It’s almost that time of year. On October 8, MLB’s divisional playoff round will kick off. Eight teams will compete in four best-of-five playoff series to see who moves one step closer to the World Series. With these series only a few weeks away I figured it was a good time to look ahead. Which of these series should you be most excited about? Which series should you look most forward to? What follows is my list, but feel free to disagree in the comments section below.
What follows is the order in which I’m looking forward to these prospective series. This has very little to do with the quality of the teams and much more to do with the interest that a fan might have in seeing two teams face each other.
The playoff seeding is pretty much settled in the NL, but several slots are still up in the air in the AL.
4. Royals or Blue Jays vs. Rangers
This has less to do with the Royals or Blue Jays than it does with the Rangers. Now, the Rangers truly have been on an incredible ride this season. They started the season with a 16.1% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus, and their odds bottomed out at 4.8% on April 30. Heck, on July 28 their playoff odds were only 4.5% (they were 47-52). Since that date they’ve ripped off a 36-17 record and should win the AL West. It has truly been a remarkable turnaround.
The problem isn’t with the Rangers per se, but I think most people will look at this series as if the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Yes, Cole Hamels and Yovani Gallardo have both been above league average starters this year (according to ERA+), and five of their hitters are enjoying above average offensive seasons (Moreland, Odor, Beltre, Choo, and Fielder). But the Blue Jays currently look like an unstoppable offensive juggernaut and many believe the Royals will be able to turn it back on once the playoffs begin.
These rankings are based on perceived excitement and interest. While the Rangers have definitely earned their spot in the postseason, I’m not sure anyone other than Rangers fans will go out of their way to follow the team in the divisional series (this is entirely unfair). Then again, this team has spent the entire year surprising people and I’m sure there’s a good chance they’ll do that again in the post season.
3. Royals or Blue Jays vs. Wildcard Team (Yankees, Astros, Twins, or Angels)
Most of these teams have something that the Rangers don’t. Either they have a big time brand (Yankees), young superstars (Astros), or veteran stars (Angels). On paper there are several really attractive match-ups here. Who wasn’t entertained by the Yankees and Blue Jays this past week? Who wouldn’t love to see all of the young talent that the Astros can run out on the field? I’m really curious to see if their in-season acquisitions pay off. Of course the Yankees are always of interest to people whether your love them or hate them. They’re the Yankees. From an excitement perspective this match-up will likely be the most interesting American League series.
Seriously, you’re either going to get to see the Royals or Blue Jays vs. Correa, Trout, or the Yankees. That’s good stuff.
2. Dodgers vs. Mets
The National League is in luck this year. It looks like they are going to provide two extremely interesting playoff series. First up is the Dodgers vs. the Mets (a rematch of the ’88 NLCS). This Dodgers team will always be of interest. Kershaw and Greinke have been must-watch TV this season, and in a five game series it is going to be hard to beat those two guys (yes, I hear you “playoff Kershaw” people). This is a great situation for MLB. Two big market and two passionate fan bases going at it in a five-game series.
The Mets are the real surprise of this match-up. Before this season, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, picked the Nationals to win the NL East. They were coming off of a 96 win season and in the off season they picked up super free agent Max Scherzer. What could possibly go wrong?
On July 30 the Mets were 52-50 and 3 games back of first place. Since then they’ve had a 33-17 record (the Nats have gone 24-28 over the same period of time). They also picked up Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline who gave some much needed life to a struggling offense. Over the second half of the season, Cespedes has hit .284/.335/.621. The Mets also got David Wright back from an early season injury. Couple a surging offense with an intimidating starting rotation and you’ve really got something.
Seriously though, the pitching match-ups are what should have you salivating over this matchup. Matt Harvey vs. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke vs. Jacob deGrom, and Bartolo Colon playing post season baseball! Sign me up.
Speaking of Colon, I’ll take any reason I have to watch this again:
1. Cardinals vs. Cubs or Pirates
Regardless of the match-up this is going to be good. This is going to be really good. What makes a great postseason series? A series between teams that don’t really like each other. Regardless of who wins the Wild Card game you’re guaranteed to have some bad blood in this series.
There have been many critics of the current playoff format. In particular, fans of teams in the NL Central aren’t thrilled that playoff teams with better records than divisional winners will play in the Wild Card game. But that’s the system we currently have in place. It guarantees us that we are going to have two teams from the NL Central square off in the divisional series.
Yes, the Cardinals and Pirates would bring a certain amount of drama simply because they compete in the same division. However, the reason this match-up is number one is because of the other series we could possibly be looking at.
That option is even better. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but the Cardinals and Cubs really don’t like each other. However, those issues became more pronounced during their series a week ago. As Mark Townsend wrote, “The Cubs walked away with an 8-3 victory, cutting their deficit in the NL Central to six games. They also walked away with a chip on their shoulder following a series of hit batters, which included star first baseman Anthony Rizzo getting plunked twice.”
The second time Rizzo was thrown at appeared to be in response to Matt Holliday getting hit in the helmet by Dan Haren:
All of this led prompted new Cubs manager Joe Maddon to say in response, “We don’t start stuff, but we will end stuff.” That’s must-see TV. Sign me up right now. Give me five games of that. I’m excited just thinking about what this series could be. John Lester pitching in the playoffs again. All of the Cubs’ young stars on the big stage. The Cardinals working their postseason magic again. Intra-division rivals!
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