Baseball so hard to predict
Preseason playoff predictions rarely turn out to be entirely correct and Major League Baseball is proving that right now.
At the start of the year, many saw the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros as favorites in the American League, and they’re both in the playoffs.
However, few, if any people expected the Minnesota Twins to clinch a postseason bid, let alone win the AL Central Division. After all, the Twins finished 78-84 last year and fired manager Paul Molitor after not reaching expectations.
They surprised many by hiring Tampa Bay Rays field coordinator Rocco Baldelli as their new manager and pulled a bigger shocker by breaking the MLB home run record.
Growing up a Twins fan, power hitting was never Minnesota’s “thing,” instead relying on solid pitching, timely hitting and speed. However, homers helped them bust loose this year, so whatever works I guess.
The Rays are in wild card contention despite having the lowest payroll in the majors.
In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the postseason, no surprise after two straight runs to the World Series.
The Atlanta Braves are also back in, taking the NL East title for the second straight year, while the Philadelphia Phillies faltered after the big signing of Bryce Harper.
The NL Central was the surprise. The St. Louis Cardinals stunned analysts by making the playoffs and look likely to win the division.
The Milwaukee Brewers got their act together and reached expectations by making it back to the playoffs. The biggest surprise is probably the Chicago Cubs, who lived up to their historical reputation in the last couple of weeks. The Cubs appeared to be a lock for the playoffs for the fifth straight year, but completely collapsed down the stretch, getting swept by the rival Cardinals at Wrigley Field before being eliminated from postseason contention this week.
Chicago has been a World Series favorite since winning it all in 2016 and ending a 108-year drought, but has underachieved in the playoffs since then.
That collapse may be head-scratching for many of you, but for us Cubs fans, we’re used to it. It happened in the 1969 regular season, the 1984 NL Championship Series, the 2003 NLCS, and last season, flopping to the Brewers in the playoff tiebreaker and to the Rockies (yes, freaking Colorado) in the wild card game last year.
These frequent failures are what make that 2016 championship so meaningful because the way this team rolls, many of us may never see one again.
Brewers fans may see a title soon, though, although like I said earlier, it sure didn’t seem like it’d be this year a few weeks ago.
However, with a blowout win over Cincinnati on Wednesday, Milwaukee moved one step closer to getting that elusive championship.
Now that they’re in the postseason like most people expected them to be, the question now is, can the Brew Crew achieve that title or even earn their first trip to the World Series in 37 years. I think it’s a possibility, but a lot needs to go their way.
Losing 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich to a broken kneecap definitely hurts as he was the Brewers’ offensive star, but strangely enough, Milwaukee hasn’t been rattled by it.
By the middle of this week, the Brewers were 13-2 by and outscored opponents 77-42 since Yelich went down with his season-ending injury, an impressive hot streak.
But hot streaks can disappear in the playoffs. This is especially the case if a team gets stuck in the wild card elimination game, which appears to be the destination for Milwaukee, and to make matters worse, it’ll probably be on the road at Washington.
In the wild card game, a team needs to be at its best because it might be their only shot, so if that’s where the Brewers end up, they’ll probably start their best pitcher.
That would be Brandon Woodruff, who is 11-3 and leads the team in strikeouts. If there’s a luxury that Milwaukee has that maybe other teams don’t is that all of their pitchers seem to be peaking at the right time.
If there’s something that will hold the Brewers back, it’ll be if their bats go silent and if injuries start to nag key players. Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain have had solid seasons, but Braun has had back issues and Cain’s left leg has been acting up.
Mike Moustakas has been impressive with (as of Wednesday) 35 homers and 87 RBIs, while Yasmani Grandal hit 27 dingers and drove in 75 runs. Those are important contributors to the Brewers’ offense and will need to be with Yelich out.
Right now, the only team I see that can truly stand in the Brewers’ way is the Dodgers, and they came just short of beating L.A. last year in the NLCS.
Of course, Milwaukee had Yelich then and that might be the piece that keeps them from getting past the Dodgers this time around.
However, if everybody stays healthy and consistent, this year’s team could join the famous Harvey’s Wallbangers squad in 1982 as the only two Brewers teams to win a league title. Back then, Milwaukee was an American League team that faced now-division rival St. Louis in the World Series.
Preseason predictions rarely pan out exactly as expected and the playoffs are the same way. That’s what makes it fun, though.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@ miningjournal.net.