by Paul West
This has been, in many ways, a disappointing postseason.
The AL Wild Card game, a much-anticipated showdown between two of baseball’s most powerful lineups, was a dud. The Colorado Rockies, who heated up down the stretch and completed put together an exciting run to make the playoffs, we’re swept handily in the NLDS. Cleveland, a perennial powerhouse of the past few years, was swept decisively in the ALDS; and even the series which didn’t end in a sweep wasn’t exactly chock full of nail-biting moments. But both league’s championship series are deadlocked at one, and have given us the kind of dramatic tension that’s been few and far between this fall.
As much fun as it can be when an unexpected playoff cinderella goes on a run, it’s also fun when the two best teams are the last ones standing; and this year, we have a whopper of a matchup in the ALCS. The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros combined for 211 wins this year, and aren’t just the two best top-to-bottom teams in the American league–they’re arguably the two best in Major League Baseball. The Astros have Jose Altuve, the reigning AL MVP, a do-it-all sparkplug who provides speed, power, and defense. They have Alex Bregman, the charismatic third baseman whose athleticism in the field and knack for the big moment on offense had him in this year’s MVP conversation. The Sox, for their part, have a charismatic star of their own: Mookie Betts, this year’s likely AL MVP, who’s a do-it-all star like Altuve. Also like Altuve, interestingly enough, he’s considered undersized by MLB standards: Betts is 5’9″ and Altuve is 5’6.” JD Martinez, whose hunt for the Triple Crown lasted until the final weeks of the season, is another Sox player whose every at bat is worth keeping en eye on; and then there’s the matter of the Sox’ Chris Sale and the Astros’ Justin Verlander, two of the best aces of their generation. All of this, and much more, gives this year’s ALCS a “clash of the titans” feel which not only fans of either team will find compelling. If either team goes out unexpectedly quickly, it would further kill the vibe of a postseason whose vibe is already a little flat.
Turning to the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a storied franchise like the Red Sox. Also like the Sox, they have one of the game’s greatest aces in Clayton Kershaw; and adding to this year’s backstory, Kershaw and Sale are both lefties, future Hall of Famers, and pitchers with reputations for struggling in the postseason. “How will they do when the lights are brightest?” is a question which looms over every playoff start for both southpaws, who are also both recovering from injuries. The Dodgers also have Yasiel Puig, one of the game’s most talented, interesting, and conversation-starting players; superstar Manny Machado, arguably this year’s biggest midseason acquisition; and Max Muncy, who’s risen from the proverbial scrap heap to become a feared slugger with a flair for the dramatic. They led the National League in home runs this year, and coming in second was their NLCS opponent–the Milwaukee Brewers, whose meteoric rise from perennial also-ran has turned heads. The Brewers have Christian Yelich, who appears to be the impending NL MVP and has emerged as a do-it-all star like Altuve and Betts; also like Altuve and Betts, Yelich is a mellow-but-energetic type who mostly lets his game do the talking. They also have World Series champion Lorenzo Cain, and Curtis Granderson, one of baseball’s most respected elder statesmen, whose presence quietly adds to any postseason narrative.
These are two series loaded with compelling stories to keep an eye on. Power at the plate and on the mound; the likely MVPs of both leagues; future Hall of Fame aces with a history of postseason struggles; former champions, out-of-the-blue stars, and exciting up and coming talent. This postseason could use a proverbial shot in the arm, and if all four teams continue to bring it on the big stage, the early rounds’ doldrums could become a footnote to a historically good Obtober.