All the division series are complete! We are one step closer to crowning the 2018 World Series Champion. We wanted to break down how the 4 teams moving on. And share with you how they got there and who to watch out for in the upcoming series.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Making another run for the ring, they secured the title of best in the NL West after winning the tiebreaker over the Colorado Rockies. They finished the season 92-71 as a result.
Their starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Walker Buehler are all ones to watch. Kershaw will start the first game of the NLCS and the other two will follow in the respective games. After the conclusion of this season, he can opt out of his contract and potentially wear a different uniform for the first time in his career. He was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2006 draft.
Max Muncy has been the surprise offensive player for the Dodgers this year. He has hit 35 home runs this season after only hitting 5 total in the previous two seasons. He has been instrumental in the Dodgers making a return to the postseason this year. The Dodgers do not have a big running game. They finished 22nd in stolen-base attempts during the regular season. With only four players stealing more than five bases and two, Yasiel Puig and Cody Bellinger, finishing in double digits.
Looking back at our pitchers to watch Walker Buehler is also our young player to watch. He is only 24 and making quite a name for himself. Buehler has been one of the top pitchers all year and has been on fire over the past two months. He posted a 0.99 WHIP in August, only to top that in September/October with a 0.77 mark. His 0.92 WHIP as a starter was the lowest among rookie pitchers with 20 or more starts in more than 100 years (since at least 1913). Buehler limited opponents to a .193 batting average in his 23 starts. The right-hander has provided stability on an often injury-riddled pitching staff and dominated the Rockies to clinch the NL West in a one-game playoff on Monday, October 1st, 2018. Buehler's 96.2-mph average four-seam velocity was sixth-highest among starters this season, and his 2,414 rpm average four-seam spin rate ranked 10th in that group. For reference, the MLB average spin rate on a four-seamer is just 2,263 rpm -- and a high-spin fastball is more likely to get whiffs.
The Dodgers are poised to make a return trip to the World Series but have to make it through the Milwaukee Brewers first.
Milwaukee is hoping to make their first appearance in the World Series since 1982. They won the NL Central over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in a dramatic tiebreaker. The Brewers are red hot. They won their last three games in August and went 19-7 in September. Then won on Monday to steal the Central from the Cubs, who were up six games on the Brewers before those final three August wins. They ended the regular season with eight straight wins. The Brewers swept 3 in a row from the Rockies in the NLDS.
The entire Brewers bullpen are the pitchers to watch this postseason. They have a deep bullpen giving their manager, Craig Counsell, options. Counsell is going to go with a bullpen game in Game 1 and Jhoulys Chacin on short rest in Game 2. On one hand, that doesn't show a ton of faith in the rest of the rotation, but it also illustrates how deep and good the Brewers' bullpen is. Corey Knebel has been an utter monster since coming off the DL. In 16 1/3 scoreless innings, he's only given up five hits and three walks while striking out 33. Josh Hader dominates even in multi-inning stints. Jeremy Jeffress finished the season with a 1.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings. Corbin Burnes has been very good and is underrated. Joakim Soria struck out 26 in 22 innings with a 1.09 WHIP after being acquired. Xavier Cedeno only worked eight innings, but he only gave up one earned run on seven hits.
Brewers' offense top heavy, but strong throughout. Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich form the best 1-2 punch atop a lineup in the league. Ryan Braun closed the season on a hot streak, slashing .344/.417/.875(!) with two doubles, five home runs, and 12 RBI in his final 10 games. Jesus Aguilar hit 35 home runs. Travis Shaw hit 32. Mike Moustakas hit 28. Jonathan Schoop didn't have a strong offensive season, but last year he had 35 doubles and 32 homers.
Our young player to watch for the Brewers is Josh Hader. What Hader has done this year at 24, especially as a reliever, is historic. He owns the franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever, and he finished with a 46.7 percent strikeout rate -- becoming just the fourth pitcher ever to exceed 45 percent in a season with at least 50 innings pitched. Hader doesn't bounce back like other, more established relievers. The Brewers have developed a unique usage pattern where they pitch him in extended stints with multiple days of rest in between. How that translates through the postseason will make the Brewers one of the more interesting teams to watch. Hader ended the regular season with a 36.4 percent whiff rate on swings vs. his four-seamer -- the best among relievers, according to Statcast™ (and he recorded 108 strikeouts with his fastball, 26 more than the next-closest relief pitcher, Chad Green). Not only that, the 54.5 percent whiff rate vs. Hader's slider was the fifth-best among relievers.
It is also important to note the Brewers defense. The Brewers were second in the NL in defensive efficiency (the number of balls in play converted into outs). A lot of that is what Lorenzo Cain does covering nearly 2/3 of the outfield. He's amazing in center field. By defensive runs saved, the Brewers were the second-best defensive team in baseball. These stats are mostly measuring range, though, because the Brewers will commit errors. They had 108 this season, trailing only four non-playoff teams.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox had a historic season, going 108-54 and winning the most games in franchise history. They won the AL East and finished with the best record in baseball. They will have home field advantage throughout the postseason. Their first-round opponent was no slouch as the Yankees went 100-62 and finished with the third best record in baseball. The Red Sox won the season series but it was close. The Red Sox went 10-9 against the Yankees during the regular season and outscored them 116-102 in 19 games. As is often the case, the Yankees and Red Sox were two of the best offensive teams in baseball during the regular season. Boston led MLB in runs scored (876) and the Yankees were second (851). The two clubs were among the league leaders in pretty much every significant offensive category. Here's the team that had the edge head-to-head:
Batting average: Red Sox (.268 vs. .249)
On-base percentage: Red Sox (.339 vs. .329)
Slugging percentage: Red Sox (.453 vs. .451)
OPS: Red Sox (.792 vs. .781)
OPS+: Red Sox (112 vs. 108)
Strikeout rate: Red Sox (19.9 percent vs. 22.7 percent)
Walk rate: Yankees (10.0 percent vs. 9.0 percent)
This makes their ALDS win over the Yankees that much more impressive. The longtime rivals played some great baseball over the previous 4 games. Moving on to facing Houston, who they lost to last year in the ALDS, Boston has the offensive prowess to give the reigning world series champs a great series of good baseball.
The young player to watch in Boston is OF Andrew Benintendi, age 24. Benintendi, a mere three years out of college, has been a mainstay in a steady lineup that has contributed mightily to Boston's historic season. The Red Sox's first-round pick in 2015, Benintendi exceeded his 2017 totals in hits, runs scored, doubles and stolen bases. Totals which earned him a runner-up finish for AL Rookie of the Year. He also tied for the Major League lead in outfield assists. Benintendi hits it all over the field. He had 60 opposite-field hits this season, the second-most of any hitter in baseball.
The reigning World Series Champs are back again this postseason to defend their title. They will have to make it through the Boston Red Sox and their historic season. The Astros won 103 games in the regular season despite playing in a division that housed the 97-win Athletics, the 89-win Mariners, and the .500-ish Angels. The Astros in 2018 had an MLB-best run differential of plus-263.
The Astros do almost everything well. Their offense ranked fifth in the 15-team AL in runs scored and OPS. Meantime, the Astros led the AL with a rotation ERA of 3.16, and they also paced the AL with a bullpen ERA of 3.03. As well, they ranked third in the AL in defensive efficiency (i.e., the percentage of balls in play that a defense converts into outs).
The Astros were second in MLB with an average of 5.9 innings per start. Astros starters ranked second, as they threw 100 or more pitches on 73 occasions. The Astros were second in MLB with 97 Quality Starts (Indians had 98). No other team had more than 84 quality starts.
The young talent to watch on the Astros is 3B Alex Bregman, age 24. The 2015 2nd overall pick got to the big leagues quick and hasn’t wasted time making an immediate impact. The 3rd basemen had a breakthrough 2018 that was also historic. Bregman is the first player in Major League history to have 30 homers and 50 doubles in a season while playing the majority of his games at third base and, at 24, he's the youngest player in club history with a 30-homer season. The only other players in history who have had 50 doubles and 30 homers before turning 25 years old are Albert Pujols (2003-04), Alex Rodriguez (1996) and Lou Gehrig (1927). Oh yeah, and he also was the MVP of the 2018 All-Star Game. Notable: Via Statcast™, Bregman finished the regular season with 150 hard-hit fly balls and line drives, second-most in the AL and fourth-most in the Majors.