On Monday morning, I wrote about how the first round of the MLB Playoffs was going exactly as expected, with all four games that day set to end in elimination for the underdogs. However, as is often the case when one makes a seemingly safe prediction about sports, the opposite happened and Monday became pure baseball chaos.
Up was down, down was up. The Nationals took the Dodgers’ bullpen to task and the Rays tore up two top-tier pitchers, Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander, from what is regularly touted as the best rotation in baseball. And once again, the Cardinals showed that just because you’re favored doesn’t mean you can’t use some good old-fashioned luck to win.
Now, with everyone but the Yankees down to what is potentially their last game this season, the real weirdness can start. If you’re a baseball purist, you are rooting for the best teams to win, and that’s fair. It would be fun to watch Astros vs. Yankees, and Braves vs. Dodgers. Those are, on paper, the best teams left.
But if the playoffs were all about who is the “best,” MLB would just hand the trophy to the best record of the regular season. They do not. And I think a lot of people would prefer to root for the underdog if one of their teams aren’t involved.
Or they root for chaos.
I was wondering why that is. I’ve noticed that whenever I ask someone why they love baseball, they usually mention the unpredictability of the game. Pitchers getting hits, position players pitching — these are the kinds of things many people enjoy the most, the zest that shakes up the monotony of a 162-game season.
And nothing epitomizes that unpredictability quite like the opportunity to eliminate a “better” team in the first round. There’s a good chance we’ll see at least one favorite go down over the next two days. But which ones?
Houston vs. Tampa Bay
I can’t imagine the Rays replicating their success over the last two games against Gerrit Cole, who struck them out 15 times on Saturday in just under eight innings of work. That said, Tyler Glasnow wasn’t exactly bad in the first game of the series. He allowed only two runs in the fifth before being pulled. If he can hold the line and get a little bit farther into the game, the Rays will have the reigning AL Cy Young award winner available in relief, as Blake Snell was last night. Still, my money is on Houston to close out.
Atlanta vs. St. Louis
All of the games in this series have been fairly close. With Game 5 set to feature Mike Foltynewicz vs. Jack Flaherty, we’ll likely see a game similar to the first game of the series, in which both starting pitchers did quite well, but the bullpen ...
Really, “but the bullpen” could be the tagline of this entire playoff season, but I digress. Neither team has a particularly inspiring closer, so the key to this matchup will be chasing the opposing starting pitcher out of the game early and lighting up the pen. My prediction is based on nothing but a history of the Cardinals finding a way in the playoffs, also known as “Cardinals Devil Magic” on the internet.
Los Angeles vs. Washington
The Nationals have been playing this entire series like an elimination game, so Game 5 shouldn’t be much different. Taking the mound for them is Stephen Strasburg, who has been phenomenal in this series so far, giving up one run in nine innings of work. However, he has pitched a fair bit more than a normal starting pitcher would have at this point, so that could be an issue.
He’ll face Walker Buehler, who pitched six innings of one-hit ball in Game 1. So this game is likely going to be another pitching duel, with both teams trying to get the other team to break the emergency glass early and make a move they might come to regret.
As an admittedly biased Giants fan, I want the Nationals to win. As an impartial baseball observer, it’s tough, because both teams have pretty painful playoff history. The Dodgers brag about making it to the World Series and winning the division every year, yet they can’t bring home the trophy. Meanwhile, the Nationals continue to be a competitive team in the East, but can’t get out of the first round. I’d like to see them win this time just to be able to say that they have, so I’m going to say Nationals. But your mileage may vary on that rationale.
Let the elimination games begin.