Recap of the Wild Card Round
Wowee I may have created the worst bracket in the history of brackets. I first and foremost would like to apologize to the Twins who I ranked as being the worst American League team in the playoffs. Royce Lewis can clearly ball, but we will get to that later. It was not a great week for my bracket that had the Rays and Brewers in the World Series, as both were eliminated along with the Blue Jays and Marlins (at least I got one series right).
The wild card week was both wild and underwhelming as every series was a clean 2-0 sweep. I kind of miss the days when the wild card games were a singular winner-take-all game, it made it feel like the pressure was on and was something unique that we no longer see in baseball with the potential of game 163’s also being done away with this year in favor of more playoff games to air and more teams in the playoffs.
Phillies Sweep Marlins 2-0
Let’s kick things off with the series I did get right: the Phillies vs. the Marlins. Citizen Bank Ballpark was rocking from the moment Rhys Hoskins threw out the first pitch before game one to the moment Gregory Soto struck out Jazz Chisholm Jr. to send the Phillies on a date with the Atlanta Braves in the divisional series. This series was by and large dominated by the Phillies starting pitching, with Zack Wheeler throwing 6.2 innings with 1 earned run and 8 strikeouts in game one and Aaron Nola throwing 7 innings of efficient shutout ball in game 2. Trea Turner stayed hot going 4 for 7 in the series with 2 doubles, as the Phillies mashed the ball to the tune of 8 doubles in 2 games.
The culminating moment of the series came in the bottom of the 6th, Phillies holding onto a 3-0 lead and the bases loaded for Bryson Stott. Stott’s classic walk-up song A-O-K played throughout the stadium with fans singing along loudly to the chorus. First pitch, a middle inside fastball that Stott unloads on, hitting it 412 feet to deep right-center field for the second grand slam in Phillies postseason history. The Phillies would ride that 7-0 lead to an eventual 7-1 win winning their wild card series.
Diamondbacks Upset the Brewers 2-0
Next up we had my World Series pick the Milwaukee Brewers hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks. The night before the series kicked off Brandon Woodruff, an integral part of the Milwaukee pitching staff announced he would miss at least the wild card series if not the entire postseason with an injury. Game one saw an extremely favorable matchup on the mound for the Brewers with their ace Corbin Burnes facing off against Brandon Pfaadt who had a 5.72 ERA in the regular season. And it seemed the party was on in Milwaukee early in the game with the Brewers getting their first 3 baserunners of the game on base with Carlos Santana knocking in Christian Yelich to give the Brewers a 1-0 advantage. Then Pfaadt would strike out the next three batters quieting the Milwaukee rally. In the second inning, the 9-hole hitter Tyrone Taylor would extend that lead to 3-0 with a 2-run home run and all seemed well for Milwaukee.
Then disaster would strike in the top of the third for the Brewers as Perdomo would single to right and the NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corbin Carroll would unload on a ball to deep right-center for a 444-foot, 2-run home run. The next batter Ketel Marte would tie the game up with a solo shot of his own. In the bottom of the third with Pfaadt on the mound for the Diamondbacks, the Brewers would manage to get runners on second and third with one out, but Donaldson would fly out to center holding Frelick at third. The Diamondbacks would then turn the ball over to their bullpen, who would piece together a masterful performance with 6.1 innings of shutout baseball. In the fourth, the Diamondbacks would add on what would prove to be the winning run with catcher Gabriel Moreno hitting a solo home run off Corbin Burnes, his third long ball allowed of the night. The Diamondbacks would go on to win this game 6 to 3.
In game 2 we saw likely cy young finalist Zac Gallen from the Diamondbacks squaring off against Freddy Peralta who pieced together an impressive second half for the Brewers. It would again be the Brewers getting out to an early lead, taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a Frelick sac fly that scored Yelich and an Adames single that scored Santana. Peralta looked impressive early, striking out five through his first four innings of shutout ball. The Diamondbacks took another hit early in the game losing their star catcher Gabriel Moreno after he got hit by a backswing by Brice Turang in the second inning.
In the top of the fifth Peralta made his first mistake of the game hanging a changeup to Alek Thomas who hit the ball for a solo home run cutting the lead to 2-1. In the top of the sixth Craig Counsell stuck with Freddy Peralta and Peralta was not able to get a single out. Peralta walked Perdomo, surrendered a double to Corbin Carroll to put runners on second and third, and gave up a 2-RBI single to Ketel Marte to give the Diamondbacks a 3-2 lead. From there, Counsell would turn the ball over to Abner Uribe who had been dominant in his 2023 campaign. Uribe was only able to secure one, struggling with his command he walked Herrera to load the bases and then threw a wild pitch to Gurriel Jr. that got by the catcher, allowing Pham to score, Gurriel Jr. would then single to left allowing Walker to score giving the Diamondbacks a 5-2 lead.
Zac Gallen would get through the sixth without issue for the Diamondbacks turning the ball over to their bullpen with a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the 7th. In the bottom of the 8th, the Brewers looked to get a rally going loading the bases up with only one man out. Lovullo at this point would turn the ball over to the rookie Andrew Saalfrank who would get Frelick to ground back to him, Saalfrank smartly would get the forced out at home plate preserving the 5-2 lead. The next batter Willy Adames would ground into a fielder's choice at second getting the Diamondbacks out of the jam.
Paul Sewald would get himself into his own jam hitting the leadoff man Josh Donaldson. Sewald struck out Monasterio and then Taylor would scorch a ball back up the middle for the Brewers, which SS Perdomo would be able to knock down, keeping it in the infield. Due to Donaldson being unsure if it would be caught in the air or not Perdomo had time to throw Donaldson out at second. The next batter Christian Yelich would double to left putting two runners in scoring position and bringing the tying run up in William Contreras, who Sewald would strike out to send the Diamondbacks to the divisional series to face off with the Dodgers.
Rays Falter in all Aspects of the Game as Rangers win 2-0
Over in the American league, the Rays seemed like heavy favorites to take down the Rangers. Game 1 saw a pitching matchup of Tyler Glasnow vs. Jordan Montgomery. Game 1 was dominated by Jordan Montgomery who put together an exceptional pitching performance in which he sprinted off the mount and made a diving catch when Jose Siri popped a bunt into the air with runners at the corners, shocking everyone. In game one the Rays could not do anything right, Glasnow allowed 11 baserunners in 5 innings of work giving up 4 runs (3 earned). On the defensive side of the ball, the Rays who had played phenomenal defense all season looked no better than a little league team, with four fielding errors the costliest being by centerfielder Jose Siri who sent what should have been a one RBI single flying into the air and then airmailed the throw into third base into the Rangers dugout allowing another man to score to make it 4-0.
Offensively the Rays were silenced by Montgomery, Chapman, and Leclerc who only allowed 7 baserunners while throwing a shutout. To be honest game two which saw Eovaldi take the mound for the Rangers against Zach Eflin for the Rays wasn’t much better. Eflin also struggled for the Rays allowing 5 runs (4 earned) in 5 innings allowing 8 hits, 2 walks, and 2 home runs. Eovaldi on the other hand was dominant allowing one run in 6.2 innings with 8 strikeouts, 0 walks, and 6 hits allowed. The Rays allowed their postseason scoreless streak to reach 33 innings which was just one shy of the record set by the 1966-1974 Dodgers.
A Rays season that started 13-0, tied for the second-best start in MLB history would fizzle out in an extremely disappointing wild card series where they were outscored 11 to 1. The Rays also struggled to fill seats with 19,704 at Game 1 (the lowest playoff figure since the 1919 World Series) and 20,198 in attendance for Game 2. The last two times the Rangers beat the Rays in the postseason were in the 2010 and 2011 ALDS where both times they would eventually appear in the World Series.
Twins End Their Postseason Misery With a 2-0 Sweep of the Jays
Lastly, we had the Twins vs the Blue Jays, where I believed the Blue Jays would be heavy favorites. Game one saw likely cy young finalist Kevin Gausman take the ball for the Blue Jays against Pablo Lopez. This game wound up being the Royce Lewis show, which led the Twins to their first playoff win in 18 games. In his first postseason at bat, Lewis would smack a two-run shot off Gausman in the first inning to give the Twins a 2-0 lead. In his second-ever postseason at-bat, Royce Lewis would blast a leadoff home run in the third inning to give the twins a 3-0 lead.
For the Twins, Pablo Lopez would throw 5.2 innings of one-run ball backed by some stellar defense by the Twins. Michael A. Taylor would make an impressive diving grab in the second and would crash into the wall in the sixth robbing Chapman of extra bases. Max Kepler would also crash into the wall making an impressive catch to take away what would have been extra bases for Vlad Jr. And on perhaps the most impressive play of the day Correa backed up third baseman Jorge Polanco on an infield ground ball that got by Polonco and would throw a strike to home plate gunning down Bo Bichette to end the inning.
Jhoan Duran would slam the door in the ninth, striking out two with his electric arsenal that includes a 101 to 102 mph fastball and a 98 mph splitter.
Game two saw Jose Berrios on the mound for the Jays against Sonny Gray for the Twins. Sonny Gray would throw five well-earned shutout innings for the Twins, getting out of some hard situations with three inning-ending punchouts. Jose Berrios also looked great getting through three shutout innings. In the top of the 4th he would walk the leadoff man Royce Lewis and the Blue Jays Manager would make the extremely questionable decision to pull Berrios after only throwing 47 pitches in favor of Yusei Kikuchi, who surrendered an infield single to Max Kepler, walked the bases loaded for Carlos Correa, who would then hit an RBI single to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. He would then get Castro to ground into a double play, which would also allow Max Kepler to score, giving the Twins a 2-0 lead in the fourth. In the top of the fifth, the Blue Jays would get Vlad Jr. into scoring position for their best hitter Bo Bichette. But in a little league move, Vlad Jr. would get picked off at second base ending the inning.
From there, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli would turn the ball over to his bullpen who would throw 4 shutout innings to preserve the lead. In the top of the ninth Jhoan Duran entered the game again. Duran would again flash his electric arsenal, striking the side out on 13 pitchers, giving the Twins a 2-0 win and sending them to the ALDS to face the Astros. This would end a 21-year streak of disappointment in which the Twins had lost 10 straight postseason series.
Previewing the Divisional Series Matchups
Phillies vs. Braves
Now time to take a look at our four divisional series matchups, with the first being a matchup between the divisional rivals the Philadelphia Phillies, and the master class of the MLB the Atlanta Braves.
For the second straight season, the Phillies and the Braves will meet up in the NLDS. Last year saw the Phillies take the series 3-1 as underdogs and they are again underdogs this year. The only really clear pitching matchup is game one where we will in all likelihood see Ranger Suarez face off against Spencer Strider.
On paper, the Braves have a herculean lineup that will be a tall order for any opposing pitcher, as the Braves mash from top to bottom. On top of that, I had called into question the health of the Braves starting rotation with big question marks looming over the heads of Max Fried and Charlie Morton. The good news is that Max Fried seems to be healthy and will in all likelihood get the nod in game 2 of the NLDS, likely against Zach Wheeler. Who gets the ball in game 3 for the Braves will all depend on what the situation is looking like. If the Braves hold a 2-0 series lead they could defer to Kyle Wright as an opener and opt for a bullpen game or AJ Smith-Shawver as the starter. In a tighter 1-1 or down 0-2 series the Braves may opt for a full bullpen game as the Phillies no matter the situation will likely be sending Aaron Nola out to start.
Facing this lineup and the 1-2 punch of Strider and Fried is going to be a tall task for the Phillies, but I wouldn’t count them out yet. The Phillies took out the 101-win Braves in the divisional series last year. The Braves did take the season series 8-5. I’d give a decent advantage to the Braves in this series, but if the Phillies can get things back to the bank with a 2-0 lead or a 1-1 series, the tides could quickly turn in favor of the Phillies. With rotation depth, things will favor a quick series for the Braves.
My prediction: Braves win 3-1
Dodgers vs Diamondbacks
Second up in the national league, we have the Dodgers vs. the Diamondbacks. Although probable pitchers haven’t been announced we will see Kershaw vs. Merrill Kelly in game one. This game one will be crucial for both teams, as the Dodgers will want to get out to an early advantage as they lack trustworthy starting pitching, and the Diamondbacks will want to take game one to retake home field advantage and have a mismatch in a future game with Gallen taking the hill against Lynn or Pepiot.
The key to this series for the Dodgers will be Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts being able to provide an offensive spark while the bullpen will need to be able to eat innings, preserve leads, and hold deficits to 1 or 2 runs if necessary. When things click for Arizona they can be a scary team as they showed in their 2 game route of the Brewers, whose starting pitching was much more formidable than the Dodgers. Corbin Carroll looks like he is built for the postseason, Christian Walker is an underrated power hitter and Ketel Marte can prove to be a frustrating out.
On top of that the Diamondbacks could line things up to start Kelly and Gallen in four of five games, despite the record heavily favoring the Dodgers, things could be much closer. If the Diamondbacks want to win this series it will be on the back of those two, the bullpen will also need to continue to over-perform and Corbin Carroll will need to continue to solidify himself as a household name.
My Prediction: Diamondbacks win 3-2
Rangers vs Orioles
Moving back over to the American League our first series sees the Rangers squaring off with the Baltimore Orioles. This one is really interesting, the Rangers are coming off of a dominant series against the Orioles divisional rivals the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Orioles and Rangers have split the season series, each winning 3 games a piece.
Although rosters and starting pitchers haven’t been revealed yet we will in all likelihood see Kyle Bradish take the mound for the Orioles in game 1 against Dane Dunning for the Rangers. Bradish finished the year with a stellar 16 shutout innings in his last three starts and will look to continue that dominance. Since July Dunning has been less than stellar with a 4.58 ERA and opposing hitters sporting a .784 OPS against him. This game should go Baltimore’s way so long as they can field and hit the ball (which the Rays could not).
Game 2 will likely see Jordan Montgomery take the mound for the Rangers, looking to follow up on his brilliant start against Tampa. The Orioles will likely go with John Means or Grayson Rodriguez here with the other lining up for game 3 against Nathan Eovaldi.
This series will see Bradish, Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and others taking the field for the first time in the postseason against the Rangers who have a veteran roster with multiple World Series rings and plenty of postseason experience amongst them. This will not be an easy series for the favored Orioles. To win the series they will need their young stars to step up to the plate and the starting rotation will need to be dominant with an injured bullpen that is less reliable without Felix Bautista. The Orioles are also very good at playing comeback baseball and they will face the Rangers bullpen which was amongst the worst in the major leagues.
For the Rangers will win they will need to continue to have their rotation be dominant, as the Orioles rotation looks better than the one the Rays rolled out in the wild card series, the bullpen will need to not blow any leads that are given to them, and they will need to rely on the long ball and for stars Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to step up to the challenge.
My prediction: Orioles win 3-2
Twins vs Astros
Last but not least we have the Twins vs. the Astros, with the big story being Carlos Correa returning to a Houston playoff environment. We have a Houston Astros team that returns a majority of the core of their 2017 to 2022 squad with Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez, Ryan Pressly, and others all playing key roles at one point or another through that run.
The biggest question might be, how will the Astros fare at home, as they were a very disappointing 39-42 at home this season and had a less than inspiring September in which they were swept by the Royals and lost 2 of three against the Athletics. With Verlander on the mound in game one,
The Twins boast the better rotation and the better defense in this series (3.84 SP ERA vs. 4.17 SP ERA and 31 DRS vs 14 DRS), whereas Houston holds an advantage with their bullpen and lineup (3.56 bullpen ERA vs. 3.96 bullpen ERA and 5.10 runs per game vs 4.82 runs per game). In terms of star power that advantage goes to the Astros with Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Alex Bregman all having a higher WAR than any batter on the Twins.
If the Twins want to win this series they will need to continue to lean on their starting pitching, and the trio of Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, and Caleb Thielbar, while playing stellar defense and relying on the longball like they have all year long.
If the Astros want to win this series they will need to implore their typical patient contact-driven approach at the plate against a staff that strikes out more opposing batters than any other staff in the MLB, and they will need to quiet a Twins offense that has proven to be all or nothing in the past.
My Prediction: Astros win 3-1
We should be in for an exciting divisional series with hopefully some more tightly contested series than the wild card round provided us with. If you’re a betting person, after my bracket busted in the Wild Card series you may want to take the opposite of what I have projected for the divisional series. See you soon for a recap of the divisional series and a preview of the championship series!