Playing Pepper: 2018 MLB Postseason Divisional Series

Playing Pepper is back for the 2018 MLB Postseason! The BtB braintrust takes on the 2018 Divisional Series.

Sum up the 2018 Divisional Series in one sentence.

Khurram Kalim (@khurramala): Half the managers are guys I remember as players, which made me notice that my feet sprouted roots and I’ve seen a thousand storms, or the kind of feeling that comes with confirmation that the time since, say, Dave Roberts stole a base, or Craig Counsell scored the World Series-winning run for the new-ish Marlins, or Aaron Bleepin’ Boone, has also passed in my own life (the rest of my takes are happier, I swear).

Jonathan Powell (@jonathannashhh): Guess who just got back today, them wild-eyed boys that had been away. (The boys are back in town.)

Brent Sirvio (@BSirvioBtB): BREWERS, BREWERS, KEEP TURNIN’ UP THE HEAT

Dan Federico (@DanJFederico): What’s better than postseason baseball?

What’s the most intriguing storyline in the DS?

@khurramala: You might have heard that this is the first playoff matchup between the Yankees and Red Sox since the 2004 ALCS, which is as surprising as it is meaty. Boston-New York often carries an air of oversaturation, but it’s been 14 years since the series that changed everything in the modern incarnation of this rivalry. That one of these teams will end their rival’s season in a week or less stresses me out, which is all I could ask of a best-of-five.

@jonathannashhh: Moneyball or moneybags? OK, so the A’s didn’t have the staying power we thought they would. I’m always a sucker for underdog stories but I won’t argue with a knock-down drag-out between two of the AL East’s most powerful lineups. I also won’t argue with the Brewers getting back-to-back-to-back (Cards-Cubs-Rockies) revenge on Colorado for helping to keep them out of the playoffs last year, especially after they just peeled off 8 straight wins.

@BSirvioBtB: The homer in me says Just how good are these Brewers? And, indeed, I believe this is the strongest club they’ve fielded since 1982. The bigger story, though, is the Astros hurdling last season’s accomplishments and looking to go back-to-back while exceeding the highest expectations of all: their own.

@DanJFederico: There are a bunch of stories that I love. Are the Brewers for real? They sure do seem like it but postseason baseball tends to lean towards teams that have the experience. I can see any four of the American League teams walking away as World Series champions. But there’s no denying that the Yankees/Red Sox ALDS will be something to behold for all baseball fans. This is a rivalry that has been on a downswing in recent years but is starting to heat up at the right time.

What—if anything—is missing from these playoffs?

@khurramala: Mike Trout. I’m concerned this will be my answer every year.

@jonathannashhh: A milk carton labeled “Northside Pride”

@BSirvioBtB: There are great stories throughout the postseason field, not the least of which is that the Cubs left as quickly as they came. Fly the L until Spring Training.

@DanJFederico: I second Khurram. The only thing that could make this postseason better is the best player in the world playing for the championship of the sport.

Who ya got: Indians v. Astros

@khurramala: The 2017 ALCS we never got comes to us belatedly with two teams that are just as good as they were last season, except with reversed roles: this time, the Indians are the excellent team, and the Astros are the historically excellent team.

This might seem lazy, but I do think Houston was the best team in baseball this year, and while that doesn’t automatically translate to postseason success, I think, at least for one round, that’ll prove to be the case. An under-the-radar Cleveland team that still has a strong rotation and a comically productive left side of the infield is a pretty tough out in a postseason thick with tough outs. But Houston’s depth and balance will help them squeeze by. This is the start of Alex Bregman’s star turn. Astros in 4.

@jonathannashhh: Here’s the crazy thing about this matchup: Cleveland bested Houston in almost every traditional offensive category during the regular season… but Houston’s run differential is other-worldly. As crazy as it may sound to some, I just like Cleveland’s offense better (they can crush AND run) and despite the pitching they’ll be facing, I see them squeaking by in a Game 5 upset. Indians in 5.

@BSirvioBtB: Verlander against Kluber. What more could you want in a series-opening matchup? Every matchup in this round is compelling; perhaps the Brewers have the easiest route to advance, and this series could be the most mercurial matchup. Both teams have outstanding starting pitching and great bats. Both are well-managed and both have made deep October runs in recent years.

This Indians team hit in September, but they also had a 2:1 K/BB ratio. They hit 35 home runs, but grounded into 18 double plays. They left eight men on base per game on average. All of that added up to a .500 September record including losses to several beatable teams well out of contention. To claim victory over this Astros team, they’re going to need more than heroics from the hill: They’re going to need to hit for average and cash in every runner possible.

I just don’t know if that’s feasible. Astros in 4.

@DanJFederico: It’s crazy to think that one of these two teams will be out in the first round when they’re both easily World Series contenders. The Astros and Indians are so evenly matched – Houston has Altuve and Correa, the Indians have Lindor and Ramirez. They have dominant starting rotations with strong bullpens. But it’s the overall depth that will have the Astros advancing to the ALCS. Josh Donaldson is the series’ biggest x-factor but the supporting cast of Bregman, Springer, Gurriel and Gonzalez will be too tough to overcome. Astros in 4.

Who ya got: Yankees v. Red Sox

@khurramala: Coin flip. I mean that with no disrespect towards a Red Sox team that won 108 games. It’s a little chic to call this Boston team overrated (and in a way, I did too with my “Astros as the best team this season” take), but seriously: these guys are really good. I don’t think we truly understand how difficult it is to have an MVP candidate in a Trout-ruled American League. The Sox have two of them.

The Yankees, though. This team, for being built in a different way than what we remember, back when they hoovered up talent towards the end of their turn-of-the-century dynasty, still got everything they wanted. Loaded bullpen: check. Legitimate fourth outfielder: check. Defensive substitutes to ice games: check. A strong Greg Bird contingency: check, with a couple open shirt buttons on that one. I flipped the coin; it came up pinstripes. Yankees in 5.

@jonathannashhh: This matchup is like Alien vs Predator: massive power, undeniable bloodshed and at the end of it all, regular people (aka fans) are left wide-eyed, wondering if the human race (aka baseball), can survive taking on that kind of onslaught year in and year out. Truthfully, as a fan of small market teams, it’s hard to root for either. As a fan of baseball, however, it’s hard not to root for both of them. I want this to be a slugfest and the chances are good that it will happen. Despite the insane talent each team has, Boston just looks far too monstrous to walk away the loser. I see New York taken to the ropes at the last moment, so Red Sox in 5. (sorry Danny)

@BSirvioBtB: If you smell cigarette smoke, it’s because Rob Manfred is in full afterglow after the Yankees pummeled the A’s right on out of the Wild Card Game.

Further, if Yankees-Red Sox has taught us anything over the years, it’s that nothing is predictable. In this instance, I think the only thing separating these two clubs is home field advantage.

Red Sox in 5.

@DanJFederico: The Yankees and Red Sox haven’t faced off in the postseason since 2004, which means all is right in the baseball world in 2018. The Red Sox had one of the greatest seasons in recent history, have not-so-arguably the deepest lineup in the game, and even at 75%, Chris Sale is a year-in, year-out Cy Young candidate.

But if anyone can take down the 108-win behemoth, it’s the Yankees. The roster is tailor-made for the Fall Classic, with power and a deep reliever corps leading the charge. If the Bronx Bombers can get Sale, Price and Porcello out of the game early, there will be a rematch of last year’s AL Championship Series. Expect this one to be a classic. Yankees in 5.

Who ya got: Dodgers v. Braves

@khurramala: Dodgers, they of the six-straight division titles, who lost their best player pretty much out the gate, then looked around at the deadline and said, “What if we replace Corey Seager with…Corey Seager, Machado edition?” have that air of a team that just needed to get here. They’ve done the first-162 (163 this year) so many times, it’s understandable that it would get dicey at some point. October has been the Dodgers’ real season for a few years now, especially so after 2017. It’s hard enough to get close; it’s nearly impossible to get close, lose, and get a shot at amending that failure.

The Braves? Simultaneously ahead of time and on time, but I suspect, given their blend of vets and kids, Atlanta isn’t just happy to here. Look across the diamond: in their opponents, Atlanta can see that there’s no value in consolations. They’re good, they got a little rickety towards the finish (still had two separate six-game winning streaks in September, mind you), but know that, although I don’t pick them here, it’s not because the promise of youth is opportunity. The Dodgers are just better right now. Dodgers in 4.

@jonathannashhh: As much as I’d rather see Acuña and Albies rewarded for their incredible play this season and Los Angeles reminded that despite their pocketbooks, just spending isn’t always wise spending, I think the Dodgers just have too much firepower. That lineup can straight up mash and with Ryu back to form and the additions of Buehler and Stripling [Editor’s note: after posting, multiple outlets reported Stripling was left off of Los Angeles’s NLDS roster] on top of last year’s already fantastic pitching staff, there’s just too many arms to battle for a team that, outside of Freeman and Markakis, is just too inexperienced to adjust fast enough. Dodgers in 4.

@BSirvioBtB: The defending National League champions sputtered down the stretch but won the division from the Colorado Rockies Monday. The baby Braves, to the consternation of many, ended up the one NL team allowed to sit and watch the proceedings this week unfold.

It’s a really good team, and they’re not really babies: for every Acuna or Albies, there’s Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman. And Brian Snitker has been a revelation balancing youth and veteran presence and getting the most of a team few saw emerging from the woods this quickly.

Having said that, the Dodgers enter October a house on fire with a .849 team OPS from September. They’re good, deep, talented and despite recent struggles from Kenley Jansen, should be able to keep the Braves at bay in the late innings. The Braves will be back here plenty of times; think of this as their postseason primer. Dodgers in 3.

@DanJFederico: Man, are the Braves one of the best stories in MLB or what? They turned around a youth movement in record time with the perfect blend of young stars (Acuna, Albies) and strong veterans (Freeman, Markakis) and are competing in the postseason year(s) earlier than predicted.

There’s just one issue: the Dodgers have a roster chock-full of players that have a lot of experience in October. The team is largely battle tested and understands the mental strength it takes to get through the grind of playoff baseball. This will be a great learning experience for the Braves, but unfortunately, nothing more. Dodgers in 3. 

Who ya got: Brewers v. Rockies

@khurramala: I’ll yield the deep dive to the fans on staff. I just want this space to say I love the Rockies. I always loved the Rockies, their blend of bizarre colors and hometown mythology, and their sheer volume of cool players has made them one of my favorite teams in baseball for something like the last 12 years. I never thought a Kyle Freeland could exist, but he does, a key cog on a Colorado team that’s not all that similar to what we think a Rockies team is, except for in its cool-player count. These guys can hit at home, but also hit a little at your home, and they can pitch on the road, but also pitch a little at home, too.

I wanted that space to express my love because I think that’s the only space I’ll get during the 2018 postseason. These Brewers are a strong team, and while I’m always cautious about hot teams keeping form, I think, in the NL, any path that includes the Brewers is the toughest path through. As my co-writers have pointed out, like the Rockies, these Brewers are a better rewrite of their own history. Brewers in 4.

@jonathannashhh: I’m a homer but I’m not an idiot. Colorado has some serious talent in the likes of Blackmon, Arenado and Story, and with a backline of guys like Matt Holliday, who could be looking to repeat his season from a decade prior, there’s more than enough offense to be a threat. There are also pitching standouts in Freeland, who was masterful this year, especially playing half his games at Coors, as well as Davis and Ottavino, who could shut the door on any lead with nary a look. But realistically, underappreciated or not, the Brewers starters have gotten it done. Their bullpen has been lights out and features two history makers in Hader and Jeffress. Their offense can play both kinds of ball, is riddled with All-Star caliber players and a potential MVP, offers little reprieve, has two solid hitters per position and is backed by a massive and versatile bench. As much fun as it will be to watch these slug-heavy teams battle it out in two of baseball’s premier hitter’s parks, I don’t think the series will return to Milwaukee once it leaves. Brewers in 4.

@BSirvioBtB: The Brewers finished the season white-hot, taking care of business and playing their best baseball of the season. Further, they seem to have returned to the secret [stadium] sauce that made them so good at the outset of the season: working counts, going with pitches, driving up pitch counts and delivering in the clutch (all things that kept them out of 2017’s proceedings.) When they do their big-bat Royals impression, they can beat any team in baseball. The Rockies have explosive potential, but they just expended a ton of energy fending off the Cubs Tuesday night and used their one top-flight pitcher to stay alive. I think Colorado might steal one, but the Brewers are a better team in every way. Brewers in 4.

@DanJFederico: The Brewers did what great teams need to do before the postseason: finish strong down the stretch. There’s talent all over Bushville’s roster, starting with likely MVP Christian Yelich, to likely runner-up Lorenzo Cain, to Hader and Jeffress in the bullpen, all the way to manager Craig Counsell, who has his fair share of postseason history.

The Rockies tend to fly under the radar – and sometimes lose the benefit of the doubt due to their home field advantage – but there’s no doubt Arenado, Blackmon, Story, LeMahieu and the rest of the gang have one of the more well-rounded batting orders. They just happen to be running into a juggernaut. Brewers in 4. 

Dan Federico, Jonathan Powell and Brent Sirvio are co-founders, and Khurram Kalim is a senior writer, of Bronx to Bushville.

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