MLB: Take 5: Top storylines for ALDS, NLDS
The Boston Red Sox took out their arch-rival New York Yankees in the American League wild-card game. The 106-victory Los Angeles Dodgers outlasted the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card game to advance.
The stage is set for entertaining AL Division Series and NL Division Series. Here are five storylines to follow:
SULTANS OF SWING
You will see aggressive hitting in these playoffs with the “three true outcome” (homer, walk, strikeout) mentality leading the way.
The Red Sox had six players with 110 or more strikeouts, led by Bobby Dalbec with 156. The Tampa Bay Rays had six players with 113 or more strikeouts, led by Randy Arozarena with 170. And that doesn’t include the hacktastic Nelson Cruz, a late-season addition who struck out 126 times overall.
The Rays and Red Sox also can hit homers in bunches, so expect to the teams to coming out swinging in their ALDS.
Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley combined for 335 strikeouts for the Atlanta Braves, who will swing at a lot of first pitches in their NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada combined to fan 300 times for the Chicago White Sox this season. They will lead a power-driven offense against the Houston Astros in their ALDS.
The Giants led the NL in home runs, and the Dodgers were third.
NO CHEATING IS NECESSARY
You won’t hear a cacophony of trash-can drumming when the Astros face the White Sox. Houston doesn’t need to steal signs and tip off hitters to build big innings.
The Astros’ team on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .784 leads all playoff teams. Kyle Tucker (.917 OPS), Yordan Alvarez (.877), Carlos Correa (.850), Yuli Gurriel (.846) and Jose Altuve (.839) propel a lineup loaded with tough outs.
Besides, White Sox manager Tony La Russa will keep a close watch on them …
LONGSTANDING LA RUSSA-BAKER HEAT
Way back when, Dusty Baker was a trusted veteran player on the La Russa-managed Oakland A’s in 1986. He later followed La Russa’s lead to embark on a highly successful managerial career.
Both men are famously feisty. Both protect their players. La Russa and Baker have had some epic run-ins over the years, while La Russa managed the Cardinals and Baker led the Giants, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.
They really got after each other during a 2010 Cardinals-Reds brawl — and hard feelings lingered for years after that.
Now La Russa, who turned 77 on Monday, will guide the White Sox against Baker, 72, and his Astros. There were no issues between these AARP-eligible skippers during the regular season, but the stakes are raised in October.
PITCHING, PITCHING, PITCHING
If you love starting pitching, the Braves-Brewers series is for you.
The Brewers rolled to the NL Central title behind starting pitchers Corbin Burnes (11-5, 2.43 ERA), Brandon Woodruff (9-10, 2.56) and Freddy Peralta (10-5, 2.81). And Adrian Houser (10-6, 3.22) could step in as a fourth starter or middle reliever.
The Braves can counter that with the fourth-best rotation ERA in the NL, led by Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34), Max Fried (14-7, 3.04) and Ian Anderson (9-5, 3.58).
Both teams have dominant left-handed closers — Josh Hader for the Brewers, Will Smith for the Braves — but both also suffered some September adventures getting to the ninth inning.
GIANTS-DODGERS RIVALRY RUNS DEEP
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts emptied his deep bench and flexed his bullpen to get his team past the Cardinals. The Giants are equipped to match that maneuvering and then some.
The NLDS showdown between 107-win and 106-win rivals should be special.
Gabe Kapler’s deep San Francisco bullpen led the majors with a 2.99 ERA. The Giants had six relievers make 57 or more appearances while recording sub-3.00 ERAs. And that doesn’t count Camilo Doval, who went 5-1 with three saves and 37 strikeouts in 27 innings.
But Roberts has a great bullpen, too, and arguably the better rotation despite Clayton Kershaw’s injury. Let the machinations begin.
–By Jeff Gordon, Field Level Media