Good Sports: October Magic

Ah, autumn. Crisp leaves begin to descend towards death, apple cider pops up at every family market, and baseball winds its way down for the season. By winds down, I also mean ramps up. One of the most exciting things about October, whether you’re an avid fan of the game or not, is that baseball gets ridiculously fierce. The 2015 season closed Sunday afternoon, and with it brings everyone’s prediction for who will be crowned champions.

Now, it’s an odd numbered year, so the San Francisco Giants can’t work their voodoo on the crowds. But that doesn’t mean Cardinal devil magic isn’t in the air. We’ve got a couple of returning favorites in the Houston Astros, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs (out since 2005, 2006 and 2008 respectively) and the Toronto Blue Jays (longest drought in North American sports, out since 1992). We have perennial clubs vying for an escape from the wild-card game – Pittsburgh Pirates (who thought they would be perennial postseason members five years ago?) and New York Yankees (missed the postseason a couple times recently, but have been in some 70% in my lifetime). The best teams this year were flyover teams – Kansas City Royals and the Cardinals. Injuries and personal issues have wrought their damage on these teams, but only one can be victorious. Which will it be?

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AL Wild Card Game: Houston Astros at New York Yankees – Tuesday, October 6th

Houston rolled into the postseason after losing several games (many to division rival Texas who ultimately got that prize) which forced them to barely escape the red-hot Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Having Mike Trout in the Big Apple might have been a fun sight to behold, but Dallas Keuchel more than makes up for hit. The Cy Young candidate will be up against Masahiro Tanaka, who hasn’t been as golden of late. I imagine this game will be a pitchers’ duel, though Alex Rodriguez has more than proven himself a comeback king. Although Carlos Correa is on fire right now, I think the youngsters will get more than they bargained for and will end up on the wrong side of history to the veterans because of their slip and slide in the second half.

My guess: New York Yankees

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NL Wild Card Game: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates – Wednesday, October 7th

The Pirates have seen themselves in the wild card game each of the last three years to differing results. A heartbreaking loss to the eventual MVP Madison Bumgarner took them out early in 2014, but in 2013 when that year’s MVP Andrew McCutchen still had dreads, the Bucs were on their way to a long battle with the Cards in the divisional series after beating up on the Cincinnati Reds. This year might be no different, as I don’t see the team making it terribly far. If I’m being honest, the wild card games can flip on a dime and change the entire postseason’s fortunes in an instant. Ask the Atlanta Braves. I don’t think anything that crazy will happen here, but I do think that the youth in the Windy City will fare better than the ones from the Space City.

My guess: Chicago Cubs (but it’ll be close)

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AL Divisional Series 1: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals

The big questions on everyone’s lips are what to make of the pitching for both these teams. Nathan Eovaldi is gone, Sabathia just took himself out, so the Yankees are almost certainly going to rely on the bullpen mavericks of Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. That was what the Royals did last year with their magnificent trio of closers – Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis. Holland has now been forced to get Tommy John surgery, all but ending the next season for him as well. This leaves less of a depth in the back end of games, on top of shaky starters like Yordano Ventura and Johnny Cueto (who was supposed to be the best value at the trade deadline). So will this be a rough outing? Absolutely. Will it be close? I’m counting on it. I still think the Royals were the best team in baseball this season, despite all their quirks and flaws.

My guess: Kansas City Royals in 5.

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AL Divisional Series 2: Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays

Absolutely no one had these teams in the playoffs after week one. With the news of Yu Darvish having Tommy John surgery, everyone wrote the Rangers off immediately. I even had both these teams in fifth place in their respective divisions. Well color me surprised, but pleased, that I was completely wrong. Both these teams are fun and hungry for a World Series. Texas has never gotten one, reaching all the way back to their time as the second Washington Senators, while the Blue Jays haven’t been to the postseason since before most of their players were even born. This is my pick for most exciting series, just because of the connotation. I haven’t even remarked about why these teams are special either. Texas took their biggest risk in signing away Cole Hamels from his oasis in Philadelphia, thinking it would be good for their future to pair him off with a rehabbed Darvish in 2016. Little did they know that Hamels would take the tiniest morsel and lunge for it, forcing the team into a division crown. It helps that Houston faltered, but the team did hold off the Angels at the last minute. I think he’ll be the player to watch here from the southern state. North of the border, things changed drastically around the trade deadline when Alex Anthoupolous cashed in all his chips by sending many future prospect around the continent in return for the best pitcher this year in David Price, a floundering star Troy Tulowitzki (in his own oasis atop Denver’s mountains) and even some insurance in outfielder Ben Revere. If you look at the first twenty games after signing him, Toronto didn’t lose if Tulo was in the lineup. If anything can be said for team players who see the finish line and get energized by it, Tulo and Hamels have to be two of the best this year. I think this will be just as hard fought a series as the first DS, but with better caliber teams. I just think Donaldson and co pack too much punch.

My guess: Toronto Blue Jays in 5.

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NL Divisional Series 1: Chicago Cubs at St Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals have been well depleted by injury yet again this season. This does not make them any less dangerous. In fact, considering their history, they play better with their backs against the wall. This also does not help the Cubs, who are heavily lacking in postseason experience comparably. (Pittsburgh  may fare better if they make it, but we’re following my original prediction). I think the Cardinals will make one last push before many of their splendid veterans are replaced by even better 20-year-olds. Look, if you follow sports like I do, this is basically the Detroit Red Wings of baseball. Consistently in the playoffs, able to replenish their depth at a moment’s notice, prestigious winning establishment. Which makes this a boring pick to me. I think the Cubs will fight against that establishment and get closer than they could a dozen years ago, the NL Championship series. Also, it’s 2015, so they should be in the World Series.

My guess: Chicago Cubs in 5.

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NL Divisional Series 2: New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers

As I write this, Matt Harvey is being reprimanded for missing today’s practice. Not sure how that’ll affect this series, though there’s been enough  nonsensical news coming out of the Mets camp for my taste. I do live in the NYC metro area, so the news cycle is much more down to the minutiae for their teams than it would be if I was say, in Denver. Of course, there’s a big reason it’s excruciating this time around, as the Mets’ plight over the last decade has been well expounded upon. First there was the caught looking Carlos Beltran out in 2006, then the Ponzi scheming Bernie Madoff took the owners away from the team and nearly bankrupted the whole organization. So to say there’s not a lot riding on how this division series plays out is an understatement. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have taken a similar route in recent times, without a heartbreaking out to cite as their fault. Uber pitcher Clayton Kershaw has been golden in the regular season, boasting several Cy Youngs and pitching records, but when he realizes it’s October, he’s more Sandy Cohen than Sandy Koufax. Maybe pumpkin lattes are his Delilah. Anyway, for the past five seasons or so, the Dodgers have been expected to be the greatest, to win their first championship since 1988, but have fallen laughably short of their goal. Magic Johnson and all the money in the world can’t bring the World Series back to Los Angeles proper, so this is really the battle between the bills. Will the finally revived Mets win behind their pitching staff of Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, and Noah Syndergaard? Or will the Dodgers manage to get it together with bats like Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and former Met Justin Turner? Maybe I have to take back that statement about Texas-Toronto being my favorite. I’m just damn excited about everyone, though.

My guess: New York Mets in 4.

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, right reacts with first base coach Tim Leiper, left, after hitting a RBI single to defeat the Kansas City Royals during 11th inning AL baseball action in Toronto on Friday, July 31, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

American League Champsionship Series: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals

This certainly won’t be any less exciting than the divisional series. In August, where Toronto took a weekend series from the Royals 3-1, several players were ejected for plunking each other. Benches were cleared, and this could be the bloodiest of the matchups if emotions are high heading into mid-October. I think Donaldson and Bautista will really turn it on behind Price and Tulo, so I think they’ll just hit their ways over the base-stealing efforts of Alex Gordon and Alex Rios. I think they’ll be hard fought, but especially at this point, we don’t know how tired either team will be, if either make it.

My guess: Toronto Blue Jays in 5.

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National League Championship Series: Chicago Cubs at New York Mets

Two long-suffering franchises, one more brittle than the other. The New York Mets will get battered by the Dodgers in their short series, but they’ll likely have the wherewithal to defend themselves, especially in Citi Field. This is the people’s team this season and I think the rallying cries will inspire the Amazins to overcome the upstart Cubs (who won’t fall easily since they have over a hundred years to complain about). I simply think this will be a very blue World Series. Alas, that blue will not include Marty McFly’s choice.

My guess: New York Mets in 6.

New York Mets David Wright hits a seventh-inning, RBI, ground-rule double in a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in New York, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

World Series: New York Mets at Toronto Blue Jays

Given that the AL yet again has home field advantage, I’m leaning closer to Toronto on this one. They’ll be rolling after taking down the Royals, and their home hitting will be unstoppable, especially for the spotty of late DeGrom and Matz. We’ll see after all, if this matchup even comes to fruition, but I’m going with high-scoring games coming from our neighbors up north. I like both teams, so it’s probably no mistake I leaned towards both of them when I made my picks, but I honestly like all the teams in the postseason (minus the Yankees). I really do hold hitting to be a high value to estimate a team, and if the Blue Jays’ bats get hot, they’ll be unstoppable.

My guess: Toronto Blue Jays in 5.

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So there you have it. I believe that with the resurgent teams in Kansas City, Toronto, New York and Chicago, we’re going to have some fresh baseball to view in October. I’m really excited to see how things play out, and as I said, I like all the teams not in black and white pinstripes. So here’s to a wonderful October ahead!

Players I’m most excited about to see in the postseason by team:

Houston Astros-Carlos Correa (honestly any of these kids could do it for me, but this guy is terribly clutch)
New York Yankees-Andrew Miller (he was lights out a year ago for the Orioles, will he save the Yanks?)
Chicago Cubs-Dexter Fowler (because he hasn’t been here since 2009, when he did this, over Chase Utley)
Pittsburgh Pirates-Francisco Cervelli (because as pitchers go, Cervelli is one of the most under-rated best)
Texas Rangers-Cole Hamels (he’s serious about winning and who can deny him this?)
Toronto Blue Jays-LaTroy Hawkins (you would think Tulo, right? But no, this is LaTroy’s swan song, how fun)
Kansas City Royals-Ben Zobrist (the least talked about post-trade, he was touted as very integral. Will he be?)
New York Mets-Bartolo Colon (because he’s the best hitting pitcher that ever lived)
Los Angeles Dodgers-Chase Utley (because despite allowing Dexter to leap over him is having one last hurrah)
St. Louis Cardinals-Michael Wacha (will he play? Only our dark lord knows.)

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