Playing Pepper: 2018 MLB League Championship Series

Playing Pepper is back for the 2018 MLB Postseason! This week, the esteemed BtB staff takes on the 2018 ALCS and NLCS Series.

What did you get right in the Divisional Series?

Khurram Kalim (@khurramala): Three out of four winners, but more importantly, that the ALDS against the Indians was the start of Alex Bregman‘s star turn. Bregman was right; the Astros should be primetime. But they’re not, and they weren’t routinely televised nationally, so his wonderful regular season did go a bit underappreciated. Even though the Astros and Indians pulled a few daytime slots in the first round, Bregman’s performance didn’t go unnoticed. 2 HR, 4 RBI, a plus-2.000 OPS. The kid is the real deal, and I’m glad we get to see him more, this time under the lights where he and his team belong.

Jonathan Powell (@jonathannashhh): At least I got Dodgers in 4 right. Most of the rest was the right team and only a game off. That is, except for one.

Brent Sirvio (@BSirvioBtB): …[N]othing is predictable.” …

Dan Federico (@DanJFederico): Let’s just say I’m not a modern-day Nostradamus…

What’d you screw up?

@khurramala: I think like many of us (including three out of the four of us here, in this very section), it’s the Yankees pick, which I made so confidently that I felt personally humiliated after that Game 3 disaster.

@jonathannashhh: The one. I thought maybe the Indians would roar back with a vengeance, that their few additional pieces might actually give them a leg up. But they got barnstormed. The Astros look dominant and I have no excuse for not seeing it, outside of hoping to see an upset for the sake of #OctoberBaseball. No dice. Whiff accepted.

@BSirvioBtB: …like the Yankees getting housed in Game 3, only to come tantalizingly close to evening the series a night later. What a bizarro pair of games to occur within 24 hours.

@DanJFederico: I think the Yankees getting embarrassed in front of their raucous home crowd was the biggest screw up on my end. When the series went back to the Bronx tied 1-1, the belief was the Red Sox would be lucky to get back to Boston for Game 5. But they proved they weren’t a 108-win team for no reason.

What plot twist should we be looking for in the CS?

@khurramala: What if Craig Kimbrel uncorks a wild high-heater that beans, I don’t know, Mark Carlson, and Angel Hernandez happens to be next on the call sheet?

@jonathannashhh: It’s strange to say, but outside of the Brewers moving past the Dodgers’ epic pitch-and mash lineup, the rest could be chalked up to reasonable expectation. The gang’s all here. The former World Series Champions. The former World Series contenders. One of two of the biggest markets in baseball, who beat the other biggest market in baseball. And then the Brewers, a figurative wild-card. A team with half the payroll, equal the talent and a serious hot streak to match its heart.

@BSirvioBtB: As good as the Red Sox looked in the DS, I think the Astros may reveal them to have overachieved to get here. It won’t surprise me if there’s a hangover effect for the Sox after taking down their ancient rivals. Boston treats the Divisional Series as its World Series and underwhelms against Houston.

@DanJFederico: Will the Brewers continue to play out of their minds? The playoff-tested, veteran-laden Dodgers roster will be extremely tough to get by, but it seems like Milwaukee has everything clicking at the perfect time.

Who ya got: Red Sox v. Astros

@khurramala: Hiding in the costume of a merely phenomenal team is a historically remarkable team known as the Houston Astros. In game 3 of their ALDS tilt with Cleveland, Francisco Lindor hit a 446-foot shot that put Cleveland up a run and made you think that maybe, just maybe, the Davids had a pebble left to fling (these Davids by the way, won 287 games, three divisions, and one pennant in the last three years). Three innings later, Cleveland was down eight runs and packing boxes. This Astros team is a complete, purpose-driven squad that is the favorite to win the title of the remaining four. Thing is, they were the favorites one round and four more teams ago, too.

I just got proven wrong emphatically by the Red Sox. They’d be World Series favorites if the Astros were out. It’s 2018, we’re smack in the middle of the modern home run era, and they just played a game where they scored 16 runs, but only hit one long ball. For their 15th and 16th runs. In the ninth inning. At homer-friendly Yankee Stadium.

I get it: Boston is great. But I genuinely think that if they can even get this series back to Boston, I’ll be impressed. And if they win? Then they’re that good right now, they’re that hot. I just tip my hat and call them my daddy. Astros in 5.

@jonathannashhh: I can’t think of two teams more evenly matched this season. The power, the pitching, the dynamism. Both sides have put up a significant number of runs in their first series and held opponents to few, and they seem to share similar momentum and a knack for winning on basic differential. I can’t say I would be surprised either way, but I think the Astros pitching will prevail, despite Boston’s proven ability to hang double digits on the box score, even during the playoffs. Astros in 7.

@BSirvioBtB: Agree with Powell: this is Hogan versus Andre the Giant. Bret Hart versus Shawn Michaels. MLB couldn’t ask for two better-matched teams than the Red Sox and Astros. But I can’t help the notion that the Red Sox expended more energy and emotion in taking down the Yankees. I’m willing to be wrong on the end result, but I fully expect a thrilling ALCS with Houston retaining the pennant. Astros in 6.

@DanJFederico: This series will be something else. Both the Red Sox and Astros have two of the best lineups in baseball, with Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts anchoring one end and Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman on the other side. What it comes down to, however, is pitching – and the Astros are head and shoulders above the Red Sox in that regard. Boston will be able to hang with Houston, no doubt, but last year’s World Series champions will once again represent the American League in the Fall Classic. Astros in 6.

Who ya got: Brewers v. Dodgers

@khurramala: Okay, here goes: These two teams are close. This isn’t a “Brewers have a puncher’s chance” backhanded compliment situation; there’s no mismatch here. They’re similarly gifted teams with similar flaws, and if you have the Dodgers whuppin’ on a tomato can, that’s probably because you know more Chavez Ravine surnames.

But no team left is less flattered by its record than the Dodgers, who were, by and large, a dazzling offense and a superb pitching staff throughout the year. You are what your record says you are? Maybe. I think their record misrepresents them and hides the best team in the National League in a cheap four-in-the-loss-column-behind-Milwaukee suit.

Offenses struggle in the playoffs. This series feels like four runs or less a game makes you the loser. Dodgers in 6.

@jonathannashhh: There’s nothing like watching your team push this far. There needs to be a word to describe the intense excitement, delight, hope, terror, frustration and all the other feelings that bubble and twitch and mix like a witches brew in October. But regardless, it still makes magic, and that’s the best part. As an unbiased witness to baseball, I think the Dodgers look like relatively easy favorites. Between their incredible pitching staff and litany of offensive talent, they are, on paper, the team to bet on. But as a Brewers fan who’s spent more time watching this season than any other, I can say that’s the one thing this team may have the edge on: magic. They may not have the likes of Kershaw or Ryu or Buehler, but they do have an army of swingmen who can handle their assignments, especially when deployed like chess pieces, and a complementary arsenal of contact, power and speed. I can’t in good conscience say anything but Brewers in 7. #SorryNotSorry

@BSirvioBtB: Let’s be clear about one thing: the fact that the Brewers went from being the one-seed in the National League to the presumptive underdog in the NLCS is outright lunacy. This team did not suddenly get shrinkage because the Dodgers beat the Braves.

And the Dodgers are a great team. Like the Brewers, they took a good thing and made it better. Or did they? The pitching isn’t anywhere as dynamic as it was last season, Walker Buehler withered on the hill against the Braves, Rich Hill is missing in action and Kenley Jansen can’t hold the bullpen up by himself. Yes, they have big bats and are a dangerous lineup, but the Brewers have as much punch and are far more willing to work counts and take free passes and played in a far tougher division than the Dodgers. They are battle-tested and ready to roll.

This will be an outstanding series between heavyweights, the team that has been here and the team that wants to stay. No one should be looking down at the Brewers, and no Brewers fan should be looking past a talented, veteran Dodgers club. The Dodgers have stars. The Brewers have the team and a better manager. Nobody has gotten more out of a solitary stolen base in his post-playing career than Dave Roberts. Brewers in 6.

@DanJFederico: The series will have a classic old guard versus new guard, big city versus small city feel. But like I said above, I think the Brewers are currently riding the perfect storm. They’re getting contributions from their stars and their role players, a key component in winning it all. There’s no doubt the Dodgers will be a formidable foe, and they will win three games in the NLCS. But it won’t be enough to stop the Brewers from making the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Brewers in 7.

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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