The last week has given us playoff baseball at its best. Three of the four Division Series went the full five games, providing moments that were both shocking and compelling. It only seems fitting to look at the four teams that have survived and advanced to the League Championship Series that get underway this weekend.
Houston began the postseason as World Series favorites, which hasn’t changed, but they are surely breathing a big sigh of relief after surviving their five-game series with the Rays. It was actually Gerrit Cole and not Justin Verlander who carried the Astros through the series, throwing two absolute gems against a Tampa Bay lineup that didn’t have a chance.
The midseason acquisition of Zack Greinke didn’t exactly pay off in his first playoff start. The Houston lineup also looked vulnerable at times against Tampa Bay’s pitching staff. However, Verlander’s Game 1 start, Cole’s two brilliant outings, and just enough offense were able to push the Astros into the ALCS for the third straight year.
St. Louis Cardinals
It’s likely that no series the rest of the postseason will match the drama the Cardinals had with the Braves during the first four games of the NLDS. It seemed like every game had late-inning swings and came down to a team’s final at-bat. In the end, the Atlanta bullpen faltered while the St. Louis bullpen prevailed.
The Cardinals forged a comeback in Game 4 just a few outs from elimination, then proceeded to score 10 runs in the first inning of Game 5 to bury the Braves on their home field. It’s the St. Louis bullpen and some surprising starting pitching that will hold the key for the Cardinals moving forward.
Washington advancing to the NLCS is easily the most surprising part of the postseason so far. The Nationals have a long-documented history of failing in the NLDS, while the Dodgers had won the last two National League pennants and were heavy favorites to get back there.
It turns out, Bryce Harper was only holding the Nationals back all those years. Without him, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto led the way, as Washington’s lineup pounded out 21 runs over the last four games against the Los Angeles pitching staff after getting shut out in Game 1.
Meanwhile, the Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg tandem turned out to be just enough to make up for a suspect bullpen that has just one reliable arm in Daniel Hudson.
New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers were the only team to have a relatively easy Division Series, making quick work of the Twins in a three-game sweep. In those three games, the Yankees outscored the Twins 23-7, getting five home runs despite Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton all being held without an extra-base hit.
On the pitching side, the Yankees once again leaned on their deep and talented bullpen. New York relievers combined for 13 1/3 innings, giving up just three runs. With a deep lineup and a deep bullpen, the Yankees will be tough to beat moving forward. They also have the benefit of added rest after taking care of business in just three games.