Wild Card Toronto Blue Jays @ #1 Texas Rangers
In what has become somewhat of a heated rivalry lately, the Toronto Blue Jays will head to Arlington, Texas to take on the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s ALDS, which Toronto won in 5 games. It should be another great series this time around, as both teams have star power in their lineup, a solid rotation, and most importantly recent postseason experience. For Toronto, the duo of Bautista and Encarnacion was clutch in the playoffs last year and has already come through again this year in the wild card game. The Rangers improved their lineup by signing Ian Desmond who hit .285 with 22 HR and 86 RBI while stealing 22 bags this year, and trading for Carlos Beltran at the deadline. This series will come down to which pitching staff shows up for their respective club. With former World Series champion Cole Hamels starting Game 1, I think the Rangers will win another hard fought 5 game series with Hamels closing it out in Game 5.
#3 Boston Red Sox @ #2 Cleveland Indians
The AL East champion Boston Red Sox will start the playoffs in Cleveland and take on former Red Sox manager Terry Francona and the AL Central champion Indians. After consecutive last place finishes, general manager Dave Dombrowski has Boston back in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 2013. The story of the season has been the offense, which led the majors in runs scored (878), batting average (.283), on-base percentage (.349), slugging (.462), OPS (.811), and was second to the Cubs in run differential (+184). The question will be the pitching, which has been up and down during the season. Price had one of his worst seasons, and has been historically bad in the playoffs. Porcello is a Cy Young candidate this year, but Rodriguez has no playoff experience and Buchholz had been anything but reliable. On the other hand, Cleveland had one of the best rotations to start the year but are without Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco for the playoffs. For this reason, I think the Red Sox will sweep the division series.
Wild Card San Francisco Giants @ #1 Chicago Cubs
The 103 win powerhouse NL Central champ and #1 overall seed Chicago Cubs begin their quest to finally win a World Series against the most successful team of the past 6 years – the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs are one of the most complete baseball teams that have ever been assembled. Their pitching is led by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks while Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo lead a potent offense. That has led to an absurd +252 run differential for the Cubs season. The big question is how they will handle the pressure of expectations this year, especially against a team who may be among the best under postseason pressure. Madison Bumgarner reminded everyone he’s the best postseason pitcher in baseball by tossing a complete game shutout on the road against the Mets on Wednesday. The additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardijza have helped the rotation as well. However, the Giants bullpen has been historically awful this year and I don’t think they have enough firepower on offense to handle the Cubs pitching rotation. The Cubs will win the series in 4 and advance to the NLCS.
#3 Los Angeles Dodgers @ #2 Washington Nationals
Washington is back in the playoffs after a one year absence and will take on the 4-time defending NL West champion Dodgers. Bryce Harper has been mediocre following an MVP season in 2015, but the acquisition of Daniel Murphy and the emergence of rookie Trea Turner have powered the Nats to the NL East title this year. 20 game winner Max Scherzer has been dominant at the front of the rotation, but the loss of Stephen Strasburg for this series means that pitchers like Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez will have to step up. The success of the Dodgers in the postseason always seems to hinge on the success of perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, who has historically struggled in the postseason. In a battle of aces and potent lineups, I think this matchup will go the distance with the Nationals winning in Game 5.
END OF SEASON AWARDS
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona (CLE)
AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer (DET)
AL MVP: Mookie Betts (BOS)
AL Cy Young: Rick Porcello (BOS)
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon (CHC)
NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager (LAD)
NL MVP: Kris Bryant (CHC)
NL Cy Young: Jon Lester (CHC)