MLB Playoff Preview: All You Need to Know if You Don’t Watch Baseball

Poor you. You haven’t been watching baseball this year because you’ve been too wrapped up in your “shows.” Because you want everything this instant, you think baseball is too slow and boring and doesn’t hold your attention like everything else in your little high-speed, overly-caffeinated world.

Or perhaps you’ve thought about watching baseball but you don’t know the players and don’t even know where to begin. Maybe watching a full nine innings seems like too daunting a task, akin to free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Maybe your boyhood fascination with the national pastime wore off, but now you’re wishing you could get the baseball tinglies again.

Fear no longer. Hall & Arena has you covered.

We’ll break down every team enjoying the revelry of the 2018 postseason. Sit back as we provide you with a working knowledge of the best players on the best teams (by the way, supernovas are superstars over the course of a career and novas are lesser stars), the strengths of each squad, and the noteworthy elements so you won’t sound ignorant (we can’t help you if you don’t know what ERA stands for) chatting about the national pastime with a guy named Cecil as you’re bellied up to the buffet table.

Remember to print this article and keep it handy. It’ll be a good reference when you’re watching the games.

So without further ado, here’s the quick and dirty of the MLB Playoff picture, crafted for those who don’t watch baseball—but would like to give it a try.

Aaron Judge | Photo courtesy New York Yankees

American League

 

Houston Astros (103-59)

AL West Champions

Manager: A.J. Hinch

Supernovas: Justin Verlander (P) and Jose Altuve (2B)

Novas: Alex Bregman (SS), Yuli Gurriel (3B), George Springer (CF), Carlos Correa (SS), Gerrit Cole (P), Charlie Morton (P)

Strength: Starting pitching rotation

The Astros have the lowest team ERA in baseball. Verlander, who arrived in Houston just in time for the 2017 playoff run, is the undisputed ace, and when everyone is healthy, the Astros have the best rotation in baseball. Dallas Keuchel (12-11), Cole (15-5), Morton (15-3), Lance McCullars (10-6), and Verlander (16-9) all posted sub-4.00 ERAs and are capable of shutting down Murderer’s Row when they’re on.

Noteworthy: The Astros are the defending World Series champions and in the minds of many, the favorite to repeat. Altuve is once again over the .300 mark, but with 31 smashers and over 100 RBI and runs, Bregman is the MVP of the team (and possibly the league). After the ‘Stros slumped in late July and August, they are now one of the hottest teams in baseball, going 17-4 for the month of September.

 

Francisco Lindor

Cleveland Indians (91-71)

AL Central Champions

Manager: Terry Francona

Supernovas: Francisco Lindor (SS), Corey Kluber (P)

Novas: Michael Brantley (LF), Edwin Encarnacion (DH), Jose Ramirez (3B), Trevor Bauer (P), Andrew Miller (P)

Strength: Pitching

The Indians’ starting rotation is one of the best in baseball. Kluber is a former Cy Young winner and Bauer was having the best season of his seven-year career until a line drive by Jose Abreu on August 11 hit him on the ankle. When healthy, Miller is the best middle reliever in baseball, and Cody Allen has been one of the most consistent closers over the last four years.

Noteworthy: Ramirez had 39 HRs, 106 RBIs, 34 SBs and scored 110 runs this year while hitting .272 with a .388 on-base percentage. Although he slumped in the latter part of the eason, he will still finish high in the AL MVP voting.

Cleveland is probably the most underrated team in the playoffs, and the one-two punch of Kluber and Bauer on the mound will make the Indians a tough out in the 2018 postseason. Don’t be surprised if the Indians raise an AL pennant over Progressive Field. There are still enough hosses in the clubhouse to repeat the World Series run of 2016.

 

 

Boston Red Sox (108-54)

AL East Champions

 

Manager: Alex Cora

Supernovas: Chris Sale (P), Mookie Betts (OF)

Novas: David Price (P), Rick Porcello (P), J.D. Martinez (OF), Craig Kimbrel (P), Xander Bogaerts (SS), Andrew Benintendi (OF)

Strength: All-around

Boston won a franchise record 108 games with great pitching and opportunistic hitting. Xander Bogaerts was lights out with runners in scoring position. Team-wise, Boston led both leagues in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBI, and batting average. But if the pitching is on, Boston is the scariest team in the postseason. Sale, Porcello, and Price were the mound workhorses all year, and with 42 saves (only 5 blown saves) Kimbrel was nearly unswerving in his ability to finish.

Noteworthy: No duo in baseball produced a better offensive combination in 2018 than Betts and Martinez. Both batted over .320, hit more than 30 home runs, and scored 100 runs. Andrew Benintendi posted another solid year, hitting .290 and driving in 87 runs.

 

Severino’s play will be critical to the Yankees in October | Photo courtesy New York Yankees

New York Yankees (100-62)

AL Wild Card

Manager: Aaron Boone

Supernovas: Aaron Judge (RF), Giancarlo Stanton (DH)

Novas: Didi Gregorius (SS), Luis Severino (P), C.C. Sabathia (P), Aroldis Chapman (P), Andrew McCutchen (OF)

Strength: Power Hitting

The Yankees have one of the best lineups in baseball and recently set a franchise record for the number of players with at least 25 home runs (5; Judge, Stanton, Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and rookie Miguel Andujar). The Bronx Bombers prefer the Ruthian method of scoring rather than the Cobbian, as over half of the Yankee runs arrive at home plate courtesy of the long ball, which may mean feast or famine for the Yankees in the postseason. Look for the Yankee bats to cool, but how cool they get may decide whether or not they can secure world championship number 28.

Noteworthy: The Yankees barely missed the World Series last year, and offseason transactions brought Stanton from Miami and Aaron Boone from the broadcast booth. All season long, the Yankees had been nipping at Boston’s heels for the AL East division, but when Judge missed 45 games with a wrist injury, the Yankees slumped to 25-20. Now the big fella is back, and with the addition of McCutchen in the outfield, all of the pieces are in place for an October run.

 

 

Oakland A’s (97-65)

AL Wild Card

Manager: Bob Melvin

Supernovas: Khris Davis (LF)

Novas: Matt Chapman (3B), Stephen Piscotty (RF), Sean Manaea (P), Blake Treinen (P) 

Strength: Underdog mentality

It’s hard to put a finger on why the A’s are actually good, but it starts with the whole underdog mentality on which the franchise seems to hang its hat. Khris Davis, who led the league with 48 home runs, is the closest thing to a superstar but the rest are average joes. With 37 saves and an ERA of—wait for it—0.78, Treinen is one of the best closers in baseball.

Noteworthy: Billy Ball lives again in Oakland. Not Billy Martin, mind you. Billy Beane. With the lowest payroll in baseball, Beane has yet again cobbled together a playoff team with a bunch of no-names. Oakland made the playoffs by becoming a run-producing machine; it is second in total bases to Boston and first in total team at-bats. Oakland: just a bunch of everydayers who grind it out, make about $400K a year and love playing baseball.

 

National League

 

Atlanta Braves (90-72)

NL East Champions

Manager: Brian Snitker

Supernovas: Ronald Acuna Jr. (LF) and Freddie Freeman (1B)

Novas: Mike Foltynewicz (P), Ozzie Albies (2B), Nick Markakis (RF), Dansby Swanson (SS), Johan Comargo (3B)  

Strengths: Hitting

Remember this name: Ronald Acuna Jr. The rookie sensation’s play was as big a factor as any and just the boost the Atlanta Braves needed to make the 2018 postseason. He’s so good he could potentially be the second coming of Willie Mays. Markakis posted the best offensive year of his career, and Freeman quietly hit .309 with 23 home runs.

Freddie Freeman – Kevin Liles/Atlanta Braves

Noteworthy: The Braves are tied with the Cubs for second in MLB with an overall team batting average of .258. With one of the most productive lineups in baseball, Atlanta does not rely on home runs (Acuna Jr. is the team leader at 26) but is third in MLB in total hits as a team. This year, the hitting seems to get hotter as the innings progress as Atlanta has developed a late-inning swag by scoring over 100 runs after the seventh. A fun team to watch, the Braves are as close to old school as there is in Major League Baseball today. Shortstop Swanson is iffy for the postseason, and his absence could be a big factor in Atlanta’s postseason chances

 

 

Chicago Cubs (95-67)

NL Wild Card 

Manager: Joe Maddon

Supernovas: Kris Bryant (3B), Jon Lester (P)

Novas: Anthony Rizzo (1B), Daniel Murphy (2B), Javier Baez (SS), Kyle Schwarber (LF), Kyle Hendricks (P), Cole Hamels (P), Ben Zobrist (OF)

Strengths: All-around 

In the minds of many, Rizzo is the face of the Chicago Cubs. Until May 9, his batting average was below the Mendoza line, but has risen steadily since then. Once again, he’s hit over 20 home runs and will post a solid season at the plate. But the MVC (Most Valuable Cub) for the 2018 season is Baez, who is turning in a banner year. Baez, for the first time in his career, scored 100 runs and knocked in 100 RBIs. Becoming more disciplined at the plate (he’s still a bit freewheeling) he hit .291 and blasted 34 HRs.

Noteworthy: The Cubs made two outstanding midseason moves to acquire Cole Hamels from the Rangers and Daniel Murphy from the Nationals. Hamels seemed reinvigorated with his return to the National League, and even though he’s cooled off a bit in September, look for him to be a big factor this fall. Murphy is hitting .323 lifetime in the postseason and will be critical to the Cubs’ postseason hopes. Bryant has been battling injuries (inflamed shoulder, bruised wrist) all season and is not 100 percent. Lester has been magnificent, and if Kyle Hendricks can find his 2016 form, the Cubs will be a difficult team to deal with in October.

 

 

Milwaukee Brewers (95-67)

NL Central Champions 

Manager: Craig Counsell

Supernovas: Christian Yelich (OF)

Novas: Josh Hader (P), Corey Knebel (P), Jesus Aguilar (1B), Travis Shaw (3B), Lorenzo Cain (OF), Jeremy Jeffress (P)  

Strengths: Bullpen

The Milwaukee bullpen features the three-headed monster of Hader, Knebel, and Jeffress, who combined for more than 40 saves. Knebel had 16 saves and posted a 3.64 ERA, Hader had 11 saves with a 2.50 ERA, and Jeffress had 15 saves with a 1.29 ERA. Throw in Dan Jennings you’ve got one of the best pens in baseball.

Noteworthy: Former Miami Marlin Christian and first year Brewers’ player Yelich is the rock star of this group and will probably be the MVP of the league (this was enough to move him to Supernova status). The addition of Mike Moustakas in July bolstered the already solid lineup featuring Aguilar and Ryan Braun. The Brewers are one of the hottest teams in baseball heading into the postseason. To clinch a playoff berth, the Brew Crew dispatched the Cardinals in three straight—in St. Louis.

 

Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71)

NL West Champions 

Manager: Dave Roberts

Supernovas: Clayton Kershaw (P), Manny Machado (SS)

Novas: Justin Turner (3B), Yasiel Puig (OF), Cody Bellinger (1B), Matt Kemp (OF), Max Muncy (1B), Walker Buehler (P), Kenley Jansen (P)

Strengths: Pitching

The Dodgers have the lowest team ERA (3.39) in the National League and the second lowest in all of baseball behind the Houston Astros. The Dodgers’ 94 quality starts are also tops in the NL, and opponents are hitting a colorless .230 against Dodger pitching. Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball over the last five seasons, and Walker Buehler is the stud rookie everyone is talking about at cocktail parties in Beverly Hills. If reliever Kenley Jansen can regain his form as one of the top closers in baseball, look out. The Dodgers not only can win the pennant, they have the talent to win it all.

Noteworthy: When Turner and Kershaw were out with injuries in the early part of the season, the Dodgers were wobbling, and Kemp’s play probably saved the season. Kemp was red-hot; as late as June 6, he was hitting .353 and was in the NL MVP discussion. On June 1, the Dodgers were 27-30. By July 1, they were 43-39. The additions of Machado and Brian Dozier, and the return of Kershaw and Turner was just the jolt the Dodgers needed to return to the postseason.

 

Colorado Rockies (91-71)

NL West

Manager: Bud Black

Strengths: Hitting

Supernovas: Nolan Arenado (3B)

Novas: Charlie Blackmon (OF), Trevor Story (SS), Kyle Freeland (P), Wade Davis (P)

Strengths: Hitting

Colorado is in the Top 10 in virtually every statistical hitting category, and their 208 team home runs tie the Rockies with Boston for eighth in MLB. With Arenado, Story, Blackmon, David Dahl, DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Desmond, the Rockies’ lineup is as treacherous as a mountain climb.

Noteworthy: With a slash line of .297/37/109, Arenado is a viable candidate for NL MVP. Davis’s 43 saves is the best in the National League. Freeland turned in a monster 2018 (17-7, 2.85 ERA) but has been largely overlooked for the Cy Young award due to the eye-popping campaigns of the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Nationals’ Max Scherzer. H&A

 

Cover photo: Ronald Acuna Jr – Kevin Liles/Atlanta Braves 

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