of who will be starting this one-game playoff.
The answers are either Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka or J.A. Happ. The two clear front-runners and the hardest to choose between are Happ and Tanaka. Since joining the Yankees at the deadline, Happ has been nearly lights out, as he has posted an outstanding 6-0 record with a 2.34 ERA in his 10 starts.
Tanaka has been equally as good, posting a 2.62 ERA in his previous 11 starts. Severino looked like he was on pace for his first career Cy Young Award in the first half of the season, but after the all-star break it appeared as if he completely forgot how to pitch.
He went from posting a 2.31 ERA in his first 20 starts, to posting a 5.74 in his previous 11.
This has caused some much-needed concern but in his previous two starts, with one coming against the Red Sox, he only allowed two earned runs in 12.2 innings.
This production put his name back into the running of who will start this wild-card game. The lineup production was a question for a while as their leader ,Aaron Judge, missed over a month with a fractured wrist, but with him back in the lineup, they are looking like the team they were before Judge’s injury.
The Athletics took the entire league by storm this year. After being the team with the lowest payroll in the MLB that also finished last in the AL West for the previous three years, they’ve completely turned it around. This roster is led by some of the youngest players in all of baseball like Sean Manaea and Matt Chapman but the roster also has key veteran presence.
Manaea was doubtlessly their best starting pitcher, but they lost him for season-ending shoulder surgery. In his place, veterans like Trevor Cahill, Mike Fiers and Edwin Jackson have stepped up and led this team.
Their bullpen has been one of the best in the league, led by their closer Blake Treinen, who posted a 0.81 ERA this year with 37 saves. Their lineup includes the young savviness of Chapman and Matt Olson but also includes the strong presence of veteran Khris Davis. Davis has posted MVP-like numbers with 45 home runs and 119 RBIs, and Chapman has posted an incredible .315 batting average with .979 OPS since the all-star break.
Chapman has not only contributed at the dish. His field-play at third base is one of the best in the league as he leads all players in defensive Wins Above Replacement and is sitting at third in the entire league in total WAR. This team may not be able to go far if they advance past the wild-card game, but they are a great team to look forward to seeing in future years to come.
The National League’s sole playoff team so far is the Atlanta Braves, who like the Athletics, have surprised many people. Before the season, the team to beat in the NL East was the Washington Nationals, but they were never able to get anything rolling during the year.
The Braves have not been to the playoffs since 2013 and have not made the World Series since 1999. This young team looks destined to make a run through the NL. They are led by Freddie Freeman, who puts up MVP-type numbers every year, and rookie phenom Ronald Acuña. Acuña is leading for NL Rookie of the Year as he posted 26 home runs and 58 RBIs in 105 games with the team.
Their rotation includes Mike Foltynewicz, who could be the NL CY Young winner if Jacob deGrom were not around, and veteran Aníbal Sánchez, who is giving this team a very nice spark in the middle of the rotation. They added Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach, who have been lights out in the rotation and bullpen.
This team is still waiting to see who their round one opponent is, as they will be either the second or third seed, depending on the remainder of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ season.
The remainder of the NL could be set up to have three teams from the central division make it, with two playing in the wild-card game. The Dodgers are on pace to win the NL West after an atrocious start to the season, and the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are still battling it out for who will take the No. 1 spot in the central.
It is predicted that the Cubs will be the first seed, with the Braves or Dodgers at second and third, and the Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals playing in the pivotal wild card game.
No matter how it turns out, the MLB Playoffs are the most exciting times for baseball fans.