The ALCS Is Already Awesome, and It Should Stay That Way

The Yankees and Astros, with their combined 210 regular season wins, have been on a collision course to square off in this American League Championship Series since Opening Day. It was one of the few correct predictions I made before the season began, and that doesn’t exactly make me a prophet. It makes me part of the majority who thought this would happen. Through two games, you can’t necessarily say that the details of how we got here have played out predictably. But a series deadlocked at one game apiece with the venue shifting to the Bronx for Games 3 through 5 is certainly befitting of this clash of baseball titans.

The Yanks caught some good fortune in the ALDS round, simply by virtue of Houston having to throw Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in Games 4 and 5 just to dispatch the pesky Tampa Bay Rays. The Bombers did what they had to do in Game 1. They combined a virtuoso pitching performance from Masahiro Tanaka, some great defense, and 5 RBI’s from wunderkind Gleyber Torres in a game they won 7-0. There really wasn’t much to dissect afterwords. The Yanks played a damn near perfect game. The Astros didn’t have an answer on that night. And that was that.

Game 2 was predictably tight from start to finish. Justin Verlander was dominant, save for a lead-off walk to DJ LeMahieu that was promptly followed by a two-run laser beam homer off the bat of Aaron Judge. James Paxton only lasted 2 1/3 innings for New York in which he allowed six men to reach base. Aaron Boone wisely didn’t let Paxton give it away early, and instead turned to Chad Green. He retired six in a row, before being removed with one out in the 5th in favor of Adam Ottavino. But his first-pitch slider to George Springer was hit roughly 800 feet to tie the game. It stayed that way until Carlos Correa’s walk-off homer off J.A. Happ in the 11th to give the Astros a much-needed 3-2 victory.

So now that the series is tied and the venue shifts to the Bronx, a few observations about how this has all played out so far.

The Game 2 loss was on the offense, NOT Aaron Boone

I’ll admit, I wasn’t crazy about the move to take Green out of the game for Ottavino in that spot. But even after Springer’s moon shot, the game was still tied. The fact that the Yankees got Verlander out of the game with the score still even should have been considered an advantage. But as the Yanks were burning through the best of their bullpen to put up zeroes, the offense went dormant. Consider this. Brett Gardner hit a single off the glove of Jose Altuve in the 6th that was alertly barehanded by Correa, who fired home to nail LeMahieu at the plate for the final out of the inning. The Yankees only got one more hit the rest of the ballgame, and it would seem to be that any reasonable person would place the brunt of the blame for the loss right there.

There really is no dispute as to which team has the better pen in this series. It’s the Yankees. But at the plate, they came up empty against Houston relievers Will Harris, Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Ryan Pressly and Josh James. That’s not to say that all of the guys I just mentioned are what you would call scrubs, but if the Yankees managed to scratch out a run against any one of them, then Jonathan Loaisiga and J.A. Happ wouldn’t have had to play major roles in such big spots in the extra frames.

The decision to send LeMahieu home was the right call, it just didn’t work out

As it played out live, I was livid that third-base coach Phil Nevin allowed the third out of the inning to be made at home plate, depriving the Yankees of a bases-loaded opportunity. However, after watching the wide angle replay, I can’t say I would have done it any differently. As the ball bounced away from Altuve, it sure did look like it was going to get far enough away to allow the play at the plate to at least be a lot closer than it ended up being. But give credit to Correa, who made a perfect heads-up play to cut LeMahieu down at home.

Two things about this. One, Gary Sanchez has had a really tough time at the plate lately and was anything but a guarantee to produce in the next at bat against Verlander. And two, I’m a firm believer that aggressive baserunning has a tendency to work out in big spots in the playoffs. You always want to put pressure on the defense to execute to perfection when possible, and in this case, the Astros did. A tip of the cap to them for that. But I can’t fault Nevin for sending LeMahieu there.

The middle of the Yankees lineup HAS to be better

With no Giancarlo Stanton last night, the Yankees needed someone to produce in the middle of their batting order, and it just didn’t happen. Even though Gardner did collect a pair of hits out of the 5-hole, Edwin Encarnacion and Sanchez combined to go 0-for-9 with six strikeouts, and Gardner also struck out twice. Adding Game 1 into the equation, Sanchez and Encarncacion are collectively 1-for-17 in the series so far with 10 K’s, and I don’t think I’m overreacting to say that just isn’t gonna cut it. I’ve seen a lot of tweets today clamoring for Sanchez to be benched in favor of Austin Romine, but I just can’t get on board with that…at least not yet. Here’s hoping that a day off and three home games will be the elixir for what ails those bats.

FOX’s in-game Charmin sponsorship was sublime

Ok, this is really all I wanted to write about today, so now that I’ve gotten all the bullshit about baseball out of the way I can talk about this Charmin graphic FOX used on the broadcast last night. I don’t remember what inning it was. Frankly, I don’t even remember what the premise of the graphic was. Apparently it was a comparison of the two second basemen. All I remember for sure was that at one point, Joe Buck (somehow keeping a straight face) introduced a graphic brought to us by Charmin toilet paper that was called “Charmin #2’s,” and by the time I stopped laughing, several innings had gone by.

Someone needs to hang this up in the Smithsonian

To get a sponsorship like that approved and then presented on an ALCS telecast makes me, like, unreasonably happy. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good poop joke. What I really want now is to just drop the subtlety completely and have Charmin sponsor a scoring summary graphic called “Who Has the Runs?” Depends could have sponsored that crazy Sanchez at-bat in the 11th inning as the “Pants-Shitting Moment of the Game.” Now that the door for poop puns on baseball broadcasts has been cracked ajar, let’s just kick that motherfucker down and really let it all hang out. Make it happen, FOX.

Anyway, Game 3 is Tuesday in the Bronx and should be another tight pitching matchup between Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole. The term “pivotal” really gets played out in these situations, but this game is literally the definition of the word. All I know is this series figures to go at least six and nothing is certain from here on out. Are we having fun yet? Well, my blood pressure has never been higher, so…yes?

The Yankees Do Nothing, and Will Probably Win Nothing

The MLB Trade Deadline has come and gone, and the first-place New York Yankees have decided that what they have is enough to win a World Series this year. Well, at least what they’ve decided is that they weren’t willing to part with any top-tier prospects to bolster a pitching staff that has scuffled its way through the last few weeks since the All Star break.

In a vacuum, it’s hard to have an enormous problem with the decision not to thin out a promising prospect pool for the kinds of pitchers that were available at the deadline this year. Once it became clear that the thought of Noah Syndergaard in pinstripes was nothing more than a talk radio caller’s pipe dream, it honestly didn’t make a ton of sense to part with a player the likes of Clint Frazier or even Deivi Garcia to land someone like Robbie Ray. That’s true even if Frazier seems to have fallen out of favor with the front office and doesn’t appear to have a spot on this team in any capacity, at least for this particular season.

But it certainly isn’t a good look for Brian Cashman and Co. when you consider the Houston Astros managed to snag Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks on the same day he pitched against the Yankees in the Bronx. The Astros’ rotation was already a cut above that of the Yanks, and now the argument could be made that Houston’s worst starter is at least as good as New York’s best.

I’m not at all what you would call a slave to statistics – especially a stat like ERA – but when you consider that there isn’t a single Yankees’ starter with an earned run average below 4.00, it’s impossible to argue that starting pitching wasn’t and isn’t a glaring need on this team. What the Yankees’ hierarchy is essentially telling its fan base is that they plan on winning playoff games by scoring a ton of runs. That isn’t necessarily an empty threat considering the depth of their lineup, but I think we’ve all seen enough postseason baseball to know that generally isn’t how things work.

Sure, there’s a possibility that Luis Severino could return in September and re-assert himself as the ace of the staff. Yes, Dellin Betances could come back and add another dynamic arm out of the bullpen so that the starters won’t be required to go six or seven innings deep come October. But count me among the Yankee fans who just doesn’t see how the Bombers can win a seven-game series against a team like Houston as things are currently constructed.

Make no mistake, this Yankee team is one of just a handful in the league that can be considered championship quality. But watching the pitching staff labor to get outs against the high-powered offenses of the Twins and Red Sox last week was enough to instill more than just a little bit of doubt that they are up to the task. Should they fail to win it all this year, the vitriol that much of the fan base will hurl at the front office will be expected, and frankly, deserved.

It goes back to the offseason when they decided they didn’t need someone like Patrick Corbin enough to pay top dollar for him over six years. Even as Dallas Kuechel remained unsigned through the first two months of the season, the Yanks allowed themselves to be outbid by Atlanta, even though he only ended up signing a one-year deal for $13M. To snooze their way through the trade deadline while Greinke, Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer all changed uniforms doesn’t really make much sense to me when you consider how quickly championship windows can close.

There are arguments to be made about whether or not those three guys in particular would be a good fit for New York, but barring a spectacular turnaround, it certainly doesn’t seem like the investments the Yankees did make in J.A. Happ and C.C. Sabathia were the answer. Domingo German has been a revelation, but the more his innings pile up, the less likely it is that he is a factor come playoff time. I still believe in Masahiro Tanaka as a reliable postseason stalwart, but his performance of late has left a lot to be desired. And as far as James Paxton goes, it’s hard to look at his first year in pinstripes as anything other than a disappointment at this point.

When you get right down to it, the Yankees had a need to address and they chose not to do it. That doesn’t mean they’re punting on the season or anything like that. After all, as I write this they hold an 8-game lead in the American League East and there is no reason at all to fear that they will let that slip. The concern obviously lies in what will happen when they find themselves having to find a way to get 27 outs against Houston, Boston or Minnesota without being outscored four games out of seven.

It’s hard to write a piece like this without sounding like a typical spoiled Yankee fan, but the fact remains that it has been a decade since this team won a ring. I know, I can already hear the fans of championship-starved franchises playing tiny violins for me, but I just think it would be a damn shame for the Yanks to waste another year with this marvelous lineup only to come up empty-handed.

This attitude of “Well, we can just sign Gerrit Cole in the offseason and everything will be fine!” just doesn’t cut it for me. For one, I want to win THIS year. And second, what indication has this team given you in the way they’ve conducted their business over the last several seasons that they would actually pull the trigger on a multi-year megadeal for a pitcher that will be turning 29 in September? If they end up talking themselves out of doing such a thing, I can’t say I’d find myself surprised.

Before I end this piece on such a critical note, I want to make sure I point out that Cashman does deserve a ton of credit for the diamonds in the rough he has found when it comes to position players. Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin have all played excellent baseball since putting on the pinstripes. Mike Tauchman has been a pleasant surprise even if he’s played a more regular role than was designed for him at the start of the season.

But the reason why they say pitching and defense wins championships is because that has borne itself out to be true more often than not. It’s hard to make the case right now that the Yankees have enough pitching to pick them to win in October. It would be wonderful if I get proven wrong. Here’s hoping that August and September sees the Yankees’ staff piece it all together. But Andy Pettitte isn’t walking through that door.

Let’s Predict Some Stuff: 2019 MLB Edition

After a bitter and cold offseason featuring one of the most frigid free agency periods in memory, we have almost arrived at the proper Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. I always get giddy this time of year, for one, because it means my birthday is right around the corner. But truly, the start of the baseball calendar has always felt like the beginning of the new year to me more than January 1st ever did.

Even though it’s one of the laziest things a writer can do to put words onto a screen, it is undeniably a fun exercise to try to predict what will happen before the season starts. If nothing else, it gives you something to look back on in October and make fun of me for when 75 percent of these predictions inevitably go to shit. With that in mind, let’s get it…

AL EAST CHAMPION: New York Yankees

Let’s get my homer stuff out of the way nice and early. Yes, I am a die-hard Yankee fan. And yes, this is a prediction that is partly being made because it’s what I want to see happen. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical argument to be made to back this up.

Obviously, the Red Sox are the defending champions not just of the AL East, but all of baseball. And as Ric Flair put it best, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” That’s never been more true than in MLB’s current divisional scheduling format when the teams play each other head-to-head 19 times a year.

The Yanks are dealing with some pretty major injury concerns to begin the season, particularly with their pitching. Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and C.C. Sabathia will all be on the mend instead of on the mound to start the year.

But an offense that set an MLB record for home runs a year ago actually has a lot of room to improve. The improvement would rely upon¬†getting a bounce-back year from Gary Sanchez, a healthier one from Aaron Judge, and a less schizophrenic one from Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankee bullpen is still the best in the game, whereas the Sox’ pen minus Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly is almost certainly going to cost them a few games this season.

AL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Cleveland Indians

I’m going with the chalk pick, as tempting as it is to pick the Twins to unseat Cleveland here. This really all comes down to starting pitching for me. The starting five of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber is one of a few rotations that can lay claim to the title of best in the bigs.

The question is going to be whether this team can score enough runs to support them. With Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes all gone from the lineup, it puts a lot on Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis to do the heavy lifting.

The bullpen is a bit suspect too without Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, but the Central has been, and still is one of the weaker divisions in the sport. Like I said, the Twins are a tempting pick, but I’m gonna take the team with the better pitching to finish the 162-game grind with a slightly better record. But I would not be surprised if this was one of the tighter races down the stretch.

AL WEST CHAMPION: Houston Astros

This one feels like the most “well, duh” pick of the division champs. The Oakland A’s are coming off a 97-win year and will likely be a tough team to play once again this season. But the Astros are just too damn good. It’s hard to find a definitive weak spot on this squad. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer all have room to improve from their 2018 numbers, and I’d be willing to bet that all three will.

Sure, they lost three extremely capable starters in Dallas Kuechel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. But Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are still very much there. Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock may not be the kind of names that make opposing lineups shudder, but Houston’s coaching staff has done a remarkable job in recent years of getting the best out of seemingly every arm they have. All that said, this team is my pick to finish the year with the best record in the sport.

AL WILD CARDS: Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins

Whichever team between the Yankees and Red Sox doesn’t win the AL East is a slam dunk pick to take one of the wild cards in the American League in my mind. As for the other WC spot, I’m predicting it will go to a team that (as I mentioned) I toyed with choosing to be a division winner in the Twins.

This is a team that captured a wild card spot two seasons ago, and has made some key additions to their offense this offseason. Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez are all guys that will provide Minnesota with the kind of bats that make them capable of putting up runs in bunches. Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson give them a solid 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation.

The Twins are bound to get a strong push from the A’s and perhaps even the Tampa Bay Rays for this playoff spot, but give me Minnesota as the team that will likely get the bricks blown off of them in a Wild Card Game match-up against the Sawx.

NL EAST CHAMPION: Washington Nationals

I’ve made a point of not looking at any other prediction pieces before doing my own, and I wonder how many pundits have written off the Nats after not only losing Bryce Harper, but losing him to another team in what currently stands as the most wide-open division in baseball. But despite being branded with the reputation of playoff chokers, Washington often finds a way to at least get there, last season notwithstanding.

Make no mistake, this team still has a lineup that packs a punch, and a lot of those punches will come from guys who are going to be mainstays for years to come. Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Anthony Rendon are top of mind in that category. And oh yeah, their pitching rotation is money with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the newly acquired Patrick Corbin leading the way.

The Braves, Phillies, and even the Mets could all finish within shouting distance of the top spot, but I still like the Nationals to take the prize.

NL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Chicago Cubs

This is a spot where I feel like I may be relying more on my gut than my logic. The Brewers might actually be a more “complete” team than the Cubs on paper, and the Brew Crew hold the distinction of defending champs in this division. But you’ll remember that came down to a Game 163 last season, so to say it was a close race is very much an understatement. The Cardinals will also pose a threat to Chicago, as they have absolutely made strides in improving their club.

This seems like a cop-out explanation, but to me it just feels like the Cubbies are bound to get back to the top spot in the Central this year. Joe Maddon may be my favorite manager in the sport, and the roster he’s working with feels like a nearly ideal blend of youth and experience. Their starting infield in particular is as good as most teams in the game. And I have to make at least one pick here that is based almost solely on gut feeling. Having said all of that, look for Milwaukee to pop up again a little further down in this column.

NL WEST CHAMPION: Colorado Rockies

This is pretty clearly going to be a two-horse race, as the Rockies and Dodgers are really the only teams in the NL West that are worth a damn. LA may have won the previous six division titles, but I believe Colorado is finally going to put a stop to that streak this season.

This was the other division that needed a 163rd game to decide a winner last year. And while there is no denying the two-time defending NL Champs are still a quality team with loads of depth, the Rockies are returning a very similar looking roster to last season’s while Los Angeles actually changed a lot this winter.

Gone from the Dodgers’ roster are Manny Machado, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood. That’s a lot to lose. Yes, they did add A.J. Pollock, and a consistently healthy Corey Seager would go a long way toward keeping this team on top. But the Rockies are essentially the same group that took LA down to the wire last season, except with the addition of Daniel Murphy. If Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jon Gray can pitch to their potential all year, I think Colorado has enough to finish in first.

NL WILD CARDS: Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers

This would set up a rematch of last year’s NLCS in the Wild Card Game. It would be a damn shame to have to lose one of these teams in a one-game playoff scenario, but I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And truth be told, it’s in this scenario that I think the Dodgers’ bid at making it to three straight World Series will come to an end.

The one thing the Brewers are lacking is a definitive ace of the pitching staff, and that is something the Dodgers undoubtedly have in Clayton Kershaw. So maybe you can chalk this up as a prediction of heart over head. That Milwaukee lineup is just so damn good, though. The guy who would likely relish this opportunity the most would be Yasmani Grandal, who left Los Angeles to sign with the Beer Makers this offseason. Imagine if he were to play a big role in sending the Dodgers packing come October. We can dream, can’t we?

ALCS Prediction: Astros defeat Yankees

Ugh. It pains my pinstriped heart to say this, but the Astros are simply the better and more complete team, plus they have had the Yankees’ number in recent history. This is the series I want though. A chance to exorcise the demons of the 2017 ALCS in which the underdog Yanks nearly knocked off the eventual World Champion Stros is surely an appetizing situation. I just don’t think the Yankees really want that smoke. Houston is too good.

NLCS Prediction: Brewers defeat Rockies

This presumes the Cubs finish with the National League’s best record, which is far from a lock, but play along with me. The Brewers beat the Dodgers in the Wild Card Game. The NLDS would then see the Rockies beat the Nationals (because the Nats don’t win playoff series, just as a general rule) and the Brewers upset the Cubs. Brewers-Rockies would be a fascinating NLCS, and honestly, predicting a wild card team to make the World Series just makes for a fun little wrinkle in this here prediction column.

World Series Prediction: Astros defeat Brewers

Of all the truly plausible World Series scenarios, this is certainly one that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would desire the least. Houston and Milwaukee aren’t exactly what you would define as large media markets. But if the Yankees can’t be there, sign me up for seven games of this series.

I’m not so sure it would happen that way, because frankly I think the Astros are simply better than the Brewers in almost every conceivable category. But there ya have it. My official World Series pick. So when the Brewers now inevitably miss the playoffs altogether or something dumb like that, you can point back at this and laugh at me.


Predictions aren’t exactly the most profound thing in the world of sports punditry, but they sure are fun to make. By all means, please sound off in the comments and let me know how wrong and stupid I am. And most importantly, HAPPY BASEBALL SEASON TO ALL!