After two fantastic Wild Card Games, League Division Series play begins this afternoon in the MLB Postseason. The American League is up first, with a pair of series openers in Arlington and Cleveland. National League Division Series matchups will start tomorrow, so stay tuned for a preview of those matchups as well.
Toronto Blue Jays (89-73 AL Wild Card Game winner) vs. Texas Rangers (95-67, AL West champion)
(Game 1: Thursday, 4:38 pm ET, TBS)
This series, a rematch of last year’s contentious ALDS matchup won in five games by Toronto, matches two strong lineups against each other. The Rangers were fourth in the AL in runs, and the Blue Jays fifth, and both teams are also among the top five in the AL in home runs. Texas is led by Adrian Beltre (.300 BA, 32 HR, 104 RBI) and midseason acquisition Carlos Beltran (.295 BA, 29 HR, 93 RBI), two of the five players with 81 or more RBI.
Toronto counters with Wild Card game hero Edwin Encarnacion (.263 BA, 42 HR, 127 RBI) and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson (.284 BA, 37 HR, 99 RBI). The Rangers do have a better team batting average at .262, compared to .248 for the Blue Jays.
Overall team ERA favors Toronto (3.78) over Texas (4.37), but both sides have some solid pitching in the rotation, with Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.32 ERA) leading Texas in Game 1, and Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA) getting the Game 1 nod for Toronto over Cy Young contender Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00 ERA). The experience factor favors Texas pitching, and neither bullpen has a great ERA, with Toronto at 4.11 and Texas at 4.40.
There are definitely some similarities between these two teams, and last year’s series went the distance, including a classic Game 5 at the SkyDome. This time around, with Toronto on an emotional high after their Wild Card Game win, I think Texas, with the slightly better team, will get down to business and get revenge on the Blue Jays.
Prediction: The Rangers will win the series, 3-1.
Boston Red Sox (93-69, AL East champion) vs. Cleveland Indians (94-67, AL Central champion)
(Game 1: Thursday, 8:08 pm ET, TBS)
These two franchises met four times in the postseason between 1995-2007. After the Red Sox won the season series, 4-2, this series matches two “even teams,” but two teams who aren’t necessarily even in every facet of the game. Boston has a great offense, with good pitching sufficient to support the offense. Cleveland has a strong pitching staff, with the sufficient offense to support that.
The Red Sox offense leads the AL in runs, hits, and batting average, and features five players with 87 or more RBI, and three with 111 or more in David Ortiz (.315 BA, 38 HR, 127 RBI), Mookie Betts (.318 BA, 31 HR, 113 RBI), and Hanley Ramirez (.286 BA, 30 HR, 111 RBI). The Sox have five starters hitting at .290 or better (well within the categorical trend of teams that normally do well in the playoffs), and their .282 team batting average is 20 points higher than the Indians (.262).
On the mound, the Red Sox team ERA is 4.00, but 3.50 since the All-Star Break. Starter Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15 ERA) has had a breakout year, while David Price (17-9, 3.99 ERA) pitched very well down the stretch (8-2, 3.24 since July 28), and the bullpen (3.56 ERA) is anchored by one of the game’s best closers in Craig Kimbrel (31/33 saves, 3.40 ERA).
The Indians pitching staff is led by Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA), the 2014 AL Cy Young winner who is one of the favorites for that award this season. A very strong bullpen is led by closer Cody Allen (32/35 saves, 2.51 ERA), and setup men Dan Otero (5-1, 1.53 ERA), Bryan Shaw (25 holds, 3.24 ERA), and Andrew Miller (for the season with NYY/CLE combined: 12 saves, 25 holds, 1.45 ERA). This relief corps collectively has a very good 3.45 ERA, the best among AL playoff teams.
The Indians offense is nothing historic, but is solid, led by former Red Sox 1B Mike Napoli (.239 BA, 34 HR, 101 RBI). Two great young players, Francisco Lindor (.301 BA, 15 HR, 78 RBI) and Jose Ramirez (.312 BA, 11 HR, 76 RBI), hit ahead of and set the stage for Napoli.
The Boston offense against the Cleveland pitching and the Cleveland offense against the Boston pitching is each an even matchup, making this an even series. More often than not in these kinds of series, the team with the better pitching staff is the one that prevails. Add to that Cleveland’s home-field advantage, plus their better win percentage in one-run games (.571 for Cleveland, .455 for Boston), and the Indians will narrowly find a way to win the series.
Prediction: The Indians will win the series, 3-2.