2016 MLB Postseason Primer, Part 2: Race for the World Series

After two fantastic Wild Card matchups, it’s down to eight teams in the October dogfight of the MLB postseason, and we’re back to run them all down right here, Place to Be Nation!

With the American League Division Series getting underway first, that is where we begin our look, followed by the NLDS contests.

Note: All rosters based on 25-man posted at Baseball-Reference.com & Roster Resource as of Oct. 4, 2016.

American League Division Series I

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73) vs. Texas Rangers (95-67)

Schedule (all times ET):

(best-of-five, if necessary marked with *)

Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 6, 4:30  on TBS at Texas

Game 2: Friday, Oct. 7, 1 p.m. on TBS at Texas

Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. on TBS at Toronto

*Game 4: Monday, Oct. 10, TBD on TBS at Toronto

*Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 12, TBD on TBS at Texas

The Jays and Rangers lock up in a rematch of last year's ALDS, where this happened.
The Jays and Rangers lock up in a rematch of last year’s ALDS, where this happened.

How They Got Here:

Despite a slew of injuries and a run differential (765 scored, 757 allowed) that should have made them a .500 club, the Rangers managed the best record in the American League. They had a crazy-good 53-28 (.654) record at home along with an MLB-best 36-11 showing in one-run games. Offensively, the team was carried by veteran 3B Adrian Beltre, rookie OF Nomar Mazara, and CF Ian Desmond, while also adding lineup depth with DH/OF Carlos Beltran and C Jonathan Lucroy in mid-season deals.

The starting staff was led by Cy Young hopeful Cole Hamels and a regular M*A*S*H unit behind him. Only Martin Perez — with a 4.39 ERA and 205 hits in 198 ⅔ innings — made more starts than Hamels (33/32). As with most strong one-run teams, it was the bullpen that boosted the Rangers in 2016. Overall, the Texas relief corps put up a less-than-stellar 4.40 ERA, but the core group of Sam Dyson (2.43), Matt Bush (2.48), Tony Barnette (2.09), Jake Diekman (3.40), and Alex Claudio (2.79) was excellent.

The Blue Jays toppled Baltimore 5-2 in Tuesday night’s 11-inning Wild Card game, thanks to a late blast from slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Whereas the Ranger won a lot more at home, the Jays were equally good at (47-34) and away from (46-35) Rogers Centre. In one-run contests, the team was just 20-24, but they slaughtered right-handed pitchers with a 73-52 mark.

Side-by-side:

Position

Toronto

Texas

Advantage

C Russell Martin Jonathan Lucroy RANGERS
1B Justin Smoak Mitch Moreland RANGERS
2B Devon Travis Rougned Odor PUSH
SS Troy Tulowitzki Elvis Andrus JAYS
3B Josh Donaldson Adrian Beltre PUSH
LF Michael Saunders Ryan Rua JAYS
CF Kevin Pillar Ian Desmond RANGERS
RF Jose Bautista Nomar Mazara JAYS
DH Edwin Encarnacion Carlos Beltran JAYS
ROTATION Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland JAYS
BULLPEN (Top 5, closer first) Roberto Osuna, Joe Biagini, Jason Grilli,, Brett Cecil, Francisco Liriano Sam Dyson, Matt Bush, Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman, Alex Claudio RANGERS
BENCH DEPTH (Top 3) Ezequiel Carrera, Darwin Barney, Melvin Upton Shin-Soo Choo, Delino DeShields, Jurickson Profar PUSH

How They Can Win:

Both teams are pretty even offensively, with a core of great hitters surrounded by a supporting cast of above-average regulars and bench depth. The Jays hit .248/.330/.426 as a unit, while the Rangers were at .262/.322/.433. Neither team was especially dominant with starting pitching, but Toronto posted a 3.64 starter’s ERA and Texas was at 4.38, thanks in part to running out a lot of sub-par injury replacement during the regular season, something that will not be a concern during a short series.

The budding rivalry between these two teams — including an amazing ALDS last year — there will be no shortage of fireworks again this year. But, the real question isn’t whether someone will punch Jose Bautista in the jaw again; it’s how can each team advance?

Toronto needs to rely on sharp defense to keep runners off base for the contact-friendly Rangers. Hamels and Darvish beat out Sanchez and Stroman atop the two rotations, but the rest of the starting mix favors the Jays just a bit. If it comes to a battle of the bullpens, the Rangers’ depth could tip the scales in favor of the Lone Stars.

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American League Division Series II

Boston Red Sox (96-69)  vs. Cleveland Indians (94-67)

Schedule (all times ET):

(best-of-five, if necessary marked with *)

Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 6, 8 p.m.  on TBS at Cleveland

Game 2: Friday, Oct. 7, 4:30 p.m. on TBS at Cleveland

Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 9, 4 p.m. on TBS at Boston

*Game 4: Monday, Oct. 10, TBD on TBS at Boston

*Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 12, TBD on TBS at Cleveland

Can Ortiz and the Red Sox be stopped by (L-R) Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and the rest of the Tribe?
Can Ortiz and the Red Sox be stopped by (L-R) Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and the rest of the Tribe?

How They Got Here:

Cleveland beat the tar out of its playmates in the AL Central, posting a league-best 49 wins against divisional foes, including a 14-4 mark versus closest contender Detroit. The Tribe spent 109 days atop its division, thanks in part to a 14-game winning streak in late June. Strong offensive years from the infield of Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, along with rookie centerfielder Tyler Naquin, compliment an excellent defense.

The defense, in turn, aided a strong starting staff that was led by Cy Young contender Corey Kluber, along with young guns Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer. While injuries will knock Salazar and Carrasco out of postseason action, their contributions helped the Indians post a starting staff ERA of 4.08, which placed second in the league. The bullpen, led by closer Cody Allen and erstwhile Yankee Andrew Miller was solid as well, holding opponents to a .233 batting average against. Manager Terry Francona’s willingness to platoon, play the hot hand, maximize his entire roster, and use Miller in less-than-traditional ways have the Tribe well-positioned for a run despite the injury-depleted starting staff.

Boston bashed this year, leading the AL in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base, and slugging. With David Ortiz leading the way in his final season (.315/.401/.620) along with a strong showing from veteran Dustin Pedroia (.318/.376/.449), as well as great showings from younger stars Xander Bogaerts (.802 OPS), Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.835), and MVP candidate Mookie Betts (.897), the Sox had an offensive head-and-shoulders above the rest of its competition.

The Boston defense was solid too, with a .695 DER good for third in the league, tied with New York. The pitching had its highlights, notably Cy Young hopeful Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15), but David Price was hit uncharacteristically hard (3.99 ERA), while the rest of rotation was solid at best and scary at worst. The same could be said for the bullpen, where closer Craig Kimbrel posted the highest ERA (3.40) of his career and his setup corps was less-than-stellar more than a few times.

Side-by-side:

Position

Boston Cleveland

Advantage

C Sandy Leon Chris Gimenez/Yan Gomes BOSTON
1B Hanley Ramirez Mike Napoli CLEVELAND
2B Dustin Pedroia Jason Kipnis PUSH
SS Xander Bogaerts Francisco Lindor PUSH
3B Travis Shaw Jose Ramirez CLEVELAND
LF Andrew Benintendi Rajai Davis PUSH
CF Jackie Bradley, Jr. Tyler Naquin BOSTON
RF Mookie Betts Lonnie Chisenhall BOSTON
DH David Ortiz Carlos Santana BOSTON
ROTATION Rick Porcello, David Price, Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Cody Anderson, Mike Clevinger BOSTON
BULLPEN (Top 5, closer first) Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Matt Barnes, Robbie Ross, Jr. Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister CLEVELAND
BENCH DEPTH (Top 3) Chris Young, Aaron Hill, Christian Vazquez Brandon Guyer, Coco Crisp, Roberto Perez BOSTON

How They Can Win:

The key for Cleveland is to capitalize on having home field advantage, a superior bullpen, and a sharp overall defense. If Miller can help neutralize Ortiz, it could go a long way in getting Cleveland to its first League Championship Series since 2007.

While the Sox have a fantastic offense, any cold bats in a short series can spell doom. This is particularly true with a pitching staff like Boston’s, which is arguably the weakest overall for all the October teams. Boston needs to pounce on Cleveland’s lack of rotation depth early and often and hope to split the first two at Jacobs Field.

mlb-postseason

 

National League Division Series I

Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71) vs. Washington Nationals (95-67)

Schedule (all times ET):

(best-of-five, if necessary marked with *)

Game 1: Friday, Oct. 7, 5:30 p.m.  on FS1 at Washington

Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 8, 4 p.m. on FS1 at Washington

Game 3: Monday, Oct. 10, TBD on FS1/MLBN at Los Angeles

*Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 11, TBD on FS1 at Los Angeles

*Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 13, TBD on FS1 at Washington

LA and Washington is the most even LDS of the bunch, and both of these guys will be there!
LA and Washington is the most even LDS of the bunch, and both of these guys will be there!

How They Got Here:

The Dodgers battled injuries all season, setting a record with 28 players placed on the disabled list during the year, most notably staff ace Clayton Kershaw for over two months. Still, thanks to a deep reserve of starting pitchers, a bullpen that a mess (3.91 in 2015) to the best in baseball (3.35 in 2016), L.A. was able to take advantage of the Giants’ second-half slide and take the NL West for the fourth straight year.

At the dish, the True Blue was led by rookie phenom Corey Seager (137 OPS+), second-year bopper Joc Pederson (129), and third baseman Justin Turner (124). The team ended up getting power up-and-down the lineup, with seven regulars — plus fourth outfielder Trayce Thompson — cracking double-digits in homers. Defensively, the team’s .701 DER was good for third in the NL, a big reason the Dodgers weathered all those pitching injuries.

The Nationals had the 2016 that most expected the team to have in 2015; ironically enough while franchise ticket Bryce Harper scuffled after his super-human MVP campaign. The team got 20+ homers from six regulars, and 13 more in a half-season from rookie phenom Trea Turner, who also led the Nats with 33 steals in his 73 games. While Turner emerged and Harper struggled, Anthony Rendon was finally healthy enough to put up a .797 OPS, while Daniel Murphy kept his Superman cape from last October, cruising to a 25-homer, 104-RBI campaign with a 157 OPS+.

The pitching was led by Cy Young hopeful Max Scherzer, who was Must-See every time he pitched for the Nats. The best pitcher to ever have heterochromia iridum was fantastic in his second year for Washington, going 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA in 228 ⅓ innings with a league-best 284 strikeouts. Stephen Strasburg had a good year, at 15-4 with 11.2 K/9, but an elbow injury will keep him out of the LDS. Tanner Roark broke through as a solid option, going 16-10 with a 2.83 in 210 innings. The bullpen posted a 3.37 ERA, just behind the Dodgers, but outside of closer Mark Melancon, there are few sure things in the Nat’s relief corps.

Side-by-side:

Position Los Angeles Washington

Advantage

C Yasmani Grandal Jose Lobaton DODGERS
1B Adrian Gonzalez Ryan Zimmerman DODGERS
2B Chase Utley Daniel Murphy NATIONALS
SS Corey Seager Danny Espinosa DODGERS
3B Justin Turner Anthony Rendon NATIONALS
LF Andrew Toles Jayson Werth NATIONALS
CF Joc Pederson Trea Turner NATIONALS
RF Josh Reddick Bryce Harper NATIONALS
ROTATION Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, A.J. Cole DODGERS
BULLPEN (Top 5, closer first) Kenley Jansen, Julio Urias, Joe Blanton, Luis Avilan, J.P. Howell, Pedro Baez Mark Melancon, Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit, Marc Rzepczynski, Blake Treinen DODGERS
BENCH DEPTH (Top 4) Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Carlos Ruiz, Kike Hernandez Pedro Severino, Clint Robinson, Chris Heisey, Ben Revere NATIONALS

How They Can Win:

Both teams are very evenly matched, and this is the LDS most likely to go down to the last possible moment of Game 5. Both lineups are power-packed, with solid starting pitching backed by good defense.

For LA, the keys are the health of Kershaw and Hill. Both battled injuries — a herniated disk and a blister — which can recur suddenly. If both lefties are good to go, LA is in great shape. However, they have to keep Murphy from adding to his postseason legend while also being mindful of Harper, as well as young speedster Trea Turner. Speed kills, and if LA doesn’t keep Turner off the bases, it could do just that to L.A.’s hopes.

For the Nats, Harper and Turner are key cogs to the lineup, as reputation and youthful legs can go a long way in a short series. Washington needs more than just Scherzer, though, so a good showing by Roark, Ross, or even Gonzalez would go a long way toward a W for the W’s.

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National League Division Series II

Chicago Cubs (103-58) vs. San Francisco Giants (87-75)

Schedule (all times ET):

(best-of-five, if necessary marked with *)

Game 1: Friday, Oct. 7, 9 p.m. on FS1, at Chicago

Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 8, on MLBN, at Chicago

Game 3: Monday, Oct. 10, TBD on FS1/MLBN at San Francisco

*Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 11, TBD on FS1, at San Francisco

*Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 13, TBD on FS1, at Chicago

Bryant vs. Bumgarner will be just one key matchup as the Cubbies take on the Giants.
Bryant vs. Bumgarner will be just one key matchup as the Cubbies take on the Giants.

How They Got Here:

The Cubs had one rough patch in late-June and early-June, but otherwise, they thumped everybody. They were never more than one game out of first place (and that was on April 8), and they posted a winning record in every month by July. Oh, and they responded to a 12-14 July with a 22-6 August. They led the majors with a 42-13 record in “blowout” wins, where the margin of victory was five runs or more; they tossed 15 shutouts; they did everything well and nothing poorly. The lone weak spot, which actually looms pretty big in October is a 22-23 record in one-run games, one of the very few contexts the Cubbies soured in.

The Giants need a weekend sweep of the Dodgers to clinch a wild card berth, and then topped the Mets 3-0 on a fantastic performance from ace Madison Bumgarner and a three-run, ninth-inning homer from Conor Gillaspie.

The G-Men were neck-and-neck with the Cubs at the All-Star break, as the Giants were 57-33 on July 10, and the Cubs were 53-35. A second-half plunge dinged San Fran a bit, but they still managed to outclass the field thanks to good lineup depth, solid contact rates, and the 1-2 rotation punch of Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. Mid-season rotation add Matt Moore was 6-5 with a 4.08 ERA, but he did punch out 69 in 68 ⅓ innings. Along with Jeff Samardzija, it’s a solid top four.

Side-by-side:

Position

Chicago San Francisco

Advantage

C Willson Contreras Buster Posey GIANTS
1B Anthony Rizzo Brandon Belt CUBS
2B Ben Zobrist Joe Panik CUBS
SS Addison Russell Brandon Crawford GIANTS
3B Kris Bryant Conor Gillaspie CUBS
LF Jorge Soler / Javier Baez Angel Pagan PUSH
CF Dexter Fowler Denard Span CUBS
RF Jason Heyward Hunter Pence GIANTS
ROTATION Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy, Matt Moore CUBS
BULLPEN (Top 5, closer first) Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Travis Wood,Trevor Cahill Sergio Romo, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Josh Osich, Javier Lopez, Will Smith GIANTS
BENCH DEPTH (Top 4) Miguel Montero, David Ross, Matt Szczur, Tommy La Stella Trevor Brown, Jarrett Parker, Kelby Tomlinson, Gregor Blanco CUBS

How They Can Win:

The Cubs are expected to win EVERYTHING … even the Super Bowl.

So, will the pressure get to them? Surely, manager Joe Maddon will do all he can to keep that from happening. Chicago’s one-run record could be an issue against the pitching staff of the Giants, particularly if Bumgarner gets two starts. Chicago needs to sweep the opening two at home, because the more they see of Madison, the less likely it is that they break the Billy Goat’s Curse.

Just how tough is it being the favorite?

Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, the top team (as defined by best winning percentage) was won the World Series exactly ONCE. That was the 1998 Yankees (.704), while the 1995 Indians (.694) and the 2004 Cardinals (.648) were the only others in that group to REACH the Fall Classic.

(h/t to Anthony Castrovince for this great, great stuff)

For the Giants to win, they need Bumgarner and Cueto to come up big, of course, but the bigger key is getting strong showings from Samardzija and Moore, as well as sorting out their bullpen issues. While the G-Men have the ‘pen depth to rival the Cubbies, they do not have a flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman. Getting leads early and maximizing starter innings is huge for the Giants if they want to keep this Win-Every-Even-Year thing going.

That’s it for our preview, Place to Be Nation! Be sure to check back once all the October action is over for a full season wrap, covering all the bases.

Until then, enjoy the beautiful madness of October baseball!

Author: Joel Barnhart

A big-time baseball nerd, Joel is currently teaching English as a Second Language in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to his MLB passion, he enjoys good whiskey, good music, good movies, and good friends. He is currently engaged in an ongoing 12-year online debate over the merits of bubble wrap.