Let the fun begin! The league championships kick off tonight in Milwaukee of all places, with the Dodgers taking on the central division champs. Tomorrow it’s the AL’s turn.
As you might recall, the matchups are what I’d predicted earlier this month, as was the rather quick folding of the Cleveland machine. Thus far, my only error in playoff picks was a last minute “gut feeling” that Oakland might top the Yanks in the one game wildcard, which seemed unlikely…and was, in fact!
If that seems like too much tooting my own horn, I’ll temper that by admitting that of my pre-season picks, I only got half the division winners right (Cleveland, Houston and LA) and in fact picked only 8 of the 30 teams in their correct position. Biggest faux pas- missing Oakland’s impressive 97 wins by 28 and picking them for last place in the AL West!
That noted, I have picked Milwaukee and Boston to advance to the World Series. I’ll stand by that but I won’t be utterly surprised if either, or even both, are wrong. Anything can happen in Ocotber baseball after all. To me the two things to look for are these:
NL: the series may go to 7 games, but I think we’ll have a good idea of the NL Champion by about the 5th inning tonight. LA are the better team on paper and in almost every respect (the bullpens may be a dead heat) …but the Brew Crew have been on fire lately. So, it comes down to can Milwaukee keep the momentum going, the roll that has them winning their last 11-straight games and top the Cubs in Wrigley Field for the division championship? If yes, if they come out of the gates like world-beaters full of confidence and ignorant of any obstacles, they will play for their first set of rings. If not, if the four day layoff has killed the momentum or made them stop and look at the rosters and think , Los Angeles will return to the Fall Classic.
AL: this one comes down to one man. David Price. The Astros are very good, needless to say, a well-balanced team with no huge holes anywhere. The Sox though, match them in several areas and are a better, deeper hitting staff than Houston…as the 16-1 bombing of the Bronx Bombers showed clearly. But Boston’s starting pitching could be a bit of a bugaboo for them. Ace Chris Sale has been limited to 6+ innings so far and is barely a month back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of July and August. Then there’s game 2 starter, Price, who presumably would be asked to return to the mound Saturday for game 6 if it goes that far.
That doesn’t seem like a bad thing to the casual observer. Price is, after all, one of the best pitchers of the last decade, having good success with 4 different teams. Problem is, for whatever reason so far, he simply cannot do anything right as a starter in October. All the more strange, he’s been very effective as a relief pitcher in the playoffs, with Tampa in 2008 (his rookie campaign), last year with the Red Sox and one game for the Blue Jays in 2015. But as a starter in the post-season, he’s been historically bad. 10 starts, 0-9, about 62 innings (that’s not terrible), 69 hits allowed and an embarrassing 6.03 ERA. Go figure. During the regular seasons of those years, he’s made 224 starts, gone 1495 innings (an average of over 210 per year, a definite rarity these days) allowed less than a hit per inning every year and had a great 107-60 record and 3.24 ERA.
So why can’t Price start in October? Or can he? That’s the million-dollar question for the Red Sox. If it’s now a purely mental thing where he beats himself before he goes to the mound, they are sunk. If it’s just pure bad luck, the law of averages is bound to kick in, and he’ll have a good start and break the curse. One way or another, if Boston don’t get at least one quality start from him, they’re sunk.