MLB "Turning Two" Predictions: Division Series

The Wild Card round is in the books and we’re onto the Divisional Series’.

NLDS

(3) Cardinals vs. (2) Braves

With one game already completed in this series, the Cardinals bested the Braves in an impressive come-from-behind victory in Atlanta. In a battle between two vets on the mound, the St. Louis bats were active against Atlanta’s pitching.

The Braves opened up the series with a run in the bottom of the 1st with Josh Donaldson driving it in on a fielder’s choice. Dallas Kuechel was pitching great for Atlanta, only surrendering 1 run through his 4.2 IP. Once Kuechel was removed, the Cards were able to manufacture a run on the Harrison Bader crossed the plate on Dexter Fowler’s RBI groundout. The game was tied at 1 after 5.

After both starters had been removed, the game’s scoring started to accelerate. Dansby Swanson drove in a pair of runs on an RBI single in the 6th, giving the Braves the 3-1 lead. It seemed as though the Braves were in control, and they were up until the 8th inning.

Luke Jackson entered the game in the 8th inning in relief for Atlanta and faced Paul Goldschmidt as the first batter of the inning. Goldschmidt drove a soaring fly ball down the left field line right of the foul pole for a nuke of a home run. Goldy’s 446-foot solo homer cut the Braves lead to just 1 run. That same inning, Matt Carpenter’s bloop single to left field scores a run to tie the game. Kolton Wong was thrown out at the plate that same play trying to give St. Louis the lead.

When the 9th inning rolled in, Kolton Wong and Marcell Ozuna both lines 2-run doubles to give the Cardinals a 7-3 lead. Just when you thought the game was in the books, Ronald Acuna stepped to the dish and delivered a massive 2-run homer to left-center field. A couple batters later, Freddie Freeman delivered a solo homer to bring the Braves within 1 run. Unfortunately for them, Carlos Martinez closed the door and the Braves fell just short of the comeback. St. Louis took game 1, 7-6.

Game 2 will take place tonight and we will see Cy Young candidate Jack Flaherty pitch for the Cardinals. It will be a tough contest for the Braves as the St. Louis right-hander was the best pitcher in the majors the second half of the season. Flaherty’s stat line featured a 0.91 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, .189 opposing wOBA, and 124 K’s over 99.1 IP.

As for the Cardinals, they will face Mike Foltynewicz. After Folty’s abysmal first half of the year, he was able to catch his groove after a minor league stint, throwing a 2.65 ERA the 2nd half of the season. I see the Cardinals taking game 2 and making it difficult for the Braves to come down from 0-2. The Cardinals have magic and taking game 1 in ATL is a massive step in the right direction.

The Braves pitching is not strong enough for them to get past the Cardinals. Their lineup will have to bail the pitching staff out of situations, similar to what we saw in game 1.

My prediction: Cardinals win series 3-1

(4) Washington Nationals vs. (1) Los Angeles Dodgers

A duel between pitching staffs. Sure, both lineups are some of the best in the league, but both rotations feature some of the best the game has to offer. Game 1 was a slaughter in favor of the Dodgers.

The Nationals looked awful in Thursday night’s game 1. Sure, Walker Buehler pitched a fantastic game, but it was odd to see the Nationals lineup get silenced almost completely. Walker Buehler pitched 6 shutout innings striking out 8 and allowing just 1 hit. In fact, Trae Turner and Juan Soto each went 1-4, both possessing the only hits for Washington on the evening.

Patrick Corbin got the game 1 nod for the Nationals and did not disappoint. Granted, he had no run support, he pitched 6 innings striking out 9 while giving up just 1 run. When Corbin got pulled was when the Dodgers were able to capitalize.

The Dodgers opened up their scoring with a Max Muncy bases-loaded walk in the first inning. After Corbin escaped the bases-loaded jam, the Dodgers did not plate another run until the 5th inning. Max Muncy again stepped up to the plate and drove a grounder past Howie Kendrick to score Cody Bellinger on the error. Adam Eaton threw out Chris Taylor at the plate trying to extend the lead.

In the 7th, Max Muncy yet again padded the Dodgers lead with a line-drive single to right field scoring 2 more. After 7, the score was 4-0. In the 8th, the Dodgers were able to add some unneeded insurance with a pair of home runs off the bats of rookie Gavin Lux and Joc Pederson.

Game 2 will feature a phenomenal pitching matchup between Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw. Assuming it will be a low scoring game, I think the Dodgers lineup is more talented and deeper. I predict that it will earn them their 2nd consecutive win and a 2-0 series lead. I actually think the Dodgers will sweep the Nationals in the series and face the Cardinals in the NLCS.

The Dodger’s team depth in all aspects is the model of what all teams aspire to build. The Nationals lineup, still being impressive, will have a tough time facing the Dodgers pitching staff and bullpen. The Washington rotation will not be able to get through the Dodgers lineup smoothly and it will ultimately cost them a spot in the NLCS.

My prediction: Dodgers win series 3-0

ALDS

(3) Minnesota Twins vs. (2) New York Yankees

This is a series I think many people are underestimating. The New York Yankees finished the season an improbable 103-59. With all the injuries, the Yanks prevailed and were one of the best teams in baseball this season. Guys stepped up, and Brian Cashman was busy acquiring players to fill in holes. Gio Urshela, D.J. LeMahieu, and Luke Voit excelled in their roles, helping the Yanks secure their 1st AL East title since 2012.

For the Twins, they destroyed baseballs all season long. With 307 team homers, the Twins broke the MLB regular season home run record. 5 players on the team hit 30+ homers, including Nelson Cruz who hit 41. The ageless 39-year-old hit had an OPS of 1.016 on the year and had a slashline of .311/.392/.639. His .639 SLG% ranked 4th in baseball. If Cruz can carry his outstanding production into the ALDS, the Twins have a good shot of winning the series.

Both rotations have a lot of question marks. The Yankees needed starting pitching for a majority of the season. With Domingo German being placed on administrative leave, it leaves a hole that the Yankees needed to fill. Luckily for them, Luis Severino returned in late September just in time for the playoffs. Paxton, Tanaka, and Severino will start games 1, 2 and 3 respectively.

Jose Berrios will start game 1 today for the Twins, and they are yet to announce their starting pitchers for games 2 and 3. Their starting pitching was phenomenal before the all-star break. They contributed to much of the teams’ success, and it looked like nothing could stop them with how talented their lineup was as well. With the best record in the majors as multiple points this season, the Twins’ starting pitching lacked consistency in the 2nd half causing the Indians to close in on the Twins in the divisional race. The Twins would prevail and continue to have SP problems as they travel to the Bronx.

The Yankee bats are going to be too much for the Twins pitching to handle. The Twins lineup will also create pitching problems for the Yankees. Both rotations are going to need to throw well if they want to win. Both of these lineups rank top-tier in the league, so productive pitching will win this series.

I see the Yankees taking game 1, but not before the Twins open up the game with the lead. I think New York’s bullpen will be too much for Minnesota’s lineup. The Yankees will get the lead late in the game and take the first game. However, I think the Twins take game 2, and both teams will trade games there on out. When it comes down to it, I think the series will reach 5 games and the Yanks will close it out at home in game 5. With what should be a high scoring series, I think this Yankees lineup outperforms the Minnesota lineup. The Yanks bullpen is better than the Twins, so I see the Yankees closing out more games with ease.

My prediction: Yankees win series 3-2

(4) Tampa Bay Rays vs. (1) Houston Astros

To put it lightly, the Houston Astros are terrifying. As the wizards of pitching, they also feature perhaps the best lineup in baseball to go along with their ridiculous rotation. The AL CY Young award is between two Astros pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. What a tough decision. I want to say Verlander has been the better pitcher, but Cole is absolutely dominant. Let’s compare stats.

Cole had a 2.50 ERA on the season compared to Verlander’s 2.62. Cole had 326 K’s compared to Verlander’s 300. Verlander had a 0.81 WHIP compared to Cole’s 0.89. Cole allowed 7 less homers but started 1 less game than Verlander. It’s a toss-up, and in my opinion, there is no wrong answer.

Yordan Alvarez finished this rookie season of his with absurd numbers. The likely AL ROTY award winner finished this season with a .313 average, 27 homers and 107 RBI’s, a 1.067 OPS, and a wOBA of .432. His wOBA ranked 3rd in the majors behind Christian Yelich and Mike Trout. His numbers are among the league’s best, and I’m sure he’ll make plenty of noise this postseason. 

Let’s not forget they also have potential AL MVP Alex Bregman in this lineup as well. Bregman hit .296 on the season with 41 homers and 112 RBI’s. His OPS was among the league’s best at 1.015, and his wOBA ranked 4th in the league at .418, one spot below Alvarez. 

The Rays pitching staff will play a crucial role in this series. The Rays lineup put up 5 runs in the wild card game, but their pitching looked great. Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, and Blake Snell will all need to pitch past this Astros lineup. As there are all strikeout pitchers, getting the ball past the hitters will present a great opportunity for the Rays lineup. The Rays pitching is certainly good enough to keep up with Houston’s big 3 of Cole, Verlander, and Greinke. This series will be a pitching duel, bringing pressure upon each lineup to perform.

I think the Rays will play a lot better than people expect. The Astros rotation will ultimately win them the series, but I think Tampa closes out a game or two with a surprising win.

My prediction: Astros win the series 3-1

Retired Little League baseball utility player.

Twitter: @walexbelsh