Round one is done. Four teams are going to the couch, four teams are one step closer to their first World Series in at least 20 seasons. Shockers were aplenty, and we’ve now been given ALCS and NLCS matchups that we’ve never see encountered in the history of the game. Let’s look back and see how we got there.
ALDS 1 – Texas Rangers (1) vs Toronto Blue Jays (4) – TOR wins 3-0
The rematch between the Rangers and Blue Jays failed to live up to the hype after last season’s 5 game thriller, as the Jays quickly depsosed of Texas with a lopsided 3 game sweep. Toronto is now heading to its second consecutive ALCS while the Rangers are left with too many questions as to how one of the best regular seasons in franchise history went awry so fast.
Why Toronto won
- Jays dig the long ball – Homers have been the Blue Jays’ bread and butter through four games played this October. Toronto went yard nine times in the serious, taking Yu Darvis out of the park four times in game 2 before launching three dingers off Colby Lews in game three. Edwin Encaracion homered twice in the series, bringing his postseason total to three. Jose Bautista is right behind him at two.
- All the momentum – While Texas was sitting on a playoff berth the entire final week of the season, the Jays had to win two straight at Fenway Park just to qualify for the postseason. They did just that, and the momentum train soared to new heights when Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off homer in the wildcard game propelled them past the Orioles into the ALDS. I do believe Toronto is organically a better team than their record showed, but the fire they caught really does say something.
- Answering the bell – Anytime the Rangers threatened in this series, the Blue Jays were quick to respond on offense. Whether it be the three homers off Darvish in one inning or the lead changes in game three, Toronto only trailed for a combined total of one inning the entire series. And the final line reflects just that.
Why Texas is out
- Starting pitching went down the toliet – The Rangers expected big things from aces Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Instead the Ranger were outscored 15-4 in the two games that they started. Hamels was tagged for 7 runs, and Darvish has arguably one of the worst outings of his career as he gave up a career-high four homers in one game. And Colby Lewis couldn’t keep the ball in the park in game three. Ouch.
- The comeback kids ran out of comebacks – Texas led all teams this season with more than 30 come from behind wins, but the play from behind mentality eventually alwasy catches up with you, and for the Rangers it did so just at the wrong time. Texas only led for a combined one inning the entire series, and #NeverEverQuit was not enough motitavtion for the Ragngers to fight back.
- Home sweet home wasn’t so sweet – The Rangers were gifted with home field advantage throughout the entire postseason and had their two aces on the mound to begin the series, and even then they couldn’t get the job done. They only had four hits in game one. They never led at home. And getting clobbered 10-1 in game one simply set the wrong tone going into game 2. The Rangers have now lost five consecutive playoff games at Globe Life Park in Arlington dating back to 2012.
ALDS 2 – Cleveland Indians (2) vs Boston Red Sox (3) – CLE wins 3-0
The legend of Believeland continues while Big Papi’s curtain call didin’t end quite as we all hoped it would. While there was drama to be had, the Indians completed the clean sweep of the Red Sox, and are one step away from heading to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
Why Cleveland won
- Timely hitting – Cleveland always converted in this series when it mattered most. When they faced an early deficit in game 1, they hit three solo homers in one inning off Rick Porcello. When they were tied late in game 3, Coco Crisp broke it with a moonshot over the Green Monster. Aside from game two, it wasn’t always pretty, but the Tribe found a way to outscore their opponent by just enough to get the W.
- Terry Francona – Call it Tito’s Revenge. The Indians benefitted tremendously from having the man who coached championship Red Sox teams of the past on their bench. Francona was able to use his knowledge of both Fenway and the Red Sox team to out manage John Farrell, and the scoreboard showed it in the end.
- Bullpen Power – The bullpen never flinched. Not when it was a 6-0 lead. Not when it was a 1 run game in the ninth. Cleveland closed the deal, and now they’re moving on.
Why Boston is out
- Offensive no show – David Ortiz batted .111 in the series. Jackie Bradley Jr., Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts only had a combined five hits in three games. Boston’s bread and butter this season was their power at the plate, but it went MIA against the Indians, and it proved to be fatal.
- David Price can’t win a playoff game – David Price entered the postseason 0-7 all time in October, looking to finally exorcise his fall demons. Nope. The Red Sox lost 6-0 when he was sent to the mound in game two, putting the Sox in a 0-2 hole that was too deep to be dug out of. And just like that, Price is now 0-8 all time in October.
- No momentum: Boston may have won 11 games in a row last month, but they lost 5 of 6 to end the regular season, getting swept by the Yankees before dropping two of three to Toronto at home to lose home field advantage versus the Tribe in the process. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and sloppy finish brought an abrupt ending to Soxtober far earlier than anybody predicted.
NLDS 1 – Chicago Cubs (1) vs San Francisco Giants (5) – CHC wins 3-1
R.I.P. Even Year Magic. For the first time since 2008, a team not named the San Francisco Giants will be taking home a World Series title in a year divisible by two Will it be the Chicago Cubs? I don’t know. It would be only fitting though if the the team who killed one of the most bizarre dynasties in history, right when it looked like they might do it again down 0-2 in the series, went on to win it all (and break the curse).
Why Chicago won
- #PitchersWhoRake Of the 17 runs scored by the Cubs in the series, 6 came off the bats of Chicago pitchers – three from a Kyle Hendricks single and a Travis Wood homer in game two, and three from a Jake Arrieta homer off Madison Bumgarner in game three. Without the pitching staff bailing out the usually powerful Cubs offense, the narrative of this series could have been a whole lot different.
- Working the pitch count – The Cubs knew how to tire out San Francisco’s pitchers and get to the vulnerable bullpen, even when the Giants’ staff shined. Madison Bumgarner left game five in the fifth inning. Matt Moore was at 114 pitches in the eighth despite only allowing two hits. And Jeff Samardzija only lasted three innings in game two after getting rocked by his former team. But especially in game four, if Moore goes the distance, the Giants likely win the ball game, and who knows what could have happened in a game five back at Wrigley?
- Javier Baez – Baez singlehandedly won game one for Chicago when he was able to solve Johnny Cueto after nobody else could. He made a spectacular diving stop and throw in game four that would have been an out in game four. And he capped off the game four ninth inning miracle with the go ahead single off Hunter Strickland. If Baez isn’t playing to his level this series, I don’t know if the Cubs win game one or game four.
Why San Francisco is out
- The Bullpen – Need I say more? The Giants 30 blown saves this season was the most for any team in the majors since 1969. In game three they averted disaster with an extra innings win after Sergio Romo allowed a two run game-tying homer in the ninth to Kris Bryant. But the Giants deepest darkest whole finally and fittingly spelled doom for Even Year Magic, as five different pitchers couldn’t record three outs without surrendering a 5-2 ninth inning lead in game 4. If the bullpen wasn’t a disaster, the Giants would have come back from down 0-2 to put Chicago on their heels in a game five, and Aroldis Chapman’s blown save in game four may have become the latest chapter of the Curse of the Billy Goat.
- The Brandons didn’t play like all-stars – Something that many people may have overlooked in this series; normally-reliable shortstop and first baseman Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt were not themselves in game four. Brandon Belt’s inability to glove a one hopper from Crawford in the third inning resulted in what would have been a routine out to be a triple, and Baez ultimately scored. And then in the ninth with two outs and the 5-2 lead evaporated, what would have been a bases clearing double play ended up being a runner on second with one out when Crawford’s throw to Belt was wide left. Take away either one of those miscues, and the game is at the very worst tied going to the bottom of the ninth.
- Offense didn’t show up at Wrigley – The Giants had lead-off hitters on base each of the first three innings in game one and still couldn’t score. They only scored two runs in game two, despite knocking out Hendricks early with a line drive right back at his arm. Simply put, the Giants lost what was easily a winnable series.
NLDS 2 – Washington Nationals (2) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (3) – LAD wins 3-2
Arguably the best series of the first round, the Dodgers overcame a 2-1 series defict and a late 1-0 deficit to win the series as Clayton Kershaw thrilled us with possibly the greatest save in recent postseason memory on 48 hours of rest. For the Nationals, the curse of Dusty Baker struck once again, as a pitcher was pulled when he shouldn’t have been and neither Max Scherzer start resulted in a win.
Why Los Angeles won
- Offense came back to life – Corey Seager had an RBI in the first innign of each of the first three games. Justin Turner provided insurance in both of LA’s wins on the road. Joc Pederson looked like an All-Star again. Carlos Ruiz caught fire at just the right time. And Chase Utley proved to be a playoff hero once again with his game winning hit in game six. If the Dodgers can keep up their timely hitting, watch out.
- Clayton Kershaw exorcised his playoff demons – Kershaw didn’t get a win in this series, but he did get the save. Not just any save – his first save of his career in a do-or-die playoff game with two on and no out. Oh, and on just one day of rest too in case you forgot. That’s how you erase the 7th inning woes once and for all.
- Dave Roberts was willing to take risks – Put in your back up catcher and have him deliver with a homer? Check. Pull Rich Hill after three innings in a do or die contest? Check. Take out your closer and put in your ace that just pitched one game ago to close the deal? Check. Dave Roberts outmanaged Dusty Baker in this series, and his boldness is the reason why. At this rate it will be absurd if the first year manager does not win the manager of the year award.
Why Washington is out
- Injuries – Talk about bad luck. Once again, the Nats were without Stephen Strasburg in the postseason. Starting catcher Wilson Ramos was gone with an ACL tear, and that may have done the Nats in as far as pitch calling is concerned. Bryce Harper and Daniel Muprhy were also not 100 percent entering this series, though you’d never guess that based on how Murphy played in this series. Nonetheless, if Strasburg and Ramos are there, I’m not sure the Nats collapse like they did.
- Dusty Baker – Dusty Baker has coached in 9 games since 2002 where he could have clinched the series if his team won. He has lost every single one of them. While there was no Steve Bartman or three straight losses at home in this series, we did once again see Dusty remove his ace from the mound only to have the bullpen blow it, as was the case in game 6 of the 2002 World Series. If Scherzer stays in and limits the damage rather than getting pulled for his mistake, the Nats move on to the NLCS for the first time ever. Now the question remains whether or not we will Baker managing again anytime soon.
- Untimely hitting when it mattered the most – The Nationals had two huge chances to save themselves in game five, particularly a two on one out situation in 7th where Jason Werth struck out followed by a ground out, and then again in the ninth inning when in the ninth inning when it was the same exact scenario. The only thing standing between the Nats and a walk-off series clinching win was a super-human Clayton Kershaw. The opportunity was there. They just could not convert.
*****Photo: NY Daily News*****