Forest’s FastTake
Issue   |   Tue, 10/04/2016 - 22:18

Well, it’s October again. Month number 10 brings us sweater weather, marks the onset of autumn and births the MLB playoffs. After 2,428 baseball games, the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season has come to a close — that’s a lot of innings. Thanks to the new wildcard system pioneered back in 2012, there are 10 teams who have earned the right to compete for the World Series trophy. The American League saw its divisions conquered by the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers with two teams from the AL east competing for the wildcard berth: the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. The National League is entering the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in the bid to get to the dance. The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants will play for the right to take on league-best Chicago Cubs.

The Boston Red Sox are poised to make a deep run in the World Series race. Their bats have been red hot, much like their sox, all year. Four of the nine starters in the All-Star game were Red Sox (David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaert, Jackie Bradley Jr.) and all have kept hitting well with a possible exception in JBJ, who has had a colder second half of the year. The main questions concerning the Red Sox chances of winning it all center on their pitching. Rick Porcello has overachieved this season and now finds himself in the Cy Young conversation, but supposed ace David Price has had a down year. Price has also struggled in playoff baseball, so he will be looking to turn the corner on October ball. If he and the bullpen can keep opposing hitters at bay, look for the Red Sox to win their fourth title of the 21st century.

The Cleveland Indians have a tall order in the divisional series against a fierce Red Sox team that several MLB executives are picking to win the AL. They have also run into some poorly timed injuries to key players. Their starting rotation boasted the second-best ERA (4.09) in the league, but Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber are all dealing with injuries. Salazar will likely pitch, but hasn’t yet returned from a forearm strain at the beginning of September. Carrasco is done for the year with a fractured hand — tough to pitch with one of those. And Kluber will be good to go, but left Monday’s start with “groin tightness.” The team as a whole managed to win 94 games, so they’ll still be a handful for anyone in the league.

The American League’s top dog — the Texas Rangers — were only five wins shy of the coveted 100-win mark. Despite finishing 28 games over the .500 line, the Rangers have only outscored their opponents by eight runs. Their strong record was mostly upheld by an excellent record in one-run games. The Rangers won .766 percent of the time in one-run games, posting a 36-11 record in these contests. Though that high of a win percentage in close games shows how clutch this team can be, it also reveals that we may think they are way better than they actually are. Baseball is a game of numbers more so than almost any other, and these numbers prove precarious for Rangers fans.

The Blue Jays and Orioles only have one game to buy their way into the playoffs. The Jays were one of the best teams in baseball, but have gone through a rough final stretch of the season. They’ve split their last 50 games and went 13-16 in September. The good news for them is they have the foundation to be great. The bad news is they aren’t doing it. Key parts of the lineup are batting under .200, so the likes of Russell Martin and Melvin Upton need to pull out of their slumps if they want to survive the Orioles on the Oct. 4 matchup. The Orioles are an interesting bunch. They are the best homerun-hitting team in the league. Mark Trumbo crushed 47 of his own, Chris Davis and Manny Machado nearly missed the 40-mark, and three others have sent more than 20 out of the park. The team seems to be not well-rounded enough to have consistent success over a period of time, but playoff baseball does not require that of a team. If the Orioles can exert their power and have somewhat of a formidable rotation, they could surprise some people.

You can’t begin to talk about the National League without first mentioning the Chicago Cubs. It seems as if this could finally be their year. It has been 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series and 71 years since they even got to the show, both of which are record droughts. Their offense is certainly to be grouped in with the league’s best, but they make their biscuit through pitching. Their rotation possesses Jake Arrieta, last year’s Cy Young winner, and Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, the league’s top two finishers in ERA. They are truly stacked. You don’t win 103 games without some highly functioning top talent. If the Cubs don’t break either of those records this year, it will go down as yet another disappointment in the Chicago Cubs historical timeline.

The Washington Nationals, like the Cubs, were cooking this year. Young talent in Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, new acquisition Daniel Murphy and a career year out of Wilson Ramos had led the Nationals on a blistering pace through most of the season. Just like Cleveland, Washington has been infested with injury bugs — don’t worry, the white house is all clear. Harper has been slumping in large part due to a persistent left thumb injury, Strasburg won’t be ready for another week or two because of a flexor strain and catcher Wilson Ramos’ excellent year came to a close as a result of torn ligaments in his knee. Will the rest of the D.C. squad be able to make up for their ailing stars? We will find out in their opening series against the Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers said goodbye to their long-time announcer Vin Scully. He has been with the Dodgers since 1950, back in their Brooklyn days. Considering how well-liked Scully was to the Dodger faithful, you better believe they will be playing this playoffs for Vin. As influential as a cause can be behind a sports team’s efforts, the Dodgers will have a hard time winning it all this year. However, their biggest studs, Puig and Kershaw, are returning to the squad at the right time. With those two playing their best ball and potential Rookie of the Year Corey Seager continuing to crush both sides of the game, the Dodgers are a force to be reckoned with.

The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants will meet Wednesday night looking to punch their NL wildcard ticket. The Mets are without their two best pitchers, while Bumgarner is pitching — and hitting — as well as he ever has. This makes a one-game playoff difficult, but not impossible. Beyond their showdown, neither of these teams seem particularly up to the challenge of taking down the far superior Cubs. The Mets can thank this east-central injury bug plague for rendering their team almost unrecognizable to last year’s team that saw them to the World Series. The Giants can only thank themselves. They had the best record in baseball prior to the All-Star break (57-33), and promptly followed that up with the second worst record from there on out (30-42). A struggling bullpen and an unimpressive offense bear no good signs for the Giants moving forward.

No matter the degree of your personal sports fandom, playoffs are always an exciting spectacle. Baseball, although slow and long, has split-second moments of exhilaration that juxtapose against its otherwise tortoise gait. The warring nature of a seven-game series; home field, away field; these series can sometimes shape into a Homeric epic. The game itself also has fundamental roots in American history. It feels almost like a civic duty to tune in to a baseball game.

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