In most cases it took 162 games to decide who was worthy of battling for post-season glory. For the San Francisco Giants and the Toronto Blue Jays it took an extra game to decide who would have the right to face each conferences number 1 seed. Now it is time for the real games to begin!
In the National League we have two matchups that have the potential to be straight pitching duels.
San Francisco Giants v. Chicago Cubs
This matchup pits the best team in baseball against the team that has won the World Series in the past 3 even years. The Cubs had the best pitching staff in baseball. Led by aces Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, Chicago was first in the league in ERA(earned runs average), Opp. BA(opponents batting average), and WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). They were assisted by a lineup that was in the top 5 of the league in both runs scored and OBS (on base percentage). This combination of pitching and hitting led the Cubs to win 103 games.
Their opponents, the San Francisco Giants, had to rely on the Wild Card game to gain entry to the playoffs and therefore will not be able to count on a game 1 performance from ace Madison Bumgarner. This season, the Giants have counted on their pitching staff, who was 4th in baseball in ERA and WHIP. Where the Giants will struggle is at the plate. They were middle of the league in all hitting stats this year.
Because of the large difference in quality of these teams, the Chicago Cubs are the easy choice to move on to the NLCS.
Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals
This series appears to be set up as another pitching duel. The Dodgers staff was 5th in ERA and 2nd in WHIP and Opp. BA. This was without having Clayton Kershaw for most of the season, but he is now back and looks ready to go for the post season run. On the other side of the field, the Nationals pitchers were also top five in these three pitching stats this season. They are led by Max Scherzer and are looking to advance to the NLCS this year.
The other key component for these teams is hitting. Both teams are fairly even here as well. They spent the season being middle of the road at the plate, which makes this series likely to be dominated by pitching.
In the end, the Dodgers will be able to prevail as they have a deeper rotation to call on and that will allow their stars to be more sharp when they are called upon.
In the American League there are two vastly different series. The Toronto Texas series appears to be more of an uneven series, while the Boston Cleveland series seems to be evenly matched between the two teams.
Toronto Blue Jays v. Texas Rangers
This series is not going to be a matchup of top pitching staffs. The Rangers were in the bottom 1/3 of the MLB. On the other hand, the Jays are top 5 in pitching this year.
When it comes to performance at the plate, both teams rank in the top 10 in most categories. Because of this, there is no edge at the plate due to the reliance on power hitters by both teams.
Despite having to play in through the Wild Card game, the Toronto Blue Jays will be successful in this series as they are the more well rounded team. Their pitching strength will help them keep the Rangers off the board, while their bats will give them a lead to work with. This series will be worth some extra attention not only because of the caliber of teams that are playing, but also because of their history. Earlier this year these teams had a brawl in their final meeting, which led to quite a few susensions, but also seemed to spark the Rangers to get to this point.
Cleveland Indians v. Boston Red Sox
This series features two teams with top tier pitching talent. Both of these staffs were inside the top 10 in ERA, WHIP and Opp. BA throughout the course of the 2016 season. With that being said, the Red Sox have the edge here since the Indians have two of their top pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, out for the rest of the year.
With the Tribe losing the edge in pitching, they will also be behind the eight ball at the plate as Boston was 1st in the MLB in runs scored, BA, OBS, and Slugging percentage. The Indians were not too far behind, placing in the top ten for each stat, however if they can not get runners on base then the most aggressive base running team in the majors will not be able to get runners in good position to score enough runs to beat Boston.
In the end Boston will come out of this series victorious due to the fact that the Indians have a weakened rotation and have been less successful at the plate than the Red Sox have been this year.