Wednesday, October 7, 2015

2015 MLB ALCS/NLCS Previews

By Rick Morris


NOTE: Playoff picks thus far are 0-2.


Texas vs. Toronto: The Blue Jays have seemed overdue for a playoff appearance ever since “winning the postseason” a few years back (and indeed, they’ve just broken the longest postseason futility streak in baseball) and Texas … well, they were hanging around the upper echelon of the game for a few years before tanking in 2014.  Losing Yu Darvish before this season even got going didn’t bode well, but he was replaced by Cole Hamels and (shockingly!) Yovani Gallardo.  With the return of the offense to peak form, they’re very formidable, albeit not on a level with Toronto, because nobody is right now.  However, they’ve got to feel good about being the main reason that David Price has not been considered a great playoff pitcher: he was a combined 0-3 against them in the ALDS in 2010 and 2011 when the Rangers surmounted Tampa Bay en route to winning pennants.  Both teams have questions toward the back end of their starting rotations and both have bullpens that you could classify as decent, but not revolutionary.  So it’s the top of the rotations and the lineups that should cause any separation, at least on paper.  If you figure that Hamels and Price neutralize each other, the savage slugging of Toronto should prove too much in the end.  Pick: Toronto in 4.


Houston vs. Kansas City: The extreme youth of Houston, as well as the explosive potential of their offensive core, is going to keep this postseason interesting for as long as they’re in it.  How long that will be is questionable by having to burn Dallas Keuchel in the wild card game – already on short rest – thus rendering the possibility of two starts in the next round almost impossible and even two appearances improbable.  That leaves Johnny Cueto as the only legitimate ace in this series – assuming that he can end his recent downturn.  You never want to oversimplify by plotting the arcs of teams on a chart, but the Royals’ success this year is the culmination of a long-term plan that almost looked like it was going to blow up before last year’s World Series run from the wild card spot – that’s why they acquired Cueto in the first place.  They’re all-in.  The Astros are still playing with house money, thought to be a year or two ahead of schedule.  Young teams have gone on wild October runs before, but notwithstanding the fact that they too knocked off the Yankees, these Astros don’t appear as ready as the ’03 Marlins to go on that kind of run.  Of course, at the outset of the NLDS that year, few probably pegged Florida on the “eyeball test.”  Nevertheless, Houston’s lack of dependable starting pitching depth – admittedly, against a team similar in that regard like the Royals – makes it difficult to imagine them being the team to derail Kansas City.  Pick: Kansas City in 4.


New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: These franchises are linked in two separate, large ways.  First, the Mets exist because the Giants and Dodgers vacated the New York area in 1958 and left a vacuum for the National League to fill.  Second, the Dodgers’ big upset in the 1988 NLCS had lasting consequences: it served as a premature end to what was supposed to be a New York dynasty and it resulted in Los Angeles instead becoming the Team of the 1980s as the only one with two world championships.  However, that postseason was the last one to conclude with a victory for LA since then and, of course, the Mets’ streak of futility dates back two years earlier.  In terms of recent history, they are very different.  The Dodgers have made several playoff runs in recent years, some of them deep, although none of them resulting in a World Series appearance.  The Mets, conversely, have been mired in their post-Madoff slump for the past several years and only emerged this year behind the sudden emergence of their new “Generation K.”  Even with “a Cespedes for the rest of us” (thanks, Seinfeld!), New York’s offense is still sub-par by October standards, while LA is super-deep even if you can’t point to any consistent, dominant core of the lineup.  But the early games of the series should tell the tale.  Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke are going to be very hard to beat at Chavez Ravine, but the late innings, just like the back end of the rotation, are somehow still an issue for baseball’s priciest team.  This squad, with its recent history of playoff underachievement, has to be thinking about that, just like the fanbase.  If the Mets, who are really playing with house money, find a way to split at Dodger Stadium, they know that they’ll still have to face the Big Two, but on short rest and with one of those games at home.  One of these teams needs and expects to advance to cement their place in history.  One of them wasn’t even supposed to be here in the first place (thank you, Washington Nationals, for one of the biggest tank jobs in the last 100 years!).  As in 1988, it’ll be the team that you didn’t see coming that advances, with the shoe on the other foot in terms of the franchises: Pick: New York Mets in 4.


Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis: Nothing against Mike Matheny, but Tony La Russa vs. Joe Maddon in this spot would have been really special, wouldn’t it?  Still, Cubs vs. Cardinals, one of the game’s great rivalries, will be super-electric on a playoff stage for the first time ever.  Like the Astros, the young Cubbies are matched up against the league’s #1 seed and more established team from the state of Missouri.  Like the Astros, they’ll suffer for not having their ace available for much in this round.  But unlike the Astros, they have a bit more depth in their starting pitching.  But unlike the Astros, they’ll be facing a team with a bit more also.  CONFUSING!  Chicago does have a little more high-end pop in their lineup, which could keep the series interesting, as could the advantage with the back end of their bullpen.  But all things being equal, you have to like the chalk to prevail and get on another impressive October roll.  Pick: St. Louis in 5.



Toronto over Kansas City in 6

St. Louis over New York Mets in 6


World Series

St. Louis over Toronto in 6

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