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2018 Playoffs: previews & predictions

Eleven wins. That’s all that stands between this year’s eight playoff teams and immortality.

For the Brewers and Dodgers, that number is already down to 10 after both teams scored Game 1 wins last night. No matter what, come Nov. 1 there will be a new World Series champion being enshrined in the history books.

Not much more needs to be said about the Yankees and their ALDS battle with Boston. My fellow writers have done a magnificent job breaking down the matchup almost every way imaginable, and there will undoubtedly be more analysis to come as the series progresses.

But with Yankees fans so singularly focused on our upcoming series, I thought I would take a moment before the playoffs get into full swing to give a broader overview of the eight playoff teams. The Yankees will be facing two of these other six squads, and so it seems appropriate to take some time to survey the rest of the field.

For each series, I’ll give a brief summary of the matchup and finish by predicting the outcome. I’ve had some mild success making predictions so far this year, most notably my April 26 declaration that the Yankees could well break the single season home run record. I know that I should quit while I’m ahead, but just for fun let’s give this a go.

Spoiler: So, yea, I write for Bronx Pinstripes and clearly that makes me a massive homer (I predicted the Yankees would win the division, despite misgivings). If you’re only reading this for my final verdict there are no surprises: I see the 2018 Yankees lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy before October is over.

*Note: All rankings in subsequent sections represent MLB team ranks*

ALDS: 1 Boston Red Sox v. 4 New York Yankees

Red Sox: 108-54 (1st ALE), 876 R (1), 208 HR (9), 110 wRC+ (T-3), 3.76 ERA (8), 9.61 K/9 (3), 3.82 FIP (T-5);
Yankees: 100-62 (2nd ALE, 1st WC), 851 R (2), 267 HR (1), 111 wRC+ (T-1), 3.78 ERA (10), 1o.10 K/9 (2), 3.63 FIP (3)

The story of this series will be the battle of the two best offenses in the league slugging it out against shaky pitching staffs. Both teams have had no issue putting runs on the board, finishing miles ahead of the field in runs scored (Indians finished 3rd with just 818 runs). But for as good as their respective offenses are, both teams have significant question marks in their starting rotations.

Perhaps the most significant variable in determining the outcome of this series will be Chris Sale. After battling shoulder injuries throughout the last couple months of the season, Sale returned in September with an alarming drop in his velocity. Just check out this graphic of his average fastball velocity over his final few starts.

I mean wow. His average fastball velocity was sitting at a career high average of 98.17 MPH before he first hit the shelf. In his final start of the year, he averaged just 90.21 MPH on the four-seamer. That’s a full 8 MPH drop in velocity!

Everyone knows the dominant force Chris Sale can be on the mound when he’s on his game. But that velocity decline points to a significant issue for Sale and the Red Sox, given that he’s arguably their only sure thing on the mound. Given that he’s their Game 1 starter and likely their potential Game 5 pick as well, Sale’s health might be the x-factor in this series.

However, the Yankees’ historical dominance over David Price will also be relevant. On top of his matchup problems with the many right-handed sluggers in the Bombers lineup, Price has been a notorious playoff choker in his few postseason appearances. His 5.03 postseason ERA comes with a fairly large sample size of 73.1 IP. Boston’s two premier starters are no sure thing against the Yankees.

I could go on about this matchup, the history of these two teams, key factors in the series, but at the end of the day this series will be decided by pitching. Though neither team has a dynamite staff, the Yankees have a far stronger bullpen and fewer obvious question marks in their rotation.

Shocker: I’ll take the Yankees over the Sox in the ALDS.

Prediction: NYY wins series 3-1

*For all future series, I will keep it short with an offensive/pitching advantage, key to the series, player to watch, and prediction*

ALDS: 2 Houston Astros v. 3 Cleveland Indians

Astros: 103-59 (1st ALW), 797 R (6), 205 HR (T-10), 110 wRC+ (T-3), 3.11 ERA (1), 10.44 K/9 (1), 3.23 FIP (1)
Indians: 91-71 (1st ALC), 818 R (3), 216 HR (6), 105 wRC+ (T-6), 3.77 ERA (9), 9.54 K/9 (T-4), 3.79 FIP (4)

Better offense: Astros

Better pitching: Astros

Key to the series: Can Cleveland’s strong staff match up aginst the Astros elite starting rotation?

Player(s) to watch: Dynamic duo Jose Ramirez (8.1 WAR) and Francisco Lindor (7.6 WAR) of the Indians

Prediction: HOU wins series 3-1

NLDS: 1 Milwaukee Brewers v. 4 Colorado Rockies (MIL leads 1-0)

Brewers: 96-67 (1st NLC), 754 R (12), 218 HR (4), 99 wRC+ (13), 3.73 ERA (T-4), 8.80 K/9 (11), 4.01 FIP (13)
Rockies: 91-72 (2nd NLW, 2nd WC), 780 R (7), 210 HR (8), 87 wRC+ (25), 4.33 ERA (20), 8.73 K/9 (13), 4.06 FIP (16)

Better offense: Brewers

Better pitching: Brewers

Key to the series: Will the Rockies offense step up to bail out their subpar pitching staff?

Player to watch: NL MVP favorite Christian Yelich (7.6 WAR)

Prediction: MIL wins series 3-1

NLDS: 2 Los Angeles Dodgers v. 3 Atlanta Braves (LAD leads 1-0)

Dodgers: 92-71 (1st NLW), 804 R (5), 235 HR (2), 111 wRC+ (T-1), 3.40 ERA (2), 9.54 K/9 (T-4), 3.60 FIP (2)
Braves: 90-72 (1st NLE), 759 R (T-10), 175 HR (19), 97 wRC+ (15), 3.75 ERA (T-6), 8.79 K/9 (12), 3.99 FIP (12)

Better offense: Dodgers

Better pitching: Dodgers

Key to the series: Can the Braves mediocre offense put up runs against the Dodgers starting pitchers?

Player(s) to watch: Atlanta offensive lynchpins Ronald Acuna Jr. (143 wRC+) and Freddie Freeman (137 wRC+)

Prediction: LAD wins series 3-0

ALCS: 2 Houston Astros v. 4 New York Yankees

Better offense: Yankees

Better pitching: Astros

Key to the series: Can the Yankees win on the road and overcome the home field advantage that proved decisive last year?

Player(s) to watch: Last year’s ALCS heroes SP Justin Verlander (0.56 ALCS ERA) and RP Lance McCullers Jr. (0.90 ALCS ERA)

Prediction: NYY wins series 4-3

ALCS: 1 Milwaukee Brewers v. 2 Los Angeles Dodgers

Better offense: Dodgers

Better pitching: Dodgers

Key to the series: Can the Brewers keep games close to maximize their significant bullpen advantage and win tight contests?

Player to watch: Clayton Kershaw, whose playoff performance (4.35 postseason ERA) is the only stain on his Hall of Fame legacy

Prediction: LAD wins series 4-2

World Series: New York Yankees v. Los Angeles Dodgers

Better offense: Yankees

Better pitching: Dodgers

Key to the series: Can the Baby Bombers rise to the occasion on the biggest stage against the experience defending NL champs?

Player(s) to watch: Neil Walker, Brett Gardner, and the entire Yankees bench, who will be crucial on the road due to “NL strategy”

Prediction: NYY wins series 4-2

Hopefully, this preview helps give you a better look at some teams you may not have been following closely throughout the year. I see the Red Sox, Astros, and Dodgers as by far the best other teams in the league and the most likely opponents for our Yanks.

I keep pushing my luck with predictions, and inevitably I’ll get most or all of these matchups wrong when it’s all said and done. But frankly, I don’t care as long as my final prediction is correct and the 2018 Yankees are crowned champions of the world.