With the Cardinals back in the MLB postseason for the first time in four calendar years, the tournament should once again have the full attention of St. Louis fans. But after claiming the NL Central, how far can the Cards take their postseason journey this time around?
Let’s dive into my predictions for each series of the 2019 MLB Postseason:
NL Wild Card Game: Milwaukee Brewers at Washington Nationals
The Brewers thrived in last year’s postseason on the strength of an unconventional pitching strategy that saw their bullpen record a remarkable 12.1 scoreless innings in a 3-0 NLDS sweep of the Colorado Rockies. Milwaukee’s relievers then ran out of steam a bit in a seven-game NLCS loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the irregular pitching blueprint carried the club farther than many expected that season.
Milwaukee’s bullpen is once again the strength of its team, so the Brewers are likely to pull out all the stops in similar fashion on Tuesday when vying for a spot in the NLDS. But with Max Scherzer on the other side in a one-game, winner-take-all setting, I don’t think the Brewers are as equipped to succeed. Though the Brewers are 18-4 with Brandon Woodruff on the mound this season, Scherzer is ferocious competitor with some of the best stuff on the planet.
Pitching at home, Mad Max will face a lineup devoid of last year’s MVP Christian Yelich, a lineup that limps into the postseason after being swept by the last-place Rockies over the weekend in a series of critical importance for Milwaukee. The loss there meant there was no avoiding Scherzer in this game; the Brewers are going to make a quick exit in the playoffs because of it.
Prediction: Nationals 5, Brewers 2
AL Wild Card Game: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics
This year’s AL Wild Card Game pairs up a couple Davids near the bottom of the league’s payroll rankings, with the winner’s prize being a best-of-five series with Goliath, the Houston Astros.
The Athletics will throw Sean Manaea, the 27-year-old lefty who was dynamite in five September starts (1.20 ERA) after missing the bulk of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. He'll be followed by a steady parade of relievers.
For Cardinals fans, it’ll be worth tuning into this game solely to see what Rays outfielder Tommy Pham does with a central role on a playoff team (he made just one start for the Cardinals in the 2015 NLDS; he homered). Given the Rays haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, Pham is a rare player on the Tampa roster with postseason experience. Another is their starting pitcher for Wednesday, Charlie Morton, whose experience as a member of the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros (he recorded the final out of that Series) is certainly a feather in their cap.
It’s funny how closely these two teams mirror one another. The Athletics are likely to be aggressive in deploying their bullpen, but I like the Rays chances to scrape across runs off Oakland pitching in support of Morton. He likely won’t go incredibly deep into the game, either, given Tampa’s similarly analytic-heavy approach to pitching, but I expect him to give the Rays a winning effort. Oh, and Tommy Pham is going to do something cool at some point.
Prediction: Rays 6, Athletics 4
NLDS: (1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (4) Washington Nationals
On paper, the Dodgers are the best team in the National League. They’ve got thump at nearly every spot in the lineup, but Cody Bellinger is the MVP-candidate around which the entire thing revolves. His 1.035 OPS this season ranks behind only Mike Trout and Christian Yelich, neither of whom will be active for this postseason. The Dodgers also boast an intimidating top three in their pitching rotation, capable of giving opposing batters fits deep into October.
On the other side, the Nats offensive attack might not be quite as deep as LA, but their one-two punch of Anthony Rendon (.319/.412/.598) and Juan Soto (.282/.401/.548) both ranked within the NL’s top six in OPS. I like Soto to have a big postseason if the Nationals can extend their stay beyond Tuesday night. Since Washington needs Scherzer for that Wild Card Game, he’ll likely be locked in for just one start in the NLDS. The Nats will fall back on Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin for key starts in the series, while the Dodgers will be operating at full strength with the luxury of lining up Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu in any order they please. I’d also give the Dodgers the edge in the back-end of games, as fringe starters Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Ross Stripling and Julio Urias should thrive in shorter bursts as weapons in relief.
Prediction: Dodgers in 5
NLDS: (2) Atlanta Braves vs. St. Louis Cardinals
While the Cardinals have the hottest pitcher in the game available for Games 2 and 5 of this series, the Braves have a more reliable rotation beyond their top option, Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68 ERA). In fact, after enduring some bumps along the way in 2019, Mike Foltynewicz has returned to form with a vengeance lately, going 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA in his last five starts. He’ll be a tough customer for a Cardinals lineup that has been sporadic with its production this season. Dallas Keuchel, Julio Teheran and Max Fried are the other candidates for starts in the series. As sturdy as the Atlanta rotation--and revamped bullpen--appears to be, it really feels like the outcome of the best-of-five set will be determined by which Cardinals offense shows up.
Will Paul Goldschmidt be Paul Goldschmidt? Because that didn't always happen during his first season in St. Louis. Will veterans like Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter show up in key moments? How will red-hot rookie Tommy Edman perform under the bright lights of his first-career postseason opportunity? Without a bona fide anchor to the lineup this season, the Cardinals will lean on the depth of its roster to produce in the clutch. Oh, and Jack Flaherty. They’ll lean on him pretty heavily. Based solely upon his availability on regular rest for Game 5, I like the Cardinals to win the series if they can extend it to that decisive final game.
Prediction: Cardinals in 5
ALDS: (1) Houston Astros vs. (4) Tampa Bay Rays
Whichever team comes out of the AL Wild Card Game will have tremendous underdog vibes on its side, but the Houston Astros are a literal superteam. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are Cy Young winners. Gerrit Cole could take home his first Cy this year, unless a teammate snipes it from him. The trio is unfathomably good. I don’t care how plucky and likable and analytically sound the Rays are; the Astros are better.
Houston touts Alex Bregman (1.015 OPS), George Springer (.974), Jose Altuve (.903), Yuli Gurriel (.884) and Michael Brantley (.875) among the top 20 American League hitters in OPS. Oh, and though Yordan Alvarez (1.067) didn’t qualify based on plate appearances, the mammoth rookie is more than qualified to wreck baseballs throughout this postseason. The Astros are a freight train; next stop, the ALCS.
Prediction: Astros in 4
ALDS: (2) New York Yankees vs. (3) Minnesota Twins
Is it just me, or does this Yankees team feel ripe for an upset? Though they won 103 games, they feasted on their own division, padding that win total with particular vigor with a 17-2 record against the lowly Orioles. In fairness, the Twins beat up on multiple tanking teams in the AL Central, winning 101 games as quietly as possible.
This series could end up as a slug-fest, given that neither pitching staff has the elite depth of some of the other teams we’ve covered already. In Aaron Judge alone, the Yankees probably boast more starpower in their lineup, but there’s no debating the production provided by the Twins lineup this season. In a record-breaking year for home runs across Major League Baseball, Minnesota led the way by crushing 307 bombs. Nelson Cruz (41), Max Kepler (36) Miguel Sano (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Mitch Garver (31) all eclipsed the 30-home run plateau, while three more Twins belted more than 20 dingers. Get ready to learn about some new MLB stars in this series, because it’s going to look like a home run derby.
It’s not in my nature to leave the League Division Series round without picking a Cinderella, and this Yankees team doesn’t feel as dominant as their record indicates. Without a real ‘ace’ in that New York rotation, the Twins lineup is going to blast its way to a first-round upset.
Prediction: Twins in 4
NLCS: (1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (3) St. Louis Cardinals
Let’s get this out of the way: the Dodgers are the better team. On paper, they dominate the Cardinals offensively, in the starting rotation and especially out of the bullpen. In every facet of the game, the Dodgers are better.
But… Postseason baseball isn’t played on sheets of paper. And in this decade, the Cardinals have had the Dodgers’ number in the postseason.
It’s admittedly a dumb reason to pick against Los Angeles. But do you remember Matt Adams off Kershaw? Do you remember Matt Carpenter’s three-run double during an 8-run seventh inning… also off Kershaw? Superior though they may be, until the Dodgers prove they can beat the Cardinals in a playoff series, I’m not going to pick them to do so. It’s going to take some magic for the Cardinals to upset the Dodgers, but it’s nothing the franchise hasn’t done before. There's been a lot of turnover among the cast of characters for St. Louis since their last playoff win over Los Angeles, but I see no reason Paul DeJong or Dexter Fowler can’t inspire the next instance of ‘Kershawing’ this postseason.
Prediction: Cardinals in 7
ALCS: (1) Houston Astros vs. (3) Minnesota Twins
It’s at this point that I expect the Twins bruising lineup fails to compensate for its lack of elite starting pitching. Because unfortunately for Minnesota, the Astros aren’t lacking in either of those categories. If one element of Houston’s game has a night off, you can bet another will be right there to fill in the gaps to keep the Astros competitive in every game. There’s no direction this series could turn that Houston wouldn’t be fully equipped to handle.
In a best-of-seven setting, I don’t see the Twins bats doing enough to overcome the damage the potent Astros group will do to the likes of Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi. In Houston, they’ve got a problem; the feel-good story of the Twins seasons comes crashing back to Earth in the ALCS.
Prediction: Astros in 6
World Series: Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals
How delicious would this match-up be, St. Louis? The Jeff Luhnow Bowl would pit the well-oiled Astros against a Cardinals team that, despite its shortcomings over the course of the six-month season, would have found a way to conjure just enough Cardinals Devil Magic to get through the National League side of the bracket. If it comes to fruition, I imagine Jack Flaherty and Tommy Edman will be household names across America by this point in late-October.
Cardinals fans, though, aren’t going to like the way this thing ends. Some years, the MLB postseason feels like a total crapshoot, where each series you pick leaves you with little confidence in the projected outcome. Famous last words, but I don’t feel even a shred of doubt in picking the Astros to win it all for the second time in three years.
Whatever magic the Cardinals have left, the Astros turn it to dust in a decisive World Series victory.
Prediction: Astros in 5
My postseason predictions:-Twins are plucky, probably went with my heart over my head on that one, though.-Winner of STL/ATL goes to the WS, and I've got the team that employs Jack Flaherty in 5.-Nobody's beating Houston.-Verlander WS MVP. pic.twitter.com/aRSB8SBi4l— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) September 30, 2019
Now that you've seen my predictions for the MLB postseason, what are yours? Sound off in the comments below or on Twitter!
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