The regular season is done, the “second season” kicks off tonight. There’s lots to talk about now here, the disappointing Blue Jays season to review, a look ahead to 2020, an overview of the whole season and predictions for this month’s series… whew! For today, I’ll start with a brief look at the NL playoffs.
The wildcard takes place tonight in Washington with the Nationals hosting Milwuakee. Both teams finished strong. Washington dug themselves a big hole early on, being 15-23 on May 10, but played .628 ball after that and went 11-3 down the line. Milwaukee started where they left off last year, winning 8 of their first 10 but then sank into the doldrums, being just 47-44 at the All Star break. When superstar Christian Yelich, of back-to-back batting titles fame, went down for the year with a busted-up knee on Sep. 10, it would’ve been easy for them to fall down and let Chicago and St. Louis run away with the division. Instead, they went 17-5 through the last three weeks.
As much as I’d like the Brew crew to win, I think they might find the deck stacked against them too badly. First off, the Nats are good in their hometown (50-31 at home), the Brewers are weak on the road (40-41.) Milwaukee actually won 4 of 6 against Washington on the year, but only 1 of 3 in Washington (though they swept them in Wisconsin.)
The big difference though comes down to starting pitchers; a Nationals strength and Brewers achilles heel. Max Scherzer goes for the home team, Brandon Woodruff for Milwaukee. Scherzer had a somewhat frustrating year by his standards, battling a sore shoulder and finishing 11-7, 2.92 with 172 innings pitched – his lowest since 2009. However, he struck out 243 while walking only 33, a 7:1 ratio best in the league. And that 2.92 ERA, while not head-turning, is still 57% better than league average. In his one outing against Milwaukee this year, his team lost. But he had a no-decision, pitching 6 innings, striking out 10 and giving up just one earned run.
Woodruff on the other hand, posted decent numbers too. The Brewers won 18 of 22 games he was in and his record, 11-3, 3.63, was fine. However, he’s had injury issues too and hasn’t gone more than two innings since July 16. Look for Scherzer to shut down the Brewers offence quickly through seven while the Brewers go to the ‘pen by the third.
The pick – Washington, 5-2.
A quick peak at tomorrow’s AL Wild Card shows two similar teams facing off. Tampa Bay travel to Oakland. Perhaps more than any others, these two teams are perfect examples of Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” theory working. Two teams with low budgets, bad ballparks, limited fan interest and a lack of “brand name” stars that manage to succeed despite all odds. (which include the one “star” on each team having a mediocre year. Tampa’s Blake Snell followed up his Cy Young, 21 win, 1.89 campaign by going 6-8, 4.29. Oakland basher Khris Davis had a negative WAR this season, his first in 4 that he didn’t hit 40 homers and drive in 100.)
Tampa won 7 of their last 10, and were surprisingly good on the road (48-33) but Oakland were better still at home (52-29) and had a better run differential, so we’ll pick Oakland in a close one.