MLB: League Championship, Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs; Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees

There’s a reason why the baseball postseason trumps all other playoffs in the realm of American sport. Take last week’s Maroon-News: we previewed the first round of the MLB postseason-the Division Series. We preemptively announced the Cleveland Indians as the winners of their series against the New York Yankees, so confident in this prediction that we offered only one sentence of analysis.

Lo and behold, the underdog Yankees upset the vaunted Indians 3-2 and earned themselves a trip to the American League Championship series. In the decisive game 5, Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious rocked Indians ace Corey Kluber for two home runs, and the Yankees were able to complete the surprising comeback against the 102-game winners.

The Astros had a much easier time getting to the next round of the playoffs, defeating the Boston Red Sox by three games to one. A ridiculous six batters for Houston had averages over .350, with potential AL MVP Jose Altuve setting the pace with an absurd .533 line.

So, in the ALCS one could say we have ice and fire: Yankees pitching, especially CC Sabathia and Aroldis Chapman, has completely neutralized opponents in the postseason. Chapman threw 5 ⅔ innings of scoreless baseball with 10 strikeouts to boast. Chapman anchors a New York bullpen that allowed the lowest opponent batting average in the AL in the regular season at .162.

Staring down the barrels of New York’s pitching artillery is Houston’s offense, which has been one of the best in baseball in 2017. They led the league in batting average, hits, on-base percentage, and slugging. They’ve also got some power to boot- six hitters with at least 18 home runs. The X factor in this series for Houston’s offense is shortstop Carlos Correa. George Springer and Altuve have played like their stellar 2017 selves in the postseason, but if the Astros are to overcome the Yankees’ pitching dominance, especially when playing in New York, they need their Puerto Rican phenom to step up. Correa has to improve the .235 average he posted against Boston’s mediocre pitching in the ALDS if the Astros want to go to their first World Series since 2005.

In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers overwhelmed the Arizona Diamondbacks in a lopsided three-game sweep. LA’s bats were just too much for Arizona’s relatively experienced pitching staff.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals had a back-and-forth series that went the full five-game distance. In the end, however, it was Chicago’s bullpen and Washington’s lack of timely hitting that sent the reigning World Series champion Cubs to the next round.

The NLCS this year is a rematch from last year, except the scripts are totally flipped: now, the Dodgers, not the Cubs, are the ones who thrived in the regular season (104 wins) and are looking to thwart the demons of not having won a World Series in a long time. The Dodgers hobbled to the finish line, losing 13 of 14 in September. Critics said they were done for. Nonetheless, as their series versus Arizona more than demonstrated, they are back in midseason form, when they tallied an astronomical 43 victories in 50 games. If the Dodgers offense can maintain the momentum from the division series while channeling their midseason explosiveness, this should be a short series. For LA, it’s a matter of not making self-inflicted mistakes. Clayton Kershaw needs to keep his tenuous playoff composure intact, and the young Dodgers hitters will have to block out the noise and do what they’ve done all season – hit the baseball where the fielders aren’t.

So, my pick for the championship series… Dodgers over Cubs in five with MVP honors to outfielder Chris Taylor, and Astros over Yankees in seven with pitcher Justin Verlander leading the way. Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably, but I’m a Maroon-News sportswriter, it’s what I’m here for.

Contact Theo Asher at [email protected].