After all that happened in our country Monday, with the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the start of postseason for our nation’s pastime couldn’t come at a better time, if you ask me. I realize a large portion of sports fans gets more wrapped up in football this time of year than anything else. But it’s been hard to escape political news in that realm too with the debate over protesting during the national anthem raging on. So for those looking for a fresh focus this October, and for traditional baseball fans already excited about their team’s run to the playoffs but curious about what else has been going on around baseball, I offer up five of the most intriguing storylines of the MLB postseason.
(And before anybody complains about the length of the playoff series and the commitment required to get into it, I offer this hook: a pair of one-game wild card playoffs, which bring Game 7 atmospheres to the opening of the playoffs start tonight. The American League wild card game is tonight (Tuesday) at 8:09 p.m. between the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees in New York on ESPN. The National League wild card game is Wednesday night in Phoenix where the Arizona Diamondbacks host the Colorado Rockies at 8:09 p.m. on TBS.
Our Top Five Storylines:
- Can the Cubbies repeat? Let’s be honest. It’s going to be hard to top last year’s World Series, when the Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year drought by beating the Cleveland Indians in extra innings in Game 7. The drama might be impossible to match but the team is largely the same. Yes, Jose Quintana joined their starting rotation, closer Aroldis Chapman resigned with the Yankees as a free agent, and veteran catcher David Ross is now in the broadcast booth. But the Cubs won a division title again with an offense built around Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and a team that got hot when it needed to the most in September.
- Is it the Indians’ turn to be drought-breakers? Lost in the Cubs’ celebration last year was a reminder of just how long it has been since the Indians won a World Series. Cleveland hasn’t brought a title home since 1948 – a drought of 69 years now – losing to the Braves in six games in 1995, the Marlins in seven games in 1997 and the Cubbies in seven games last year. The good news for Cleveland is this team is even better – and a 22-game winning streak in September (26-4 since Sept. 1 overall) is pretty good evidence of that. They already had the most game-altering bullpen in baseball led by Andrew Miller and this year it’s even deeper with the addition of Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger.
- Will the Washington Nationals actually win a postseason series and live up to their hype this time around? The Nationals have failed to make it out of the division series while winning the NL East in three of the past five seasons. This time, though, the Nationals might actually have the talent as well as the shored-up bullpen to make a deep run in the playoffs. And perhaps we’ll have a chance to see Stephen Strasburg make more than one start in the postseason (he pitched five innings in a 3-2 loss to the Giants in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS.) Max Scherzer’s recent hamstring injury could throw a wrench in the Nats’ plans, and Bryce Harper might not quite be himself after 41 games out with a bone bruise, but the Nationals don’t lack for star power.
- Which L.A. Dodgers will show up? The team that had the world by the tail most of the season and was on ridiculous pace to win 110-some odd games? Or the one that might have gotten complacent – still finishing with a majors’ high 104 wins but that limped through the dog days with a 13-17 September record? The Dodgers are in the postseason for the fifth straight time but amazingly haven’t advanced past the NLCS since they won the World Series on Kurt Gibson’s heroics in 1988.
- Can the Astros bash their way to a World Series title and bring the city of Houston the kind of celebration it badly needs as it rebuilds from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey? They have the lineup to do it, with Jose Altuve at the top and George Springer and Carlos Correa in the middle. Their success will depend, like it always does in the postseason, on pitching, and the recent acquisition of Justin Verlander might just give the Astros the lift they need. He has won all five of his starts with the Astros while posting a 1.06 ERA.