Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Joey's Soapbox: My 2018 Completely Unbiased World Series Pick

There will be no bias in my World Series pick.  Nor will there be hints in this photo.  I promise.

Howdy do, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran, and we've reached the end of another baseball season, one in which the Mets have been off for the last three-plus weeks and the Yankees got one step closer to their first decade since the 1910s without a World Series appearance.

The New York teams are two of 28 clubs that failed to qualify for the Fall Classic.  The squads that did make it to baseball's final week, however, are ones that have given Big Apple baseball fans many reasons to hate them over the last few decades.

The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers franchises are meeting in the World Series for the first time since 1916, when the then-Brooklyn Robins took home the National League pennant and Yankee fans had no ringzzz to brag about.  It's been so long since the two teams have met in October that even Scott Atchison would have a tough time recalling the events of that Fall Classic, one in which the Red Sox defeated the future Dodgers in five games.

That 1916 championship was the fourth World Series victory for Boston in 14 years and kept Brooklyn from winning its first title.  This year, the Red Sox are seeking their fourth trophy in 15 seasons and the Dodgers are going after their first championship in three decades.

Will history repeat itself a little over a century later?  Or will the Dodgers become the latest team to end a long championship drought, following the Astros from last year (first title in 57 seasons), the Cubs in 2016 (first time winning it all since the Dodgers were known as the Brooklyn Superbas) and the Royals in 2015 (we will not speak of that title)?

Sit back, grab a cold one and read on, since that's the only way you'll find out who will win this year's World Series.  I mean, you're not actually going to stay up to watch these five-hour games with relievers coming in every 20 pitches and umpires going to the replay headsets five times a night as if Angel Hernandez were working the game, are you?  (Editor's note: Angel Hernandez is not an umpire in this year's World Series, mainly because Rob Manfred actually wants people to watch the games.)

The World Series should be fair now that Angel Hernandez has tossed himself from it.  (Matt Campbell/AFP/Getty Images)

World Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox steamrolled their way through the American League, winning a franchise record 108 games before disposing of the Yankees and defending champion Astros in the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Dodgers needed to play a 163rd game just to win the division and then went to a seventh game against the Brewers in the NLCS after defeating the Braves in four games in the Division Series.

Both teams have strong starting pitching, but at least Boston allows its pitchers to go deep into games.  Former Red Sox hero and current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will usually take out his starting pitcher once he realizes his jersey doesn't say Kershaw on the back.

As far as each team's offense goes, we know the Dodgers' formula.  They either strike out (117 Ks in 11 postseason games) or hit home runs (53.5% of their runs in the postseason have come via the long ball).  Meanwhile, the Red Sox are all about making solid contact, as they've produced 28 extra-base hits and have struck out just 67 times in this year's playoffs.

The bullpen edge clearly moves the needle in the Dodgers' favor, as Kenley Jansen has yet to allow a run in the postseason while Boston's Craig Kimbrel has been watching the "How to Pitch Like Armando Benitez in the Playoffs" video before each appearance.

If the Dodgers can continue to hit timely home runs and be lights out in the bullpen, they'll be fine.  Similarly, if the Red Sox can continue to string together hit after hit and extend their starting pitchers into the late innings, they'll succeed in this series.

On paper, this appears to be a tight series; one that's too tough to call.  But predicting this year's World Series winner is really a no-brainer for me.  And here's why.

Peyton Manning played 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before moving on to the Denver Broncos after the 2011 campaign.  Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl with his new team four years later.   Similarly, Ray Bourque, who played 21 seasons without a championship in Boston, finally hoisted the Stanley Cup in his last year in the NHL after leaving the Bruins to become a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2000.  And of course, if you're a player who wants to retire as a champion in the NBA, all you have to do is join the Golden State Warriors and you have a free ride to Titlesville.

What does this have to do with this year's Fall Classic?  Well, the Dodgers have a player who is retiring from the game once the series is over.  He played 13 seasons with one team before moving to L.A. at the trade deadline in 2015.  Now he's trying to go out as a champion, just like Manning, Bourque and fill-in-the-blank Warriors players.  One problem, though.  His name is Chase Utley.  And I'd rather be Fred Wilpon's accountant than the one to say that Utley is going to be the latest athlete to go out on top with a new team.

Plus, the Dodgers just knocked Curtis Granderson's team out of the playoffs.  Then there's that thing about every team with exactly 108 regular season victories going on to win the World Series.  And don't forget that the Red Sox winning their fourth championship in 15 seasons would be the worst nightmare for Yankee fans who have only seen their beloved Bronx Bummers appear in one World Series over the same time period.

But since I'm completely unbiased, I'll just say the Dodgers won't win this World Series because they're not good enough to defeat the juggernaut Sawx.  And because Dave Roberts needs to always be loved in Boston.

Prediction: Red Sox in 5.

Chase Utley will have plenty of time to be horizontal once the Red Sox bowl over his team.  (Stephen Carr/Daily News)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Who's the Birthday Boy? It's Me, Keith Hernandez!

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 65 years old.

In honor of my 65th birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway after writing this piece.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early photos.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League Lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  The Gateway City was also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  In addition, St. Louis was the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If my brother Gary were in this collage, you'd have the original Gary, Keith and Ron.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Anyway, less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey (who also celebrates a birthday with me today, but he's four years my junior) and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.  Even my beloved cat, Hadji, wouldn't be impressed with that transaction.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the N.L. East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left over in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short in the N.L. East race again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

Just as my tenure with the Mets was coming to an end, I decided I should give acting a try.  I wasn't planning on telling you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a matinee idol as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians, who were not nearly as talented as their counterparts from this past season.  You know, the team that won an A.L. record 22 consecutive games en route to a second straight A.L. Central title.  Needless to say, it was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode No. 34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell, whose mouth shot the viscous projectile from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans certainly know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games.  And in 2017, the rest of the country got reacquainted with me when I offered colorful commentary in the FOX Sports/FS1 studio for that network's pre-game and post-game shows during the postseason.

Today, I'm the author of a memoir with a predictable title.  I'm also Hadji's agent and food provider, as well as a cool follow on Twitter.  (Nearly 84,000 tweetsters who follow @keithhernandez can't be wrong.)

I'm all of those people.  And although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 65 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Joey's Soapbox: My 2018 Completely Unbiased LCS Picks

Will the Dodgers' season be dead after their Weekend at Bernie's?  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

What's going on, everyone?  This is Joey Beartran, and we've reached the last hurdle for four teams in their quest to reach the World Series.  As always, the Washington Nationals are not one of the teams participating in the League Championship Series, but we knew that since late September when they were eliminated from postseason contention.  Or perhaps we just knew that because they're the Washington Nationals.

While most of the baseball world waits to see which team will overpay Bryce Harper to underachieve for them, fans of the Brewers, Dodgers, Red Sox and Astros will be focusing on their current squads in the hopes that their favorite players will be soon be dousing each other in champagne while wearing futuristic sting-proof goggles.

For Milwaukee, they're hoping to become the second team to win pennants in both leagues, as the Brew Crew advanced to their only World Series in 1982 as a member of the American League, losing the Fall Classic in seven games to Keith Hernandez and his Cardinals cohorts.  Who was the first team, you ask?  That would be Houston, who represented the Senior Circuit in the 2005 World Series and the Junior Circuit last year.  The Astros are also trying to become the first team since the Bronx Bummers nearly two decades ago to successfully defend their championship.

In Beantown, Red Sox fans who know baseball history are confident that their 108-win team will move on to the World Series, especially since no team with 108 regular season victories has ever failed to take home the crown.  Meanwhile, the Dodgers are trying to win back-to-back pennants for the first time in 40 years.

So who will be raising pennants in their home stadiums on Opening Day 2019?  And which teams will be watching footage of the 2017 and 2018 Yankees to learn the proper way to clean out their lockers at the end of a postseason series defeat?

You can either stay up to watch the four-hour games and then be late for school or work the following morning or you can read on to find out who will win the NLCS and ALCS.  Because, as you know, my predictions are more dependable than Giancarlo Stanton in a clutch situation and they're always completely unbiased.  (Especially now that the Yankees are no longer around.)

National League Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers

The Dodgers are playing in their third consecutive NLCS.  The Brewers are playing in their third League Championship Series.  Period.  There's no question that Los Angeles is the more experienced of the two teams.  But will that matter against a team that's won 11 straight games dating back to the regular season?

Los Angeles is the classic all-or-nothing team, as they scored 13 of their 19 runs in the NLDS via the long ball and struck out 35 times in 119 at-bats.  Basically, if you keep them in the park, they'll beat themselves, as evidenced by their .153 batting average in the Division Series when they didn't hit a home run (17 non-homer hits in 111 at-bats).

If you think that .153 average seems pretty low, then the Rockies say, "Hold my Coors Light."

Milwaukee's pitchers limited Colorado hitters to a .146 batting average in their three-game sweep over the Rockies.  Colorado, who hit 210 home runs during the regular season, failed to go deep in any of the three Division Series games against the Brewers.  In fact, the closest they came to hitting a dinger was probably when one of the Rockies' players hit a foul ball into the stands that fell inches away from their mascot.

Dinger has until April to rest up, thanks to Milwaukee's pitching staff.  (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Brewers hit well (28 hits in the three games vs. Colorado), they're patient (16 walks in the NLDS) and their pitching has been dominant since late August, allowing an average of 2.56 runs per game over their last 32 games.  The Dodgers just hit home runs.  And the red hot Brewers' staff should prevent them from doing that in this series.

Prediction: Brewers in 6.

American League Championship Series

Houston Astros vs. Boston Red Sox

Houston set a franchise record by winning 103 games in 2018.  They also allowed just 534 runs during the regular season, which were the fewest runs allowed by the team in a non-strike shortened season.  Yet despite being arguably better than the team that won it all last year, the Astros will not have home-field advantage over the Red Sox because Boston won five more games during the regular season.  And you know what?

The Astros have the Red Sox right where they want them.

The defending World Series champions had an eye-popping 57-24 record on the road in 2018.  So packing their bags to play in another team's park is probably bad news for the home team, not the Astros.

Also, Boston's bullpen has had difficulty getting the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel, as no reliever who made at least 40 appearances for the Red Sox had an ERA under 3.18.  This is a problem on a team that did not have any starter pitch 200 innings, something the Astros wouldn't know a thing about, as three of their starters (Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole) topped the 200-inning mark.

When the Astros aren't outpitching you, they're bludgeoning you with their bats, as they outscored their opponents by an incredible 263 runs.  No other team was within 34 runs of Houston's run differential.

Boston's 108 wins were impressive, but they fattened their victory total by dominating the bottom feeders of their division (31-7 record against Toronto and Baltimore) and their interleague opponents (16-4 vs. their N.L. victims).  For all you kids out there, that's a 47-11 record against the Blue Jays, Orioles and the Mets' good buddies in the N.L. East, which leaves them with a 61-43 record versus all other teams.  That's a .587 winning percentage against those other squads.  Not bad, but not dominant, either.

Houston was equally good against everyone, especially when they went up against a left-handed starting pitcher.  The Astros were 37-23 versus southpaw starters, winning more games against lefties than any other team in the American League.  On a related note, Boston's top two starters throw baseballs with their left hand.

So do you remember that factoid I mentioned earlier about all 108-win teams going on to win the World Series that year?  Do you also recall that saying, "All good things must come to an end"?  I think the latter applies here.  And I'm not just saying that because I want the 1986 Mets to remain the last 108-win team to win a title.

Prediction: Astros in 7.

Only one 108-win had the teamwork to make the dream work.  Sorry, Alex Cora.  (Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Joey's Soapbox: My 2018 Completely Unbiased Division Series Picks

Will my crew pick the Brew Crew to advance?  Like I'd give that away in the opening photo.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

What's going on?  This is Joey Beartran, and I'm ready to roll out my picks for the American League and National League Division Series.  And of course, as always, they will be completely unbiased.  That means I won't pick a team because of how they did or didn't do when they played the Mets.  I also won't pick against a team because they just happen to have someone on their roster that may have broken a former Met's leg,  Nope, that would be biased.

I will, however, pick the teams I feel have the best chance to advance to the League Championship Series.  And those picks will be based on pertinent statistics, postseason experience and whether or not they have Curtis Granderson on the team.

So who will move one step closer to the World Series just to have a light-hitting catcher such as Mike Scioscia or Yadier Molina deliver a key blow in the ninth inning?  And who can't seem to get over the events of 1988 or 2006?  (Spoiler alert:  That would be me.)

It's time for me to put my Post-Traumatic Mets Disorder aside and share my picks for the 2018 A.L. and N.L. Division Series.

National League Division Series

Colorado Rockies vs. Milwaukee Brewers

The Rockies and Brewers have no World Series titles and just two Fall Classic appearances in their combined 75 years of existence.  But once this best-of-five series is over, one of the two teams will be four wins away from a pennant.

Colorado wasn't expected to compete with the powerhouse Dodgers for the N.L. West title.  Nor were they supposed to beat the battle-tested Cubs in the N.L. Wild Card game.  But the Rockies did both, and now they might pay for it against the team with the best record in the National League.

Because ace pitcher Kyle Freeland was used in the Wild Card game, he will only be available to pitch once in the Division Series.  And by the time he takes the mound in Game Three, the Rockies could very well be facing elimination.

Colorado is going with Antonio Senzatela as its Game One starter.  Senzatela started just 13 games this season and was wild in his only appearance against the Brewers, walking three and hitting a batter in five innings of work.  Game Two starter Tyler Anderson made 32 starts for the Rockies and won just seven of those starts.  Was he just unlucky like Jacob deGrom in that his offense hit the snooze button whenever he was on the mound?  Not exactly.  Anderson pitched to a 4.55 ERA and allowed a team-high 30 home runs in 176 IP.  That doesn't bode well against a Brewers team that finished second in the National League with 218 homers.

While Milwaukee is feasting on the likes of Homer Happy Anderson and Antonio Send Nutella (autocorrect works in mysterious ways), the Rockies will be facing Junior Guerra and Jhoulys Chacin.  Neither pitcher is a household name or a Cy Young candidate.  But against the Rockies, they won't need to be.

Game One starter Guerra has unreal home/road splits, boasting a 2.48 ERA on the Miller Park mound and a 6.97 ERA away from it.  Where is Game One being played?  In the city made famous by Lenny and Squiggy, of course.  Meanwhile, Game Two starter Chacin became the first N.L. pitcher to make 35 starts in a season since Chris Carpenter in 2010.  Chacin finished the year with a solid 3.50 ERA and a career-best 1.16 WHIP.  And how has he fared in his career against the Rockies?  He's held them to a .203 batting average and .642 OPS.  No other National League team has a lower batting average against Chacin in his career and only the Giants, Diamondbacks and Phillies have a lower OPS.

By the time Freeland takes the mound in Game Three at Coors Field, the Rockies might be staring at elimination.  They'll also be staring at the fearsome threesome of Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw and MVP frontrunner Christian Yelich, who combined to produce 103 HR and 304 RBI for the Brewers.  And they did that without playing half of their games at 5,280 feet above sea level.

In the battle of beer cities, Miller > Coors.  And it's not even close.

Prediction: Brewers in 3.

Did I mention that Curtis Granderson is a Brewer?  Yet another reason to pick them to win.  (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers needed a 163rd game to win their sixth consecutive N.L. West title, or eight fewer than the Braves claimed during their unprecedented run of 14 straight division crowns.  It's no surprise that Los Angeles is in the Division Series.  What is surprising is that Atlanta is joining them, as the Braves entered the 2018 campaign just trying to avoid their fifth consecutive losing season and instead won 90 games after averaging 90 losses per season since 2014.

Los Angeles led the National League in ERA, which is not unusual for a team known for its pitching.  But check this out.  The Dodgers used a whopping 31 pitchers during the season, yet none of them pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, not that Jacob deGrom was going to let any of them compete with him for that honor.  Ninety-year-old Rich Hill was the only Dodger to reach double digits in wins and Alex Wood led the staff with just 27 starts.  So I guess you could say they're well-rested.  It was truly an odd season for the Dodgers' pitching staff.

Their hitters, on the other hand, were the epitome of all-or-nothing.  The Dodgers set franchise records in both home runs (235) and strikeouts (1,436).  But most of their homers came with no one on base.  In fact, their 157 solo shots were more than the total number of homers hit by five major league teams.  So basically, a good pitching staff that isn't susceptible to the long ball and can strike out a batter or ten should be able to handle the Dodgers' bats.

For the record, the Braves allowed the third-fewest homers in the majors (153) and finished in MLB's top ten in strikeouts recorded (1,423).  Just like Chase Utley, this one's a no-brainer.

Prediction: Braves in 4.

Rejoice!  Chase Utley will officially be retired after this series.  (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

American League Division Series

Cleveland Indians vs. Houston Astros

In this battle between the last two American League pennant winners, let's not look at the defending World Series champion Astros and instead focus on the three-time A.L. Central champion Cleveland Indians.

The Indians became the first team in history to have four pitchers strike out 200 or more hitters, as Carlos Carrasco (231 Ks), Corey Kluber (222 Ks), Trevor Bauer (221 Ks) and Mike Clevinger (207 Ks) spent most of the year sending opposing hitters back to their respective dugouts.

On the offensive side, Cleveland produced a trio of 30-HR hitters (Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion) and was also the American League's biggest threat on the bases, producing a league-leading 135 stolen bases.

But there's just one problem with the Indians.  And it's a pretty big one.  Are you ready for this?

Oliver Perez is their best relief pitcher.

The former Met boo magnet made 51 appearances for the Indians in 2018 and produced a 1.39 ERA and 0.74 WHIP.  He also struck out 43 batters while walking just seven.  How did his colleagues in the bullpen fare?  You may want to sit down for this one.

Closer Cody Allen had a 4.70 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 70 appearances.  Six other relievers not named Oliver Perez made at least 30 appearances for the Indians.  All six had an ERA of at least 4.24 and a WHIP north of 1.26.

Basically, if your best option out of the bullpen is O.P., then you're pretty much D.O.A. against a team like the Astros.  It also doesn't help that the Indians' 91-71 record was a product of playing in baseball's worst division, as they went 49-27 against their fellow A.L. Central teams and 42-44 versus non-division opponents.  Needless to say, Houston doesn't call the A.L. Central home.

This series shouldn't be close.

Prediction: Astros in 3.

Playing the defending World Champions would make anyone go prematurely gray.  (William Purnell/Getty Images)

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

I'll make this simple for you without being biased.  The Red Sox became the fourth team in history to win exactly 108 games.  They matched the victory total of the 1970 Baltimore Orioles, 1975 Cincinnati Reds and 1986 New York Mets.  What do those three teams have in common besides the number of regular season happy recaps?  Champagne in late October, that's what.

Had the Red Sox won 109 games instead of 108, there would be no guarantee of a parade because the 1969 Orioles had that many victories and didn't win it all.  (I wonder who did...)  Similarly, if the Red Sox had lost their final regular season game to finish the year with 107 wins, they would have matched the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics' victory total.  The A's lost the Fall Classic that year to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Meanwhile, the Yankees became the ninth team since 1980 to finish the season with exactly 100 victories.  How many championships were won by the previous eight 100-win teams?  It's the same as the number of Washington Nationals postseason series victories.  In fact, five of those eight 100-win teams didn't even make it to the League Championship Series.

So forget about the stats.  Forget about head-to-head records.  (The Red Sox won the season series against the Yankees anyway, in case you were wondering.)  History cannot be denied.  Teams with 108 wins take home the crown.  Teams with 100 wins make plans to play golf during the World Series.

Prediction: Red Sox in 5.

Fenway Park, where Evil Empire dreams go to die.  (EL/SM)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Joey's Soapbox: My 2018 Completely Unbiased Wild Card Game Picks

Remember, these are completely unbiased picks.  So this photo of me at gorgeous Coors Field is just a total coincidence.

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran, your furry fearless forecaster.  And just like you, I'm only now starting to recover from the David Wright Kleenex Fest this past weekend at Citi Field.  It's sad that the Captain's career is over, just like it's disappointing that the Mets are not in the postseason for a second consecutive campaign.

Because the Mets are emptying out their lockers instead of packing for an October road trip, that means we all have to watch teams in which we have no interest competing for a championship that has eluded our squad for nearly a third of a century.

Some of those non-Metsian teams were forced to play a 163rd game to determine who would get the chance to celebrate a division title and who would have to play in the same do-or-die game the Mets lost the last time they made the playoffs two seasons ago.  The Cubs and Rockies both lost their 163rd and final regular season games, forcing them to play in a 164th and first postseason game against each other, with the loser not getting a chance to play in a 165th game.  Meanwhile, the Yankees and A's already knew their wild card fate for some time, allowing them to prepare for the inevitable Yankee defeat.  (Oops, I should've said "spoiler alert".)

As your prescient prognosticator, it's my duty to share my knowledge of what's going to happen in the American and National League Wild Card games.  And hopefully, I won't spoil anything for you too soon like I did in the previous paragraph.  (On an unrelated note, don't you just love the photo of me at the top of this post?  Looks like the photo of a winning ballpark, doesn't it?)

National League Wild Card Game

Colorado Rockies vs. Chicago Cubs

Well, leave it to the Rockies to get so close to winning their first division title only to kiss it goodbye in their 163rd game.  Then again, the Rockies are no strangers to making it to the playoffs as a second-place team.  They've now qualified for the postseason five times in their quarter century of existence, with every appearance coming as the No. 2 team in the N.L. West.  Meanwhile, the Cubs surrendered the N.L. Central crown in their 163rd game but still made the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season; the first time they've ever done that in their long history, which dates back to 1876, or the year Scott Atchison was born.

The Cubs won four more games than the Rockies did during the regular season and have far more playoff experience than Colorado does.  Chicago manager Joe Maddon has taken his North Siders to the playoffs four times, immediately on the heels of taking his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, to the postseason on four occasions.  Maddon has also won more pennants (two) than his counterpart, Bud Black, has managed postseason games (one).  And you can always expect the crowd at Wrigley Field to be raucous, especially in a do-or-die game.

Cole Hamels
Everything seems to suggest that the Cubs should easily dispose of the Rockies in the Wild Card game.  Colorado has to overcome a playoff-tested opponent managed by a potential future Hall of Famer.  They also have to play 4,683 feet closer to sea level than they're used to.

But the Rockies have one key advantage over the Cubs.  Colorado doesn't have Cole Hamels on their payroll.  Chicago does.  And really, that's all that matters to me.  Because no team that feels the need to fatten Hamels' wallet should ever be allowed to advance in the postseason.

Prediction: Colorado will advance to the NLDS.

American League Wild Card Game

Oakland A's vs. New York Yankees

The Yankees were expected to run roughshod over the rest of the American League this season.  They didn't quite do that, finishing eight games behind the rival Red Sox in the A.L. East.  Meanwhile, Oakland was expected to sell off their players at the trade deadline after a disappointing start.  Instead, they added pitchers Edwin Jackson, Shawn Kelley, Mike Fiers, Fernando Rodney and some guy named Jeurys Familia and went 63-29 in their last 92 games to comfortably secure the second wild card spot.

A's versus Yankees usually doesn't end up well for the team from the left coast.  The two teams have faced each other three times in the postseason (1981, 2000, 2001).  New York emerged victorious on each occasion.  (I have a selective memory, so I'm choosing to ignore what happened in the World Series in 1973.  If I ignore it, then it didn't happen.)

It's not just in baseball where New York takes care of Oakland in postseason affairs.  On December 29, 1968, the New York Jets defeated the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship Game on their way to their first and only Super Bowl title.

If it seems like no one can remember the last time Oakland defeated New York in anything (remember, 1973 never happened in my mind), that's because no one was allowed to see it when it happened.  I mean that literally, not figuratively.

Ever hear of "The Heidi Game"?  On November 17, 1968, the Jets held a 32-29 lead over the Raiders with under a minute to play.  The NBC television network was broadcasting the game, but because they were obligated to show the movie "Heidi" at 7:00pm, the game did not air to its conclusion and the football-loving audience instead saw the first few minutes of "Heidi" instead of two touchdowns by the Raiders, which turned an apparent New York victory into a bitter 43-32 defeat.

Sheldon, you're no Heidi.
The Heidi Game will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in less than seven weeks.  I can't think of a better way to celebrate that special moment in sports history - one in which no one saw a team from Oakland defeating a club that calls New York home - than by having the A's ending the Yankees' season, hopefully without TBS switching off the game to show reruns of "The Big Bang Theory."

Prediction: Oakland will advance to the ALDS.