CRACK Baseball: Go to bat for your team

Guide to the 2017 MLB Playoffs

The time has finally arrived! The 2017 MLB Playoffs begin tonight and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. The intensity of each game is magnified ten-fold and we get to crown a new World Series champion in the end. In 2016, it was clear that the Chicago Cubs were the favorites to bring home the title, which they did after a thrilling seven game series against Cleveland. This year, however, at least seven of the ten teams involved have legitimate aspirations of coming out on top. Let’s break down all ten teams and give you everything you need to know before the madness begins!

Minnesota Twins

Regular Season Record: 85-77 (2nd in AL Wild Card)

One of the biggest surprises of the season has to be the upstart Minnesota Twins. Last season, they finished 59-103 and in a distant last place in the AL Central. Manager Paul Molitor‘s team became the first in baseball history to lose 100+ games one season and then qualify for the postseason the following year. If he can lead the Twinkies to their first world championship since 1991, they might just have to erect a Paul Molitor Museum in the Twin Cities.

Minnesota is led by center fielder Byron Buxton, whose highlight-reel defense is the stuff of legend already. The 23-year-old will look to help the Twins get past their AL Wild Card opponents and into a division series with rival Cleveland. First, they’ll have to deal with a team that knows a thing or two about postseason success.

New York Yankees

Regular Season Record: 91-71 (1st in AL Wild Card)

After finishing 2016 just short of a playoff berth, the baby bombers were ready to flex their muscles. And flex they certainly did. Led by Lil’ Babe Ruth AKA Aaron Judge, the Yankees led the league in home runs with 241. Judge broke the rookie record with 52 bombs of his own and will look to continue his meteoric rise in the postseason. However, for the Yankees to advance in the postseason, they will need more than offense.

New York’s pitchers have combined for a 3.72 team ERA, good for fifth in the league. Two of the reasons for this reside in the bullpen, Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. While both have had statically tame seasons, their power arms will be very important for the Yankees’ chances. A solid bullpen can be the difference between heading home early and playing baseball into November, and the Yankees certainly have the bullpen arms to lean on.

Colorado Rockies

Regular Season Record: 87-75 (2nd in NL Wild Card)

Led by their always strong offense and better than expected pitching, the Rockies began the season as one of the hottest teams in baseball. At the All-Star break, they sat at 52-39, a franchise best through the first 91 games. Unfortunately, the second half has not been as kind to Colorado. They went 35-36 post All-Star break and barely escaped the pesky Brewers and Cardinals in the Wild Card race. They now have to meet division rival Arizona in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday evening, where they will hope their offense can continue to carry the load.

Center fielder Charlie Blackmon has been having a dream season in the Mile High City, putting together MVP-like numbers. He won the NL batting title with a .331 average to go along with 37 bombs and 104 runs batted in. He alone cannot lead the team to the promised land, but he can certainly help set the table for the rest of the Rockies’ weapons to feast.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Regular Season Record: 93-69 (1st in NL Wild Card)

Last season, the Diamondbacks’ front office went all-in to turn the team into contenders. However, that plan died a fiery death throughout Arizona’s car wreck of a regular season. The pieces were there, but the results were a 69-93 record and a firing of manager Chip Hale. In stepped Torey Lovullo in his place, and now the Diamondbacks are ready to make some noise in the postseason.

The D-Backs have flipped the script and finished 93-69, a 24-game improvement that stands as one of the biggest in league history. Arizona enjoyed a 13-game winning streak in late August/early September and are in search of their first title since 2001. One player who has really made an impact is right fielder J.D. Martinez. While he has only been with the team since the trade deadline, the former Detroit Tiger has 29 homers in 62 (!!!) games with the club, which our team thinks gives him a shot at the NL MVP. That total includes a record-tying four in one game against the Dodgers on Sept. 4.

Arizona would meet the rival Dodgers in the NLDS, if they can get past Colorado first. They finished 11-8 against the top team in the NL, which could make a potential five-game series very intriguing.

Chicago Cubs

Regular Season Record: 92-70 (1st place in NL Central)

The defending World Series champions are back in the playoffs for the third straight season. After a less than stellar first half – which left the Cubs two games under .500 and 5.5 games back of Milwaukee at the All-Star break –  they showed their true colors in the second half with a 49-25 record. Some new faces have joined the squad, but we are still looking at basically the same team that captured their first world title in over 100 years in 2016.

One new face who is looking to make his mark is starting pitcher Jose Quintana. The left hander spent six seasons on the South Side of Chicago and never got a chance to play into October. All it took was a move to the North Side to get his opportunity and he has been flourishing. Quintana is 7-3 as a Cub with a 3.74 ERA in 84.1 innings. He has been at his best as of late, including a dominant complete game shutout against Milwaukee on Sept. 24. With Lester and Arrieta both below 100 percent due to injury, this may be Quintana’s chance to shine.

Washington Nationals

Regular Season Record: 97-65 (1st in NL East)

No team in the 2017 postseason has more pressure to succeed than the Washington Nationals. Despite being one of the most consistent teams over the last five seasons, they have yet to even make it past the NLDS. In fact, even dating back to their days as the Montreal Expos from 1969-2004, the franchise has only ONE playoff series victory. With all of the talent that has come through Montreal and D.C., it is pretty mind blowing that they have never made it to the Fall Classic.

The Nats have plenty of weapons and big boppers, but their most intriguing player for the postseason isn’t much of a power hitter. Shortstop Trea Turner is the type of player you don’t see as often as you once did. He is a speed demon on the base paths and gives catchers fits with his ability to change the game using his legs. In only 98 games this season, Turner swiped 46 bases and set up his teammates to drive him home, as he scored 75 runs. He will be key for the Nationals if they hope to get past the defending champs in round 1.

Boston Red Sox

Regular Season Record: 93-69 (1st in AL East)

For the first time in their franchise history, the Red Sox have won back-to-back AL East titles. Not even in the days of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Johnny Damon was that feat accomplished, which underscores the “special” of this group. They moved past the Yankees into first place on Aug. 1 and never looked back, going 36-20 over the final two months.

Anchored by Ace Chris Sale, the Red Sox pitching staff is the biggest question mark facing the team going into the playoffs. Last year’s AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello has underperformed in 2017 (11-17, 4.65 ERA) and high-priced David Price is notoriously bad during the postseason (2-8, 5.54 ERA). The Sox have no problem scoring runs, but the postseason is when you lean on your pitchers the most. If they can’t perform, it will be another early exit for Boston.

After being swept in their 2016 ALDS matchup with Cleveland, things do not get any easier for the Red Sox. As a reward for winning consecutive AL East crowns, they get to face the 101 win Houston Astros.

Houston Astros

Regular Season record: 101-61 (1st in AL West)

The Astros organization appears to be on a very similar path to their former NL Central rivals, the Chicago Cubs. Both franchises were pitiful between 2011-2013 and used these years to build up their farm systems into the two best in baseball. From these sprouted players like George Springer, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and the list goes on and on. The point being that the Astros, much like the 2016 Cubs, look poised to deliver their first World Series to a title hungry city.

Carlos Correa is close to being a national star: all it would take is a deep playoff run and an impressive showing by the kid to make him a household name. The latter shouldn’t be too hard for the 23-year-old shortstop, who blasted 24 home runs and hit .315 all while dealing with a thumb injury for much of the year. He is a five tool player whose name will be on everyone’s lips by the end of October; you heard it here first.

Cleveland Indians

Regular Season record: 102-60 (1st in AL Central)

After suffering one of the most crushing defeats in the history of sport, the Indians did come away on top in one way: With the Cubs victory, Cleveland now holds the dubious honor of the franchise with the longest World Series drought. The last time they raised the title, gas cost 16 cents a gallon and you could buy 10 pounds of onions for 49 cents. (Editors note: Who buys 10 pounds of onions?) The Indians have only grown stronger since their World Series loss, including putting together an AL record 22-game winning streak at one point this season.

Cleveland’s infield is a treasure trove of talent, but one stands out from the rest: Jose Ramirez. The unknown third baseman, Jose Ramirez, has been an absolute stud in 2017. After putting together an impressive 2016, Ramirez has continued his prowess at the plate with a .318 average and cranking a career-high 29 homers, a major step up from his previous high of 11. After inking a five-year extension before the season with Cleveland, Ramirez is showing he was worth every penny.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Regular Season record: 104-58 (1st in NL West)

For most of the season, it felt like the Dodgers were never going to lose again. Over one 50 game stretch, they went 43-7 (!!!!!), the best mark since 1912. Many experts and fans were discussing the possibility of the Dodgers breaking the single-season wins record of 116, but alas it was not to be. The final month of the season saw the Dodgers losing in bunches, including 16 out of 17 at one point. They finished with a measly 104 wins; pffft what a joke.

Obviously the Dodgers possess the top pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw, but its another Dodgers’ lefty who will be delivering can’t miss at-bats. Rookie sensation Cody Bellinger is sweet swinging lefty, who sports the stereotypically Californian swagger as a right fielder/first basemen for LA. Once he was called up in mid-May, Bellinger began to destroy every baseball that got in his way. When the dust settled, he hit 39 long balls and became the first Dodgers rookie to hit for the cycle. A strong showing in the postseason would just reaffirm what we already know: Cody Bellinger is going to be a problem for opposing pitchers for a long, long time.

-Frank Fernandez

Copyright © 2017 | Off The Bench Baseball

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