Monday, October 5, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased Wild Card Game Picks

When in the state of Texas, you always have to wear your cowboy hat.

Howdy, pard'ner.  This here's Joey Beartran.  And if it's the beginning of October, then I reckon it must be time for my annual playoff picks.  (And how did I end up with this Texas twang?  Maybe it has something to do with my picks, y'all.)

Anyway, a lot has changed in the last few years of me making postseason prognostications.  Just two years ago, the Red Sox, Tigers and Athletics were all division champions.  This season, they were all cellar dwellers.  And the team with the most World Series championships (they shall remain nameless here) is back in the playoffs as a wild card, as is the team that's gone the longest without a title (they shall remain known as the Cubs).  That team I root for?  They crashed the playoff party for the first in nearly a decade, as did their 1962 expansion buddies from Houston.

But the Mets shall be discussed when it's time to share my division series picks.  You see, since they won the N.L. East, I don't have to worry about them potentially losing a do-or-die wild card game.  That's what the Astros, Yankees, Cubs and Pirates have to deal with.

So before my horse runs away without me on it, let me share my wild card game picks, which may or may not be biased, especially in one league.

American League Wild Card Game

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees

The last time the Astros made the playoffs, they still played in the National League and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was still an active player.  That was 2005, when Houston was swept in their first-ever World Series appearance by the Chicago White Sox.  For those who like to keep track of meaningless things, if the Astros had been awarded a ring for every postseason game they won in their 54-year history, they'd still have six fewer rings than the Yankees have to commemorate each World Series title they've won.  (If you can't do the math in your head, just ask a Yankee fan to do it for you.  They know that number by heart and are more than happy to share it with you at all times.)

Carlos Gomez
The Astros led the A.L. West for most of the season, but settled for a wild card, although they did win six of their last eight games to finish the campaign on a high note.  Meanwhile, the Yankees had a supposedly comfortable lead in the A.L. East in early August, then stumbled to the finish line, losing six of their last seven games and 16 of their last 26.

One thing that stands out about this matchup is the fact that the Yankees were really bad at home over the final month and a half of the season.  New York was 10-15 in their last 25 home games, which included losing two out of three to the Astros in late August.  The Yankees were outscored, 21-4 in those three games.

Houston can beat you with power (230 HR - second in the A.L.) and speed (121 SB - tops in the league), and they'll be playing in a park that gives up its share of homers against a team that allows its share of stolen bases (base runners stole 50 bases against No. 1 catcher Brian McCann).  They also fared very well against Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka when they faced him earlier this year, scoring six runs in five innings against him.  And I haven't even mentioned Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who won 20 games and is a top contender for the Cy Young Award.

As a Mets fan, it was obvious who my pick was going to be in this game, but I don't have to be a fan of a 1962 team to know that our brother in expansion is going to win this game.

Prediction: Houston will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

This is the third straight season that the Bucs are playing in the wild card game.  They won the one-game playoff in 2013, but fell to the eventual World Series champion Giants in last year's game.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are making their first trip to the postseason since 2008.  Chicago has not won a playoff since Game Four of the 2003 NLCS.  If you know who Steve Bartman is, you know how that series ended up.

Jake Arrieta
The Cubs have advanced in the playoffs just once since the advent of divisional play and are hoping to move on to the division series to take on their hated division rivals in St. Louis.  To do so, they'll have to defeat the Pirates - a team they beat 11 times during the regular season.  But the Cubs will have Jake Arrieta on the mound at PNC Park.  And how did he fare in Pittsburgh's ballpark in 2015?  How about a 0.82 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and just 12 hits allowed in three starts in Pittsburgh?  And considering that Arrieta had a 0.75 ERA after the All-Star Break against every team he faced (an MLB record), how could anyone pick against him?

Madison Bumgarner was the hottest pitcher on the planet last October and he began his run of dominance in Pittsburgh in the wild card game.  Arrieta - a native Texan, y'all - has already had a head start and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be great in this game.

The Pirates may have won 98 games, but that won't be enough against a blazing hot pitcher who only needs to win one game.

Prediction: Chicago will advance to the NLDS.

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