MLB playoffs could provide several good storylines

By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer

2015 was a revolutionary year in baseball. There’s no simpler way to put it. Down went the heavy favorite Washington Nationals and their vaunted starting pitching rotation, the Boston Red Sox and their bolstered roster, as well as 2014 American League MVP Mike Trout’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

It was out with the old and in with the new as Kris Bryant took the National League by storm in his debut season with the Chicago Cubs. Baseball’s number one prospect turned into its number one rookie in a matter of months. Since his April debut, Bryant leads National League rookies with 26 home runs and 99 runs batted in.

The Cubs, who many predicted might have needed one more year to be a playoff team, contended neck and neck with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates all year for the NL Central division crown and qualified for the NL’s one-game wild card playoff for the right to face the Cardinals in the divisional round.

Pittsburgh, undeterred by last year’s devastating home wild card loss to the San Francisco Giants, was led by Gerrit Cole and an impressive pitching staff to a second place finish in the NL Central and are faced with yet another wild card game.

The NL was led the whole year, though, by the Cardinals and an incredible year of pitching. St. Louis’ team earned run average stands at 2.92—and that’s entirely without ace Adam Wainwright, who was sidelined before the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Unfortunately for every other playoff team, Wainwright is set to return for the playoffs.

All that, along with the 100 wins the Cardinals posted this year, and the fact that they won the National League in 2011 and 2013 makes St. Louis the easiest choice to represent the NL again in the World Series.

What’s most impressive about the National League Central and the entire NL playoff race is that no team had a particularly dominant offense during the regular season. The already pitching-centric MLB playoffs may this year feature even fewer runs scored with the likes of Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Mike Trout—all watching with their respective teams from the sidelines.

The one prominent bat that will be featured in the playoffs is that of Yoenis Cespedes, the trade deadline acquisition of the New York Mets. After that July 31d deadline, Cespedes ignited the Mets and led the team on a scorching tear to the top of the National League East, eclipsing the Nationals.

Washington struggled with its own internal personnel problems, and its hyped up pitching rotation never fully blossomed to compensate for an injury-plagued and underperforming offense.

New York, as a result, won its first NL East title since 2006 and will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series.

Aside from St. Louis, none of the aforementioned playoff teams have won the World Series since at least 1988 (and in the case of the Cubs, you have to subtract another 80 years from that to find their last championship).

Without fail, though, the playoffs favor experience and pitching over youth and offense. Advantage: St. Louis. Things are much less foreseeable on the American League side, however.

After the Royals’ trip to the World Series in 2014, they came out and won the AL Central for the first time in nearly three decades and will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Toronto Blue Jays won their first AL East championship since 1993, led by trade deadline acquisitions Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, along with AL MVP candidate Josh Donaldson. The Jays lead the Major Leagues in home runs and play in the conveniently-enclosed Rogers Centre, which will be immune to the chills of October.

Toronto has also been by far the hottest team of the second half of the season, solidifying themselves at the top of the American League and as perennial World Series contenders.

In the West division, the Houston Astros were baseball’s darling of 2015. They were a perfect microcosm of the year of the prospect. Shortstop Carlos Correa debuted in June at the ripe age of 20 and has slugged 22 homers since. The Astros have five players with 20 or more homers this season and are second only to Toronto for the Major League lead.

Houston relinquished its AL West lead to the Texas Rangers in the waning weeks, but the Astros fought down the stretch to secure a wild card spot, their first postseason appearance since their 2005 National League Pennant.

The New York Yankees are the final AL playoff team, and, therefore, everybody except Yankees fans will be rooting for the Astros in the AL wild card game.

Neither the Rangers nor Astros have ever won the World Series. The Blue Jays won in 1993 but haven’t even reached the playoffs since. And the Royals haven’t won since 1985.

Take a step back, and you’ll see that eight of the 10 MLB playoff teams are historical underdogs and haven’t had playoff success in quite a while.

Who knows? 2015 could be the year your grandchildren live to see the end of the Cubs’ “Curse of the Billy Goat” and the team’s first World Series title in 108 seasons. Or, it could bring a slate of monotonous playoff games and the Cardinals’ third title in the last 10 seasons.

Who knows? 2015 could be the year your grandchildren live to see the end of the Cubs’ “Curse of the Billy Goat” and the team’s first World Series title in 108 seasons. Or, it could bring a slate of monotonous playoff games and the Cardinals’ third title in the last 10 seasons.

I think the Cubs can win the NL Wild Card game and excite their fan base for a week before they are toppled in the NLDS by St. Louis. I predict the Mets will defeat the Dodgers and square off against the Cardinals for a repeat of the 2006 NLCS. The Cardinals will advance to their third World Series since 2011.

On the American League side, the Blue Jays will continue their hot streak and defeat the AL Wild Card winner before losing to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. And for the first time in 30 years, the Royals win the World Series over St. Louis in the battle of the Show Me State.

Play ball!