Now that we know who was in and who was out in this postseason, it is time to dissect what did and didn’t happen.
Of course, these are only my opinions. That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone likes the same thing.
Here is what I saw and here are some candid opinions:
COLORADO ROCKIES (NL WILD CARD) L
The Arizona Diamondbacks hosted the Rockies at Chase Field in the National League Wild Card. Arizona jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first three innings off a trio of Rockies pitchers including right-handers Jon Gray, Scott Oberg and lefty Tyler Anderson. Those runs should have been enough to seal the deal and send Colorado back to their homes for the winter. It didn’t work that way. The Rockies clawed their way back into the game and were competitive until the Dbacks scored two runs in the 7th and three runs in the 8th to win 11-8.
Rockies starter Jon Gray was really nervous. He couldn’t throw strikes, got behind in counts and yielded 7 hits, 4 earned runs and a home run to Paul Goldschmidt. He lasted all of 1 1/3 innings. It was a nightmare.
Usually reliable Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu went a combined 0-9 at the top of the order. Blackmon won the batting title (.331) but didn’t help in this game.
The Rockies have an incredible offensive team. They can do damage anywhere in their batting order with hitters like Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Reynolds and Jonathan Lucroy in addition to Blackmon and LeMahieu. But they hit better at home (who doesn’t hit at Coors Field?) than on the road.
The Diamondbacks had home-field advantage and played before the loudest crowd I had heard at Chase Field since the 2001 World Series.
Next year the Rockies will still need a “shut down” ace pitcher for the postseason. Jon Gray is good. He isn’t an ace. Not yet. But keep your eye on the Rockies.
With former pitcher Bud Black as their manager, they are in for some improved pitching and a better-balanced team in the future. I like them as they move forward with an aggressive and confident roster.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (NL WILD CARD) W
In my view, one huge issue turned the entire postseason around for Arizona. Due to the collapse of Zack Greinke early in the game, manager Torey Lovullo was forced to turn to his left-handed starter Robbie Ray to pitch in the game. Ray went 2 1/3 innings in relief, making him unavailable to start the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. It left Arizona short of pitching options to face the team with the best pitching in the playoffs. It was a fatal issue. But Greinke left Lovullo with no choice. They had to win the Wild Card game or pack their bags for the golf courses.
But in the game itself, Arizona came out hitting. They got the Rockies down and held on to win. They hit in the game, but the pitching showed the ultimate Diamondbacks flaw; there just was not enough depth and quality in the bullpen.
In the game, the first three batters in the lineup set the tone. Between David Peralta (three) Ketel Marte (three) and Paul Goldschmidt (two) the trio had eight hits in 15 trips to the plate. Marte had two triples- a rare feat.
Lovullo used seven pitchers to cobble together a win in the game, leaving nothing to chance and depleting his pitching staff for the future series. He had no choice. It was win or go home and it was the Rockies who went home.
MINNESOTA TWINS (AL WILD CARD) L
This team has a very explosive and exciting offense and they will be heard from again. What went wrong? The New York Yankees exposed their lack of pitching depth early.
The Twins jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the mustard was on the hot dog. Then they let the Yankees off the hook by leaving the bases loaded against flame-throwing righty Chad Green who came in for a very nervous and wild Luis Severino after Severino lasted only 1/3 of an inning. Green squirmed off the hook by striking out the side and putting a dagger in the hearts of Twins fans. The game was never the same. Had Minnesota continued their rally while Green was on the mound, the outcome may have been different. But they didn’t and it wasn’t.
In his career, Ervin Santana has had more trouble winning on the road than at home. He hasn’t pitched well at all at Yankee Stadium. Enter Santana to pitch this Wild Card game and his stuff was “flat”. He couldn’t find the strike zone with his slider and secondary pitches. He was wild to the tune of yielding three hits and two walks in 2 innings. That can’t happen against the thunder of the Yankees. He was missing with his pitches and had to “come in” to the center of the plate. He got smoked. He took the mound with the lead and coughed it up instantly.
Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario both hit home runs in this game. Both are very dangerous hitters, but their bats weren’t enough for Minnesota. They lost 8-4.
The Twins must fortify their pitching in both the rotation and the bullpen. Yes, I think they can return to the postseason next year, but only if they can get stronger and more consistent arms.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS: (NLDS) W (NLCS) W
Pitching, pitching and more pitching. As if left-handers Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill weren’t enough of a shutdown trio, the Dodgers went out and added right-hander Yu Darvish in a trade with the Rangers. And we can’t forget that the team has an outstanding bullpen that is anchored by unhittable closer Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers are loaded with pitching depth. And pitching plus defense helps win games in the postseason.
The Dodgers are headed to the World Series because they bring a balanced team to every game they play.
It really is hard to find a hitter more locked in than Justin Turner. But Enrique Hernandez proved that the offense can come from anywhere in the lineup, as Hernandez hit three home runs against the Cubs in Game 5 of their NLCS series.
The guy that makes it all happen is manager Dave Roberts. He uses his entire roster and knows his team inside and out. The Dodgers do use metrics in their approach, but they also trust the opinion of their manager. It was Roberts who fought to keep Yasiel Puig on the team’s roster instead of trading him. Puig proved Roberts correct with a turnaround season.
Chris Taylor, the co-MVP of the NLCS along with Turner is one of the few players that can play CF and SS and not have his team lose defensive strength. Taylor is a perfect fit for the Dodgers. Now they go on to play in the World Series.
NEW YORK YANKEES: (WILD CARD) W, (ALDS) W (ALCS) L
Yankees fans have to be elated at the tremendous postseason success of their team. We could see this coming as the regular season progressed. There were too many signs the team was blending together nicely with power, timely hitting, terrific starting pitching and a fabulous bullpen.
Aaron Judge has been a feast or famine hitter in the postseason. He has piled up the strikeouts. But he has inflicted damage on every team he has faced. He can hit home runs and doubles that scream off his bat. And he can make outstanding catches in the outfield by using his height and better than average athletic ability.
CC Sabathia has to be the real “feel good” story for New York. Once considered to have been “done” by many, Sabathia has come back to be the type of shut down pitcher he was with both the Indians and Brewers earlier in his career. His stuff is flat out nasty. He can reach out and touch a championship and he has the ability to lead his team in that direction.
I have been telling anyone who would listen about Didi Gregorious since I first put eyes on him when he was a raw rookie player with the Cincinnati Reds. Put mildly, the guy can play. He has terrific hands, great range and a gun for an arm. Once his hitting tool developed and he found a home with the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium, the complete Didi was displayed. And wait until Joe Girardi lets him run. He’s fast. He can steal bases. Didi is a complete five-tool player and probably one of only a few guys I’m aware of that could step into the position played by Derek Jeter.
It is the Yankees starting pitching as well as their shutdown bullpen that ultimately won the day over the Indians. Through good scouting and execution of the scouts’ plans, the pitching silenced the Tribe.
Danger can come from anywhere in the Yankees lineup. Todd Frazier, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are true sluggers in any park. But the real bombs come off the bats of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird-three very powerful power hitters that just add more fuel to the offensive fire.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS: (NLDS) (L)
Adios, again. Thanks for playing. The Nationals came up short once again and it really is becoming a pattern. This time it cost manager Dusty Baker his job.
The Nationals have puzzled lots of analysts. They have two great pitchers in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. They pitched their hearts out-but the offense laid an egg. The team didn’t hit and as a result, the Nationals are watching the game from the comfort of their homes.
Going forward it may be difficult for pitcher Gio Gonzalez to repeat the great year he had this season. Tanner Roark is good, but is he good enough to extend a series if needed?
But I’m more concerned that like the Indians in the postseason, the offense tried to take everything out of the yard and struck out, made easy outs, and played into the hands of the opposition. In trying to do too much, the offense did too little.
Ultimately, how much money will ownership want to invest in a team that is always an early out? And we shouldn’t forget that Ryan Zimmerman had a career year. Can he do it again? What happens to the injury-prone Bryce Harper?
I’m beginning to think the Nationals window is beginning to close. The new manager will have lots to say about their future. But frankly, I don’t know what they can do to get to that next level. They’re a good team. They just ran into teams that were better in the moment. And like the Four Tops sang many years ago, “It’s the Same Old Song”.
CLEVELAND INDIANS: ALDS (L)
The tires went flat in the Division Series. Up with a convincing two-game lead, all they had to do was win one game to move to the American League Championship Series. The Yankees came back and won three in a row. And they beat Corey Kluber to do it.
Frankly, the Yankees were the better team. The Indians bats looked like toothpicks or pencils in their hands. They were swinging at the night air. Lots of strikeouts. Few hits. Their stars imploded.
The Indians had a great season. However, I have to be critical here. Where was Yandy Diaz in the postseason? Home. Watching it on TV. Not on the roster. But oft-injured Michael Brantley got a playoff spot. And Jason Kipnis played center field. I didn’t like either of those moves.
The window remains open for Cleveland, but this year’s playoff loss was worse to me than losing the World Series to the Cubs in Game 7 last year. The Indians pitching staff was at full strength this time around. It wasn’t last year. With the exception of Bradley Zimmer, the Indians had healthy players. Zimmer was a big loss, but Austin Jackson could have played center in every game. He didn’t. Kipnis did.
This is one time I think Terry Francona may have over-managed his roster. The net result is a huge letdown. The team has to go through the entire 162-game season once again to get to the same point. I’m not sure the results will be much different. The Yankees are getting stronger.
HOUSTON ASTROS: (ALDS) W, (ALCS) W
Astros management and Astros fans can be grateful and thankful for Justin Verlander. What a postseason he has had. Where would the team be without the arrival of Verlander? He’s terrific. He’s tireless. He throws more than 120 pitches in complete games, giving a suspect bullpen the rest they require.
Dallas Keuchel and Verlander are a terrific one-two punch. But even with the good outing from Lance McCullers, I don’t believe the Astros have the starting pitching to compete against a team like the Dodgers with a deeper rotation.
The Astros lineup is lethal. From All-Star Jose Altuve to shortstop Carlos Correa to third baseman Alex Bregman to outfielders George Springer, to swing players Yuli Gurriel and Marwin Gonzalez, where does the offense end? They have impact hitters all over the diamond.
The Astros are built around metrics. They follow statistics probably more than any team. They match pitchers to hitters and hitters to pitchers. I give them credit for moving the franchise along so well.
I do think the Astros will have to shore up their pitching to contend year after year in the American League.
Even if the Astros can count on three good pitchers going forward next year, they still have to shore up their starting rotation with a No. 4 guy they can use with confidence in a seven-game postseason series.
Yankee Stadium has the short right field porch. Minute Maid Park in Houston has those Crawford boxes in left field that are very inviting for right-handed hitters. And the Astros have guys that can make a living reaching the Crawford boxes.
One big change in Minute Maid has helped every team that plays a game there. When the facility opened, a large “hill” was built in dead center field. The incline was called “Tal’s Hill” after then team executive Tal Smith. It caused havoc and was dangerous for outfielders. The hill is now gone, leaving a level playing field for all. The Astros are for real. And they are going to the World Series.
CHICAGO CUBS: NLDS (W) NLCS (L)
I know Cubs fans feel manager Joe Maddon is spectacular. I think the clubhouse and dugout environments he creates keeping the team loose are admirable. I feel his game management is miserable. And it hasn’t been just this season. There are moves he has made that make me scratch my head. Moves like bringing starter John Lackey into a game that is on the line in late innings. When he had relievers like closer Wade Davis available. Moves like putting less than average defender Ian Happ, normally a second baseman into center field with the game on the line in the late innings. Moves like starting Kyle Schwarber against left-handed starters when he knows Schwarber struggles against lefties. I just don’t get it.
Even with questionable moves by Maddon, I feel the Cubs were way behind in starting pitching against the Dodgers right from the beginning. I don’t think a rotation of Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Jake Arrieta (hamstring tight and sore) could compete through a seven-game series. They lasted four. Their bullpen had not earned Maddon’s confidence, either.
The corner infielders for the Cubs are among the best in the business with Kris Bryant at third and Anthony Rizzo at first. But they were held relatively quiet with good opposition pitching in the postseason. Addison Russell and Javier Baez didn’t hit either.
Going forward, what do the Cubs do with the horrific salary of outfielder Jason Heyward? On the television post-game show, Gary Sheffield said the team has no choice but to trade him.
They could also lose Arrieta to free agency. That seems more than likely. If that happens, the already suspect pitching depth will take another hit.
The outfield is another huge question? Schwarber, the left fielder is really a designated hitter. Who plays center? I love the defense of Albert Almora. They should put him there and leave him there. His defense compensates for any lack of offense he provides. Right field? I ask you, would you want Heyward starting every game in your lineup? He’s fine on defense, but on offense? No thank you.
So the Cubs have fallen. Enter the Dodgers again. And enter the Yankees. And the Astros will continue to roll on. And I wonder what happens to the Indians? And what about the Rockies, and the Twins all those other teams who came up a bit short? That’s what makes baseball so great. There is always next year.
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