All eyes will be on the Dodgers this October. And the Yankees. And the Braves. And every other team.
The postseason picture is gradually clearing up. The two biggest questions remaining involve the second NL wild-card spot and which two teams among the Rays, A's and Indians will claim the two AL wild-cards. Still, we can feel confident about at least six of the teams that will play into October. With that in mind, our staff weighs in on the postseason storylines they're already looking forward to.
I want to see if any team can get through Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The Astros are 43-16 when they give them the ball, including 24-6 at home. They have pitched back-to-back games 24 times and been beaten consecutively only twice. Oh, and their No. 3 starter is Zack Greinke. The two top stories of this postseason will be home runs–forget small ball; don't expect postseason baseball to be won and lost any differently than the brand we've seen all year–and whether Verlander and Cole go all Johnson/Schilling on the baseball world.
How are the Dodgers going to manage their bullpen? There are a lot of choices—and questions—here. What will Kenta Maeda's role look like? Will there be room here for Dustin May? Tony Gonsolin? How confident is Dave Roberts in Kenley Jansen after this shaky season? Can Joe Kelly continue his run of success from the last few months? And will there be anything to make them rue their decision not to pursue a top-line reliever at the deadline? This 'pen has ultimately been fine, but it certainly hasn't been a particular source of strength. For a team looking to make a deep run in relief-heavy October, there's a lot to sort out.
In the Twins and Yankees, the 2019 playoffs will see the two teams that have hit more home runs than any other club in MLB history. Some (or a lot) of that is the juiced ball, and some of that is that both Minnesota and New York consciously built lineups that were engineered to hit balls very hard and very far. That worked wonders in the regular season, but it’ll be interesting to see how the homer-happy offenses fare when they leave the Orioles and Royals behind and have to face aces, both in rotations and bullpens, on a consistent nightly basis.
At the very least, I expect this narrative to be one flogged constantly by broadcasters across all series, as 2019 will almost certainly go down as the Year of the Home Run—especially if it ends up being the Twins or Yankees who win it all.
The Nationals seem like a good bet to play in the NL wild-card game. They may even host it, with Max Scherzer taking the mound in D.C. against an opposing pitcher who won't be quite as decorated. But can Washington actually capitalize on its built-in advantage? The Nationals can't ever seem to avoid disappointment in October. Maybe it will be this team, of all the talented ones they've had this decade, to finally break through to the NLCS.
I'm ready for Clayton Kershaw to completely silence the narrative that he can't pitch in the playoffs. Sometimes players get postseason reputations far too early in their careers and they stick with them (Hello, Big Game James Shields). Kershaw is going to dominate this October, even if the Dodgers don't win it all.
Can the Braves win a playoff round for the first time since 2001? Atlanta has previously been hailed as a pillar of stability throughout Major League Baseball, though that reputation doesn't quite align with the Braves' record in the last two decades. Atlanta tallied four straight losing seasons before 2018, and they approach the 2019 playoffs with eight consecutive losses in the NLDS or wild-card game. Bobby Cox's tenure ended with an NLDS loss in 2010, and Freddy Gonzalez never advanced past the first round in six seasons with Atlanta. Brian Snitker's 2019 squad is perhaps the best Braves team in 15 years; advancing to the NLCS will represent true progress to close an underwhelming decade.