October means the welcoming of cooler weather, the turning of the leaves, and for fans of America’s national pastime, the best time of the year. The Major League Baseball Postseason begins with the National League Division Series on Thursday, then the American League Division Series on Friday. The top-seeded teams in each league— the American League’s Houston Astros (2-1) and Los Angeles Dodgers (9-4) of the National League— are each favored to advance to the 2019 World Series, and renew their acquaintances from their classic matchup two years ago.
The fun actually began Tuesday night, with the National League Wild Card Game. The Washington Nationals (12-1) came from behind to beat the visiting Milwaukee Brewers, 4-3. Their reward will be the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of 106 games, and the last two National League pennants. With MVP frontrunner Cody Bellinger, and the best pitching rotation in baseball, the Dodgers are heavily favored to make short work of the Nationals. However, ranking second in on-base percentage, the Nats can hit.
In the other NLDS series, the St. Louis Cardinals (14-1) pay a visit to the Atlanta Braves (9-1). The Bravos had their best season in sixteen years, thanks to the midseason addition of pitcher Dallas Keuchel to an already potent offense. Meanwhile, the Redbirds had to wait until the last day of the season to win a three-way race for the toughest division in baseball, the NL Central. Possibly a throwback to a bygone era, the Cardinals did it with defense. Of note, St. Louis had to use ace Jack Flaherty during their Game 162 clincher Sunday. He’ll be unavailable until Game 2 Friday.
Contrasting with Tuesday’s thriller, there was no such drama in the American League Wild Card Game Wednesday. The Tampa Bay Rays (28-1) put the Oakland A’s to bed early, winning 5-1. They, of course, get a trip to Houston. The Astros own the best record in baseball, at 107-55, which means they’ll enjoy home field advantage through this and any other postseason series. It’s said that good pitching can stop good hitting, and vice-versa. With the imposing rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke on the mound, and an offense featuring the game’s best batting average, the Astros can simply say, “we’ve got that.”
Two 100-win teams will square off in the other ALDS series Friday: the 101-61 Minnesota Twins (14-1) will visit the 103-59 New York Yankees (9-2). This series may be decided as much by the home run ball as the well-known history between the two teams. Since winning the World Series in 1991, the Minnesota Twins have made the postseason seven times. The Yankees knocked them out of the playoffs in five of those appearances. The Twins and Yankees were 1 and 2 in home runs this season, with five Twins hitting more than 30. If you dig the long ball, this is the series for you.