There are still as many as 21 baseball games left in the season, yet these playoffs already go down as an instant classic. Both wild card games were spectacular. Both ALDS series ended quickly but didn't lack drama by any means - especially if you were cheering for the winning team. The Cubs staged a zany comeback to clinch their series, and the Dodgers played perhaps the craziest seventh inning in history in the deciding game of theirs. The playoffs are what makes baseball great, and these playoffs to date have been better than average.
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Now we have two very good series in the next round. The best regular-season pitcher in baseball looking to shine in the postseason against the best team in baseball - one that hasn't won a World Series in 108 years. One AL team that carries the weight of an entire nation against another that hasn't won a World Series since the year my 68-year-old father was born. Drama, drama and more drama. Of course, the most important thing for us is who the winners are going to be. That I can tell you:
American League Championship Series - Toronto Blue Jays (-140) vs. Cleveland Indians (+120)
Both of these teams were underdogs in their ALDS series, and neither lost a game. Oddsmakers aren't always perfect, as it turns out. These two teams played seven games during the regular season, with the Indians coming out on top narrowly 4-3. Perhaps the two craziest games either team played in the regular season were in that series, though. The Indians won 2-1 in 19 innings on July 1 - a lousy way for Toronto to celebrate Canada Day. Two days later, though, the Jays got their revenge, winning 17-1 in a true joke of a game.
There is a big contrast in styles here offensively. Toronto doesn't play subtle ball. They look to hit the hide off the ball all the time. Cleveland, meanwhile, looks to wear their opponents down slowly. The Indians get on base, steal bases, and finds ways to score. The Jays hit homers. It's small ball versus long ball. Toronto underachieved offensively much of the season, but they fully rediscovered their momentum in the ALDS. Their ability to stay hot is the biggest factor in the outcome of this series.
The teams have different strengths when it comes to pitching as well. The Jays have the clear edge when it comes to starters. They have four guys they are very comfortable with, and it is the best rotation in the American League. The Indians haven't been as strong and are hit by pitching injuries as well. Their bottom two in this series are more than a little concerning. In the bullpen, though, the advantage shifts to Cleveland. Led by Andrew Miller, they have an outstanding bullpen. Toronto's hasn't been as good this year. They were hot in the ALDS like the bats, but can they sustain it?
I'll tell you who is going to win this series, but keep two things in mind - I am a proud Canadian, and I picked Toronto to win the World Series before the season so I have both pride and cash on the line here. So, I'm not objective. The oddsmakers have it right here, though - thanks to their power and offensive depth, the Jays will win this one in six. They'll win the World Series, too, but we'll get to that later.
National League Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers (+175) vs. Chicago Cubs (-195)
Like the ALCS matchup, these two teams played to a 4-3 record in the regular season, with the Cubs coming out on top en route to the best record in baseball. What's bizarre about that, though, is that Chicago managed to avoid both Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda in the regular season. That sure made winning games easier. They are going to avoid Kershaw for a while here, too. He won the opener of the NLDS, was underwhelming in 6.2 innings in the Game 4 win, and got the save in game 5. It will be Sunday at the earliest before he is good to go again. Given that, among other factors, the Cubs have the edge on the mound. Neither team has the luxury, though, of starters who are likely to go deep and dominate consistently. The Cubs have the edge in the bullpen, too - only in part because the Dodgers don't come in rested.
The Dodgers are a nice team coming off a nice year, and they have shown mental toughness that has been missing the last couple of years. Their biggest issue, though, is that everything they do, the Cubs do a little better. The Cubs are better offensively, they play better defense, and they have a better manager. The Dodgers are good but the Cubs are better. It's not going to be easy, but Chicago will win this one in six.
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