Divided They Fall: MLB Division Series Preview

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2016 MLB Postseason: Division Series

Dramatic comebacks, unsung heroes, and even pure heartbreak. Sound familiar? It should. The MLB playoffs are back, and all the fun got underway on Tuesday north of the border, and it was a game to remember, at least for the Blue Jays. The game itself rolled into the late hours of the night, 11 innings, but ended with an Edwin Encarnacion three-run home run to send a stadium full of Jays fans home happy.

The NL Wild Card game seemed like it was going to head to extras as well, with great performances from both Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner. The Giants were hitless heading into the sixth inning, but a single ended Syndergaard’s no-hit bid. It was Jeurys Familia that took the loss for New York however, when he allowed a three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning to Conor Gillaspie.

After a couple of decisive home runs in the first round, what’s next for the wild card winners? Well, there’s plenty left to be accomplished before they reach baseball immortality, and it all starts with the division series.

ALDS ‘A’: Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Prediction: Blue Jays in 5

Round two is here.

The Rangers and Blue Jays will meet in a rematch of last year’s division series, where Jose Bautista launched his bat into another zip code shortly after breaking the tie with a three-run home run in the seventh inning of a decisive Game 5. This year however, the roles are switched. With a surprising performance by the Rangers up to this point, they have guaranteed themselves home-field advantage through the playoffs. Now it’s up to them to take advantage of it.

It’s the series we all wanted to see. There has been plenty of tension between these two clubs since Bautista’s bat flip, a symbol that the Jays have taken into their 2016 campaign. The Rangers, on the other hand, have their own symbol: Rougned Odor, who gained national fame early this season after connecting with the side of Bautista’s face in response to a late slide into second base.

The question is, what is to be expected of this series? That might be the reasoning behind the excitement for this meeting, the potential for another skirmish. Aside from the relations between the players on opposing sides, both teams play some really good baseball, and it’s likely going to take all five games once again to decide the winner.

ALDS ‘B’: Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox
Prediction: Red Sox in 4

Most are familiar with the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to defeat the Golden State Warriors, but not as many are familiar with the 2007 ALCS between the Indians and Red Sox, where Boston completed the unexpected comeback on their way to a championship. It was also the last year that the Indians won the AL Central.

While we won’t be seeing these teams battle for a spot in the World Series in 2016, it surely feels that way. Many, including the SportsTalkFeed staff, project the Red Sox to win the series over Cleveland this time around as well, and eventually win the title in David Ortiz’s final season. Is it a possibility that they exit after the opening round as well? Certainly, but it’s going to have to be done without a couple of important faces from their rotation. Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Mike Napoli all have the potential to drive in runs, but Jose Ramirez is the one that shines brightest with runners in scoring position, and that trend will need to continue if the Indians are to see success in this opening round.

Although the Tribe had a reasonably positive finish to the regular season this past weekend against the Royals, Boston does not seem like the team the Indians would want to play. Just recently stringing together 11 consecutive wins, which challenged the Indians’ 14-game win streak earlier in the year, the Red Sox surged their way to the AL East crown, but they aren’t done. Mookie Betts is one of the many players that stand in front of the Tribe and an ALCS appearance though. Betts, a huge candidate for American League MVP, surpassed 200 hits in the regular season, and looks to lead his team through October without any concerns.

It’s highly possible that the winner of this series will be the team that represents the American League in the Fall Classic this year. But first things first, they will have to take care of each other in this crucial opening series.

NLDS ‘A’: Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants
Prediction: Cubs in 4

If you didn’t see the Giants making it past the Mets, you obviously have not paid attention to the past three even years. In fact, the Giants have found themselves in the exact same place that they were in when they went on to beat the Royals in the World Series just two years ago: fifth seed, playing the league’s top seed. Should we be worried that the trend could continue? There isn’t much evidence against it, so for now, the even year theory stands.

You may be wondering why none of the staff picked the Giants to win it all, and the answer is that there is simply too much talent across the board, and that a chance at having another even year repeat is slim to none because of it. With the Cubs standing in front of them, it’s going to be a challenge just to make it through the division series, although it’s still possible.

Speaking of the Cubs, Jon Lester is listed as the starter for the series opener on Friday, coming off of a remarkable 19-5 regular season. With Jake Arrieta not scheduled to start until Game 3, it’s safe to say that Chicago’s rotation staff is pretty loaded, and it’s more than a stretch to say that the Giants will have no problem with them, especially considering their offensive performance against Syndergaard in the wild card game.

If all goes as planned, I see the Cubs ending Giants fans’ hopes of seeing their fourth title in seven years.

NLDS ‘B’: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals
Prediction: Dodgers in 5

Personally, I see this series as the least talked-about of the four, but really it shouldn’t be. The Nationals have work to do if they would like to prove this season is nothing like the previous handful of “promising” seasons they’ve had. First it was the Stephen Strasburg innings limit, and sense then it has been a mess of broken hearts for Washington fans. Opening against the Dodgers won’t be an easy task either, especially with Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw on the mound to start Game 1. Worry not, Nationals fans, all hope is not lost, but it certainly will not be a walk in the park.

Max Scherzer will start the series on the mound for the Nats, who had tied a league record with 20 strikeouts in a single game before the summer started. Unfortunately for him, that game no longer matters, this one does.

As for future starters, the Dodgers will have Rich Hill for Game 2 and Kenta Maeda for Game 3, who recently took the loss in the regular season finale against the Giants. The Nationals are yet to release their starters for those games.

Needless to say, it looks as if pitching will decide who takes the series and moves on to play either the Cubs or Giants for the National League pennant.