By: Mike Carter
We have lived six months of the baseball season. One hundred and sixty-two games up, and one hundred and sixty-two down. And the excitement is just beginning for many of us as the second season is set to begin this week.
It’s been a strange season full of interesting stories, as usual. The home run is alive and well with more hit this year than ever. How many? 6,105. Do you believe that? Also, we saw the most strikeouts ever, with 40,105. Wow. Is this the game we really want? I am not sure I like where it’s headed if this is the case.
We had Aaron Judge’s huge rookie season, and saw Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy (finally) and hit 59 home runs. We saw teams like the Dodgers and Astros run out to huge division leads and coast to the playoffs. We witnessed both World Series combatants from last year struggle at points only to catch fire when it really counted. Did you realize that at one point the Cleveland Indians were 48-45 in July? All they have done since then is go 54-15, including 32 of their last 36. That’s the right time to get hot, isn’t it? The Chicago Cubs won 92 games this year and will be tough to beat in any series again this year. However even their most ardent supporters recognize that something was off in the mix this year. Watching them here in Chicago, they have the swagger but do they have the chops to pull it off again? It’s very hard to do. Their starting pitching must be better for them to make another run, but they certainly can hit with anyone in this thing.
Many folks, including Kelly, want the Los Angeles Dodgers to win, and they could. They had a 43-7 stretch earlier this year. However, they have some problems. Their bullpen has shown signs of strain the last few weeks and they survived a forgettable late August/early September stretch. They have great pitching in Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Yu Darvish, and closer Kenley Jensen is beyond filthy and unhittable, which should keep them in any series. They struggle to score runs, though, and I think that does them in this year.
The Washington Nationals are another powerhouse, and they recently welcomed back Bryce Harper. They feature a top three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and a resurgent Gio Gionzalez. Tough to beat, and a great lineup consisting of Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman teaming with Harper. However, their bullpen, while better in the second half, is full of questions and likely implosions. They have a rock solid team and could be the last tam standing…even with Dusty Baker managing….
In the American League, we have the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees entering the fray. Both teams had good years. The Red Sox have remade themselves on the fly into a great defensive team after losing David Ortiz to retirement. Their starting pitching after Chris Sale is totally in question right now, and this is a bad time to have those questions. I thought they were a serious threat two months ago, but I have cooled on them. The Yankees were led by a monster season from Judge and his 51 home runs, and had really good pitching all year. However, one never seems to know what version of “aces” you are going to get with Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka. Luis Severino has been their best but you need more than one stud to get there. They aren’t going to make it for a deep run.
Of course we have the Houston Astros, too, who ran away with the division this year. A deep lineup led by the diminutive spark plug Jose Altuve and budding superstar Carlos Correa scored more runs than anyone this year. The addition of Justin Verlander, who has been lights out since his trade from Detroit, to Dallas Kuechel gives them two big arms on top of their great lineup. However, have you watched them closely? They cannot catch the ball. And in the coming big games, the margin of error is razor thin. An error here or misplay there can cost you a series, and I think that gets them here.
So who’s going to win the World Series this year, the best event in sports? In the preseason, the guys at 9 Inning Know It All asked me to pick. After lots of thought and hand-wringing, I picked the Cleveland Indians to win it, and I see no reason to back off that claim now. They have the best pitching in this tournament; three starters with 17 or more wins, including Corey Kluber, a fear-inducing bullpen, and the star power of Francisco Lindor and the emergent Jose Ramirez (thanks for helping me win a fantasy title, Jose). I am really pulling for them to end their drought this year and want the country to see how good this team is, live in the playoffs. This is a veteran, experienced club that wins with pitching and defense, and they have more of it than anyone else in the field.
And who will they play? Well, that’s up in the air, but what team have I not mentioned yet? It’s the Arizona Diamondbacks. There is something about this team, friends. Yes, they have to win the Wild Card Game (which is dumb; it should be different, and I have ideas on that, too for another essay), but this team has real talent. They are quiet and go about their work in methodical fashion. Paul Goldschmidt is a true giant of the game and gets support from AJ Pollock and the recently acquired JD Martinez, who is also a hitting machine. The pitching is led by Zach Greinke and Robbie Ray. Not many people have seen them play, but a bunch of people are going to know how good this squad is if they make a deep run in the playoffs.
So that’s what I am calling for: the Diamondbacks versus the Indians. And I pick the Indians in six games. It would be nice to be right about something for once. While I am a diehard White Sox fan and watched them lose 95 games while starting a rebuild this year, I thoroughly enjoyed this season and hope for an exciting playoffs before winter hits and locks us in until March. Happy watching!!!
Who are you picking this year? Leave your comments here. I would love to see other opinions on this!